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.

Pre Telethon jitters :)

As I sit here on the morning before a team of intrepid grapplers attempt to roll for 24 hrs non stop, I start to ponder why I have those little butterflys flying formation in my stomach… Why should I feel nervous about stepping on the mats with friends, to do what we love and train, for the most worthy of causes, raising money for children’s cancer research.

What makes it more retarded is I have combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have over 250 skydives, I have 250 hrs as a pilot, I am an former Police diver, I have climbed mountains, chased crooks and been shot at….. so why the hell should this make me nervous?

The answer is, I have no idea, but this is a common occurrence. So many times, probably the majority at our gym, I look at the mats and think “oh, shit, there is no easy partner on there, this is going to hurt (body and ego ;)” and I relax, smile and step on anyway.

This confrontation of your fears… fear of failing, fear of being found wanting, fear of your weaknesses being show, fear of injury, fear of letting yourself down, fear of letting your peers down is a key part to learning. But if you look at pastimes that reveal these weaknesses I think you would find their attrition rate is very high, especially those that lay the blame for underperformance on you alone!

People don’t like to find out that the vision of themselves, the one they have created in their head, is fallible, and it does fail and will be found wanting if truly tested ….

So we have 2 main choices when faced with this dilemma… we convince ourselves that we are as good as we think and the test was some how flawed…. That the activity would be achievable if we really wanted to do it, or that it is mere trickery.

Or we take the hard road, suck it up and accept that failure is part of improvement…. After all, there is no triumph without failure and the things that are the hardest to attain, mean the most!

We used to have t-shirt that said “Tough times don’t last, tough men do!” (sorry ladies, it wasn’t meant to be gender specific…) This phrase starts to encompass this concept and has been the source of motivation to me on countless occasions, but that is another blog .

Reading this back, I can see how it may seem a bit melodramatic to someone that doesn’t take part in an activity that plays these emotional games and also there will be people that have taken the easy path with regards to these introspective choices who probably scoff. I’m not judging and to each their own, as long as we are all truly happy with the choices we make in the times of challenge, because regret sucks!

But for me jumping from a perfectly serviceable plane and stepping on the mats with a bunch of sharks are 2 things that give me great satisfaction because I know most people won’t do it…. They would come up with excuses for themselves that they don’t need to do it, could if they wanted to, aren’t really interested, have to go to the bathroom, don’t have the right equipment, have an old footy injury, can’t find the time etc, etc, etc….

In the end, I think you gain far more by being honest with yourself, identify your strengths and weaknesses, improve those you can and recognize those you can’t, it will make your training much more rewarding….. and now… Telethon.. good luck guys ☺

Strategic, not Tactical

I was recently coaching a friend and training partner while they were competing, and what struck me was the difference in the coaching styles.

The general coaching style seems to be tactical. Yelling about going for a specific technique, which both fighters can hear. Yelling at the referee about points not allocated, real or imaginary. Yelling watch out for the whatever technique, again that both fighters can hear.

My approach is different. The person in the fight has a fair idea of what theire opponent is up to. They can feel their movement, their intention. They probably know something you don’t from the sidelines, such as I could go for the sweep but my hand is trapped, which you can’t see. I try to give the fighter information they don’t have, things like:

  • How many minutes left in the round
  • How many points they are up or down
  • When they achieve a scoring position to wait for their points
  • To let them know when they have been given their points
  • If it doesn’t look like they are going to be allocated points for the position, to move on with their game
  • If the referee starts a 20 second countdown for stalling, to let them know they have to move

It means I’m not endlessly shouting. Just letting them know the time and score every minute or two, and letting them know when there is an opportunity to get points.

If you are a lower belt, maybe reconsider shouting tactical advice at a black belt match, and respect the time and skills it took to become a black belt.

Guiding Principals

I have refereed literally hundreds of matches. I have attended multiple Referee Clinics held be the West Australian Federation of Brazilian  Jiu-jitsu. I have been certified by the Australian Federation of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as a referee. I have attended day long rules seminars with Alvaro Mansor, the Rules Director of the International Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Federation. Every time before I referee, I re-read the rules, all 44 pages of them.

People complain about referees. They complain about referees who make mistakes. The complain about referees who don’t give advantages or points where they would have. They complain about things that aren’t even a part of the rules… “Where are my side control points?” “Why didn’t I get sweep points?”, when it was actually a turnover.

Should you care to read the rules,  you would see there are some guiding principals in there, that give you direction as to what you need to do to win.

3.2 Matches should unfold as a progression of positions of technical control that ultimately result in a submission hold. Therefore athletes who voluntarily relinquish a position, in order to again score points using the same position for which points have already been awarded, shall not be awarded points upon achieving the position anew.

6.4 Serious Fouls

6.4.4 When an athlete on the ground evades combat by sliding his/herself outside the match area.

6.4.5 When an athlete on the ground stands to escape combat and does not return to combat on the ground.

6.4.6 When an athlete breaks the grip of the opponent pulling guard and does not return to combat on the ground.

6.4.21 When an athlete runs around the match area and does not engage in the combat.

6.5.1 Lack of combativeness (stalling) is defined by one athlete clearly not pursuing positional progression in a match and also when an athlete impedes his/her opponent from carrying out said progression.

 From this you can take the following principals:

  1. Matches should unfold as a progression of positions of technical control.
  2. A match should  ultimately result in a submission hold.
  3. Not engaging in the fight is punishable within the rules.

So you may complain about a referees decision, or of the advantages or points you didn’t get, but the referee is merely providing a result because you failed to achieve the required objective.

If you didn’t win by submission, you didn’t win. You merely ran out of time, and forced the decision on the referee.

part 2…

Part 1

I few years ago I had quite a bad run with injuries, I had 4 full shoulder reconstructions in the space of 3 years… yes, 4 (slap tears x 4, bicep tendon x 2, a completely ruptured pec major, rotator cuffs, AC joints… all fun stuff).

On one occasion, after being in sling for 6 weeks, I decided to have a ‘play’ after having the sling off for only 2 weeks. I promptly pulled 6 anchors out of my newly repaired right shoulder (thanks Simon 😉 and was back under the surgeons knife, and in a sling for another 8 weeks this time. Incidentally it was after this operation that I was told, for the second time in my life, that I should stop BJJ and find another hobby…. HOBBY, pfft whatever, my reply was “just chop it off and I’ll just train with my left (and you think I jest 😉

I’m not ashamed to admit I had a little cry… but what it did force me to do was focus on the fact that the 6 months I had off the mat were an opportunity to take my learning in another direction. It forced me to genuinely realize that this is a lifelong pursuit for me and in a lifetime, 6 months is nothing, a drop in the bucket, an opportunity to alter my perception and direction in the way I train..

But in these times of trial, what kept me coming to the gym, what kept me motivated and positive was the support of my family and the close knit community that I was a part of. The lifestyle and the people. Just being on the mat, sitting and watching, talking and maintaining my connection was massive to me. It made me feel that every time I came down to my church I was closer to training and I think this is where people go wrong.

To ensure our training longevity, was have to lean on the people that are there to support us. As I get older the sense of community at the gym becomes more and more important to me and we are fortunate enough to share a fantastic medium for this…. And ‘ping’ the light bulb goes on and I realize that this is Budo, true Budo… the lifestyle you live and the path you walk when practicing a martial art.

It is nothing new, it is, in fact, centuries old… but it is elusive. I have trained in a martial art for most of my life, but now, at 43, I am feeling this for the first time and to all of you that are playing a part, I thank you, even if you are not aware….

14 years and I am just figuring this out… told you I was a slow learner!

Practice makes perfect…or does it?

What a great weekend of BJJ. Seen Jamie, one of my mentors, competitor and friend earn himself a well earned gold medal.  A man who lives by the adage that you will be tested each and every time you step on the mat. Well mate, you were tested and came up with the goods, and done it by submitting some seriously skilled dudes!

Then, spent Saturday just being schooled in the art by Professor Julio Cesar Pereira. Had the pleasure of learning with my BJJ partner in crime, Taff. How cool it was just discovering, work-shopping and laughing as we inflicted some serious pain on each other!! Well over 12 years in and both of us still learning so much! BJJ, you gotta love the pain. You need to be able to harness it and use it as a motivator and a guide. Never as a deterrent or negative. Pain allows you to realise mistakes, make corrections and to applaud your partners skill.

Man, these guys show you stuff so fundamentally easy, it makes you wonder why you even need to be shown it. A turn of the hand here, a grip there. From a practitioner who started training in 1974, his final message was be a family. Every black belt that has visited our gym mentions that deeper need for family connection, and then comments on that we have that at the Arena.

It is the deeper level of trust that they can feel on our mats I’m sure. I have never felt unsafe, even in the roughest of rolls with the biggest of fighters. It is this trust that allows you to park your ego; the trust your partners is not trying to beat you, but to actually bettering you and themselves (and actually in that order!).

So for me at this stage of my journey, it is the recognition of friends achievements and the love of learning that keeps me on the mat. I don’t know if there is an answer to practice makes perfect, or if I even want perfect (whatever that is?). But what I do know is I want to grow old, rolling on the mats and at 90, be looking forward to the next technique with my mates (hopefully not there so I can test it out on them : ). That is my perfect!! You don’t need to find your perfect, but just enjoy the search.


If it was easy, everyone would do it…… part 1.

So this past weekend, while Jamie was submitting his way to Black Belt Pan Pacific glory, I was luck enough to spend 3 fortunate hours on the mat with with some fantastic friends and training partners at a seminar by Julio Cesar Pereira (thanks again to Fabio Nunez for the opportunity).

For those that don’t know Julio, he is a 6th degree BB, who has been training since 1974. The opportunity to learn from someone with that sort of understanding and experience was fantastic, the techniques were great, but hidden amongst these were the nuances that only come with time, a slight change to a grip, a modification on an angle, a slight rotation and ‘ping’ there goes the light bulb!

I could wax lyrical about the seminar and its contents, but what I wanted to discuss was the point that was mentioned in the previous post by Jamie regarding Blue Belt attrition.

People often discuss the emotional roller coaster that is BJJ and it has been touched upon in previous posts. There are many attempts at explaining why people leave BJJ at various stages and a question I was keen to pose to Julio was, does this phenomenon of a slump at Blue Belt exist everywhere and the answer was yes.

So why do people have just spent somewhere between 2-4 years… (almost 5 in my case, but I’m a slow learner) obtaining their blue belt and within 6 months of wrapping that first solid recognition of BJJ progress around their waist they have stopped training.

While this phenomenon does exist at other belts, it seems more pronounced at blue belt. More white belts stop of course, but, that is inevitable as they are still trying to find something, that may not be BJJ. Purples, browns, yep, they stop too, but not as many as blues, ratio wise.

So, why?

I think there are numerous reasons which I am not going to go into at length now. But for some, they have genuinely achieved enough, some are scared by the responsibility that comes with that belt and the next step, some are discouraged by how long the road is… so how do you stop this.

Everyone has to answer this for them self, but I think the focus has to be on the journey, not the destination.

It is about enjoying every step, even the ones backwards, taking each moment for what it is, each roll, each technique, each open mat. At the end of the day strapping that BB around your waist is a massive achievement, but it is just another step. If you focus on each belt, then I think you are setting yourself up for “false crests” as you realize the next section of the trail is steeper still.

When you realize that you are committing to this lifestyle, that it is a road with no destination, a journey that never ends, it makes more sense.

You will never win, you will never complete this game and you will never cross the finish line. It, the journey and the reward and the satisfaction this brings is always there. This lack of immediate gratification isn’t for everyone and the required perseverance goes against so much of what modern society espouses.

I defy anyone to say they have attained mastery in BJJ (is that why BJJ black belts are called professor, while other martial arts call their BB’s masters?), so we have to relax and enjoy the ride.

A bit deep I know and maybe I am trying to hard to explain it, but this isn’t a right or wrong, yes or no, concept. It is how I feel and if this helps in understanding what you feel, then I am happy .

To be continued….. Part 2

Long Hard Road

I think that it’s at purple belt I noticed the increase in the level of competition. If you think about the people who make purple belt, they have probably been training in the region of 5 to 7 years. Anyone with less dedication is already gone. “Blue Belt Attrition” has taken those who have spent years to attain a level of skill, but then move on to other activities or commitments.

When I first started competing at brown belt, I wasn’t having great results. I think I lost my first six fights. Sometimes by as little as a referees decision at the Pan Ams, sometimes by being submitted in short order in a local competition. The pinnacle of my brown belt career was getting to the final of Pan Pacific Championships. I didn’t win that day, but it felt like it was reward for effort.

Step forward to my black belt career thus far. A lot of losses on the board, I’m guessing six or seven. No wins. I’m training regularly, and always looking to improve. The results can be disheartening, but to stop trying is to admit defeat. It reminds me  of a line in The Arena slogan:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,”
Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

This past weekend I competed at the Pan Pacific Championships again, this time as a black belt. If I won my first fight, I would then go on to fight a former coach, who is now a key training partner. He has significantly more submissions against me, than I do against him. He also has prior wins against me in competition, whereas I have none against him.

I won my first fight with two advantages, so I was pitted against him in the next bracket. The small advantage I had over the other fights, was I knew his game, as he knew mine. It turned out it was my day. He made a slight mistake, which I was able to capitalise on, and get the submission. I went on to win the final with another submission.

That was two years since I first got my black belt. Two years to my first win in competition as a black belt. I’m proud of my achievement, but the lesson is not about overnight success. The lesson is about persistence, about dedication, about continually working to improve, and the results that will come from that.

Welcome to the long hard road…

The Gentle Art……eventually

When posed with the challenge of imparting some of the wisdom that the years of training have provided me, the first hurdle I faced was realizing that I, in fact, do have the experience to have wisdom to impart… a concept I still struggle with at times.

Pondering this…again, over a glass of red and a bit of a barbeque, the solution presented itself… just tell a story and say what you think. Now I consider myself a reasonably clever person and as such this revelation should not have been so hard to realize, but one of the things that BJJ has taught me is that so many times, common sense, isn’t… and the obvious, isn’t…. also, anything you say before the word ‘but’ doesn’t count, think about it, but that is for another time…..

Anyway back to the title for this post… I find it hugely ironic that the gentle art, for soooo long, isn’t. It takes years to have the ability to express yourself in the physical medium of kinetic chess in a gentle manner.

And I think now, for the first time, I have ever contemplated the attributes that make up the elusive Jackalope, that is, the perfect training partner….

Knowledge, ability, control, fitness, experience, confidence…… trust… I could address each of these individually, but I won’t, my goal here is to stimulate thought, self analysis and introspection, so that bit is up to you, the reader.

Most of us know it, or have felt it, perhaps just a glimpse, even if we didn’t realize it, but you roll for what feels like hours, you are relaxed and in the zone, the full repertoire of sweeps, transitions and movements on display, training with speed and intensity, to exhaustion….. and no one got hurt, sometimes not even a bruise.

Compared to allowing a white belt into your guard and the inevitable pin point bruises that pockmark your legs and inner arm from the grip of death. Woe betide you if we are starting from the bottom and he/ she is in side control, because the barrage of elbows and knees that follow will be furious and that is in the simple transition to north south…….. I exaggerate… sort of 😉

And why is this, is it because they think they can win (the white belt), are they that intent on their first elusive BB scalp.

Are they scared? Interesting, as far more BB’s get hurt by white belts than, whites by Black’s.

Do they lack the traits listed above, not enough mat time to have the body awareness and control?

I don’t have the answer, as I feel it is different for each person, but at the end of the day, I am far more likely to relax, share and play with an opponent, when I can see that they are genuinely trying to learn how to be good partner and not just a good practitioner.

I could go on and on about this, but at the end of the day, we can’t drink from this holy chalice alone, we need those that can help us, push us and learn with us, but that care about the manner in which they do it, those that have the presence of being to think “no, today is his day, not mine, how can I make this roll better for my partner?”

Until next time ☺

Macronutrient Evolution

Fuel. What do you need to power you to your best performance, particularly for competition?

I started off thinking the carb loading of endurance events had something to recommend it. After all, if you can run a marathon, why shouldn’t that be good fuels for a few rounds of fighting? After seeing Tim Ferriss post on the Slow Carb Diet, and subsequently publish The Four Hour Body, I started to see that a diet high in carbs probably wasn’t going to be the best thing to make weight.

So then I was more focused on protein and low carb vegetables, like cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower etc) and lefty greens, salads and such.

From there I started to hear about gluconeogenesis, from Ben Greenfield’s podcast, and also from the book Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore. Basically if you eat too much protein, it gets turned into carbohydrate. Back to the same problem.

Now I’m working on a ketogenic diet. Eating about as much fat as possible, and minimising carbohydrate. A smoothie I make involves a can of coconut cream and an avocado. I have a blood glucose monitor, to regularly check the impact of the meals I eat. I’m also looking to get a device to measure breath ketones. A ketogenic diet also helps with intermittent fasting, sometimes inadvertently, because I’m not overly hungry.

For further reading check out Ketogenic Diets and Physical Performance by Stephen D Phinney.