I Quit BJJ….For 1 Day

This isn't easy for me to write.

Everyone says that on your journey to black belt you will probably experience at least one major injury. This is the injury that will not only test your body, but will test your spirit. I know that sounds a bit grandiose but I'm realizing how true it is.

Two months ago I had my knee go out during a pretty routine exchange. I had just stood up to avoid my instructor's dangerous butterfly guard when my knee popped 3 times during a knee reap. That's when the opponent, in this case from the ground, whips their leg over yours in order to collapses you back to the ground. This is countered either by removing their reaping leg, spinning out in the direction of their reap, or pointing your knee out and standing strong to avoid the inevitable heel hook opportunity. Well I opted for the 3rd option. Feeling good about the strength of my body, I had been doing P90X and have never felt stronger, I stood my ground and drove my knee outward while driving my foot to the ground insuring he couldn't get a hold of my heel to get the tap, the submission. There was so much force just from the reap that when he was able to rock my foot off the ground my knee (the weakest part of the structure) twisted and I felt 3 pops as I fell to the ground. He immediately released the hold and came to my aid while the sound of my knee made those around us stop their own grappling to see what happened. I felt a cold shiver fill me and strangely a hot flash too as I knew something major had just happened. I leapt up to me feet pretending to be okay, actually I didn't feel much pain since my adrenaline was pumping so much, but I could feel the frightening sensation of instability in my right knee as I struggled to stay upright. I walked it off and my instructor laid on the mat trying to shake off the unsettling feeling of actually feeling the full effectiveness of BJJ. I tried to ease his mind by making light of the situation but inside I was trembling thinking of all the rehab and time off I was now facing.

I spent the next 2 months in a sort of depressed haze filling my time and energy drawing and watching Gilmore girls. Don't laugh, it's surprisingly comforting in times of distress. ūüėČ Well after such a long time off I was out of shape but my knee seemed about ready for at least a little bit of testing. So I went to class only to have to pop again during a routine back step during open gym. My knee swelled up and I had to sit out the rest of class. I was devastated and imagined all the time off was for nothing. I had messed my knee up and now I was back to square one. How long would it really take to be back to 100%? Six months said another instructor who had the same injury. I went home crushed realizing that it's probably better if I just quit BJJ for now. Who's was I kidding, I had felt my passion for the art dwindling and now more than ever was the best time for me to hang up the gi. So with a heavy heart, thinking of the 11 years I put into it, I emailed my instructors to tell them the news.

I spent the next day in a strange place. For the first time in 11 years I didn't have the pressure of BJJ on my mind. It's like this constant pull making you want to eat healthy, stay fit and flexible, and thinking of new ways to improve your game. All that was left was this palpable void. Yes for the first time in over a decade I was faced with the same void that haunts us all. I'm going to write a whole piece on 'the void' but for now I'll just say I realized this void is responsible for either destroying or inspiring each and every person. I could see why some people, in order to deal with this void, turn to alcohol, drugs, consumption, Crossfit. ūüėČ Just kidding my Crossfit friends..kind of. In my case it was Jiu Jitsu. Without it I lacked a major driving force in my life. Besides family, friends, students, guitar, yoga, art, and Buffy, Jiu Jitsu/martial arts has been one of my main pillars, one of my main reasons for being alive. Call it cowardice, but I found myself running back to the 'gentle art.' I decided to fight through this damn knee injury and continue my journey to black belt.

To my surprise, after making this decision I woke to find that my knee was already feeling much better. I didn't take three steps back but perhaps only one or two. With a good knee brace and this new determination I believe I can get back to the mats sooner than later. Thanks for reading everyone and thanks to my instructors and girlfriend for putting up with my drama. ūüėČ -Mike

After The Injury


It’s one thing when you’re doing something stupid and you get hurt, but when your knee pops during a usually routine position it can give you pause. My partner had me in butterfly guard and yanked me up causing me to post both arms out. He did the right thing by switching to a leg attack, a heel hook to be specific. Usually from standing I can place my weight on the threatened foot and angle my knee out in a way that makes it impossible for my heel to be reached. For some reason the pressure of the knee reap alone resulted in three quite audible pops as my partner released the hold and I went down in disbelief. The first few moments after an injury is always unsettling. The guys around you stop what they’re doing and pop their concerned heads up gauging by the expression on your face how badly you were hurt. Your blood runs cold and hot somehow at the same time as you wait for the pain response to hit your brain. 

I did the dumbest thing possible and got right up to my feet. Honestly though I felt no pain but could tell something wasn’t quite right. So I tried to “walk it off” the whole time joking about how I used to crack my knees on purpose as a kid and this felt like a similar sensation. My partner laid on his back with his eyes closed obviously feeling both bad for me and probably disgusted at how it felt to actually snap a guy’s knee. He and I both agreed that something like this has never happened to either of us before. A simple knee reap is way more dangerous than I had thought. From now on whenever I’m in that position I’m going to either get their leg off immediately, spin out, or just tap. No more putting all my weight on such a susceptible limb. It’s comparable to holding a long stick on the ground while someone’s leaning on it with all their weight, because there’s no give at the bottom the weakest part of the stick will break first. Now I know.

Your psychology goes crazy the days following an injury. I guess you can say I’ve been pretty fortunate that in 10 years of training I’ve really only had 4 mid-level occurrences and a few low-level. Mid-level includes popping a rib, popping my ankle while my partner escaped from my mounted triangle, popping my other ankle from a foot lock, and now this. Lots of popping it seems. They all could have been avoided except for maybe the rib. I exhaled after a long rolling session just as my partner landed full force onto my side. Some thoughts that have passed my mind since the last episode: If that can happen so easily what if something major happens? Do I really want to risk more injuries over something I mostly do as a hobby? Do I still love Jiu Jitsu enough to keep powering through? Will this be ‘the one’ that ends my journey? 

Walking, well limping, around the bookstore the other day I spotted some guy wearing a Gracie Jiu Jitsu shirt. 9 times out of 10 if they’re wearing a Gracie shirt they train, if not they’re usually wearing a Tapout shirt. ūüėČ I casually approached him and noticed two things, he had mega calves for a smaller guy, and he exerted that ‘quiet confidecne’ you only see from someone who’s been through some shit. Turns out it was Greg Nelson from The Academy in MN. He’s a 4th degree BJJ black belt known for training UFC fighters and battling and beating cancer twice. After he introduced himself I took a step back in disbelief like I was meeting a superhero. We talked a bit about training and I mentioned my recent injury. He told me that he’s had his knee issued (as most of us do) and told me that even if I can only train here and there it’s a long journey and staying on the path is really the battle. 

It didn’t hit me until I was walking out to my car that it couldn’t have been just pure chance that I ran into Mr. Nelson. Suddenly my popped knee dwarfed in comparison to him beating cancer twice and going onto continue his martial arts journey. Such a sublime moment and realization. So my doubts about hanging up the purple belt dissolved and even though it may be a while before I’m back rolling on the mats, I’ll be doing all I can during my time away to stay in shape for my return. Thanks for reading and I hope it was somewhat inspiring to anyone going through the same ordeal. -Mike

6 Plateau-Busting Reasons To Roll With a Novice

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You could say I’ve been at my current belt for an embarrassingly long amount of time. So much so my belt has become a pathetic frayed freak show that gets more and more frail with every washing. I’m hoping to have at least some shred of it left (along with my dignity) to hang on the wall when I get to the next level.¬†I’m pretty¬†sure it’s gonna look like dental floss by then.

An interesting thing happened tonight. A student (two belts lower than me) came up and asked me to teach him some triangle choke details. Afterwards I used the opportunity to ask¬†him to roll a bit.¬†¬†I figured I could use the roll as a¬†warm up before I went against the higher belts. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this ‘warm up roll’ was going to bring some of the most important realizations and breakthroughs into my awareness.

Suddenly everything was working for me. Techniques that I never pull off with the higher belts were finally landing. Submissions came out of nowhere and my timing began to improve. Even Youtube techniques were working! ūüôā I believe I was experiencing¬†what black belts must feel¬†when rolling, that they can experiment/learn during the rolls and not just struggle to survive the whole time.

(Since most people just scroll down till they see a list with bold letters, here ya go!)

Here’s why rolling with a novice practitioner¬†helped me and why I believe it’s going to be a big part of my open gym training from now on:

  1. You can finally relax while rolling. Of course you can do that even with black belts but you’ll probably get crushed and/tapped very quickly. With lower belts you don’t feel as much pressure so you can slow your breathing down and calmly make your moves. It might surprise you how slick your movement can be when you don’t have to constantly struggle.
  2. You can chain moves together. Tonight I went from side control to mount to high mount to cross choke to armbar to triangle and got the tap. It was amazing to feel such control and flow for once. You may ask, “But what good is a chain if higher belts can break them?” Well, how can you improve your chains if you¬†have no starting point of reference? Let’s say you can pull off a cross choke to armbar chain on a lower belt. Well next time you might have a little more trouble with a tougher opponent but because you know it works at one level you can make little adjustments from there. If not, you’re trying to already adapt something that’s doesn’t exist at a basic level. Imagine if you never threw a front kick because high-level kickboxers always block them. You’d have one less tool in the arsenal and you’d never have a base technique in which to tweak. Since I have a snappy¬†front kick, I use it on lower belts all the time. However, if I fail with a front kick I’ve learned how to turn it over for a question mark kick or even a switch kick. The basic techniques become the foundation for¬†your building blocks and though you can still use them you are also able to jump up levels when needed.
  3. You can sharpen your reaction times.¬†After a while I decided to let him go on the offensive¬†so I could work my defense.¬†Since I knew what he wanted to do, I was able to easily escape BEFORE anything became a real threat. The idea of ‘putting out little fires before they grew’ seemed to finally make sense. I¬†now had time, and space, to be one step ahead of my opponent¬†and I know¬†that’s an important concept that I can build on.
  4. You can experiment.¬†I felt a little mean going for Twisters and inverted guard tricks but hey I finally felt free while grappling. I wasn’t constantly fighting for my life worrying about getting passed or choked so why not try a few things? Isn’t this how you develop your own style after all? Chances are you’re not going to experiment with¬†new moves¬†against a 200 pound black belt. So how do you know if it will ever work for you at all? Use this time to take a few chances and you may discover which techniques really resonate with you.
  5. You can let submissions go and study how opponents escape. One time I had side control and reached back to grab his collar. He turned in so I flipped around getting his back while still having the collar grip. I knew I could just tighten the choke and he’d tap but I just held it, right on the edge. Eventually he began to wiggle and as he went for the escape I easily took mount. The segments became crystal clear and opened my eyes on why the high belts make this a big part of their¬†training. Marcelo Garcia explained this in one of his videos as well.
  6. You can finally use their movements against them. When a higher belt pushes you off you can bet they’re going to put a knee between you and escape. However a lower belt usually just pushes and pushes. God it felt so mean but I simply let this guy push me into better and better positions. The reason I felt bad is because I knew exactly how it feels to be in his place. From side control he pushed my chest so I rotated my body and scooped up his arm. Then he pushed me right back and I took mount. Out of frustration he pushed my knee and I took technical mount, and this went on and on. He was doing ALL the work!

Part of me wondered if all this rolling with a less-skilled opponent would affect my game against the higher belts. So at the end of class I went back to the deep end and rolled with two guys who were my rank. What I discovered was that I brought with me a sense of confidence and flow. Since I knew my techniques worked at one level, it gave me reassurance that I would eventually feel that sense of ease in more and more situations, maybe not today or next month but someday soon. I’ll keep you updated on my progress but for now thanks for visiting. -Mike

Need Motivation? Embarrass Yourself.

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(Please excuse me while I throw a little pity party up in here.)

Up comes an ambitious-looking lad, one full belt rank below mine. “Hey guys!, anyone feel like rolling with me?” He was practically bursting at the seams of his double-weaved gi to get at the upper belts¬†and I knew he was looking to test his best skills against us.¬†“Go get him!” my friend said half-joking.¬†Right away I could feel that this guy¬†was thirsty for blood. He started on his feet attempting to pass my guard when¬†I mistakenly left my foot out too far. He grabbed it and fell back -I should have had at least one grip on him- and the footlock war was on. I brought my free¬†foot into the party hoping to pry the other out¬†but he grabbed both and somehow crossed them on me. Next thing I knew I felt tremendous pressure on one of my shins so I¬†sat up in a last ditch effort to escape. It was too late, he had it locked in tight. I swear I could sense my belt turning white as I tapped.

What went wrong? First off, I want to say that the kid did everything right and he deserves all the credit for this. His skill was impressive¬†and he moved aggressively yet skillfully,¬†but at the same time I was very upset with my¬†own performance. I know I’m going to tap (a million more times in life) but in my heart I knew that I didn’t do my best in that moment. I also realized that not being in top physical condition was keeping me from going all out when I had to. This became apparent during my next few rolls.

My new rolling partner¬†was the same rank as me but he was flowing and moving without breaking a sweat. He got me twice and I was able to catch him once, but from the physical side you’d think I had just run a marathon and he had just been on the beach sippin’ a mojito.¬†My body felt drained of all energy so it began rebelling. “MOVE LEG!” I would scream in my mind, but it disobeyed me. “GET ON TOP!” but I stayed on bottom. This results in getting dominated a lot¬†and when I do get submissions¬†they’re often what I refer to as “lazy subs” such as heel hooks and footlocks.

The¬†drive home was a mess of self-talk, near tears, and sore legs. Questions often haunt a BJJ practitioner: “Will I ever get great or will it always be a struggle?” “How can I look to get my next belt if I’m getting submitted by lower belts?” “Should I just take up Tai Chi?”¬†Giving¬†up always sounds appealing minutes after you’ve had a bad day at the gym but for us “BJJ lifers” it’s never an option.¬†I hate to admit it but getting embarrassed is quite the motivator for me. Does it work for you too? Let me know. As for now I’ll be ramping up my conditioning, eating better, and spending more time tweaking my technique so this happens less and less. Thanks for checking in. ūüôā -Mike

Cycling For Better Jits

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Alright, what do you do when you have a month off of work and all the time in the world to do whatever? Besides more Jiu Jitsu (of course) I picked up on an old/new hobby, biking! Cycling? Not sure which is right but riding around on two wheels has taught me some amazing things that directly affected my grappling game. Of course you benefit from pedaling with stronger legs, that much I expected, but I also noticed two other unexpected benefits.

First off, I learned how my body manages breathing during active states. I used to think the key was controlling my¬†breath and making sure I¬†took measured ins and outs. I gave this¬†a try during one of my early rides and noticed how winded I became, almost gasping for air in a short time. It then occurred to me that my¬†body is intelligent enough to know how much¬†air it needs at any given moment¬†and that by trying to control it myself I was adding a “middle-man” to the equation. It’s not needed, at least in my case. Now if you have a habit of holding your breath during rolls I do suggest you take note and learn to let go, but don’t do any more than that. Try it and see, you’ll notice your breathing will take over for you and you can get back to worrying about everything else, like getting choked slammed by the white belt. ūüėČ

Take it from a guy who has had maybe three¬†cross collar choke submissions in 8 years, it is NOT one of my main weapons. However, in the last two open gyms I had a total that matched my 8-year-high. Yep, three cross collar chokes in two sessions. Could holding onto handlebar grips really increase hand and wrist strength that much? Apparently, and surprisingly so! My bike has the normal grips but also some vertical handles that I use half the time. I’m sure using both have been beneficial in some way. Again, I didn’t consciously try and exercise my grips while riding, I just rode the bike and it happened on its own.

And before I end this short¬†blog (I gotta get back to my X-Files marathon) I WILL¬†talk about leg strength, you just have to when it comes to biking. My legs are far from resembling the tree trunks possessed by Marcelo Garcia, but my leg endurance has gotten insane. I’m able to defend guard, threaten submissions, and squat during guard passing, with much less leg exhaustion. There’s nothing I dislike more than going for a triangle only to have the opponent escape, leaving me¬†with two lactic acid-filled dead weights dangling from my¬†torso. It’s an ongoing struggle but I can already tell, after only a month into this biking experiment, that my game has improved from it. Please leave a comment on how biking has helped, or hasn’t helped, your game. I’m interested in everyone’s results. See ya!

My All-Time Favorite BJJ Instructionals (a quick review)

Believe you me, I have expertise in this area due to my obsessive behavior when it comes to knowledge.¬† I went through a phase where I was buying a new Jiu Jitsu book or DVD instructional every week.¬† I couldn’t wait for a new one to show up on the shelf at Barnes and Noble so I could be the first to snatch it up.

It took me years to realize that this isn’t the best way, for me at least, to improve.¬† Instead, I usually just filled my head with technical options, advanced moves, or trick plays, which rarely if ever worked against a skilled opponent. So I went on a binge and sold or gave away most of what I had acquired over many years and many dollars.¬† What was left after the dust cleared were only my top, all-time, most useful, informative, and proven instructionals I came across so far in my journey.¬† Here they are:

Books:

#4 Andre Galvao’s Drill To Win

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This book is a fantastic resource for daily drills and concepts.  What I like best is that in doing the exercises you also gain insight into the specific details that allow a technique to work.  A must have.

#3 The Essential Guard

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What can I say, thanks to Kid Peligro (I love that name), my guard improved by leaps and bounds.  I like how they break down each position and show close ups on the details.  This book helped me most because of the concepts explained, not just the actual moves.  Does your guard suck? Buy this!

#2 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

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My first ever Jiu Jitsu Instructional, thank God.¬† This isn’t a bunch of random techniques thrown together, it’s the (pardon the expression) meat and potatoes of the art itself.¬† Renzo and Royler explore the foundations of BJJ while also showing how they can apply to street self defense, the original purpose of it all.¬† Get this before you explore the tricky stuff.

#1 Jiu Jitsu University

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Saulo is one of my heroes.¬† I knew I had to get this book the minute I saw how it was laid out.¬† He begins with only defense and doesn’t even touch submissions until the back few pages.¬† My game shot up tenfold after the first chapter alone.¬† The only downfall is that you can’t hear Saulo’s accent while learning from him out of a book.

DVD’s:

#4 Cesar Gracie

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Cesar strikes fear in me with his hard-ass teaching demeanor.¬† I love it!¬† Watching these DVD’s early on in my Jiu Jitsu journey helped me understand the aggressive nature of combat.¬† It got me ready for so many things including how to pressure the opponent from all positions.¬† This DVD set will bring out your inner badass.

#3 Demian Maia’s The Science Of Jiu Jitsu

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This DVD is worth its price just for the Triangle chapter alone.¬† I started landing tri’s with ease after learning from him.¬† The name says it all, the SCIENCE is what you will learn.¬† This means using your mind instead of brute force to make your Jiu Jitsu experience much more pleasurable while making your opponent miserable.

#2 Saulo (again!)

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Jiu Jitsu Revolution is another must-have set.¬† I like how close he is with Rickson and Royler and since we’ll probably never get a Rickson instructional I feel it’s the closest thing to it.¬† Saulo shows both his humorous and his badass side in these DVDs.¬† I personally like the half guard section the best but I get better with each time I explore any of these gems.

#1 Gracie Combatives

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Rener is probably the best teacher I’ve ever had in the virtual world.¬† He has a certain demeanor that exudes excellence, confidence, knowledge, and humility.¬† The reason this is number one is because everything you learn in this series WORKS!¬† I urge you to go to their online academy and try the free sample on how to secure the mount.¬† You’ll see your game tighten faster than a Rickson Armbar.¬† -Mike Geronsin