Sunday, May 29, 2011

What I learned (and didn't learn) from armbars from mount.

This submission has plagued me like no other before...though I think I may be glamorizing the good ol' days of triangle frustration.

I think though, that it is an excellent example of the recent clarity I've had in how I learn physical things. Not surprisingly, it is very similar to how I learn the intangible. I'm a top down learner, which means details are little more than disconnected lists of rote memorization until I know what the whole puzzle looks like. Always making comparisons to my adventures in language learning, I'm starting to make efforts to translate what I learned not to do while studying Japanese, and learned TO do in Spanish and Mandarin.

Here are the methods I use when studying language:

  • Listen as much as possible. 8 hrs a day of foreign radio at work, more at home and while driving if possible.
  • Study grammar, but in very, very small pieces that you concentrate on identifying during your listening sessions throughout the day.
  • Study vocabulary, but no more than 2-3 words a day that you keep an ear out for during listening sessions.
  • Engage in small, simple conversations as much as possible
  • Spend as much time as possible talking to native speakers.
  • Spend time with other learners for the sake of explanation and guidance from someone who's walked the same path you have.
  • Spend time with less advanced learners for the sake of explanation and guidance. Minimize listening, especially when starting off. 
  • Change little parts of your life for skills that require pure memorization (counting stretching in your non-native tongue, reading off numbers on signs you see, etc.)
  • Watch movies and shows in genres you enjoy in a foreign language
  • Listen to rap in that language (sounds nuts, but it does wonders for comprehension, listening speed and accent if you start to sing along)

This part right here? The bane of my jiu jitsu existence. 

Basically, I prefer a more subconscious method of language acquisiton partnered with light use of bottom-up methods like drills and vocabulary.

What's that mean in the world of BJJ? I find rolling more helpful than drilling. Now before the drilling police find me, I appreciate the importance of drilling...after 10 years of piano scales and finger exercises, I know all too well that certain muscle function is only acquired with massive amounts of time spent in repetition of movement. Beyond that though, when it comes to understanding a position, I need to see it in action. I need to watch other people react. I know I'm at a disadvantage because I've never watched MMA or grappling before training, so I have to watch more matches and more higher belts rolling...higher only. If I watch lower belts, I'll pick up their habits. I spent a year teaching newbies to Mandarin the basics of pronunciation, thinking "Yay! I'm helping someone learn Mandarin and at the same time, will improve my own because teaching helps you learn!" Yeah...only kinda. It helped me in my understanding of theory, but application? My tones muddied and I slowed massively in vocabulary acquisition.

So last week, I was sitting in a lesson with WrestlerInstructor (brown) and KickboxerInstructor (purple), having the steps of an armbar explained to me. While trying not to completely smother the poor teen that was my dummy for the day, I would imitate, and then go off on my own tangential efforts of understanding overarching concepts, letting go of any details that had just been given me.

I'll imitate a detail to advance a lesson, but I don't focus until I get the purpose. As a child, I did this in private, trying to follow along while my mind was racing, looking for the big picture. As an adult, I've learned to repeat what I see as the purpose of a detail, out loud. I have yet to have an instructor that didn't respond with a confirmation or correction.

I can though, see how this could be frustrating for an instructor. I imagine it can come off as if I'm forgetful or not listening, which in actuality, I'm simply not ready for the details I'm being given at the time. I'm thinking I'd benefit from discussion of a position before any demonstration begins.

Here are some issues I've found crop up for me in the step-by-step method of BJJ instruction:
  • I can repeat steps when they're presented to me, but retention is far from optimal.
  • I can explain steps when they're presented, but application while rolling will be difficult.
  • I miss steps because I find myself concentrating on the entire move.
  • If a step has to be modified for my body type and I haven't grasped the entire big picture, I have to start rebuilding said picture from scratch.
  • Performing variations becomes difficult.
  • Countering an opponent's reactions becomes a daunting task of memorizing prescribed reactions to prescribed situations...neither of which can even come close to covering all the possibilities that come up in training.
  • I stall. A lot.  
I'm comforted somewhat by a gong fu friend of mine who "suffers" from the same issue. His sensei told him that his method of learning is much slower at the beginning, but provides for a more solid foundation of understanding since you are trying to learn much more from the get go.

Oh...the translation of that language rules...
  • Watch as much as possible. Get on YouTube and watch matching of grapplers you respect. Especially those with similar body types and strengths/weaknesses
  • Study principles, but only one or two at a time. Find people at the gym who execute them well and watch them.
  • Study moves but only a couple at a time. Focus on identifying them while you're watching others roll.
  • Position specific, full resistance drills are your friends.
  • Spend as much time as possible with high level belts.
  • Spend time with blues and high whites for the sake of explanation and guidance from someone who's memory is fresh on what it's like to be a newbie.
  • Teach other white belts. When rolling, play offense as much as possible. (I'm finding that defense against white belts isn't a very valuable skill.) 
  • Incorporate drills into your life. Stretch at work. Bridge and hip shoot to get moving in the morning. Use bodyweight exercises to come down from work.
  • Watch Red Belt.
  • Listen to Brazilian rap. 

Jiujitsu as Religion

From the use of phrases like "Oh my Rickson Gracie" and "Rickson Gracie bless you" to long, heart-felt posts on how much meaning and camaraderie training BJJ has brought people, you don't have to travel far across the internet to see the juxtaposition of religion and our art. Being a practicing Christian, and having had my share of ups and downs navigating the world of the church, it concerns me.

Why? Because, like in the beginnings of many religions, I see, on the surface, gushing triumph, bonds being formed and monumental personal success and growth. In private, from personal experiences and the testimony of others, I see people working through the all too human, and all too common issues that come about when people do things with other people that might not be doing things for the most pure reasons. On a larger scale, the idea of BJJ losing its potency and incredibly unique camaraderie, like so many religions and other arts have done after becoming more commodity than personal journey, saddens me.

I've said it before, but I do not believe in doing anything solely for its own sake. The art can advance to the point where we're levitating ourselves into mount, but if that means we leave in our wake a trail of broken, scarred or disappointed souls, the loss was not worth the gain. As Roy Dean put it...

Allow the discipline to transform you.  A lot of people end up serving the discipline; they get injured, they give up their wife, they give up their job to chase the discipline.  The discipline should enhance your life, you should never serve the discipline.  And sometimes you lose perspective on that.  I have certainly stepped over that line where I’ve lost perspective and overtrained.  “Oh, this means so much.”  Where you’re crushed after a loss, you’re elated after a victory.  Hey man these are just markers, they’re milestones on your own journey.  No one else is watching.  It’s your own trip.  Enjoy it.  Craft your journey carefully and you will discover who you are.

No, I do not take this as an emergency, and I love to see the amazing transformations practice has brought about in people's (my own included) lives, but it is, I think, a bit of a warning sign...a reason to stay vigilant in the behavior of people we see around us and do our personal best to be the most honorable, responsible, caring and contentious practitioners we can be.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I'm so glad I ended up in a martial art that involves live sparring.

I spent years trying to find a martial art that suited me. Tai chi lessons, years of research and multiple rejections of BJJ because of the physical least a solid five years of active searching.

I remember one night dancing at a local Salsa club and coming out of a cross body lead, I got this nagging feeling that the dance would never quite fulfill an internal need for competition and aggression.

So yeah...looking on Wikipedia under the BJJ article and seeing that the hardness level BJJ registers under is the highest possible for training an art...well, it makes me smile.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can't wait to try the new Vulkan!

I just got my new Vulkan Pro Light. Goldweave is rough in Florida heat...especially black Goldweave...

But yeah...I really like it. It's an A3 and I'm surprised that it's a little too big (should be fine after some shrinkage) but the pants are already short. Figures.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This video cracks me up and I have no idea why...

The first time I saw it I thought it was the stupidest thing I'd ever seen. Two days later, driving, I remember it and start crying laughing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spiders are evil.

Seriously...they are.

So I've been limping around on my bum toe for two weeks now. After I got the all clear from the podiatrist to train with the qualification that I try to stay off my toes, I went to a private (that turned out to be a not-so-private since the MMA class ran long and there were like, 8 million people hanging around afterward) and aside from a couple of scary moments, it went fine.

Until that night. I don't know if they felt enlivened by the threat of the Rapture, but spiders have been out in full force lately. Last night, I needed some green onions from the garden and ventured outside, making sure to wipe a broom around the doorway to catch any crafty arachnids. Well, I must have missed a web and felt it brush my arm as I walked out. Remembering the HUGE spider I'd seen earlier in the day, I jumped back, planting on my injured foot. Great. There really may be an MRI in my future.


 In other's really time for me to stop kidding around about my diet. I went to lunch yesterday after training with a couple of the ladies and we got to talking about weight. The blue belt I started with mentioned the day she noticed that, after months of not being able to get me in closed guard, one day, all of a sudden, she closed it with no problem. Now, she's starting to have difficulty again. I've spent months in the mindset that I'm not going to go buck wild, but that I'm also not pushing too hard to eat right. Well, the toll has been taking and it's time to reevaluate.

I'm really enjoying flow rolling btw. It seems to do a lot for me in clearing out cobwebs and stalling to think. Definitely must do more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Am I worthy of this gi?

I was talking to my best photografriend today about people and the gear they buy for photography. Basically, some photographers buy expensive cameras, lenses and filters and believe it's a replacement for actual ability.

It really made me think how, after ordering my Vulkan Pro Light, I still have a nagging feeling that I'm not "worthy" of a gi that costs much more than $100. Now hold on. I KNOW that a gi means nothing, and you don't earn your way to an expensive gi and a gi doesn't have any effect on your abilities...but still, since day 1, I've never wanted to be "that white belt with the crazy nice gi".

I did the same thing in salsa. Part of it was related to commitment...I wasn't going to buy $150 shoes if I weren't sure I wanted to keep dancing, but I also didn't want to be one of the beginners with the super flashy shoes. To me it just screamed "they're in this for the short term".

I'm going to be doing this as long as I can, but still, I paused just a little before clicking that purchase button. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

BJJ's costing me how much per year?!?

I went to the podiatrist today...after going to urgent care. My foot just isn't healing the way I felt it should (also, seeing one of the guys who broke his arm playing with his kids after ignoring "slight" injuries on the mats got me moving) so I decided to get it checked out. Trying to explain BJJ injuries really takes some skill. You say "martial arts" injury and doctors start diagnosing impact related injuries and "kiai" starts being thrown around. I had to do it about four times between there and the podiatrist.

Thankfully the first doc was wrong in his first guess and it wasn't an occult fracture. The podiatrist has me in a sesamoid pad and off running/dancing/anything that involves putting my weight on my toes for two weeks. I can spar if I'm careful. If there's no improvement, I go for an MRI. Oh...and I have to wear sneakers...which is driving me nuts. I LOVED sneakers in college. I had a pair to match almost every top I had. Now...they feel bulky and annoying. I had a pair of cross-trainers at the office that I stuffed my feet into and I was miserable. I'll have to dig out a lighter pair to get me through the duration. At least my heels will stay cute.

Love the arrow they drew on...
But yeah, after paying for a couple copays today (and ordering my Vulkan Pro Light yesterday), I started to wonder how much I was putting out pure year on BJJ. Here's the list of expenses...

2 gis per year
1 bottle of hibiclens yearly
1 bottle of wrestler's foam per year
Special body washes, band-aids, disinfectant gels, disposable wash cloths, etc.
monthly membership
monthly privates
increase in use of shampoo and conditioner
assorted supplements that I wouldn't be taking otherwise

Grand total...just about $3,000 annually. Note that this doesn't include any tournaments or major injuries. I've never been one for cheap hobbies. It was a bit surprising, but it's totally worth it. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Do you let people help you up?

Back in the day...

I've gone back and forth on this since day 1.

The first time a guy got up and offered me his hand after a roll, I took it. The second, fearing I'd look weak, I didn't. Well, after judo month I have a new policy.

Why? Well, because during the month of judo and all the falling down and getting up, I learned that a lot of people don't know how to help other people to their feet. I got my arm contorted, had my body yanked well past standing, my shoulder stretched and all kinds of lovely things. Some guys I think just don't know the difference between helping someone up and dragging them to their feet by their pinky. After that happened a couple times, I started turning people...ok...guys...down. The ladies and a choice couple of guys know how to offer a hand/pull without interfering with the standing process.

My policy was confirmed tonight. My foot's still tweaked and getting up takes a moment of negotiation. I was partnered with one of the bigger guys today and twice he offered to help me up. I ignored his hand both times, but the second, I gave him a solid tap on the bicep and a "thanks". 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Great interview with Emily Kwok

Found this interview over at It's a really nice look at a great BJJ competitor and teacher that discuses size issues, awkward situation and a lot of other useful topics. Her story about "third knee" issues is particularly interesting.  Check it out!

I doubled my lung capacity!!

It's up to 3000mL inspired volume...which means I'm up to 94% of the recommended lung capacity for a female my age and weight, up from 48%. I love this thing an recommend it to ANYONE who'd like to improve gassing issues.

Happy Spider's breathing happily. 

I may go to the doctor...

So last Friday at the all levels class, I was rolling with a new purple, got swept, and something happened to my foot. I gave it a week off and things started to feel normal. I even got up to dancing on it and thought all was fine...fine enough to wear heels to my cousin's graduation at the University of Miami...big school=lots of walking.

Well, it felt like it had been set back a tad the next morning, but nothing horrible. Today though, I stubbed four of the toes again, which honestly hurt worse than the initial injury. I decided to ease my way back into it with some Flow Fit. I couldn't jump my way from squats to push ups like I normally do without some serious pain, so I slowed things down and got through my circuits.

I'm noticing that the toes are lacking some feeling, the big toe cracks when I bend and straighten it and it's starting to ache even when at rest. Might be time to go see an orthopedist and get my clicky, crackly knee checked out while I'm at it...and maybe I'll throw in the wrist I can't bend to the side without pain too...ugh. Weird that it's all on my right side...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Getting my chin to my toes...

The 100 day Chin to Toe challenge rages on. I've modified my technique a bit after reading of this lady's success.

My biggest impediment to the forward bend? My hamstrings. When stretching with my back flat in a cold stretch, I could only get to about 90 degrees (Sad, I know). I've made some good progress and it doesn't hurt to stretch anymore...I'm down to mild discomfort. 

On the side split, I actually enjoy that one now. Groin is still tight, but I'm noticing some positive impact when rolling already. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Maslow and BJJ dropouts...who's most likely to hang around?

I was participating in a discussion on a jiu jitsu forum about BJJ dropouts. It turned to a question of who's most likely to continue training and an instructor suggested that two groups are most likely to push through the pain longer...those looking for self-actualization (level 5...more likely to have lives stable enough to commit long periods of study) and those looking to do it as a job (level 2...survival motivation).

As an activity, BJJ has the potential to satisfy all the highest four levels. I would guess that those on level two though, are more likely to quit because of pure economic's crazy difficult to make money and even to sustain as a training period to eventually make money from. Basically I don't know if BJJ is best suited to get them what they're looking for (not saying it's not worth the effort, it's just a very difficult path). Level 5 though, I think it's very well suited to achieve needs for creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts and thankfully, provides an environment that supports morality.

I think jiu jitsu falls under level 5 for me (which actually explains my current apathy over competition and belts.) So what level are you and who do you see staying the longest at your club?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

UFC SportsCenter Commercial

I love this commercial...mostly because if you close your eyes, there's no way you'd know it were George St-Pierre sitting there in fight shorts.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How to know if you're on the right track to a triangle.

So this is like, round three of my focusing on triangles. Gotten much better at not losing people in the locking process (I'm keeping better pressure and don't need to really look anymore). I'm not forgetting the arm, and I've started going straight for the lock more (at the gentle encouragement of a couple of the guys).

So I just ran across this article from InsideBJJ. I've been referencing Rob's stuff pretty much since I started training and it's all been really helpful, especially his piece "33 Grips Every Grappler Must Know".

The video that comes with it gives a few things you should aim for when setting up the submission. The one that I think is going to be the most use to me (in cases where going straight for the lock might not an option) is heel placement-getting the heel in contact with with at least the middle of the back. I think shooting for that will help me get past lazy hip-shooting. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

My poor foots.

So there was this new purple there tonight. He asked me to drill and his face looked crazy familiar. I'd seen him before, but I'm so bad with faces that I immediately starting wondering if I'd gone to high school with him or been his lab partner in college biology. Turns out I'd just run into him after Saturday classes. Maybe it's just me, but people look way different in gis than they do in a rashguard.

The one on the left is the victim.

Anyway, I went my first round with him and he went to sweep me. He directed me backward over my foot, which got twisted under me, and I heard a *pop* then an immediate, louder *POP* come from my foot. I can't even say it was painful, it just felt weird and swellzy at the base of the toes and right behind the ball of my foot. I could move everything and it only hurt when I put pressure on it.

Gotta learn to keep my toes "alive" in guard. I apparently have a habit of sitting back on my feet with shins rotated outward and instep flat on the ground.

On a positive note, I got to work on more standing passes (which I hate and am bad at) and stapling and moving (which took some personal coaching and help from two purple belts and a brown)...some serious intensive therapy. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fighters are so...nice

I've been making my first contact with some people from the Muay Thai world and they're just as nice and respectful as the BJJ people. I know we all know it, and I know it gets said eighteen times a day, but I really think there's a higher percentage of genuinely kind, personally open and humble people in the world of BJJ/MMA  than the rest of society.

**I'm writing this under no influence from post-training snuggly-hormones

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What have you learned from a lower belt?

So I was rolling with this new blue yesterday. I had him in scarf hold and managed to pull off this armbar. I saw it sitting there and went for it. He locked his hands up to defend and I started pushing (carefully) to break his grip. I did it, he tapped and I got a "good job, you got that, just push higher up on the arm next time."

We'd never learned it in class, I just know that for about a week, one of the bigger kids was catching me in it left and right (and now I see why. People just seem to walk into it.)

So...what has a lower belt taught you?

I had a quick conversation with our lady black belt about all the bumps and pitfalls your run into training BJJ and this video speaks pretty directly to that. If you've got a couple minutes, check out this video. I teared up a little.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Doing "manly" pushups...

The resistance bands are really working. I'm up to doing full on military style pushups during the warmup...range of motion is still WAY too shallow, but the bands 3x a week are making a huge difference.

I know people recommend that you build perfect pushup form first, then work on number from there, but the opposite way seems to be working better for me. I think, starting out, I was so weak that bottoming out, I didn't have even close to enough power to get my 210 lbs back off the floor. I still don't, but I've started doing the workout above to build what I need during that phase of the movement. I highly recommend these for anybody looking for a portable, challenging resistance workout.

Happy news on the squat front too, I'm able to get my thighs below parallel with feet flat and hold without pain for a decent amount of time. I wouldn't have suspected that loosening up lower body flexibility would be so hard and slow.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I look like Popeye...

So I'm sitting in church and I noticed that my right forearm felt funny. I look down and it's all puffy and swollen. No discoloration that I can tell and only VERY minor pain when I turn my hand outward. It's not warm and ice seems to be getting it to go down. I'm keeping an eye on it. On the other hand (literally), my thumb brace should be in shortly.

Funny...after I'd been training a year I thought "Wow, I must be crazy lucky or not training hard enough" because besides joints being taken too far and not warming up properly, I didn't have those weird little foot-toe-hand-finger issues that other people did. I'm off to a good start to catch up.