After The Injury (Returning to BJJ)

ÔĽŅI’m pretty fortunate. My injury wasn’t some crazy knee or shoulder catastrophe that required surgery and months of recovery and rehab. Instead, I felt a crunch in my right ribcage as my partner came crashing down on me at the end of a 30 minute roll. No one knows your body better than you and when you feel something like that, you instantly know that something very very bad just took place. I nervously checked my side and noticed an indention where there used to be ribs and also what felt like a bone trying to protrude outward like the scene from Alien. A hot panic set in as I wondered if something had pierced a major organ. I didn’t want to alarm anyone so I pretended everything was fine and made my way to my car wondering if I should go straight to the ER or take my chances and just go home. A quick Google searched made me aware of how common an injury this was in Brazilion Jiu Jitsu. Most people were saying that their doctor couldn’t do anything for them and just told them to take some Tylenol and rest.  I decided to just go home. (I’m not recommending this to anyone, I just have an issue with going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary. I’m sure it’ll result in a ridiculous death one day.) 

The following weeks were rough as I had difficulty doing anything. Getting out of bed was the hardest part, well that and opening doors. And just when I thought I was starting to feel less pain I sneezed and ended back at square one. You wouldn’t believe what you’ll do to avoid sneezing in this condition. (The ‘punching myself in the face’ option was not off the table.) Anyhow most of my internet jiu jitsu brethren said 4-6 weeks off to heal and they were pretty much right on. I sped up the process though by wearing a back brace around my ribs (thanks Jody), and doing light yoga after 2 weeks.  

Going back to the gym has been cathartic. I have a renewed perspective on the blessing of being healthy because of how much time I had to spend off the mats. All my minor tweaks have healed as well in the time off.  I was afraid of being hesitant rolling, since the last incident is still seared into my memory, but I just have to remember the lessons I learned from all this. I’ll quickly sum them up below. 

Just because you’re doing a lot of Jiu Jitsu, don’t forget to tend to your overall fitness. I believe a big part of my injury was due to my core being ‘less than optimized’ because I was neglecting my yoga. Sure BJJ is great for the core but we all get into our training ruts and can get lazy and/or complacent in our routines.

Overtraining can sneak up on you. My partners will laugh at the idea that I was overtraining (3 days a week), but for me that’s a lot of mat time especially since I’m almost always training and rolling with heavier partners. A sign of overtraining (which I was ignoring) is mounting minor injuries. I had a weird knee issue followed by an ankle cut that wouldn’t heal followed by a stubbed toe etc. My new rule is to train 2 to 3 times a week but do more drilling, less all-out rolling (especially rolls lasting over 15 minutes) , and take a week off every other month. Combining this with my new fitness regimine will hopefully pay off in longevity in the art. I want to do this stuff for life!!!

Don’t neglect the ‘little things’ that help you. We all know that our Jiu Jitsu journey is made up of a million little things that we do right, or do wrong and eventually learn to correct the mistakes. I stopped drilling with my jiu jitsu dummy a few months ago. Not sure why, I just stopped. I didn’t realize that choking the poor inanimate fella was increasing my grip strength and body resistance to pressure (his chest feels like a tree trunk). I’m sure my rib area was weaker because I stopped conditioning with it. So keep up the little things, they add up.

Listen to your instructor. I had two different instructors tell me to allow my body to heal but nooooooooo…I wanted to be Roger Gracie tomorrow so I kept plowing ahead. This should be a no-brainer but listen to those who have thousands of hours over you. They’ve been through it all and thankfully because of what I’ve been through I can give my advice (to some punk who won’t heed it) someday too. ūüėČ Here’s to health, longevity, AND success. 

Letting The Jiu Do You! First Try…

Alright so after my realization about forcing my game I decided to let Jiu Jitsu dictate my motions tonight. No matter what I was going to stay calm and think of myself as water flowing and crashing, whatever action was called for. The old mindset was more like holding a fire hose at my opponent and keeping the water on full blast to get what I wanted. This worked sometimes but always left me tired and not feeling like a true practitioner. It went pretty much like I thought it would. I was able to move pretty well in passing and defending the guard, things just opened up or presented themselves (such as two toe holds¬†of all things). Being this calm also brought on more chances to get tapped and I did get tapped when I went for a fancy arm bar escape. (note to self, don’t do that no mo) The best part is I left feeling very much energized and optimistic about my game. Instead of that “nearly escaping being drowned” feeling I had more of a “just swam across the beach” sensation which, as you can imagine, is still tiring but way more pleasant. I’ll keep updating this blog as my realization continues to unfold. But now do I have to change the name of the blog to “Let The Jiu Do You?”

That THAT little girl.

That THAT little girl.

Stop Trying To Hit Me And Hit Me

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Sorry it’s been a while since my last post. Believe it or not I haven’t been slacking but have been going to class on a consistent basis. I wanted to tell you about a pretty big breakthrough I had on the mats today. I was in the middle of a pretty intense roll when something made sense. I realized that I wasn’t really doing Jiu Jitsu. I was doing something that looked a little like it but it wasn’t the actual art of Jiu Jitsu. I was putting Jiu Jitsu on the back burner as I attempted to just ‘make’ things happen myself. Like when you play guitar, you can try to do something or you can just simply do it. (Yoda and Morpheus said something to that effect as well) Trying to play a G chord is one level whereas allowing the G chord to happen through you is different. I believe at a higher level jiu jitsu is not about imposing your will on somebody but instead (when practiced correctly) becomes a series of flowing occurrences that result¬†in eventual mastery of each situation. By trying to make everything¬†happen I am essentially hitting the gas pedal and the brake simultaneously. For example, I’m trying so hard to pass someone’s guard that I end up with that as my only goal. I become short-sighted and end up stuck because if my path was obstructed my brain just freezes and I start bulldozing my way through. With pure Jiu Jitsu I can see it becoming more like the independent use of both pedals when needed. So I’ll see the obstruction and instantly flow around it, find another path, or simply do nothing and perhaps wait for the path to clear on its own. To sum it all up, I need to take my blinders off and become a conduit for the art. This goes hand-in-hand with my last realization about becoming the empty jacket. I’ll keep you updated on results. See ya!

Yoga and Jiu Jitsu (a true story)

Why do I do this? I mean, I know I should doing certain things everyday for my health but I always seem to find a way to slack off. Take yoga for example. Every time I get in the habit of yoga-ing it up (daily or every other) I feel amazing. Why don’t I keep doing it??? Do I like pain?

Two months ago I started going to BJJ class way more often than before. I wanted to be in top shape before my next review class. In doing so I completely cut off all yoga routines because I figured I was getting enough exercise on the mats. Plus, we do a stretching routine before each class so I thought that would be enough. It wasn’t. My body began shutting down. Parts of me would begin hurting and before it could heal, something else would flare up. So I had two sore shoulders, a stiff neck, a tightness in my lower back, an injured wrist, and to top it off my foot started aching for no reason.

Out of pure desperation I got out the old yoga mat and did a short warmup routine. I knew I was out of yoga shape after only two poses, one of which is having your feet apart standing, dropping one hand to the mat and turning your head to face the ceiling. The areas that were injured all seemed to flare up at all at once but not in an intolerable way. I could control the threshold by how much I twisted. I instantly knew this was the answer. After a few more moves I was done. The whole routine is an hour and a half but today I was just happy getting through the warmup portion. Anyhow, I ended up not needing any Advil to get through the day for the first time in a while. I did my teaching and as soon as I got home I did the warmup routine again for good measure. It’s safe to say that my soreness went away about 50% in just doing those two short sessions.

Now that I’m back on the path I foresee much more BJJ training in my future and hopefully pain free (or close to it) times in between classes and matches. If you think doing BJJ means always being sore, please consider giving yoga a try before you decided to either live with pain or quit. See ya! or um..Namaste???

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Review Match Review 9/7/14

Review class can be like swimming across a lake; even if your arms become dead weight and your lungs on fire you may find yourself only halfway across. What else can you do in that situation besides force yourself to keep going, even if you feel you have nothing left.

My first match was against a red belt (same belt as me). He wrote down his weight and I was a bit intimidated to see that it exceed 200 lbs. Today when I weighed in I was at an all time low of 163 so I felt the difference could really work in his favor. He also resembled Jeff Monson what with his shaved head, huge neck, and tattoos of Vikings, not the team but actual Vikings. My plan was to put him in my closed guard and work for chokes so I jumped right in and went to work. He defended well but I was able to grip two chokes (both of which failed on his huge-ass neck) but in defending he stuck his arm out a bit too much so I went for an arm bar. I arched back with all I had but he wouldn’t tap. He then stacked me up on my neck which caused me to bail. I was soon in his closed guard where I was able to negate his subs and sweep attempts. I just knew I couldn’t let him end up on top due to the weight he’d have over me; I wasn’t ready to hold off 200 lbs for 20 minutes for the first match. Soon the time was up and we had to settle for a tie.

Second match was against an orange belt who was a few levels below me. Orange belts can be tricky because they always seem so eager to ruin a red belt’s day. He moved well making it hard to pass his guard due to great hip movement. He grabbed my foot and fell back for a foot lock. A few days back my girlfriend and I went to see a movie and right in front of my seat was a metal railing. I spent most of the movie (Ghostbusters) forcing my ankles against the metal bars hoping to toughen up those skinny things. I think it helped because he leaned back and I didn’t feel much pain. My brain was screaming, “peel his foot off and get up” but it took my body a few moments to go for it. This is a problem I’m working on, it should be instant. So I got up and ended up on top side control where I quickly grabbed his collar under his neck. He turned into me and I threw my leg over securing the choke. I had just refined that choke a week ago so that was fortunate timing.

My final match started harmless enough against another heavy red belt except this guy had a beard which can be scary. I did my best to get closed guard but he kept his knee up eventually passing and ending up in north/south position on me. I went into full defensive mode and grabbed both my collars making an X with my arms. This did two things: it kept him from being able to choke me, and it protected my arms. We stayed there for about 8 minutes which was awkward because his crotch was pushing against my cheek the whole time. (I bet the photographer caught a few shots of that) All of the sudden I started feeling woozy and realized my “brilliant” hand position was making me CHOKE MYSELF! This made me laugh out loud at the irony of the situation; I’m sure it made my opponent wonder too. Eventually I squirmed out and he went into relentless mount mode. He pulled a Roger Gracie and was going for the mounted collar choke but I also studied that technique so I did enough to stay alive all the while secretly hoping Mr. Arnebeck would call time; by now my neck was hurting and I knew I couldn’t mount much offense any time soon. When time was finally called we both just laughed at how insane that roll was. So another tie.

We were expecting another round but time ran out. This is when you see the most smiles as everyone is relieved to have gotten through such a tough class. I went to fist bump my opponents but they opened up for a hug instead. The kinship between BJJ practitioners really shows post competition.

I felt better than after the last review class. My hands weren’t as beat up (less grip reliance?), I had no mat burns, and the only soreness was in my neck. I’m sure I’ll have what they call “Batman neck” for a few days but that should be it. However, after dinner my body did begin to grow more and more achy as the trauma set in. I went to lay down and my girlfriend was amused saying I was moving around like a newborn dinosaur who was still awkwardly stuck in the primordial egg ooze. I can’t say she was far off.
*Areas of improvement mostly include being more offensive and taking more chances now that I have faith in my defense. This should open up my game and create better situations for future matches. Thanks for reading.

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Wrestling An Empty Jacket

So here’s a concept that always sounded good but never quite took hold in my Jiu Jitsu game. It’s phrased in many ways but means essentially the same thing. You may have heard “flow with the go,” “be like water,” etc. and perhaps you even tried to incorporate that mindset into your game, I know I did with very little success. It seemed like the more I tried to “be like water” the more my opponent became the “overly large” kid doing the cannon ball. Yesterday something clicked and surprisingly it proved to be beneficial almost instantly. I remembered an old Judo saying where they elude to the concept of making your opponent feel as though they were wrestling an empty jacket when they faced you. How would that feel? Well first off the empty jacket wouldn’t resist all your power. It would bend, fold, and flow along with whatever your intentions happen to be. So I applied it against my first opponent in open gym who happened to be the instructor for the day. What better way to test something new than on someone way better than you right? Hehe. We started on knees and he pushed and pulled at me but I yielded to his every move. He came forward and I fell back but in a safe open guard position. He passed and tried securing a choke as I turtled up which almost caused me to snap out of my new state of mind but I stayed the course. I eventually rolled out and got him in my closed guard which lasted a good minute or so. It wasn’t until I attempted a sweep that he got out and eventually caught me in a footlock. I felt I could fight it since I had his collar but I conceded the tap, after all I wasn’t concerned about tapping, I just wanted to stay in my new zone.

After our roll he gave me a few tips and said there were many good things going on with my defense and even my submission attempts. The best compliment though was when he said he was trying hard to break my guard but noticed I stayed calm the entire time which was odd. I didn’t tell him about my experiment but thought to myself how things could have been much different had I fought and fought against his escape attempts instead of melting my moves around his actions. On a side note, I woke up the next day and felt about 1/4 of the soreness I usually feel. This alone was worth the change.

We have review class coming up next Sunday (four 20-minute matches to determine our rank) and though it may be bad timing, I’m going to apply this new mindset immediately and from here on out. I don’t care so much about tapping if the opponent manages to get something on me, but I’m done defeating MYSELF with the tension and the rigidity of my own movements. I’m going to be doing a lot more study with this and I’ll keep you updated on anymore breakthroughs I may have. Until then, stay calm and Do The Jiu!

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Zen Rolling

I was pondering what makes Jiu Jitsu so difficult and something came to me in a flash: Jiu Jitsu isn’t hard, I’m making it hard. I’m sure I’ve read that statement before but for once it actually made perfect sense. Kind of like the day I realized how easy Yoga could be once I let go of excess tension within each pose and kept a watch on my breathing. I then noticed this tension in other areas of my life such as: when I played guitar onstage all the way down to when I was doing dishes. It was hard to notice though sort of like how you don’t notice the sound of the refrigerator until it stops and suddenly there’s silence in the house. You don’t always notice there’s tension in your body until you learn to let it go. For example, try lifting your arm without thinking about it. Pretty easy right? Now flex your whole arm while you lift it. This is what my Jiu jitsu is like.

I don’t know about everyone else but I really dread the idea of being tested. I know personally i’d rather just roll for fun and learn in the process; but at my school you must do what are called review matches in order to confirm or advance your rank. These are killers. Twenty minute matches, like in Metamoris, and upwards of four of them practically back-to-back. Speaking of back, last review class I hurt my back during the very first match (was caught in a bow and arrow choke for an extended time) but kept on through the rest resulting in about two weeks of hellacious pain. Anyhow you get the picture.

I realize now that because I put so much importance on these matches my body turns up the underlying static of tension and I tend to perform far below my ability. Add to that the fact that I waste enormous amounts of energy fighting my way out of submissions and you’ve got one ragged kid at the end of the day.

My plan is to consciously let go of all fear of loss and to just see it as a personal summation of my current skills. If I tap I tap. I’m even going to tap more and fight out of tight subs less. I mean I shouldn’t be flailing about after my opponent has already sunk in a choke. I should tap, learn from it, and move on. I should also let my technique do most of the work and if I fail it means my technique needs work, not added exertion.

It occurred to me that if I can’t defeat my opponent without remaining calm, then I’m simply doing it wrong and I’m libel to gas out in a real situation when it matters the most. Here’s to a new mind set when training. Hopefully a more “zen” mind set.

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Surprise!

Woke up the other day and found out I am now a BJJ blue belt. Unofficial until next month when I do a review class but none the less an awesome feeling. It happened overnight (well not really) due to the new Rickson association standards. Our school follows its own belt system since it offers a cross training curriculum (stand up and ground fighting) so in that I’m currently a Red 2 but that now equals BJJ blue. Our blue equals BJJ purple, and black is now BJJ brown. Confused?

I’ve been working much more on positional drilling and so far I see it really paying off in passing and defending the guard. I have a new mentality where I now think, “You’re NOT passing my guard,” as opposed to my old mindset which was, “Please, please don’t pass my guard.” Believe it or not, this helps. It keeps me from giving up too quickly when I feel my opponent gaining the upper hand. Try it.

My defensive skills are sharper and I can tell my training partners are at least working harder to submit me. I’m okay with my progress since I am now seeing results and I can tell where it’s going. Here’s the path: I learn to survive which eventually leads to escapes. Escapes lead to escaping into better positions. Better positions equals controlled offense. Controlled offense equals submissions. This is my gameplan, heavily borrowed from Roger Gracie’s concepts, and I’m going to follow it and see where I end up. I’ll keep track of my progress leading up to my review match, which is in Sept, and let you know what I’m currently working on. See ya!

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Still Getting Smashed BUT…….

Last night was quite humbling. ¬†I’ve been doing Insanity, the workout, and felt that my cardio was badass…finally. ¬†But like everyone says on the mat, “grappling cardio is just different cardio.” ¬†I was okay after my first roll although I didn’t really push myself too hard. (got tapped twice and got a ‘pity’ tap at the end) My opponent (Red2) kept negating my closed guard (which is my best guard as of now) by standing up and putting all his weight forward. ¬†I know I should have gone to open guard but I wanted to tough it out and see if I had any other options. ¬†I’ll be asking my instructor about it Sunday. ¬†

My second roll started out the same but then my opponent (Red3) fell back to let me play top game for a bit.  I surprised myself by doing the GSP pass to side to mount.  He was a heavy dude and just bucked me off to the side.  I almost got the armbar but we ended up with me on bottom playing guard.  I twisted my hips and caught him in an armbar, yay!  We rolled later and I ended up getting that first mount bump armbar.  It was a good day for armbars.  

I finally rolled with the instructor who just got his blue belt. (at my school that is the belt before black) He controlled me most of the time but said I was very hard to tap out.  I did get caught a few times, one of the times to a mutual heel hook, but I was proud of the fact that even though I was pretty much a wet rag on the mat I still kept a good level of jits.  

So I got smashed pretty much the whole night but I realized that making a few micro changes starts the ball rolling in a better direction. ¬†For example, I tend to give my back a lot when I get in trouble and turtle up but I told myself I’d turn IN towards my opponent instead. ¬†It actually kept me out of trouble. ¬†I think Jiu Jitsu is all about those little mindset alterations. ¬†In all my years of study I learned¬†that it’s an art of inches. ¬†Later…Breaking Bad is on. ¬†-Mike

 

Drilling Meditations

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For the past month I’ve been focusing on strictly drilling guard passing and defense. ¬†Guard passing is that position that you know you need to work on but never really seem to. ¬†(kinda like takedowns) But I decided enough is enough and it’s time to bring my weaknesses into the light. ¬†So in open gym I find some willing chap who’s not opposed to a lot of repetition and we take turns passing each other’s guards. ¬†So far I’ve learned a few things that I should have already known. ¬†Things such as:

-Angle a bit when approaching from sitting to avoid the easy leg swing (drag) pass.  

-If you feel the opponent is passing, get out of that angle and square up to make both sides equally unpassable.  

-Tripod sweep is always there. ¬†If you go to DLR guard, don’t just stall but push and pull to unbalance your partner. ¬†

-Every time you sweep from the guard watch out that your feet/legs/heels aren’t in danger. (I got double ankle locked when I pulled off a double ankle grab sweep…it was kind of embarrassing.) ¬†

-Closed guard is great but don’t rest too long. ¬†Keep them guessing with different pressures and grips. ¬†I seem to get the hip bump sweep and its options quite a bit on good nights. ¬†

-You can always lift the opponent into the air if they get too close.  This will freak them out.  

-Don’t forget that there are some sweeps and submissions that can be performed as they try to pass.

-And finally remember to realize when you’ve failed and get into a good defensive posture asap. ¬†I’m slowly learning how to invert as an emergency resort. ¬†More on this in later posts. ¬†

When it comes to passing I’m getting my custom game happening. ¬†Really it’s just having 3 options from combat base and 2 from standing. ¬†I’m landing passes more and more mostly because I’m understanding what needs to be blocked and how to keep the pressure on. ¬†I was getting trapped in the knee shield guard but with some help from my instructor and some other sources I think I have that licked. ¬†I’ll let you know if I nail it next time. ¬†See ya. ¬†