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. 😉 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. 😉 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. 😉 -Mike

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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. 😉 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

Wim Hof Method and BJJ

Hey everyone. Just wanted to share an experiement I’m doing that has to do with breathing and Jiu Jitsu. I discovered a guy named Wim Hof on a few podcasts who is known for extraordinary human feats that range from mainaining normal body temperature while in extreme cold to scaling Mt. Everest shirtless. He has created a method that he claims can help you strengthen yourself from the inside by improving many of your internal systems including respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, etc. Because I have a mild case of asthma and have always suffered in BJJ with limited lung capacity, I have decided to give his method a try. My goal is to keep updating this post week-by-week and let you know how it has affected my game and my life.  (His online method is a 10-week course.)

Week 1: I think I’ve taken in more O2 in the last few days than I have in years. With my body fully oxygenated I took part in an hour long grappling rotation in open gym. Normally I would have taken at least 3 hits off my inhaler but I only had to use it once and I think that was partially out of habit. (Also, my need to use my inhaler outside of BJJ has disappeard since starting his exercises.) Instead of thinking about my next move I simply made sure I was taking consistent breaths breaking it down as: Breathing comes first, Jiu Jitsu follows. I felt strangely great after the session and felt almost giddy during my cold shower that followed, (cold showers are another requirement of the method). By giddy I mean there was a sensation in my body as though all my cells were alive and dancing, for the lack of a better term. I began to notice my breathing throughout the day taking special note of when I’d hold my breath or went a long period of time without inhaling. Seems like it happens when I’m thinking or straining physically. This made a lot of sense why I tend to gass out pretty quickly when in bad positions in BJJ. As an experiement I tried holding my breath while doing burpees and noticed that I could only do about 3 before panic set in. If that happens that quickly with burpees, imagine how fast you’ll tire out when some 200 pound guy is sitting on your chest choking you. Then I repeated the burpees while taking full breaths and I was able to go forever.

This all comes at a great time because my next review class is coming up this Sunday. It’s a way for you to advance belt rank at my school and requires you to roll 15 minutes with 3 or 4 opponents pretty much back-to-back. My biggest fear is exhaustion and/or giving up a tap just to take a break, so I’m changing my goal this time. My goal is to go there to practicing breathing. Everything else   is secondary. If a guy has my back it’s secondary to keeping my air flowing; If I have someone in a triangle choke it doesn’t matter as much as if I’m holding my breath or not. With this focus I know that whether I win or lose I’ll be in total control of my inner systems while doing one of the hardest martial arts in the world. Everything else will seem easy in comparison. 😉 Well I’m off to suck some air. See ya!

Week 2: (Update)

10/28/15 Had another open gym marathon roll today and did pretty well. Probably had about 5 five-minute matches, tapped once to an armbar and tapped my opponents four times mostly with heel hooks and one crazy collar choke. The big news is that I didn’t use my inhaler even once this time. I felt the urge at one point but pushed through. Seems the Wim Hof method is beginning to pay off at least with my lungs. Still trying to get used to these cold showers though. 

New Definition of ‘Going Easy’ When Rolling

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I just have to face the truth, I’m not good enough to ‘go easy’ at least in the way I used to define it.

How I used to define ‘going easy’: Relaxing every muscle before engaging, breathing slow, moving slow and smooth, not resisting much when getting guard passed, methodically going for submissions IF they came to me.

Result?  Years of being a wet noodle on the mat

Improvement rate: moderate to slow

Now definition of ‘going easy’: Not muscling or spazzing in order to achieve a good position or submission therefore being a safe training partner.

That’s it.  No more relaxing every muscle but instead I’m keeping them firm and in ready position.  My breathing can change from slow to quick in order to refuel my system in each situation.  I allow myself to move quickly as long as it’s also safe and accurate.  Resisting the hell out of guard pass attempts for now until my technique improves.  And finally I’m pushing the pace and going on the offense much more often.  It’s amazing how many more submission become available when you have your partner ‘on the run.’  I guess I should have listened to Rickson when he said, “Relax but don’t be a ragdoll on the mat.”