Entrenched Positions in Self Defense

Although you can and most likely should try to glean what you can from what happened in Las Vegas in regards to your own safety, navigating a panicked crowd, etc., I want to make it clear that this post was written and prepped for publishing late last week before everything went down. So, no, I will not be talking about Las Vegas in this post.

The hardest thing, I’m told, is attacking an entrenched position. The challenge comes in the form of finding a way to maneuver around, to flank the position. This is just as true on the battlefield (never served, comment here is made from reading and going off what I’m told from servicemen who’ve “been there”) as it is when discussing opinions, especially hot button ones. You have to maneuver, you have to flank in order to get through the faulty logic and reasons in order to communicate effectively.

On practically every topic, you will find entrenched positions – regardless of fact, regardless of information or misinformation – it’s practically a given nowadays.

It doesn’t take long to find these entrenched positions in regards to self-defense.

If you hang around anyone self-defense minded long enough, you’ll eventually hear them talk about protecting their family and sometimes about how if “the day” comes, that they’ll be able to do it.

They’ll be ready. Full stop.

From my personal experience among those in the self-defense world, most of those who are “entrenched” fall in line with someone who – despite being well-meaning, – is untrained, unprepared, unhealthy (usually a few rolls over the belt), uninformed, or some sort of combination of those four.

I’ve had both failures and successes in the few conversations I’ve had with well-meaning folk like that fall into this category. The failures, of course, came from doing exactly what you shouldn’t do and the successes came from flanking to see what was behind the entrenchment.

When I’ve gotten around, I’ve tried to understand exactly why they believe they’ll be able to deliver on “the day”. Maybe its a form of cognitive bias, or confirmation bias – I’m not really sure – they insist that they will be able to deliver on “the day” despite training, despite physical fitness, despite mental preparation and counting the cost due to a myriad of reasons: the adrenaline surge, the love for their family, the anointing of God (think Samson), the weapons they possess, the “cowardice” of the criminal, etc. I have had at least five one on one conversations of this caliber over the last handful of years.

This subject popped back into my head again after my writing my posts about preparing for and participating in my first BJJ Tournament (See here, here and here.)

Firstly, as I cannot and do not speak on behalf of the trained warriors in our society (LEO, Soldiers, Special Forces), for the civilian, nothing can fully, truly, “prepare” us 100% for the time that violence comes to our doorstep. The closest we can get to 100% preparedness is training.

Serious training.

Training, drilling, stress testing the skill set learned, repetition upon repetition upon repetition, pushing your body physically, inoculating yourself to stressors similar physiologically to a real fight, rinse, repeat.

Over and over.

Similar to my experience at the tournament. I had trained, trained and trained some more. I had pushed myself with physical training on top of BJJ. I had taken care of my body with proper fuel and severely limited my intake of sweets and junk. I rolled many, many times with people who are better than me, both equals as far as rank as well as higher belts. I did everything that I thought was right to do in order to prepare. All of it certainly helped.

And here is where I tie this back in to the subject of self-defense.

At the end of the day I still found myself lacking and among the participants who did not go home in the top tiers of their brackets. I lost.

Does that mean I will lose in a real life fight? Not necessarily. However, I have gone so far as to see how my mind and body would react against an opponent who didn’t know me and was going full power against me to put me down. I put my BJJ skill set, technically speaking, to the best stress test I could and came back with a couple of losses.

Now, what if I believed with all my heart that the adrenaline would somehow get me through the matches – without training, without preparation – see what I’m getting at there?

My wife and kids were watching, too, and I love them dearly. But my love for them didn’t give me any special abilities. I personally do not buy the stories of “I know a guy who knew a girl who knew the cousin of the roommate of the person who bench-pressed a car off their baby”. People, no matter how much they love you or you love them, cannot imbue you with a super human strength and berserker warrior ability when their lives are in danger.

Guns aren’t magical. They are tools. Inanimate objects, devoid of special powers. Like it or not, when operating said tools in a real situation, what we have or haven’t trained will be to our benefit or detriment, and even that will be a severely downgraded version of our best training. I can’t be hardware oriented, tools are just tools.

I could’ve worn my coach’s brown belt and his favorite Gi but those things are just clothing – there isn’t anything magical or special in them that could transfer to me. It is the training that the person wearing the Gi and belt have put in that makes the difference.

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Hopefully you are tracking the overarching point of this post.

I won’t magically “have it” on the day that “shit goes down”.

This isn’t a mythical legend I am living in.

This isn’t a cartoon.

If I am serious about protecting my loved ones or myself, then it should behoove me to remove the planks from my eyes, take an unflinching objective look at what I am doing and weigh it against what I am not doing, and adjust accordingly.

Nothing can substitute training and preparation.

My life and the lives of those I love do not deserve anything less.

Train, then train some more.

Deeds over words.

So, some may be thinking, “Well, Tom, do you think you’ll be ready when/if the day comes?”

My answer: Am I willing? 100% Am I able? 100% Will it be enough? I hope so.

I don’t think I’ll ever come to a place where I believe I have done “enough”.

I have work to do. What about you?

Pursue Mastery.

choose-wisely

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

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BJJ White Belt: After the Tournament – Part 2

 

img_7825.jpgIf you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve liked the sound of that and more than likely believed you. It was on my radar. As someone who takes an interest in self defense and protecting my family, I knew that I needed to improve my “ground game” (read as: non-existent ground game).

If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be training and competing in Jiu-Jitsu, I would’ve been highly skeptical. Full contact competition was a far off dream; an aspiration that I had discarded to the “I missed my window” bucket of my life.

On Friday morning, the day before the tournament, I reflected on everything I had gone through and endured in the last two-plus-years to arrive at this point. Participating in this tournament was very meaningful to me. Meaningful as a martial artist. Meaningful as a man pursuing mastery in his life. Meaningful as a father and husband. Meaningful to my life’s journey as a whole.

Getting there Saturday morning, standing in the gym with the noise of the cheering, the coaches yelling to their students from the sideline, the announcements over the PA system, the buzz and vibrant energy…it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

I hope that I remember this tournament for a long time to come. Not only to build off the things I learned, but also to remember it from the white belt viewpoint. I like helping people, so I want to use this experience to help my teammates who are yet to join our ranks as competitors, and also to help you, dear reader, if you should raise your hand and step on to the mat for the first time. Perhaps what I write here and the words of wisdom from my Coach, will help you to be successful in more ways than just medals, when you get to your first tournament. Perhaps you are farther down the line and you have forgotten what it’s like to be a white belt. Hopefully these BJJ White Belt posts are helpful.

The Footage

Looking Back, Being Real

I’ve watched the above footage of my fights handfuls of times. As I watched, I would recall as best as I can what was going through my mind, what my body was feeling. As I watched, I would pay close attention to my performance, listening to the words my coach was shouting from the side of the ring, and above all seeing where I made mistakes. From all of that, I’m making notes of things I think I need to work on; resolving to get back on the mats and do better.

Pause.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in not securing the win.

Bluntly?

It fucking sucked.

With my coach, my teammates and friends and my wife and children watching – I didn’t come through… twice.

Fucking. Sucked.

You, like I, could have the best attitude in the world. You could understand and accept that you win or learn and be dedicated to learning from your mistakes. You could be a good sportsman, sincerely congratulate your opponent and be mature about your loss. But if you lose, you are going to be disappointed, upset and maybe even a bit pissed off.

I think that it should happen, if you want to get better and improve. You should be disappointed. You should be pissed. That is the part of your ego that pushes you to do better, to become more than you are, to learn from your fuck ups and blast through them next time. The wrong path, of course, is to be so upset, so disturbed, that you are a puddle of melted snowflakes. Don’t be that person. Be the other. The one who brushes himself of, gets up and moves forward.

If you lose and can’t think of a single thing you did wrong, I think that’s hubris trying to cover your feelers from getting hurt.

Embrace the fail, the suck, then move forward.

That’s the step I’m on. Moving forward.

Mind and Body

I mentioned above that I tried to recall how I was thinking and how my body was feeling.

I mentioned in the previous post about my nervousness. The nerves quieted down when I committed and stepped on the mat. The first round was exhausting, it felt more exhausting than the second even though I think I expended more energy in the second round fighting and keeping my opponent in my closed guard. Correction, I know I used more energy. That’s one thing my coach and I went over regarding the second fight.

As far as the mental plane is concerned. I wasn’t afraid. I just got frustrated… a lot. This is an area Coach and I have been working on and will keep working on. I didn’t execute with conviction. What I mean by that is this: there were techniques that I have successfully executed during live rolls in class, techniques that were part of my game plan for the tournament, and I didn’t have enough faith in myself to pull them off. I heard my Coach, I barely saw the openings, but my lack of confidence in executing instead of listening to my coach, drawing on the successes and executing with belief and conviction in them, led to that failure.

Reviewing the footage, it was painfully obvious the openings that were presented to me.

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Back to the physicality of the tournament. I’ve trained, I’ve conditioned and I’ve regularly hit the gym as well as the mats and those two rounds were extremely taxing. In a prior post I spoke about how my body and mind shut down during some rolls with my team. During that first roll, those same physical and mental things began but I was able to push through it and it was easier on me.

The unpredictability and uncertainty of an opponents game, plus the fight or flight physiological responses your body generates, added to going full on against said unknown opponent add up to an entirely different experience when compared against rolls with teammates. Even those taxing and exhausting rolls with your teammates where you feel like collapsing on the floor afterwards. Its just different.

My grip was shot by the end of the second roll. My forearms, especially my right as I favored the cross collar grip on both fights, were pumped out and it took almost ten minutes before I could unscrew the cap for my water bottle. Seriously.

I woke the next morning sore. Primarily my upper back, arms and forearms but I did have some stiffness in my legs and glutes. I only did two rolls, going the full five minutes each time, but it had felt like I had gone through a harder workout. That’s the physiological response, the adrenaline, the amped senses and muscles, etc.

The Team

We’ve spent a great deal of time coming together and fostering the environment for both competitors and non-competitors to come together as a team. We had spent countless hours preparing, drilling, rolling, sweating and nursing our bodies back to health only to do it all again over the last three plus months. We truly wanted the best for each other and looked out for one another as best as we could all the way to the tournament and back. The camaraderie, the support and care for each team member was evident

Coach tried his best to be ringside at every match, but when it came down to multiple team members being on multiple rings at the same time, we all made sure to have at least one team member ringside to help the one in the ring. Coach had instructed us on this prior to the tournament: things to say, things not to say. Our primary objective would be to help the teammate in the ring keep track of time and points if Coach couldn’t be there.

“Okay, you’ve got four minutes left. Take your time.”

“You’re up by 3 points, keep going, you’re doing great!”

“Okay, you are down by 2, don’t worry about that. Let’s look a better position to even the scales. You’ve got three minutes to go, you can do this.”

Things like that.

Now, to preface what I’d like to share next, you need to understand that there were three brackets in which at least two of our teammates were competing together. This means that there could potentially be a fight for 1st and 2nd place at the top against our own teammates. Some gyms are fine with this, but as Coach explained to us before the tournament, we wanted to shut brackets down, not go against one another at the top. We roll against one another all the time at the gym and we didn’t drive two+ hours, spend extra time training, extra money on food, lodging, gas and entrance fees…just to roll against our own teammates. So if it came down to going for first and second place, we agreed that we would not fight, we’d have pre-arranged who took the gold and silver medals.

Hopefully, you see where this is going.

One of my teammates was competing in the same bracket as I. I have to give him massive props for his performance, sportsmanship and being a solid teammate. He lost his first round and won his second. His third round he was bracketed against me, which would’ve been my second round. It wasn’t a fight for first and second. We were in the consolation bracket going for third.

So, he and I were taken back for a second.

We told the judges as they called us up that we were from the same school/team and didn’t want to fight each other. Instead of arranging it differently, they told us “that’s just what happens”. My teammate then replied, “He’s going through, then. We’re not fighting each other.” The judges agreed to the request and they changed the bracket up.

Double elimination. He was out of the tournament.

Read the last two sentences again. Appreciate them.

He gave up his third fight so I could have a solid second fight against a different opponent. It was an honor that I still don’t believe I deserved. So for that reason alone, you could appreciate why I am so disappointed that I couldn’t secure the win on my second fight. I owed it to my teammate to give my best and secure the win.

I owe him one.

So, yeah, the team is solid. Continually getting closer as a unit, a tribe, a family.

We, as a team, did amazingly well in the tournament. 8 competitors, 6 medals including one double gold! A medal in each bracket that we competed in, save for mine. That’s pretty damn impressive! As a new school, going on 1 year old in early October, we were barely a blip on the radar on the day of the tournament. By the end of the day, each of us had multiple conversations from people we either competed against or others we didn’t know coming up to us and asking where we were from, who we were, etc.

We turned heads.

Back to the Garage

“It’s just like building a race car – you run it, see what works and doesn’t, back to the garage to tweak and mod until the next race.” ~Coach Shane

By this Wednesday’s training, as I said, I had reviewed the footage multiple times. I knew what I did wrong. Coach knew what I did wrong. Coach knew that I knew what I did wrong and he confirmed that as we reviewed the film together at class.

  • I fought too long and hard to keep my opponent in my guard, tweaking and modifying is needed here, back to the garage.
  • My framing for someone getting into side control on me is getting better, but it needs some tweaks, back to the garage.
  • I need to look at setting up multiple attacks instead of working one really hard then switching entirely to something else, back to the garage.
  • My sweeps need improving, back to the garage.
  • I need to put more confidence and faith in my takedown ability, back to the garage.
  • There are things that I am looking to implement in my workouts to continue increasing my strength conditioning as well as my cardio (sprints and steady paced), back to the garage.
  • Props to my opponents for their wins, but I allowed them to dictate the pace of the fight instead of setting the pace myself, being more aggressive and more assertive, back to the garage.

Back to the garage I go. Back to the garage our team goes, pushing each other and working with each other to improve and hone our game. There are a couple tournaments before the end of the year. I’m not sure if we will compete in those. For now, I’m sticking in the garage, but for any of my teammates who want to get out on the track sooner, I’ll be doing my part to help out. I know they’d do the same. I’ll be looking to compete at least twice in 2018, maybe more.

We’ll see what the year brings.

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Moving Forward – It’s Over

“What you’ve gotta understand is that it’s over. Seriously! Nobody cares anymore. That win is only as good as that day. If the day were done over again, a lot of the people who won could’ve lost. It’s like Any Given Sunday that way.

The only thing that matters is how good your Jiu-Jitsu was on that day, and now it’s over. It doesn’t matter anymore.

When the next tournament comes, it doesn’t matter if you medaled three times in the prior tournament. You still start from square one. Your prior wins don’t count at the new tournament.

Those who won might not have taken as much away, learning-wise, compared to those who lost. It’s hard to win gold and then try and dissect that performance, why mess with it?

It’s over.

Everyone, even the gold medalists have room to grow- that’s why we do this, to measure ourselves and then improve.” ~Coach Shane (an amalgam of a handful of recent conversations)

It’s over. Something I needed to hear.

I’m moving forward. Something I needed to do.

I know I am harder on myself than anyone else is. I’m well aware of my flaws, my shortcomings, my failures and mistakes, as a father, husband, friend and even in BJJ. But I move on. No navel gazing. No “woe is me”. No bullshit.

It no longer matters what happened. What will I do today to improve?

Back to the garage.

Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: After the Tournament – Part 1

I took ____ place in my bracket!

I knew I had the ability and skills to get to the podium, it is just a mind game to keep your sight picture clear and focused on what you are after instead of letting your mind rob you of what you know you can do.

The lines above were written for this blog post before the tournament took place, in anticipation of executing and doing well. The tournament came and went and it was definitely a good experience for me.

The results: I fought twice, lost both.

Ironically, or maybe even prophetically, the second half of the above quoted “pre-write” of this blog post is more clear to me now than when I wrote it.

To set the stage in this first part, I’d first like to give you our Coach’s words on the “Eve of Battle”. These are taken from our private Facebook page and are posted with permission from Coach Shane. It is my hope that anyone looking to compete for the first time, will heed these words. Take what you find is useful, don’t worry about the rest.

 

Coach’s Words of Wisdom

Alright competitors, here’s Coaches words of wisdom from 15 years of Jiu Jitsu and over 200 tournaments in the books for me.

Nothing you have ever done in your past will be anything like what’s ahead of you tomorrow, not your crossfit, not your bodybuilding, not your high school football, not a cell extraction, not a street fight, not a high school wrestling match.

Tomorrow, you’re going to wake up and then get in a fight, someone’s going to pull on you, twist you up, try to snap your arm, and choke you unconscious – and they’re going to be more brutal about it then you’re use to, because so far you’ve only rolled with friends. Nothing you think you’ve done will prepare you for that – that’s just the reality of it.

Second, as cool as you think you’re going to be tomorrow – anxiety and nerves will set in. Make a playlist on your phone or ipod, bring some head phones, and find music that will KEEP YOU CALM. It is not the time to let your angry “let the bodies hit the floor” mix go … we’re not trying to pick up something heavy and put it back down one time. We’re engaging in combat over and over and over again. You need to be mentally sharp and ready, not amped/hyped. Bring music that puts you in a confident place, not a cocky or obnoxious place.

Third, your friends and family are coming … if they begin to talk to you too much, or take you out of that “confident focused place” – walk away, find a corner of the gym to sit in, put your hood up on your sweatshirt, and zone out. They’ll understand, if they don’t … oh well, this is about you. You don’t need advice or reassurance from folks that don’t even do what we do or know what this thing is all about.

Fourth, Jiu Jitsu tournaments never run on time – pack a lunch, you could be waiting for a while. Bring snacks – healthy ones, that give you good energy. I also suggest an extra hoodie to use as a pillow, I find myself sleeping on bleachers almost every time when I’m waiting.

Fifth, comfortable footwear – at a respectable tournament, you’re DQ’d for being barefoot anywhere but the mat. Flip Flops or Tennis Shoes on your feet at all times … we didn’t drive 2 hours to get kicked out.

Sixth – BRING TWO GI’s … if someone rips your pants in your first match and you dont have a second pair, guess who gets DQ’d for equipment violation (here’s a hint .. it’s not the guy who has the unripped pants).

Seventh – you came to fight, so it’s not the time for selfies and facebook live and any other simple-minded social media bullshit. Get your head on straight, or your opponent will straighten it out for you – guaranteed.

Eighth – stick to what you’re good at, and take it slow. Tournament day isn’t the day to experiment with some bullshit off youtube – save that for in the academy.

I’m not trying to scare you or deter your confidence. I’m just telling you how this shit really goes. You have registered and paid money to get into a fight with someone that doesn’t know you and that ultimately is going to try to hurt you – think about that for a second.

S, J, R, K and myself are the only remaining members of this team that have done this and everyone of us will tell you the same thing, what you will experience tomorrow will be unlike anything else you will have done up to this point (not harder, different).

The amount of exhaustion and anxiety dump you’ll go through after the first match alone is unreal – I’m just telling you, so you wont be shocked. This is a Jiu Jitsu fight and the only thing that matters is how good your Jiu Jitsu is, not your physical fitness, not your social media presence.

HARD WORK will win tomorrow, if you’ve put in the work, and you do all the right things and you LISTEN TO YOUR COACHES you’ll be alright. If you think you’re going to cruise in and walk away a winner without leaving it all on the mat, you’re high and I want whatever you’re puffing on.”

In short: He. Was. Right. It’s funny what that much experience can do to your ability to predict things, huh?

First, I’d like to give a point by point reaction to my Coach’s words.

Point the 1st: As my faithful readers know, I hit a goal in 2016 of Squatting and Deadlifting 5×5@225lbs. This was not like that. I’ve intervened in a potentially violent situation a few years ago. This was not like that. I’ve been through grueling training sessions. This was not like that. I’ve done five, six, seven or more five-minute rolls – intense rolls – with my teammates in a night, many times over this summer. This was not like that. And I only partook in two rolls, roughly ten or fifteen minutes apart, maybe. Nothing came close experience-wise.

Point 2: Yep. It started a littler earlier in the week for me, and looking back to the prior post I would say they probably started two weeks ago for me. It’s in the waiting. I can’t remember if it was Shakespeare or Kipling who said that the worst thing is in the waiting before the battle. I want to think Kipling… help me out somebody! But yes, up until I bowed to the ref and stepped on the mat, the waiting is what gets to you and tries your nerves, combined with the unknown variables that go into a fight. I did take Coach Shane’s advice and on Tournament day, I had two stations as my go-to: Crooners & Pop Music.

To start out the day at the tournament, I listened to the crooners of old: Fred Estaire, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, etc. As the tournament switched to the Gi competition brackets, I switched to some pop/dance music: Justin Timberlake, Michael Jackson, things like that to help keep me upbeat.

The Crooners I usually listen to on Sundays, the pop stuff is usually when I’m trying to have fun with my kids while I’m having them help me cook dinner. My “normal” pre-workout/pre-BJJ music usually consists of Metallica, Disturbed, TOOL etc., or more aggressive Hip Hop/Rap like Dre, DMX or Eminem. It was definitely a gear shift, but I think it helped me this first time around. I’ll be experimenting in the future to see what really helps me set the mood of being a calm, professional, ruthlessly aggressive BJJ competitor.

Point 3: I didn’t have much of a problem with my family being present, but I would probably distance myself even further from them next time. I love my children and those emotions don’t need to be there when I roll. Although, it was nice hearing my youngest girl saying, “Come on, Daddy! Go, Daddy!”

Point 4: I had a light, but solid breakfast. But I had a hard time eating anything the rest of the day. See Point 2. But I did bring a banana, my pill-form supplements, a scoop and a half of protein shake (plus shaker bottle), 50 ounces of water and two packets of Haribo Gummy Bears in case I needed a quick sugar replenish, depending on my fight brackets and times. I was able to eat after my fights.

Point 5: Check.

Point 6: Check. Thankfully, I didn’t have to put on my second Gi.

Point 7: Check. I looked quickly at Facebook and Instagram once in the morning, but didn’t post anything or stay long enough to derail my thoughts. As soon as I got to the tournament I had Pandora in my ears.

Point 8: Check. While we’ll get into more of this in Part 2, I stuck to a couple things that I know and am good at, possibly too much. There were certain moves that Coach saw during the fight and that I saw looking back, which could’ve been executed had I seen or had the confidence to attempt.out of a fear of losing or putting myself in a worse position. To that I will say this: One cannot be afraid of risking and making attempts. I missed a couple arm-bars, as well as take down and sweep opportunities because I hesitated and didn’t put my faith in my training as much as I wanted to.

So, approaching 1700 words, I’m going to wrap up Part 1 here. In Part 2, there will be YouTube links to each fight along with lessons learned, etc.

Keep pushing. Keep moving forward.

Pursue Mastery.

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Your’s Truly attempting to keep that guard!

 

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever-loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

 

 

 

 

BJJ White Belt: Before The Tournament

Last night I wrapped up my final training session before the tournament.

Since late June my mind has been fixed towards this Saturday, the 23rd and the training that needed to happen. Calendar-wise, I’ve spent the entire summer training for this tournament that takes place the day after Fall begins.

I still had to balance work and family in the mix, so I wasn’t there four nights a week or anything but I’ve made deliberate changes to my training since June to make sure I was giving myself the best shot possible:

  • Increased my training and mat time.
  • Reprogrammed my gym routines to help increase my endurance while maintaining a sufficient level of strength.
  • I added specific routines to strengthen and undo the tightness and discomfort in my shoulders.
  • Maintained a healthy food plan and did a good job curbing my sweet tooth.
  • I’ve taken notes, studied, asked questions and participated in extra classes that coach was offering on the weekends.
  • I’ve had weekly chiropractic & wellness visits during the last month of training to make sure everything was on point.

All in all, I believe I’ve done what I can to prepare. It will all be over sometime Saturday afternoon and I will have experienced my first competition. Just as important, I will have experienced how I perform in this kind of situation and pressure. That last note is probably the most important of all.

I’ve had some great milestones and successes and I’ve endured my fair share of frustrating nights over the summer wondering, “What the hell happened in there tonight?!”

I’d be kidding myself if I said that I didn’t have a desire to win and go the distance in my bracket and weight class. I’d also be kidding myself if I said I haven’t gotten nervous a time or two. I didn’t really start getting nervous until about two weeks prior to the tournament. I got shook up a bit last week. My mind was all over the damn place, I felt winded during every workout and BJJ session. That Wednesday, the 13th – also my birthday – Coach put up a scoreboard and acted as referee so we could get a feel for how everything goes down in competition. It was a good eye-opener. We’ve rolled many, many five minute rounds but this was a whole different animal. The sense of urgency was up, the points board is going off, etc.

My mind felt scattered, all over the place and in a word: fucked. I struggled to get clarity. I was frustrated and couldn’t get my head into the game most of the night. I was not impressed or pleased with my performance. My main enemy was my own mind and body and I struggled to master them, much less take on my training partners and teammates.

The first match was the most difficult, physiologically my body shut down within the first 30 seconds. I had a hard time getting my breath under control and the inner enemy, the weaker side of me began to cry out “Quit! Just quit!”. I remember clearly fighting the urge to just say “Stop, I’m done!”. 

Both Shane, my Coach and Karina, the assistant Coach/Team Captain, as well as a couple of my team members were trying to help me get out of my own head, find the “reset button” and move on… as they say on the interwebz: the struggle is real.

Objectively, I did OK. Six total matches, I won three, I lost three. Until I wrote it down, I didn’t think I did that many matches. One loss by disqualification, two losses by submission. The win’s were in the same pattern. The two matches I came ahead on were a direct result of calming down as best as I could, relaxing and taking it from there. At the minimum, I was able to get into “hunt mode” enough to get the win.

It took me a few days to get my head back on completely straight after that. Primarily because I was upset and angry at how my body was reacting and how it felt like my mind was betraying my true self by wanting to give up so quickly. But I got it back on and straightened it out.

I am a huge advocate of positive affirmations and creating the proper mindset; creating the proper reference point or frame for a given situation.

No… I didn’t read “The Secret”…

Having the right frame of mind going into a given day or activity is about strengthening and buttressing the mind against negative mindsets, doubts and fears. It’s about dismissing false information that your brain tries to bring up due to past failures and fears and creating the counter arguments (so to speak) based on facts of past successes, wins and skills you know you are good at.

So, I wrote down a few affirmations, put them in my BJJ journal next to my mind-map game strategy and I’ve been meditating on them each day leading up to the tournament. I even took it a step further, as I am currently experimenting with podcast recording, and recorded some affirmations and through that, actually created a few that were more powerful that the original ones I wrote down.

Here’s a very small sample of the frame I’ve created for the competition:

I have put in the training. I have put in the time. I have pushed hard. I have developed my game. This is my time.

I trust my Coach’s instruction and guidance. I trust the training I have received. I trust the skills I can deploy.

This is fun for me. I enjoy this.

I’m not going to share all of them at this point, maybe during the “AAR”, but let me tell you, there is definitely something to writing down the positive things that you believe about yourself in a particular situation, reading those things and even speaking them.

For me, it has been even more powerful listening to my own voice confidently say them with conviction from a recording. This is actually the only time I have ever enjoyed, or been OK with, listening to my own voice, which was an interesting feeling in and of itself.

Try it out, your mileage may vary.

Regardless of if I win or lose, I can and will use the experience of each match to become better at Jiu-jitsu than I was before. I’ll get my feet wet in tournament life, figure out how much I enjoy competing and then continue my BJJ journey from there.

Like my coach says, when it comes down to it, win or lose, it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. To really boil it down (with respect to the tournament host who is graciously putting on their first event in our state – they are well established in Utah), this is a tournament in a town of under four thousand.

I’m not going to be carried through the streets in a parade if I win.

I’m not going to be chased out of town if I lose.

There aren’t any contracts, sponsorships or anything else at the end.

This isn’t the Worlds, this isn’t the Pan-Ams and even if it was, the majority of the world doesn’t know or care. Multiple-time world champions walk down the streets of their towns daily and the majority of the people are unaware of or don’t even understand the significance of being a BJJ World Champion. Life will continue regardless of the outcome and most people aren’t going to know or even care that a tournament happened.

Outcome independence – that is the key. To seek a specific outcome or result, but to be detached from it to the degree that missing the desired outcome or failing will not derail you. Win, lose or draw – literally and figuratively – I will learn from this experience, I will use the experience and the knowledge I gain to become better at Jiu-Jitsu and deploying my game. Being outcome independent means you create the meaning for the event. You ultimately must realize that you are creating the degree of attachment to whatever outcome you seek, in any area of life. To the degree you attach yourself, will be the degree that you experience negative emotions if you do not attain that which you seek. And even if you seek it, you may not find the elation you dreamed of exactly because you became so attached to the outcome. The outcome matters, but it doesn’t.

I plan on doing an “After Action Report” regarding things I learned, the experience as a whole, etc. That will probably come out within a week or so after the tournament as I process my thoughts and review any videos I have of my matches. So stay tuned for that.

In closing, to boil all of this down into a few sentences:

  • I am not ashamed of the time I invested in my training.
  • My skills and ability have grown a tremendous amount in the last three months.
  • I know that I have good instruction and coaches.
  • I have a great team – both those on our team who are competing and those that aren’t.
  • I’m looking forward to Saturday.
  • I know that I will be better as a teammate and as a BJJ martial artist because of this experience.
  • Come what may, I am as ready as I can be.

Pursue Mastery

 **Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

About: In Pursuit (Update)

***I’ve updated the “New? Start here” page link found near the top of the site with a better, updated explanation of what’s going on over here at In Pursuit of Mastery. Enjoy.***
In Pursuit of Mastery isn’t a fitness brand, or a BJJ brand, or a weightlifting brand.
This, “brand” for lack of a better term, that exists via the mediums of WordPress, Facebook & Instagram is dedicated to the lifestyle of Self Mastery – mentally, physically, emotionally/spiritually – with the intent that Self Mastery in your life will then naturally flow into and make better other areas of your life and the lives of those around you.

Mastery over self – FIRST.

This means self awareness: understanding, accepting and embracing weaknesses, shortcomings and darkness. From there, not excusing or rationalizing them away, but rather having objective confrontation with them in order to see what can be cut out and what simply needs improvement.

This self awareness also includes being humble enough to understand, accept and embrace your strengths, light and areas of excellence. Not falling into hubris, but looking for ways to make those areas even better.

Simply put: improve or cut out the weak shit and double down on your strengths.

Most of your strengths have a shelf life and if not worked on, will whither and become weaknesses or shortcomings. Your shortcomings will continue to whither and rot if left to their own devices, too.

Self Mastery, then, is a life-long process. It is the antidote to the poison of hubris and suffering from the proverbial plank in your eye when your neighbor has but a bit of sawdust.

In Pursuit of Mastery is just that: documenting the pursuit. It is sharing with you, dear reader, how I am doing it – my thoughts and reflections, my actions. Me showing you that it can be done, regardless of age or the demands of life. But at the end of the day, you are the one who must do the work.

So why read this blog, follow my Instagram and Facebook or listen to me at all?

Because I’m not dependent on a paycheck from you so I’m not going to say everything you want to hear.

Because I’m on the path. I stumble, I fall, I have doubts and battle the inner demons… and I get back up and keep moving forward. 

Because I’m not perfect and haven’t “arrived”.

I’m on that path. I’m in pursuit. Are you?

No more excuses.

Get up.

Pursue Mastery.

~Tom Kenobi

 

Be True

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Polonius, Hamlet, William Shakespeare

You cannot control how people feel about you or treat you. Ultimately, this is beyond your control.

You might do all the “right” things: be honest, kind, faithful, interesting, adventurous, amazing, add value, etc. … and they can still grow to dislike you, be bored of you, use you, betray you, hate you.

Therefore, do not put any equity into those emotional anchors designed to drag you down and keep you fettered to someone else’s actions and feelings. The more independent you are of the anchors, the more free you shall be to be yourself.

To thine own self be true.

“First, decide who you would be, and then do what you must do.”

Epictetus

Take stock of yourself, your life, your dreams and goals. Are you living in accord with your true self? Are you living in accord with the mission, the direction you have set out? Is your course True?

Act.

Achievement of your goal; arrival at your destination won’t happen immediately, but with each small step, you become more and more in line with who you want to be – the values, both tangible and intangible that you wish to have in your life.

Build yourself up to live in accordance with your true self. Add to yourself skill and knowledge, depth and life, meaning and contentment. Bring value to your life.

Be True.

To be anchored by anything else is a living injustice.

Fiat justitia ruat caelum – Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

If you anchor your emotions, your thoughts, the value of the desired outcome to others and how they think, act/react, emote about you – then you do yourself a great injustice. Self enslaved, you are the only one that can free yourself.

Staying True, then, requires an independence from those anchors. You must free yourself of these anchors and do what you must in accordance with your mission, in accordance with the direction you let your arrows fly.

Then you must free yourself from emotional ties to your own desired outcome. Focusing on the process, the learning, the self mastery.

As you draw and take your shot, you may miss – but how you missed is more important than the miss. What did you learn?

Adjust, take aim, loose the arrow once more.

Are you closer or are you on the mark?

Assess, fire again.

Take every shot.

Be True.

Pursue Mastery.

range-day-3

 

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: Second Stripe

Five months in, well, over five months in at the time of publishing this post.

I received my second stripe on Wednesday, 08/16/17.

Isn’t it funny, how our perception of time works? I can feel both the “speed” at which time has passed since starting jiu-jitsu and I feel the “sluggishness” at which that same time seems to have passed as I chase after my goals.

There have been a lot of reps, rolls, sweat, soreness, bumps, bruises, fun and frustration since I received my first stripe. I know I’m not the only one on my team to invest this way. I know the actions I’ve taken are only a few drops in the bucket of the overall journey that is known as jiu-jitsu; I have a long way to go on this journey. I’m still a beginner and I take a healthy portion of humble pie every time I train. I will say that while I might not be the “best” by any stretch. I am continually bettering myself compared to the last time I trained. Me VS Me, I am always improving.

As I mentioned in the linked post above, Coach looks for certain things in each individual for promotion. Coach is admittedly slower to give out stripes – he jokes that when you get a belt or a stripe from him, that it’s probably late by a month…or six. But his intent is clear and methodology solid in the approach: he wants the student to have no doubt in their mind that the rank they received wasn’t “given” to them. They’ve put the work in, they understand, they apply, they improve – and it shows. In other words: they earned it, 100%.

The last time, he was looking for me to slow down; to be more aware and conscientious of what was going on around me. This time around, one of the things he was looking for was aggressiveness. Back in late June/early July, I’d committed to my Coach and team that I would participate in the tournament in September and I knew I needed to get more aggressive. Since then, I had been making a deliberate effort to do just that. It’s not necessarily a strength thing, but a constant moving, looking for opportunities, being proactive, hunting for openings and going on the attack; having a clear direction in where I wanted to go and if one angle didn’t work, looking for another one and taking calculated risks to try other angles and learn.

On the night of my promotion, I’d been working on my aggressiveness for a few weeks at least. The first hour felt great during live rolls. I was managing my top game better than I had. I was transitioning from one position to another, maintaining dominance and hunting for the openings and actually seeing them. I noticed that I was actually comfortable on top, things were just… clicking. We went to bow out. Consciously working to control my breathing, dripping sweat, mind racing from the success of the rolls and examining how things fell in to place and then boom both a teammate and I received our second stripes. Feelings of joy, thankfulness, elation, pride, surprise and even relief flooded through me once again, for me and also for my teammate.


I’ll have you know that my second hour wasn’t as favorable as I enjoyed the bittersweet taste of eating a healthy portion of humble pie.

Regardless, it’s cool to be able to look back and take stock of how far I’ve come in this short time span. I feel good with the progress I’ve made. It definitely feels like I’ve crossed a threshold and I’m grateful to pass this particular “mile marker” along the way.

As of the publishing of this post, our team is 23 days out from the tournament. For the great majority of us, this will be our first time competing and we are pushing each other to be better with every class we attend.

I’m looking forward to seeing how we perform individually and overall as a team.

Until the next post, my friends: Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

Remember that you are but a man…

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four of five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

~Brandon Lee, 1965-1993

Mastery over self includes the wading into the depths of the existential, the mysterious, the spiritual. It also includes coming to grips with things that are inevitable and beyond your control. And sometimes, like contemplating the subject of your death, they cover all of the aforementioned depths at once.

Death is certain; inevitable for every living thing on this planet. It is by and large out of our control. It is mysterious, spiritual and by it’s very nature existential. We all must face the understanding of our own inescapable passing, or avoid it and try to put it out of our minds until the very end.

Self Mastery dictates we face it, and face it long before it happens.

I’m obviously not the first person in the long line of humanity to have these thoughts. So, while these might be my thoughts, I understand that the majority of them are not “original” by any stretch of the imagination.

 

I planted some seeds for this post on mortality in “Eulogy” and in my more recent post regarding transformation.

So, let’s begin.

Memento Mori

 


First, Memento Mori has gained a lot of traction over the last few years. It is being brought back into the consciousness of the culture and I think that is a good thing. The saying might be new to you, but I’ve seen it popping up in so many places.

My first introduction to the phrase itself was from an article over at The Art of Manliness back in 2012. Here is a small excerpt from that article, giving the brief background of the phrase itself:

Memento mori is Latin for “Remember death.” The phrase is believed to originate from an ancient Roman tradition in which a servant would be tasked with standing behind a victorious general as he paraded though town. As the general basked in the glory of the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear: “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” = “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”

Memento mori. Remember that you will die.

Memento Mori, Remember that you will die.

Indeed. It is in the remembering that I think the challenge lies. Which is why we need reminders. The very reason I got that tattoo pictured above was to have a constant reminder that I am choosing to understand, contemplate and face my inevitable death now instead of coming to terms with it later in life. As we understand something, that understanding changes, develops and hopefully ripens and gets better with age. This is my goal, my aim with death. That by the time it comes, my understanding has gotten better with the days, years and decades that will hopefully pass before I die.

If you think about it, your life is like a movie. What I mean by that is you only see it from your lense, your particular camera angle. No matter how emphathetic you believe you are. You literally cannot see the scenes in your life play out through someone else’s eyes. You can only witness everything that happens from your seat in the theater, like a fully interactive movie experience built for one.

I am fully aware and recognize that I will die one day; my movie will end. It is the way of this world and I accept that. At the same time, I find myself still having those, “Oh shit! I’m going to fucking die!” moments.

Some questions come to mind when I think of the possible endings of my movie.

  • What will I see when death comes?
  • Will I be able to grasp/comprehend that I am dead?
  • What happens to my consciousness?
  • Will “I” live on?
  • Will my consciousness live on for a few moments after death and then fade?
  • Will “I” just cease to be completely?
  • What if this life is all there is, and then nothing?
  • What if there’s more to come? What will I see on the other side?
  • Why do we not have 100% proof either way?

I’ve played a mental exercise regarding my death multiple times. The scene is usually me on my death bed, breathing my last. In my mind I am trying to picture what happens next, but I’m only left with a black curtain. As I am mortal, I haven’t the luxury of peering through the Void.

My consciousness fades to black.

My physical body is now as inanimate and non-sentient as a coffin nail.

There is no “me” anymore. I do not and cannot even comprehend it, I’m just… gone.

All my thoughts, desires, dreams, my essence, my “soul”… gone.

Just…nothing.

Everything that is “me” has crossed the event horizon, spaghettifying into the black hole of mortality and death in the blink of an eye… forever.

“I” remain only in the memory of those that remain.

Daily Stoic has a great, short piece on this exact thing. Literally short enough to include in it’s entirety:

It’s scary to think that we will someday die. What of our family, we think? What of our possessions, our potential, and our plans? Death in this way, is a great loss. The poet Lucretius described it in haunting language: “Never again will your dear children race for the prize of your first kisses and touch your heart with pleasure too profound for words.”

What we forget, of course, is pointed out in the next line. “You will not care, because you will not exist.” Jack London, speaking like a Stoic, has an equally clever and profound line. With death, he says, man “does not lose anything, for with the loss of himself, he loses the knowledge of loss.”

Nothing after death is the most haunting and most liberating thought to me, leaning more on the haunting side than liberating. What’s funny to me is, for the most part, the same reasons it is liberating are the same reasons it is haunting.

All I have ever known, is my own personal movie, and contemplating that sort of emptiness is hard to grab a hold of. I don’t want that movie to end. I want more. You don’t feel, think, nothing. You are just gone. You will not exist. We get this small little vapor of life as sentient beings able to grasp, think and wrestle with complex thoughts… and then it’s all gone… with no meaning.

“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Dying in many respects, is a leap of faith.

I’ve spent the majority of my early teens through adult life as a Christian. I’ll be thirty-eight in just under a month. The whole of the Christian faith hinges on a Resurrection: Life after death of the Savior. And if there wasn’t a Resurrection and if there is no resurrection for the believers, like the Apostle Paul said, we are the sorriest and most pitiable of creatures**. I still believe that the Christian faith holds merit, but if compared to the whole majority of my Christian friends and family – or even myself five years ago – I’m practically an atheist. Like the boy in “The Polar Express”, I want to believe. But, for both our sakes I won’t unpack that box here.

**I’m going off memory here. You get the gist. Save your time, I don’t need a deep theological exegesis on the nuances of the scripture/s I paraphrased.

Faith – or lack thereof – not withstanding, I find it hard to accept that death would be the end.

Maybe its cognitive bias or some other form of bias on my part. But, we are sentient beings, conscious and self-aware. God-like in our potential for thinking, creating, destroying and reproducing. Demon-like in our potential to scorch the earth in tragedy, bloodshed, despair and destruction.

We humans have so many spiritual like qualities that makes us “us” in our spirit, soul, and/or consciousness, it is hard to accept that it would just end. With so many examples of life in a cyclical nature and so many other examples of transformation where there is a kind of death and a newer life comes from it, it is hard to accept that we would not transform yet again in some way.

Action

Regardless of whether life will end at death or continue on in some other way, we are still left with a decision to make.

We can’t sit on our ass and waste the time away.

We must decide what to do with the time we have here, right now. It is seen so much on social media, inspirational quotes and memes, motivational videos and the like that it has become white noise, despite the truth it holds: You only have this one life.

We have been given a small sliver of time on this amazing planet.

The only solution is to make the best of it, yes?

The only solution is to embrace this life, yes?

 

Search yourself, we, all of us, make space for what is truly a priority in our lives. We constantly complain about not enough time or money for the higher things in life yet all one needs to do in order to know what our real priorities are, is to take a look at what people will make time for or spend their money on.

Human nature is fairly simple sometimes.

I was going to try and wax eloquently in this action section regarding living your passions, etc. However, there is a lot of that out there and without the conviction of mortality, I think much of it is just white noise.

So I will just end this post with these last four short sentences.

You will die.

It is coming.

It could be today.

Act accordingly.

 

Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: Under Pressure

This post is almost two months in the making. All apologies to the faithful readers. Life’s challenges (selling a home, buying a home, promotion at work, etc.) stacked up to a place where I needed to place the blog on a low priority level. I hope you enjoy this installment of the “BJJ White Belt” series on In Pursuit of Mastery.
Learning Jiu-Jitsu has been a worthwhile endeavor for me; a beautiful tri-mixture of challenge, frustration and reward. It is commonly said within the BJJ community that you either win or learn. Believe me, I’ve been doing a whole hell of a lot of learning! The more mistakes I make however, the more I learn, the more kinks I find and work out, the better my game will eventually be.
As a kid I didn’t like getting stuck in small spaces, it was borderline claustrophobia.  I hated even entertaining the idea of being stuck. I cringed everytime I would watch the Grinch inch his way down the chimeny and get stuck in that akward position. I remember exploring a small access tunnel to an apartment complex I lived in one time, back in the day. Instead of reversing course to get out, I tried to turn around and I got stuck. It frightened the shit out of me. Being stuck or pinned down reaches deep into some primal part of us. You aren’t able to move, you can’t escape, you feel helpless, defenseless, vulnerable and I think in some deep primal sense, it reminds us of our own inescapable death. And we will do anything to get out of that situation.
I wasn’t stuck long, and like the Grinch, I was able to unstick myself… but this kid didn’t like it!
I also had a fear of drowning. I remember my Dad and Mom individually bringing me in to the deep end of the pool. The bottom of the pool might as well have been 1000 feet down for all I cared. This seemingly harmless element that I splashed around in was going to drag me down into its depths. I would be unable to breathe, grasping and clawing at the surface to no avail until I passed out and drown. My Dad says that, like the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, I was scarred from being thrown in by my mother. That may be so, I’m not sure. I don’t recall. Maybe that’s why my eye twitches really bad when I am poolside with my kids and my mom walks by. I guess we’ll never know…
Now, take those two feelings – drowning and claustrophobia – and put yourself in a live roll against someone who understands leverage and how to maneuver and position themselves better than you do. Welcome to Jiu-Jitsu!
That was June as we worked the mount all month long.
Under pressure. Claustrophobic. Near drowning.
I’m laying there, mounted by someone who’s at least six months my senior, who outweighs me by a good 50lbs or so. He’s in a higher mounted position and I’m doing my best to stay small, move and survive. His chest is pressed against me hard, my breathing is labored and the light around me starts to fade – not from being choked out – but from his arms covering and working me into submission. My training partner is patiently working his attack as I use the little knowledge I have to try and survive. It only prolongs the inevitable and shortly the submission is made, I tap and I am pulled back to the surface.
And I go again.
Willingly.
I am enjoying this.
I know I have some deep rooted masochistic tendencies, or at least I have a twisted willingness to endure pain.
The partners I have had the opportunity to train with are great. And in BJJ, I know that all I have to do is tap and it’s over. Regardless of that safety net, it seems there are ample opportunities to confront those primal parts of my genetic makeup, like the fear of drowning and claustrophobia, by being placed in uncomfortable positions and put under pressure. These opportunities, from my view, demand that I find the harmony between clearing my mind, staying calm, thinking and reacting. My beginner’s impression is that as a white belt, one is always trying to find this harmony when rolling and training but even moreso when you are in those dark, uncomfortable positions. If you freak out and lose your cool, you die.
This white belt’s impression from both receiving it and giving the mount, is that proper application of the mount makes it feel like the person applying the technique has doubled in weight.
It’s interesting, this path I’ve begun to walk down over the last couple years, pursuing mastery of self. I mentioned in a previous post how hard training gets me into this reflective mode where all my internal shit gets magnified, clarified and sometimes sorted out. It’s fascinating how hard, rigorous training at the gym or at jiu-jitsu brings out those thoughts, emotions and reflections. I find that some of my most clearest of thoughts, emotions or reflections happen through this physical process. I get to the point where all the masks come off and I find my center, in it’s purest state of being. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.
And it’s the best way to combat any kind of pressure in my life.
In jiu-jitsu, for example, the more I train, the more I push myself to keep going, the more I embrace the process, the easier it is to handle the pressure – both physically and mentally – of being in uncomfortable positions.
Whatever and however you pursue mastery of self in your life, keep at it. Keep pushing forward.
Pursue Mastery.

**Hey there, thanks for reading this post! If you find value in the writing you find here, the biggest compliment I can receive is for you to share the ever loving shit out of it. Thanks again for reading!**

BJJ White Belt: First Stripe

It’s been about two months since I started the path of learning Brazilian Jiu-JitsuGoing forward, I’ll be writing a series of “BJJ White Belt” posts mixed in with what I write here at In Pursuit of Mastery. I figure it would be cool to document the journey from a white belt perspective.

For those farther along the path it might help remind them of the “good ole days” of being a white belt or maybe even rekindle the fire if things have gotten “blah” in their training. For me, I know that I’ll be able to look back on these posts and see where I’ve come from.

 

So yeah, the title of the post? That happened last Monday, 05/08/2017.

For those who don’t have any martial arts background, stripes on a belt basically indicate progression along the way to the next rank or belt. Depending on the system a stripe can mean anything from a quarter, a third or even halfway to the next level. For example, in another life I studied Tae Kwon Do (ITF) for about eleven years. In that system, a stripe was the halfway mark to the next belt. From what I understand in BJJ, a white belt earns four stripes before being close to eligibility for testing the next belt.

Monday night was a great session, ending like we do most nights with some rolling. I was dripping sweat and lining up with my fellow students for dismissal. I noticed our Coach, Shane, had grabbed the tape he uses for stripes on belts. Like most systems I’ve encountered, the white stripes are usually medical tape (some use electrical tape as they come in various colors). I’m thinking to myself, “Cool, somebody might be getting a stripe tonight, wonder who it is?” And then he walks up to me!

It was an awesome feeling: surprise, acknowledgement, accomplishment and a little sprinkling of pride (the good kind) all rolled into one.

From talking with him after it all went down, our Coach looks for certain indicators in our progression before giving that first stripe out. For the sake of intellectual honesty, the thought had crossed my mind within the past week about “when” I’d get that first stripe but, I also figured that I was at least another month from getting there.

So, it definitely came earlier than expected and I am grateful to have earned it. Like my Coach has said, it is really about your own journey in this art. You can look to others as markers and examples, but you can’t necessarily compare yourself to them. In many ways, it is you vs you. Improving daily, weekly, monthly. One step at a time. Am I better than I was yesterday? Last week? Last month?

Me VS ME: that is definitely something I can relate to.

As far as BJJ is concerned. There is improvement, a little bit at a time. Things are beginning to click, a little bit at a time. My defense is getting a little bit better. I’m a little bit more aware of what’s going on around me, even if it is a case of, “Now what the fuck do I do?!?”. I’ve been able to successfully execute a move or two that we’ve practiced earlier in class before getting into some live rolling. For me, the exciting part of that was actually finding the opening, “Ah, there it is!” and getting it done.

I still feel like a fish out of water most times, but I feel like I’m flopping closer to the water than I was before.

I’m still loving it.

I enjoy the balance that our Coach places between getting many reps in on a move we’ll work that night and on stress testing it with live rolling. This helps me see how important it is to find the harmony between the two so I get the mechanics of the move down and also understand how it can or can’t work in a roll, especially when your partner knows what you are trying to do.

I’m enjoying through both personal experience and witnessing in real time, how there is a place for strength, but also a place for technique. I can see now from just a little “inside view” why BJJ blew up the UFC and changed the game completely. So much goes into this, body mechanics, positioning, leverage, etc.

I’ve noticed how strategy can and is a big factor. Many…many times I’ve been sidetracked by my coaches or a senior student with what I thought was the “attack” only to be baited or flanked into the real trap. Humbling, eye-opening and fucking brilliant. Again, keep in mind, this is just a new white belt speaking. I know I’ve got a way to go.

Going forward, I’m currently rethinking/retooling my weight training and conditioning programs. I think I am on the right track but I still feel something is missing so I’ll have to play with it a bit and do some fine tuning. I also either need to find a way to put a hard drive in my brain to playback what I’ve learned, or start taking notes. I think the notebook would be easiest…

I’ll get there.

Pursue Mastery. One step at a time.

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