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.

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.

BJJ White Belt: Starting from the Bottom

Keeping in line with pursuing my goals for 2017, I recently opened a new chapter in my life and began learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Day 1, Intro Class.

For the first time in years I joined a martial arts school, put on a uniform (Gi) and donned a white belt. It is a newer school in the area led by both an experienced brown belt and a purple belt. The rest of us are white belts of varying degrees and as of this writing, I only have five sessions under my belt. The other white belts are light years ahead of me.

And I don’t mind it at all.

In fact, I’m loving it.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a “white belt” in many areas over the last few years. Weightlifting for one; learning the proper form for the big lifts and slowly progressing upwards until I hit my goals.

Taking an amazing Pistol Course last year is another.

Although the feeling of being a fish out of water or not knowing your ass from a hole in the ground or being shown just how much of a “white belt” you really are can be frustrating, to say the least, it is one that I enjoy in a twisted sort of way. There is always room to grow and become better.

Ego and Hubris (the way I view them), don’t get along.

Ego is a positive force in your life as it drives you to do better, to want to become more and strive to go to the next level. Hubris is the part that has to be checked.

Hubris will tell you, “You’re good enough, just the way you are.”

Ego says, “You can do better. You can improve.”

Hubris says, “Just practice on your own. You got this.”

Ego will reply, “You should practice on your own, but you also need to seek training. You need to get around people who are better than you so you can be challenged, stretched and step your game up.”

And I’ve had plenty of opportunities to either let my ego push me towards growth or let hubris pull me towards stagnation.

Humility is a necessity to furthering your training.

Like I mention in the above linked article about humility, I like to approach training with an “empty cup” mentality. It helps me to keep hubris in check, even in “familiar” territory, so I can learn and absorb as much as possible in order to grow and become better. It can be hard at times, but I’ve found that taking the empty cup approach usually yields the most return on investment for me.

So now I’m learning BJJ, starting from the bottom in so many ways. I’m still green. I’m in unfamiliar territory. Flopping around on the mat, trying to learn how to roll my body. I am dripping wet with sweat after each session. I’m learning that while what I’ve accomplished in the gym regarding strength and endurance is good, it’s not everything against a younger, lighter training partner who is even a month or two ahead of you in practice. There are different breeds and degrees of strength and endurance needed for this new chapter. To top it all off, I’m nursing a weakened/strained shoulder due to over-training at the gym.

There are ample servings of humble pie for me to digest during this new season of my life.

My cup is so damn empty.

And I’m fucking loving it!

Another day of training, another opportunity to improve.

Use your Ego for good. Check hubris at the door. Become better.

Pursue Mastery.