Category Archives: Jiu-Jitsu

Mat mindfullness

Having a few forced weeks off the mat. I always use this time to explore other sides of jiu jitsu. I know some guys watch videos and other roll with imaginary partners, and these are all great ways to keep your mind in touch with your passion. For me though I explore the mindfulness of jiu jitsu. I like my other brothers in black have had so many situations in life both on and off the mat that have been so stressful that you have been almost frozen in fear. I personally can think of several of my own. What got me out of these on so many occasions was now I look back on it, my ability to focus and keep pushing forward. We all have this capacity. BJJ allows us to practice the parts of mindfulness that are so central to the theme of owning your mind and ultimately your actions.

1. The ability to view anxiety as your key to unlocking focus. Think how many times you roll and especially when you start, how afraid you are. Remember how you tapped to the pain back then! Just a forearm across your face was enough. You know it now when you roll with someone new and it amazes you. You are putting almost no pressure on them and they are tapping like mad. You now however, can sustain enormous amounts of pain. The pain hasn’t changed but your anxiety has opened your focus, your perception of pain has altered. You mind now allows you to set the pain off to one side while you have the presence to think of what to do next. You know the feeling of flow, when the pain is like a directional meter and you shift effortlessly away. Likewise when your mind is not free, the pain reminds you of this with a vengeance (personal experience!!)

2. Your ability to plan ahead becomes by feeling what has been, and sensing what is about to come. Your training allows you after time to feel something and predict whats coming next. Your freedom from conscious thought releases you onto the mat into this. You know this when the roll is effortless and your moves and mind link. You feel this with higher belts who move sometimes at will and seamlessly from one position to the next. As your anxiety builds and your thoughts wander you lose your planning ability. Exactly like playing tennis or squash. Once you’re on the run it is hard to plan a shot, and you’re happy to whack it to the centre!! Your mind thinks in the same way in BJJ, bringing you a very basic skill-set and not allowing you to feel the movement. You need to trust yourself in returning to these moments, get safe and control your breathing

So while I am off the mat I quietly think daily about BJJ and feel myself on the mat. But I don’t think of the moves, the pain or the outcome. I consider my mind and my consciousness. I hop into those easy rolls and those difficult rolls (lately more the latter!!). I de-construct my thoughts. I think of my partner and I try to remember their intensity and I consider their mindfulness at that a point.

Does this make me better? Well, I enjoy thinking of those rolls and those friends and I enjoy remembering both the discomfort and the satisfaction of getting out of a difficult, if not at the time seemingly impossible position. I enjoy more applying these thoughts to my every-day life when all around me is chaos and I feel like the island of calm. Hell I think, my 90 -130kg ‘friends’ haven’t killed me yet, bring it on!! So yes my mindfullness makes me feel better. Will it make you better? Work out what you mean by better and apply it. See how you go, and have a chat to your friendly brown or black about what makes them tick. Roll safe.

Competition Day

Getting ready for competition is a process. Early on, it’s about building your fitness and endurance, and about working on your skills to develop your game. When competition day rolls around, the work should be done and there are more immediate things to focus on. You should have been tapering your workload, so that by the time you get on the mats, you are rearing to go and not burnt out from running at redline.

As soon as the brackets come out, check the times and mats for your matches, so you are there in plenty of time. Mentally, I like to prepare myself to expect to face the strongest competitor in the division. If I get them, I’m prepared, if I don’t then I think I have the mental edge over my opponent.

Expect that there will be no good quality food available at the venue, and take along something to snack on that you can eat and still comfortably compete, bananas are always a favourite. Some people like to drink honey to give them energy, but high sugar levels may exacerbate dehydration by stimulating less water absorption.

You also need two sets of competition legal attire. If you have to change your gi for any reason, you will only get a couple of minutes, so you need it on hand, and not running around trying to borrow gear and face disqualification.

6.2.3 Technical Fouls

“When an athlete’s gi is rendered unusable and he/she is unable to exchange it for a new one within a period of time stipulated by the referee.”

Also take along a hoodie to keep warm, your favourite music (and headphones), and footwear for when you are not on the mat.

8.2 Hygiene

8.2.4 “Athletes should use footwear up to the match area and wherever their use is permitted.”

The main thing in the hours before your fight is to remain calm. Getting too hyped too early leads to being exhausted before you even step on the mat.

Check your weight on the test scales as soon as you get to the venue if you are close to the weight limit. If possible, also check on the official scales as sometimes these will be different, but this is generally not allowed.

When the time is coming for your division, start to get prepared. Go to the toilet, and have a team mate listed for your division. Start to warm up, listen to your favourite music that motivates you, and mentally start to ramp up. I like to break a sweat before my first match, so I’m not trying to get up to speed while someone tries to choke me.

When your division is called, go and get marshalled straight away. This gives you time to change anything if you need to, and otherwise allows you to settle in and get focused while you wait in the bullpen.

A lot of times, the first thirty seconds of a match will be the most intense. Try to avoid being overwhelmed, and know that the pace will soon settle. You should not be concerned with saving energy for future matches. The time is now, give it your all. My coach Robert Drysdale says that if you lose, you should be crawling off the mats because you gave it your all, and that your opponent should never go on to win the next round because you made them work so hard in your fight.

If you win, rehydrate, recover and get ready for the next round.

If you lose, don’t lose the lesson. Review footage to see mistakes that can be corrected, and ask advice from your coach.

Regardless of the result, you should celebrate taking on the challenge and putting yourself out there. There are plenty that didn’t.

Fighting Maxims

maxim [mak-sim]
1. an expression of a general truth or principle.
2. a principle or rule of conduct.

I wanted to compile a list of the maxims I have learnt over the years. Simple expressions that hold a lot of truth.

  • Position before submission.
  • Train hard, fight easy.
  • It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
  • Winners don’t quit, and quitters don’t win.
  • Hard work beats talent, when talent refuses to work hard.
  • When they pull, you push. When they push, you pull.
  • You can and will be tested, evertime you get on the mats.
  • You don’t earn the belt, you become the belt.
  • Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

If you have any good ones, drop them in the comments.

Training Etiquette

Firstly let me appologise for the lack of content, just Christmas and the silly season getting in the way. I have an idea of the next few blogs that I would like to post, the main idea behind my content will be more along the personal protection vein and my thoughts on the integration of BJJ. But before I start down that track I just wanted to post one about etiquette in the gym and on the mats.

As most older BJJ exponents, I came from a traditional MA background, with boxing and Muay Thai thrown in. Judo, Aikido, Kung Fu etc. and one of the issues I had was the cultural assimilation with these styles. Not that I have and issue with the cultures, but for a westerner who has never bowed to anyone, it was a little strange to bow to my coach, training partner, friend… but we all did it, because that was appropriate, in the same way as eating whale sashimi while sitting in a Tokyo sushi restaurant, with the founder of Kudo, but that is another story!! This was the same with learning the names of techniques in the parent language, counting etc.

When I started BJJ I found the informal manner in which the classes were run very refreshing, the relaxed atmosphere was a nice change, the respect was still there, but it was more subtle, more intrinsic. There was no need to call your coach Sifu, Sensei or Master, but this lack of a grandiose title, did not detract from his [the coach] position at all, nor the respect he was afforded. I think we rely more on the maturity of the people involved and the actions of the coach to generate that respect, rather than forcing it on the students by mandatory actions. I want to be clear that I am not denigrating these traditions and in no way am I judging them, I am just voicing my personal opinion on the matter, to each, their own.

This being said, there is etiquette on the mats and I just thought I’d take this opportunity to refresh and/ or educate on a few points:

So, in no particular order……..

Hygiene: this is my main reason for no shoes on the mat, just practical and doesn’t really have anything to do with tradition, but think about where the soles of those shoes have been….

Finger and toe nails, stay on top of them, keep them trimmed up, there is nothing more frustrating than having to miss a roll because of a cat scratch.

Clean gi/ no gi… wash them after every session, no exceptions, smell=bacteria=infections…

Clean person… shower/ deodorant, just be thoughtful. If someone has poor personal hygiene habits bring it to the attentions of one of the coaches and we will chat with them.

Makeup (Ladies… usually) don’t wear any, it’s a bugger to get out of a gi and at the end of the day that is no different than dirt (from a gi washing perspective), just train and look pretty afterwards.

Respect: while not demanding bows or titles, we do have a few perks that time on the mat earns….

Coaches/ higher belts…. It shows respect to address them as coach (insert first name here) or just coach. Only on the mats and most definitely only at the gym ☺

When rolling be aware of who is around you and give way to higher belts on the mat. They have earned the right.

Don’t refuse a roll if asked by a higher belt. This is your opportunity to learn from them. If you have an injury or some other legitimate reason, explain it. If you just don’t like being tapped, put your ego away and get on with it. I suggest you look deep inside for the answer to this one.

Don’t boast, gloat, or happy dance if you dominate of catch your opponent, particularly a higher belt. You never know what is going on, he/she may be trying a particular escape or defence. By all means have that happy dance in your head, but it shows great disrespect to show that joy in front of others and generally there will be consequences…..

I feel strongly about the above point and in order to grow, we all need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to our training partners. If we can’t do this we stifle and this is never good. More on this in another blog I feel.

Other things, bring water and a towel. Clean up your stuff when you leave, because we won’t… we aren’t your washing lady and we retain the right to throw dirty, smelly training gear in the bin, as opposed to letting it fester!

Have you own first aid kit… scissors, strapping tape, nail clippers, dressings and antiseptic..

Chat to your partner when you are training, but when the coach is instructing, be respectful, quiet and listen.

If you have to leave the mats, let the instructor know. They will know to come looking for you if you don’t come back. By the same token if you rock up late, get ready and wait at the edge of the mats until invited by the instructor.

Have your belt tied, and be ready to start on the clock when doing rounds.

When you have finished your class, and another class is in progress, keep your voice down, as the instructor is trying to teach. Inside voices, or go outside to chat.

Be attentive with good posture, sitting or standing. No lounging on the mats.

I’m sure to have missed some, but we will get those as we go. At the end of the day, the goal is to make everyone’s training as enjoyable as possible and the mutual respect that goes with this wonderful art is a big part of that, so lets keep it tight and enjoy our time on the mats.

World Masters – Get Ready!

With myself and a number of The Arena team heading to the World Masters in Las Vegas on September 25/26 I thought I would pass on the items that I think need to be considered and addressed early on.

1. IBJJF Registration

IBJJF registration can take some time to complete, and at one stage it required AFBJJ registration as a pre-requisite. It may not be required for all belts, but you may want to consider it any way.

2. Competition Registration

As soon as the competition is announced you should register for your division, without delay. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, these competitions do reach capacity and sell out, causing registration to be closed early. Secondly, within the rules under section 5.2 of the General Competition Guidelines:

“5.2 Each academy has the right to register two athletes in each weight/belt/age/gender division”

So even if the event is not sold out, you may not be able to register if these two spots are taken. Something to remember when Zenith has in the region of 150 clubs competing under the Zenith registration.

3. Planning Travel

Las Vegas has an altitude of around 2,500 feet, which combined with the dry air, jet lag and training intensely twice a day can take some getting used to. It typically takes me a week to adjust to before I start to feel like I’m training when I’m at home. Also, for the first time the competition will be held in Las Vegas, not Los Angeles which is closer to sea level. Ideally you would want a minimum of two weeks of training in Vegas before the competition, but if that doesn’t fit in your schedule, try to make it more than a week.

4. Gis

If you are training twice a day, you will need a minimum of three gis. Two of these should be patched and competition legal. You will only have a minimal amount of time to change if there is a problem with your go, or otherwise be disqualified:

“6.3.2  When an athlete’s gi is rendered unusable and he/she is unable to exchange it for a new one within a period of time stipulated by the referee.”

You may want to have your two competition gis be royal blue and white, which is a requirement for black belts.

“8.1.4 In the adult black belt divisions (mens and women’s), the event’s organizers may demand that athletes have two gis of different colors (one royal blue and the other white), in order to distinguish between the two athletes in a match.”

I would suggest purchasing your gis closer to the competition so you have time to patch them and wear them in, but they are unlikely to shrink significantly from numerous washes.

5. Weight Division

Start thinking about the weight division you want to compete in. Lighter is generally faster, but heavier is generally stronger. Whatever division you choose, try to be at or near that weight as far in advance as possible. You don’t want to spend months training a particular game, and then change major physical properties and find your skills don’t apply or adapt to these changes quickly.

BJJ training and self defence…. (part 2)

I think when people discount BJJ as a formidable self defence style, they are speaking from either an;

a) un-educated perspective, i.e. basing their opinion on watching sport BJJ or even MMA, where, the exponent is focussed completely on 1 opponent, fighting with a strict rule set and a referee…….With some slight changes to training focus and style and BJJ practitioner can be made able to, at least be cognisant of dealing with multiple attackers…. again, more on that later

b) a biased perspective, this tends to be the TMA (Traditional Martial Arts) styles, a lot of which are struggling to cope with the emerging interest and success of BJJ. They forget that BJJ is based on TMA styles, just trained in a modern and progressive environment and not tainted by public popularity, which tends to water the styles down to appeal to the masses (not that modifying a style to appeal to a more general demographic is a bad thing).

Take any popular martial art of today, look at it 15-20 years ago, or before there was state or national funding available and I think you will see a different beast.

or c)Ego, my favourite, when you watch a 90 kg rugby player get submitted by a 70kg lady, or a TMA Black Belt submitted by a 15 year old BJJ Green Belt. This reason produces some serious soul searching and from here people either discount the occurrence as some trickery, or start training in earnest.

As a white belt (bearing in mind it took me over 4 years to get my blue…) I had the opportunity to train with a 2nd Dan in a TMA (a style that claimed a strong ground component) and after several hours of beating each other up, he was left a bit bewildered by my success ( I had been doing BJJ for about 12 months at that point).

Several weeks later we had the opportunity to train again, but this time he declined with no explanation. I was disappointed as I always enjoy training with other skilled Martial Artists and this guy had some great throws….. As it eventuated, we had the opportunity to discuss his reluctance over a beer soon after and it turned out that following our initial sparring sessions he had gone back to his Sensei seeking some guidance, he was perplexed that a white belt had been more than competitive with a 2nd Dan… “How can this be so Sensei?”

He was instructed not to train with BJJ practitioners any more, as they play a sport and do not train in lethal techniques, Sensei then further explained that training in a sport makes for a sporting mindset and will detract from the true ability in the TMA that this guy practiced!!! I question how many “lethal techniques” Sensei has ever delivered in his life. I find it annoying when the closed mindedness of coaches/ teachers/ Sensei/Sifu results in their students being disadvantaged.

But then why did the fundamental techniques I had been taught at that point work so well?? after all I probably had an arsenal of 2 or 3 effective takedowns, a working knowledge of the basic positions and a few submissions from each.

Because we trained every day with controlled full resistance, every technique I used worked because I had used it with a training partner who was trying to stop me almost as hard as he could. I had been tapped with these techniques a 100 times and again they worked. They were not taught by a 15 year old Black Belt, that had never been in a confrontation. They were not taught via Kata, or touch sparring or forms, they were drilled on the mat, in a realistic environment with realistic pressure and resistance, resulting in realistic results!

I digress, but this is a topic that we will return to in the future, BJJ is an evolution of TMA and that is evident in so many of the techniques. The techniques have been made subject to a more contemporary setting and in short their effectiveness in a self defence situation will mirror the original intent of the club and coaches.

If you train with a competition orientated club that will base everything on points and educate you on the finer points of “stalling to glory” then don’t be surprised if some of the application lets you down in a real world confrontational situation.

On the other hand, a club that prides itself on practical application, a club that has some sort of proven pedigree will probably deliver a more pragmatic approach to training.

It will always be easier to take “real world” BJJ and apply it competition that to try and take a good competition club and teach them self defence.

As they say a competition Black Belt is 1 punch away from a being a Brown Belt, another from Purple, another from Blue and 1 more from a white belt, unless he trains under structured but real fighting pressures how can he be expected to apply his skills in a foreign environment.

Next pressure points, biting, groin and the eye gouge!


When I was going to compete recently, there were a number of things not in my favour:

  • My first fight was against a longer term black belt with a strong reputation.
  • I had a former coach and key training partner as my second fight in the draw, while they had a bye in the first round. They are a strong, aggressive fighter with significantly more submissions on me than I had on them, and I had none on them in competition, whereas they had some on me.
  • I had an ultrasound that showed I had ruptured my bicep, and only had 5% of the bicep tendon remaining, two days before flying out to compete.
  • My nearest and dearest didn’t want me to compete in the fear that I would be further injure my bicep.
  • I was moved to a younger age division, as there were no competitors at my age.
  • I weighed in 4 kg under weight for the division.

As it turned out, I got a good result. It is too easy to look at the outcome and subscribe to a simple win/loss mentality. “I won, so it doesn’t matter so much how I won, but that I won”. Conversely, “I lost so it doesn’t matter how much effort I put in, or how hard I battled, but it’s a loss and it was all for nothing”.

Regardless of the outcome, I believe it is important to face the adversity rather than shrink from it. Any of these things could have been enough to dissuade me from competing. Unconsciously we are always looking for an easy path, an excuse for why we can’t do something. “I want to go to training, but I had a hard day at work”. “I don’t have the energy to get off the couch”. I find the days I feel least like training, can be the most rewarding. The adversity can be all the things in your life demanding your time and attention, before having the time and energy for training.

Adversity sharpens your character. As steel sharpens steel, the stronger the adversity, the stronger your resolve must be, the stronger your character will become.

I don’t suggest you necessarily welcome adversity, but when it appears, know that it is a war of attrition. Will you outlast adversity, or will adversity outlast you?

BJJ training and self defence… (part 1)

There has always been a lot of discussion about BJJ and it’s effectiveness as self defence style. In one corner we have the die hard grapplers who sware that every fight will end up on the ground, with them executing the perfect submission with grace, poise and style, before walking nonchalantly away from the downed opponent, who then, realizing the error of his ways, proceeds to dedicate his martial arts and self defence training to BJJ due to it’s proven superiority….

On the other hand we have the nay sayers who swear that BJJ is purely a competition style and any decent pressure point, dim mak, woo shoo finger hold, board breaking strike, excellent Kata etc. will disable the grappler prior to any effective take down, control or submission attempt.

The other main argument against grappling styles is that of the multiple opponents. The general scenario portrayed is that while you hold a fantastic mount on the attacker, his co-offender (assuming they are the bad guys) manages to execute a flying snap kick you to the head, before they both proceed to beat upon your skull…

From the outset of these ramblings I want to make the distinction between Competition BJJ training and the practical self-defence oriented BJJ training. This is a distinction that has to be made as more and more gyms are getting away from what the original intention of the Gracie family, which was BJJ as a fighting and self defence style. Now more and more academies are focussing more on points training and competition effectiveness… Why? The answer is simple, contemporary competition success equates to recognition, which to some, is the sole aim of their training.

I recently had a prominent Australian BJJ Black Belt tell me that un-equivocally, the most important thing to him, in any aspect of his students or personal training, was the team standings at the end of a competition. Is this what allows a club to claim to be The Best BJJ or TMA (traditional martial art) club in a town/ state? Does this philosophy carry over to the kids as well? If so, how does this bode for the future of the sporting side of BJJ. Also what affect does this have on the confidence of the students, are they aware of the limitations of the techniques they are being taught?

I make a point of getting all of our junior competitors together before a comp and make it clear that with out a doubt the most important thing to our coaches is to see them get in there compete, have fun and come away un-hurt. There is plenty of time for competitive pressure later, but I am aware that not all agree and you see time and time again, the loud, fat, obnoxious father, in his Tapout T-shirt, fuelling his failing ego through his adolescent son, who has made the commitment to train and compete…. sore subject, that we might come back to another time!

Would a more telling indication of training ethic and effectiveness of a club, or the style in it’s fundamental form, be the 20 year old on holiday in Bali who goes to the aid of an elderly man being assaulted by 3 drunken louts. The person in question managed to strike 1, take a second down and control the third, allowing the man to make his getaway. The point here is not the courage…. or stupidity… of the saviour, but the fact that his training had given him the confidence and knowledge to feel that he could deal with the situation… more on the actual story later.

The man going to the victims aid did not pull guard, nor execute a deep-half guard sweep.. no 50/50 either! What did he to? A Basic striking combination, a high, heavy, dumping double leg and then cage and close, body fold and strike from mount, with good aware ness of the position of the other assailants and did not dwell in positions for longer than needed.

So have a look at what you are being taught, speak with your coach, ask questions, but most of all, be honest and know your limitations…..

Part 2 to follow….

It’s Only Natural

It was quite some experience, being a part of the Telethon Adventurers Rollin’ for a Reason with the Arena crew. 24 hours of Jiu-jitsu. Getting ready to leave for the venue, the feeling was a little excited, but also a little nervous.

The experience really underwent a transformation as the time went on. The pace was high, particularly initially, practically a competition pace. There was a level of nervousness before each fight, as there is with competition.

But after a while, in the wee small hours when only the core crew was on, it changed. The perception of time was warped, hours turned into weeks. Fighting began to feel natural, to feel normal. The immersion of the same activity over and over, the non-thinking because you have been awake for 20 hours and you are getting beyond conscious thought.

It was a similar when I was competing recently. In the training leading up to the event I had been using a regime of high intensity, low duration, short rest periods of alternating rolling and circuit. When it came to the actual fights, it seemed familiar and easy. I wasn’t getting caught up in a game I wasn’t familiar with, and a ten minute rest period for the final was a holiday compared to the 45 seconds between rounds in training.

Flow. This is Jiu-jitsu at it’s best.

Unfortunately it is not easily achieved. We come onto the mat with expectations, with a game plan, we try to focus on an area, we invoke conscious thought to solve the problems we are presented with.

Telethon 2014 – The Warrior Class

So what a great night . About 30 fighters going for 24hrs in 3 minute rounds. Rolling for a reason was put together by a couple of our fighters to raise money and awareness for the kids of WA through PMH Children’s Hospital. The night started with our two senior black belts and what a pace! They really set the stage for the challenge with a flat out effort . Then of course that was it, it was on! Every roll was with meaning and therefore meaningful. I just watched as everyone just practiced their art and it looked amazing. With crowds staring on in amazement and bewilderment our fighters just maintained the rage.

I felt so honoured to be amongst a band of warriors. I looked about at people walking past with their tuxedos and sipping wine and I just knew that’s not the side of the rope I would ever want to be on. As I turned towards the mats I watched another pair locked in combat. That is my home, my people. My band of warriors standing outside of the norm, willing to bleed for their craft. Willing to face pain and defeat, but return again to the mat for the unattainable. They know there is no prize in jiu jitsu. There is no end, no physical reminder of your effort. There is only the art and the ability to return to the mat for your craft. A craft of combat that still holds on to the tradition of war, that someone must prevail and the knowledge the  art both allows to one and denies to the other.

Those passing by the mats feel that I’m sure, that they are seeing those that would dare to fight. And I’m sure deep down they either dream they were brave enough to step into the Arena, or relieved they can walk  by, filled with the knowledge that society still has place for the true and virtuous warrior.