A question I often get is “What can I do to improve my Jiu Jitsu?”. The question usually comes from someone looking for some previously unknown path to success. Sure, I swim and do Yoga for recovery, and I deadlift and squat for strength, but these are not the answer. The somewhat less than magic answer is more Jiu Jitsu. Not kettle bells, not Cross Fit, not gymnastics, not Yabusame. Jiu Jitsu. These other things will help your general physical preparation, but we’re talking Jiu Jitsu here.

For the extra curricular activities I do, it is never at the expense of time spent on the mat. If I am heading into over-reaching/over-training territory, then I’ll drop the other activities first, followed by the more intense Jiu Jitsu sessions if I’m still not recovering.

But what do you get from more Jiu Jitsu? As I have said many times before, you have to be a very special case to keep turning up consistently and not get better. Not better immediately, not immediate success, but one day you’ll realise you have achieved a goal you previously thought beyond you.


How do you get better just with more time? You face the same problem more times. You subconsciously start to internalise the things that work, even a little, when you face the problem multiple times. You get the opportunity to visit that problem with multiple different opponents, all with their own specific attributes. Bigger/smaller, faster/slower, heavier/lighter, stronger/weaker, you get to adjust your response to each of these unique situations consolidating your technique to work in more situations.

You will also almost certainly be exposed to more training partners, and this is key to getting variation and inspiration into your game. When your partner does that unexpected thing, and you don’t even know where you went wrong, but are now doing your best impersonation of a pretzel, that’s a new problem for you to solve. What was it? How do I do it? How do I defend or counter it?


And by stronger, I don’t mean bench double your body weight strong. I mean Jiu Jitsu strong. All the muscles you need will be continually worked, improving the attributes needed for Jiu Jitsu. As you progress in Jiu Jitsu, I believe you move from generating power through individual limbs, and move to generating power with your whole body. It is this core strength that allows you to attack your opponents arm, not with your arm, but to attack your opponents arm with the strength of all the major muscle groups in your body. In addition, all the stabiliser muscles will also strengthen with more time on the mat, improving your control and ability to escape.


When you have been training more, it feels like you are faster, and being faster can be the difference between being on the bottom and being on the top.

Earlier this year, due to a change in circumstances where I took on more responsibility at the gym, I started training Jiu Jitsu 6-8 times a week. I regularly track a number of parameters including Central Nervous System score, reaction time, resting heart rate, weight and sleep using an iPhone app. From the graph of reaction times, you can see the trend line and the obvious decrease in reaction time.


This one came as a bit of a surprise to me. Not only do you feel faster, but you are faster.

So what increases reaction time? Alcohol, is one thing, so easy on the booze.

Final Thoughts

There is an interesting article here on the Sport Science of BJJ:

“Accounting for a whopping 70% of BJJ ability is technique.”

To hijack the quote from Henk Kraaijenhof, Olympic track coach:

“Do as little as needed, not as much as possible. Except when it comes to Jiu Jitsu, do as much as possible.”

Go Train! More!

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.

Grateful rolling

Had a top night on the mats. You know, nothing special, just rolling with some fun fighters. Now today was one of those days where there is plenty of bad going on at work and in general, just plain shitty! But interestingly I was listening to a podcast on the way to BJJ  by Tim Ferris (author of the 4hr body) chatting with Tim Robbins. Tim Robbins specialises in getting the best out of people and has worked with many leaders in all fields of life. I have never really followed him or listened to him before but he was interesting.

One thing that stuck out was that he spends 10 mins in the morning just being grateful. Just of small things like the wind in his face, the sunshine on his back and then he works up to family, friends and job ect. He says that when your grateful its hard to be angry, jealous of sad.

I applied this tonight. Just like he said though, you need to train yourself to think this way and it took some effort. I started off just being grateful walking in to the gym. I was grateful to feel my no-gi gear on (mmm… not the biggest no-gi fan : ) and then just continued this theme with every thing I did.

Still got my shit rolled up!!!! Struggled but was grateful for the wristlock (sort of!!) I don’t know if I felt any different but it sure made me realise just how grateful I actually am for just all that we have at the Arena.

Anyway, give it a try. Be grateful for just one thing in the morning, then just one aspect of every activity or encounter each day. Will it make a difference? I don’t know-but I do know it certainly wont be a negative. Training your mind in BJJ is the ultimate goal. Enjoy and roll safe, and remember – my gratefulness may not extend to too many more submissions ; )

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?

The art of learning

Really interesting previous post on competition v self defence. It leads into my thoughts today on learning on the mat. last night we trained an escape technique that was taught by two instructors. Both showed similar techniques, but we left the teaching just at the base level. What I mean by this is we taught the bottom of the pyramid, giving out just the information to provide a solid base to work from. We learned, tweaked and then drilled this and then went live at the end of the session.

We avoided teaching the fine points, the tricky tips and the sneaky moves. I am a massive fan that at each session, there is always a lynch-pin move. The move in the whole technique that matters. This lynch-pin move gets you to the position that matters, usually where the technique begins to branch into the individuals preference, or more importantly what the individual feels on the mat, determining the final sequence.

What has this to do with competition or self defence? Well what BJJ should teach you is building blocks of information that allow you to overcome instinct of movement. You all know this, when I push you, you push back!! What BJJ doesn’t teach if it remains too structured is your own application. Whether you turn left, right or pop out the back. If its on the mat or in a dark street, only you can decide on application. We see many early belts desire the submission, and forget the crux of BJJ is control of yourself and your maximise your opponent’s instinct.

Summarising, learning BJJ should be about solid platforms of concepts that work and can be applied and built on. BJJ is a ‘spiral’ martial art. There is a finite amount of things you can do i.e. back, side, 1/2 guard but a multitude of actions to paste onto the base actions if you get them right. So when your rolling, learn. Think of the base move, the lynch-pin and get that right. It may take 10, 20, 50 attempts but you will secure the skill. Then add. It is then when you can do this you will be more successful in the most important thing in BJJ (whatever that is?).

The ramblings of three BJJ black belts on the wrong side of forty