Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 15: Finding a Balance Between “I’m Registering For Worlds!” Days and “That’s It, I’m Burning My Spats” Days.

We’ve all had those days on the mats that make us truly question both our progress up to that point, as well as possibly our intellectual capacity. Similarly, most of us have also had those magical days when we tap a swath through a deep room. So how do you balance all this out? Obviously on good days I can’t get all delusional and submit my registration for Worlds Black Belt Adult, but I also can’t dwell on that night a room full of lower belts all passed my guard and held me in side for a round (I’m not still bitter about that…Really.). Somewhere in there, my actual skill level exist. The key to psychologically mastering the mats is to accept that those days are atypical- they’re just good and bad days- and to remind myself that my mat career is going to be a series of incremental progressions and improvements rather than leaps forward or backward. Enjoy the experiences of good and bad days, but at the end of the day, leave it on the mats.

This is easier said than done…I like to cling tightly both to my successes and my failures. I know that to progress, grow and to continue enjoying bjj, I’ve got to let the good and the bad days go, but I recognize that this is a struggle and a skill. Sometimes the gears are greased, the engine is running smoothly and your teammates are dousing you in praise. Coach saw you pass a notoriously difficult guard, and saw you submit a killer. This is a moment to relish, and you’d be a fool not to revel in your own glory for a bit, but you’re going to have to leave it on the mats when you go home. Not every day will be your day. I’ve been around long enough to know how quickly after tearing up the room, I can find myself spending three rounds trying to get out of an armbar, and the rest of the night tapping to almost everyone I roll with. Sometimes you are the hammer, sometimes the nail. Keeping this in perspective can go a long way to help mitigate the deep gully in confidence you might experience when facing a bad day on the mats after a string of good days.

I don’t suffer from an over attachment to my good days, really. My hangup lies in a propensity to dwell on my bad days, the days that I’m the nail. This is probably the more common mental scenario for the average practitioner, and it often makes it tough to cultivate a realistic perspective about your Jiu Jitsu. Spending a bunch of time convincing yourself you suck is obviously a stupid waste of time, so fostering a habit of letting go of your losses alongside your wins is essential for mat mental health. Chances are you don’t suck, and if you do, it’s very likely because you’re just new-ish and you’re supposed to suck, so don’t worry about it.

The moral of our story today is that you’re neither Garry Tonon nor the Reggie Strickland of BJJ; keep your good days and your bad days in perspective, enjoy and learn from them when they happen, then forget them.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 14: The Three Principles of Passion.

What’s the one thing that virtually all highly skilled and very successful athletes have in common? It’s true that dedication, work ethic, resilience ect are all essential qualities, but I think underlying all of those is one singular attribute; passion. It isn’t enough that you train hard, become skilled and apply those skills to win. You have to miss the mats when you’re away from them, you have to LOVE what you’re doing. The greats like Marcelo Garcia treat their Jiu Jitsu like it were a high-maintenance lover, who will not be satisfied with anything less than their full attention when they’re together. Jiu Jitsu will build you up and break your heart, but it’ll always be there, giving you all the feels so long as you’re always pouring your best into it. There’s a lot that goes into becoming a champ, but among those things are following the three Principles of Passion: Be physically present as much as possible, be mentally present at all times and don’t dwell on failure.

Not everyone can train 2-3 times per day, six or seven days a week like Keenan or the Miyaos, that’s a given, but you gotta show up! Time to spare for the mats is one of the toughest hurdles to clear for a lot of folks, but if you want to be more than just ‘OK’ at BJJ, you need to put the time in. There’s a saying I really like, and the longer I train the more sense it makes: “You can’t cheat the grind”. You really can’t, especially in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There’s no secrets, no special techniques and it doesn’t matter how strong you are. If you can’t execute a technique properly, if your skill level is lower than that of your opponent’s, you lose. Plain and simple. You have to put the mat time in- and a lot of it- to get good.

To some this is painfully obvious, but to many there’s a disconnect, here. I’ve spoken about the high attrition rate in Jiu Jitsu before, and expanded a bit on why people leave, but at the heart of a lot of the insecurities that lead to people quitting is fundamentally a lack of mat time, resulting in a lack of skill. Pretty straight forward, but some folks don’t get it and wind up stunting or halting their growth with an inconsistent and uncommitted training schedule. Commit to your training. Most people have jobs that prevent them from training all day everyday, but do yourself a favour and set aside at least 3 training sessions a week. More is fantastic, but realistically speaking, consistent growth is possible if you agree to commit at least 3 good quality mat sessions per week and stick with it over time.

Being mentally present every time you hit the mats is just as important as physically getting on the mats, but for some this is even harder than making it out in the first place. Most of us struggle with mental presence; we’re constantly thinking about a number of things in our lives while we perform unrelated tasks. This is one of the beautiful features of our impressively complex brains, but it doesn’t allow us to focus properly at the task at hand. When you step on the mats, you need to consciously decide that you would rather be nowhere else in the world than there, doing nothing else but training Jiu Jitsu. For some people this comes really easy. They just slap hands, and their problems melt away. For others, mental presence is a skill to learn like any other, and it takes practise to master. If you’re preoccupied with how much you hate your job, your financial stresses or family issues, you can’t pour your full attention into your Jiu Jitsu. We all have problems, and we all need to practise leaving those problems in the changeroom with our street clothes. It’s not simple to do, but it can be done and it’s a necessary step on the path to greatness.

There are tons of ways to practise and accomplish mental presence. Do what works best for you. For myself, I like to think in pictures, and I’m a product of my time, so I’ve had a lot of success by replacing imposing thoughts with a quick flash of Grumpy Cat as my cue to re-focus. Other folks use meditation or different, less meme-based forms of visualizations to get their minds back to the mats. However you accomplish it, and however long it takes, discipline your mind to focus only on Jiu Jitsu when you’re on the mats.

Failure is an unavoidable fact of life. You probably wont fail at everything you do, but from the day you’re born to the day you kick the pail, you will fail multiple times at many things. What sets successful and exceptional people apart from everyone else is their ability to move on from failure, even catastrophic failure. You’ll probably never experience catastrophic failure in BJJ, but you will taste defeat again and again. What will set you apart from everyone else will be how quickly you let those failures roll off you, and how well you turn the negativity of those experiences into something positive. My first loss at a competition floored me. I dwelled on my loss for a few weeks, and I drove my coach up the wall in the process. I kept clawing for reasons why I lost: I need to roll with a larger variety of bodies, I need to lift weights, I had the wrong kind of tights on…blah blah blah. To my coach it was simple why I lost- I didn’t sweep when I should have, I need to work more on sweeps. Determine what led to your loss and pick away at it. Move forward, make something useful out of something crappy and don’t cry over it. Easier said than done, but it’s doable and essential to your growth both on and off the mats.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 12: The Blue Belt Blues Part 2- Promotions Don’t Give You New Powers, Sadly.

I spent most of my white belt surviving underneath heavier rolling partners, doing a lot of tapping and only catching a tap of my own here and there. The closer I got to blue, I started getting this notion that after I earned my blue, I’d be better at jiu jitsu. I certainly didn’t think there was some secret magic jiu jitsu juju embedded in my new belt, but I did think that maybe I’d start to “get it” better with the new shift in the way I saw myself (no longer a rookie) on the mats. I was mistaken.

I’m still getting my rear handed to me daily by people I’d rather not admit are tapping or drawing with me. My stretchy blue rashguard, the cape of the Blue Belt Super Hero, has failed me. Or rather, I thought I failed it; “Wtf, I still suck? I don’t deserve this belt!” Turns out my coach knows what he’s doing. I don’t suck, I’m just not a very good blue belt yet. And that’s okay. I can take stock of the skills I’ve learned in jits thus far, and an inventory of blue belt super powers are not among those skills.

What exactly is a blue belt supposed look like, anyways? It took me 2.5 years from my first day on the mats to my blue belt. When I was rocking the first stripe on my white belt I sucked. I sucked real bad, but it didn’t matter because at that point I was supposed to suck. A couple weeks before my blue belt test I was on fire on the mats! Tapped folks I never thought I’d tap and saw opportunities for the catch I’d normally miss. Am I consistently like that? No. But that’s not the point. I was much better with 4 stripes on my white belt than I was when I only had 1. It follows that ranks are spectrums, and I really shouldn’t be beating myself up for feeling inadequate as a new blue belt. I’m really just a very good white belt who’s growing into her new blue shirt. I suppose this is the onset of the Blue Belt Blues, https://torontonogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/lessons-ive-learned-studying-brazilian-jiu-jitsu-lesson-5-belt-blues-the-struggle-is-real/ and it’s totally normal. I really didn’t level up when I got my blue belt, my coach just acknowledged my achievements so far.

Lessons I’ve learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 11: Mat Snobs, and How to Shut Them Down.

What the heck is a Mat Snob, you ask? A Mat Snob is a mercifully rare creature who, for whatever reason, thinks their jits/academy/style/entire being is better than most other folks. They only roll with certain people, they often skip drills with their nose in the air, or drill something entirely different and they’re about as huggable as Joffrey Baratheon on the throne once they earn their blue belt. The Mat Snob isn’t always a snob on the mats, either. This is the person you hear stirring up forums with crap like “Gi is real BJJ, No Gi is catch wrestling/you have to train in the Gi”, they can go on at length about how superior their academy is while throwing shade all over you for your academy and generally tries to tear folks down around them in relation to BJJ.

My suspicion is that these folks are already pretty condescending people, BJJ didn’t cause this poor behaviour, it’s just being used as an avenue to act out. Thank the powers that be that these people are really rare in their final form. Most full-fledged Mat Snobs tend to live out their BJJ career online, and even the most insufferable snob eventually gets straightened out on the mats sooner or later. That said, we should take care to remember that at some point, many of us may have been a Mat Snob about something too; be it talking down to someone new to jits regarding something they’re probably justifiably ignorant about or refusing to roll with a newbie simply because they’re not very good yet.

So how do you shut a Mat Snob down? Don’t engage with their poor behaviour and don’t waste any time arguing with them. Your time on the mats is important. While we all work as a team to improve each other, the Mat Snob probably isn’t all that interested in helping you improve. In fact, to these jerks, the people around them are more like bit actors in their own personal sitcom; walk-on extras, only there to develop the Mat Snob’s own plot and devoid of much personhood. Hold your head high in dignified silence when you’re forced to be around someone like this. If you’re disgusted by their behaviour, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in some way a better person than they are. Probably. Don’t be rude, just keep your distance and stay classy.

Sometimes the Mat Snob is ranked higher than you are. Understandably, some people can feel trapped in the system, a bit uncomfortable about avoiding someone in a ranked environment. Pick a drilling partner before that awkward moment when your instructor tells the class to pair up, and half the group is looking around uncomfortably like pre-teens at their first dance. If someone else does the pairing and you keep getting the Mat Snob, speak up! Talk to your coach if they’re sucking the fun out of your mat time. No one who coaches a team or runs a gym wants anyone to have a bad time. They would rather get things running smoothly and harmoniously as quickly as possible, so bringing a joy-assassinating Mat Snob to your coach’s attention is in the best interest of everyone in the gym.

Mat snobs suck, but thankfully they’re rare and the vast majority of gyms are not very inviting to them anyways. With any luck, you’ll never run into one during your time on the mats, and hopefully you’ll never be one yourself.

Top 6 Non-Jiu Jitsu Things You Need To Learn When You Start Jiu Jitsu

Top 6 Non-Jiu Jitsu things you need to learn when you start Jiu Jitsu.

Often we see articles outlining the top things we must learn when we start studying BJJ, like the Triumvirate of Tap (triangle, armbar, omoplata), RNC, how to break guard and how to regain your own guard. But what about the OTHER stuff, the things you weren’t prepared for, the little lessons out of left field that really test our character? Here’s my list of things that have no obvious link to BJJ, but you’re gonna need them if you’re going to survive.

1 Humility. Yeah, we hear this a lot, eh? “Stay humble”, “Ego isn’t your amigo” and so on. It’s absolutely true! Tapping sucks, tapping all day long sucks more, and knowing you’re going to show up to class and tap to someone better than you for several months is disheartening. Get used to unhitching your self-worth from an arguably bloated pride, and get to work on deflating that thing, too! You’re gonna tap a lot before you get to the point that you tap others regularly, or even survive a full round with someone better than you. Get comfy!

2 Curiosity. Lucky for you, most of the more common attacks and guards have been well hashed out by the geniuses that have come before us, but that doesn’t mean you need all your information handed to you unquestioned from a professor. Rolling is magic! Every roll is a series of almost endless possibilities, the opportunity to discover tons of things in your roll, and the worst case scenario is you tap. Explore, get creative, be curious about where you’ll end up if you do something unfamiliar or accidental in a roll. There’s a ton of variations to just a simple armbar. Get out there and don’t be scared to muck around until you find what works best for you! Ask questions, too!

3 Tenacity. I mean, obviously if you’re being passed, swept and submitted repeatedly for a good length of time, you’re going to need to dig deep inside yourself to find the strength to keep hitting the mats. You’re also going to need that tenacity when you finally start catching your partners. No one’s giving you a tap. You gotta earn the tap, and often it’s earned through being just a bit more tenacious than your opponent. Let’s also not forget that catches (when you get a hold of a submission position, but aren’t finishing) eventually turn into taps. It may feel like you’re constantly losing the kimura you set up, but remember that you weren’t even able to set up a kimura once upon a time, so have the faith and tenacity to keep trying and to keep holding on until catches turn into taps.

4 A Sense of Humour. You’re really going to want to learn how to laugh at yourself, and see the humour in having your face squished under a friend’s butt while they impose their armbar or kimura set up on you. There’s a fine line between being funny and being childish. Find that line, get close but don’t cross it and spend the years you invest in BJJ laughing. Not taking yourself too seriously will not only help you adjust to the reality of BJJ but also help you make and keep friends on and off the mats. Sometimes (ok, a lot of the time) I just chuckle quietly to myself about something I saw on the mats, sometimes I share the humour, it’s really situational, but never malicious. Laugh out loud with love.

5 A Healthy Lifestyle. Lots of folks talk about ‘living the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle’, but too often the lifestyle most practitioners adopt is a combo of late hours on Youtube watching Miyao videos, over/under training and eating too much sugary acai-flavoured everything. “But it’s cool, I put kale in my shake this morning!” is not going to save anyone from stalling out living that kind of lifestyle. Cut the sugar down, sleep well, train consistently and put good, whole foods down your gullet. Going into ketosis is cool if you’ve got the money and discipline to reach it, but if you’re making it onto the mats 3 times one week, skipping a week and returning for five classes the following week, chances are you don’t have the discipline to stick to a tough fad diet. Get a handle on the easy stuff first. The idea of ‘clean living’ is pretty relative, so don’t get carried away or intimidated, just stick to the mantra “healthy food, lots of sleep, less sugar, regular training” and you’re going to get pretty far.

6 Patience. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu takes a long time. Naturally you’re going to need to cultivate patience. First you’re going to be frustrated with your progress. Once you start seeing a little bit of progress, you’re probably going to rush catches and submissions, losing them in the process and wind up frustrated with that, too. Sooner or later you may even get impatient for your next belt. Work on your waiting skills, and don’t even think about asking or hinting to your prof that you’d like another stripe or belt! Don’t even think about it! Trust that your instructor is competent and will tell you when you’re ready to belt up.

There are so many more characteristics and qualities we need to cultivate in our journey through BJJ, but get started on nurturing these and you’ll have tools for life, on and off the mats!

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson # 7: How to be Cool and Avoid Making People Feel Awkward.

Lesson # 7: How to be Cool and Avoid Making People Feel Awkward.

This isn’t quite so much about being cool as it is minimizing any awkwardness we might inadvertently cause. I don’t really know how to be cool, so to say I can pass that skill on to you would be a wild and spurious claim on my part. That said, I’ve sat back and watched, sometimes cringed, while people come, go and stay at the gym. Some people know what they’re doing in a team setting and others need some help. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym is home to all walks of life. Men, women, gay, straight, married, single, young, old and so on. Sometimes it’s tough to navigate all the corners of a heterogeneous team sport. This barely-cool blogger is coming to the rescue! I’ve laid out a loose dos and don’ts of how not to make people feel awkward, based on my own experiences (I’ve been aaaaaawkward!) and observations in and around BJJ.

Do: be friendly and personable on and off the mats. We’re not all chatty and smiles all the time. If you’re a reserved person, don’t feel pressured to come out of a shell you’re not ready to emerge from, but being friendly and approachable will go a long way. Likewise, if you’re an extrovert, small doses of your charm can draw out even the shyest student, and help to create a really inviting environment.

Don’t: be overly personable. This sounds a bit contradictory considering the previous ‘do’, but being too friendly too fast makes people on the mats feel uncomfortable. I’ve seen it over and over again: A new student joins, then they’re immediately trying to be best friends with everyone, and posts YouTube videos on the coach’s Facebook wall daily. Basically, don’t smother your new partners! The overly-friendly individual is always a really great person, but they need to let people figure that out for themselves. The alternative is that folks start thinking there’s something a bit off about them, which sucks and probably isn’t very fair. The new student’s intentions are good, but the approach was messy. Take your time when you first start and let people warm up to the awesomeness of you in their own time. Generally people in a gym (mine, at least. Can’t vouch for every other one, but most should be fine) are pretty friendly already, and will make you feel right at home in no time anyways.

Do: have a full and wonderful social life that includes Jiu Jitsu and the friends you’ve made through it. Keep in touch on social media with the people you’re friends with through BJJ. The community’s pretty small; you can end up in huge and often hilarious online discussions with people who share your passion for Jiu Jitsu. And then go do something else for the rest of your day because you have a life outside of Jiu Jitsu.

Don’t: make Jiu Jitsu your sole identity. It’s really easy to get caught up in the lifestyle and hype around Jiu Jitsu. Lots of new white belts Instagram their kale shakes, tweet about their full-shin lockdown bruises or mat burn and join every BJJ related Facebook page they can find. That’s fine and actually, par for the course. But don’t be one-dimensional about your love of Jits! After a few months of hammering your social media with nothing but bjj memes and your opinions on everything involving Jiu Jitsu and BJJ politics, people can start to think you’re either really boring or a know-it-all. No one likes a white-belt-know-it-all, and I’ll be frank with you: it’s embarrassing to watch. Use restraint when you dive into the BJJ online community. Remember that it’s small and people talk. Don’t overdo it and definitely don’t be overly familiar online with other Jits folks that you don’t really know. Like I said, people talk. It’s best they don’t talk about you at all, and if they do, make sure you give them good things to talk about- like the crazy good baseball choke you posted from your last competition- rather than have them quietly agreeing that you’re being annoying, or worse, creepy.

Do: work to become part of the team. Come out to class, roll, roll, roll and when you have no more left, roll again. Mat time is the quickest way into everyone’s heart, and the only way to get better at BJJ!

Don’t: get sour if you don’t feel like you’re ‘part of the team’ after a month of training. Yes, mat snobs are a thing (we’ll address those cats another day), but if after a month you don’t feel like you’re on the team or accepted, don’t panic, quit or give everyone stink eye for being exclusionary jerks. It isn’t that your team doesn’t like you, they just don’t know yet if you’re going to quit tomorrow. This was something I personally struggled with in my first few months. I began at a college drop-in BJJ program that had a handful of vets who watched as dozens of new faces came and left in a two semester period. I felt ignored and disliked, but after displaying my dedication (I travelled five hours round trip three times a week to train…no biggie), I was part of the team! Give it time. BJJ isn’t for everyone and mat vets know that. They’re just waiting until it’s safe to get attached to you.

Do: be respectful to everyone. Always. In the gym, online, at competitions, at the bar, the bus stop…I could keep going. Think before you speak, and consider other people’s feelings and experiences before you say something you’re not sure about.

Don’t: be a crude and disrespectful person, especially on the mats. Race jokes are not kosher. Rape jokes are never okay.  By calling your buddy on the mats gay, you meant he was totally fabulous, right? You get the picture. I’m not going to proscribe what you can’t say in life, I have faith in you. Don’t be a jerk. If you absolutely must be a jerk and tell a stupid, offensive joke, save it for your stupid and offensive friend’s ears only, m’kay? I once heard an Eddie Bravo quote: “Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate douchebag filter”. That isn’t always true, but it’s one of the better jerk filters available. We see through jerks quickly.

At the end of the day, just be as naturally you as you can. Sometimes a little insight into how an unfamiliar social setting functions is helpful, though.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson #6: The White Belt Spazz.

Lesson #6: The White Belt Spazz.

You’re sitting there on the edge of the mats, mouth guard at the ready, eying potential rolls. To your left a tiny, shy voice breaks in: “Hey, uh, you, uh, you wanna roll?” It’s a new guy, eight weeks into training, looking meek. “For sure!” you say. He doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, but he’s only about 160lbs, won’t be too bad, right? Let him work, you’ll work on your defenses. You slap, bump…and suddenly he grabs your wrist and throws his body into yours in his best attempt at a guard pass. You’re struggling to control him while you eat knees and elbows to the face, chest and shins, fending off every ounce of strength and exertion he can muster. This guy is going H.A.M on you like you’re in the finals of No Gi Worlds, knowing the deed to his house and his first born son are yours if he loses. He’s holding onto anything within reach, reefing on every joint in an attempt to get some kind of submission out of you. You’re not having much fun at all. You decide to turn it up in the hopes he might get the picture that he’s going too hard. Nope, he goes harder, with even less thought about where his limbs end up. You’ve set up an armbar from mount, but he’s bucking wildly trying to get out. That arm is yours, but during his little freak out- which can only be compared to a cat trying to escape from a burning pillowcase- his hand suddenly slips from his defense, and only the control you’ve learned over the years saves his elbow from pointing the wrong way. Mazel Tov, you just rolled with a White Belt Spazz. Dress your wounds, be thankful for a good cup or mouth guard and try to forgive him, knowing you probably did the same thing when you first started.

The White Belt Spazz is ubiquitous in every gym, primarily because inexperience and pride go hand in hand (see Lesson #3 for more on this), and there’s always someone new on the mats. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, it’s just a fact of life; we don’t know what we don’t know, but dammit, we’re not going to lose. After a bit of time on the mats, almost everyone learns to slow their roll down, use more leverage than strength, seize the opportunities available and tap when caught. But most folks who are new don’t understand the mechanics of Jiu Jitsu yet, don’t want to lose and often roll way too hard, hurting themselves or their partners in the process. This can lead to the Spazz having a tough time finding someone willing to roll with them and sometimes even hard feelings. So how can you avoid being the White Belt Spazz? It’s a pretty simple three-step process: Slow down, relax, lose the pride. Let’s break it down.

Slow down: This is pretty straight forward. I could get all preachy and talk about how much more you will learn if you take your time, but in the first formative months of a white belt’s journey, slowing down is more of a safety issue than anything. I remember once trying a no gi torreador pass when I was still quite new. I had an idea of how it worked, but all I managed to do was this weird wobble from side to side, slipped forward and smoked my face on my partner’s knees. In my head I imagined my coach beaming down at me in approval for my skill and speed. In reality, I just bit my tongue and got triangled for my troubles. Similarly, you’re going to do a lot less damage to your rolling partner when you slow down and quit flailing wildly. You’re a long way away from being a BJJ great, so explosive movements aren’t going to work for you yet. Chill out and master control before you work on speed. Shooting a leg through to catch a straight ankle is a really great skill to have, but you’re not making friends in the gym if 7 out of 10 times you wind up violently gas-pedaling your partner instead. Slow. Your. Roll.

Relax: This goes along with slow down, but has it’s own special place. A couple weeks ago I was drilling with a young man who was so tense that I though the guy was going to vibrate into another dimension all together. He held onto my arms like a vise grip, and even when he wasn’t engaged I could see the muscular stiffness in his whole body. By the time he was done his second rep, he was breathing heavy and sweating profusely. When my turn came, he was so stiff and resistant that I couldn’t work through the technique properly. Quietly in my head I resolved to drill with someone else next time, and myself being a bit on the smaller side, I totally wrote him off as a rolling partner until he relaxes more. But I understand! I was datch guy. I had to be reminded to breathe, sometimes. Tenseness is tiring. You’ll gas out in no time. Practice an economy of energy as often as you can. Breathe slowly, control your exertion as well as your emotions. I try to imagine myself as a large predator in an environment with few opportunities to eat, and all my prey is fast. If I use too much energy on the wrong thing I may starve to death if I fail to catch what I’m chasing. This is especially important to keep in mind for larger people who only have so much in their gas tank. Relax, use your energy strategically and use your muscles wisely.

Last but not least, lose the pride: This is hands down the most important part of de-spazzing. Arguably, pride is the single largest contributing factor to the Spazz, but it’s the hardest to conquer. We want to be good at what we do, and this drive is magnified in competitive, athletic environments. I’d be lying if I said I never imagine my superiors talking about how much of a natural I am at jits, how I ‘just get it’ and so forth. In reality I’m pretty average, but I want greatness, and my inner dialogue can trick me into thinking greatness can be mine if I just give it my all and mimic the superstars on the scene as best I can. I’ve seen naturals, but trust me when I say they’re only slightly less rare than a unicorn that speaks perfect Klingon. The rest of us have to settle with earning first our mediocrity, then greatness through good old fashioned grind. Don’t settle for mediocrity, but don’t force greatness, let it come. Accept that you’re going to be not-very-good until you learn to be good. The sooner you embrace this, the sooner you can bust down the mental wall that’s blocking you from seeing your true skill level, and where you need to put work in.

The White Belt Spazz, in its natural habitat is a curious beast to observe, and formidable to encounter. If you’re the spazz, just slow down, relax and check your pride. If you find yourself facing a spazz, be patient and honest. Tell them politely they need to slow their roll and help them, don’t alienate them. I’m pretty sure from time to time I still throw a careless elbow or knee, but I do my best to try and check myself when I get carried away.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson #5: Belt Blues: The Struggle Is Real.

Lesson #5: Belt Blues: The Struggle is Real.

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Most of you have heard of the ‘Blue Belt Blues’, a phenomenon many people will experience soon after getting their blue belt in which they begin to think they don’t deserve their new rank. The new blue belt might question their skill level, lose confidence in themself and often, quit Jiu Jitsu alltogether. Conservatively, for every blue belt that stays on the mats to purple, 2 have quit. Granted, life can also steer someone towards giving up on BJJ, but feelings of inadequacy can play a big role in why a blue belt leaves. The fact of the matter is that at every level you will question yourself. Every belt level experiences the blues, not just blue belts. How badly and for how long depends on the individual.

Virtually everyone who have experienced ‘The Blues’ have associated it with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Most have said that at some point they wanted to give up Jiu Jitsu all together, and many also indicated that these feelings lasted way longer than they were comfortable with. Many felt that as soon as they earned their new belt, they became a target for those sitting in the upper echelons of their previous belt- often losing to them- as well as chum for the more experienced sharks within their new belt rank. Basically folks report losing to training partners they expected to easily tap. What we can take from this is that often we feel like we ought to be better at Jiu Jitsu than we actually are, which has a tendency to swing us too far in the opposite direction and make us think we suck way worse than we really do. On any given day, most of us experience this inner battle, and most folks with a healthy sense of self worth tend to balance out and accept that there is always someone better, quicker or sharper on the mats.

The problem the person experiencing ‘The Blues’ is facing however, is a sense that they’ve leveled up, therefore ought to magically have the new super powers associated with that rank. ‘Yesterday, I was a white belt. Today I’m a blue belt, but I still can’t pass that other blue belt’s guard and some three-stripe white belt just caught me in a kimura. I must really suck’, goes the logic that’s churning mercilessly in the mind of someone suffering from ‘The Blues’. It’s a tough transition from being the King of the White Belts one day to just another blue belt the next. But let’s be real here, a ranking system is simply a way of tracking yourself along a spectrum of skills. Expectations will be a bit higher once someone moves up in rank, but no coach expects a fresh blue belt to pass like Keenan, dominate like Drysdale or submit like Garcia. So when the time comes, don’t put those expectations on yourself. Toronto- and I’m sure the BJJ world-over- has a veritable blue belt army, but only a handful of purple, brown and black belts. ‘Blue Belt Blues,’ and how individuals deal with it plays a big role in blue belt attrition, and that is clearly reflected in the number of individuals who remain to achieve higher ranks. Self-doubt is normal and will only last as long as you let it. Decide to accept your skill level as it is at all times, and trust that experience and time- rather than belts- will provide skill.

‘The Blues’ is a bit of a different beast for higher ranks; by the time someone reaches purple, they generally expect a bit of self-doubt and frustration while adjusting to their new rank. This time around however, they know that it doesn’t last forever and that they simply need to continue putting time in on the mats and trust the process. That doesn’t mean ‘The Blues’ doesn’t get under the skin of higher ranked students, it simply becomes easier to face and overcome after surviving the growing pains of adjusting to their blue belt. That said, by purple belt, expectations are pretty high. ‘The Blues’ hits hardest for higher ranked individuals on the bad days; those days when you’re not at your best, people are catching you and looking pretty smug about tapping a purple, brown or black belt. White and blue belts expect to be submitted by their peers and superiors, and it’s a treat when the roles are reversed. At purple however, some people start to believe their own hype and get the notion that they shouldn’t be caught by certain people. A lot of purples have reported being targeted heavily by blue and brown belts. A purple belt knows what they’re doing, but they’re not without holes. It can become difficult on the ego when others on the mats wish to capitalize on those small gaps, while everyone is watching from the sidelines. Use this inevitability to sharpen yourself! People want to roll with you because you’re skilled and they’d like to measure their rolls against yours.

Before you throw your 4-stripe white belt in for good to avoid ‘The Blues’, remember that the growing pains don’t last forever, and all the feelings of inadequacy and doubt you may experience are the building blocks to humility and self-mastery. Embrace the grind, it’ll only make you stronger.

Feel free to share your ‘Belt Blues’ experience with us.

Lessons I’ve learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson #4: Gym Hygiene is Really Important and Rarely Taught.

Lesson #4: Gym Hygiene is Really Important and Rarely Taught.

I have gone to the bathroom in bare feet, and returned on the mats to roll. There. I’ve said it. I didn’t do it because I’m committed to being the grossest, most inconsiderate person I can manage to be, but because no one told me it was gross. It never occurred to me. I figured it out through the silent stink-eye fellow grapplers were giving me and through BJJ memes. I mean, it makes perfect sense…but I didn’t know. That was a little bit embarrassing for me, and I’d like try to spare you some shame by handing down some lessons on gym hygiene I’ve learned over the years.

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The first is the most obvious ‘wear-the-shoes-provided-to-the-toilet’ rule. Most gyms will provide a pair or two of flip flops or some other footwear (this is often where Crocs go to die), to limit the chances of tracking illness-causing urine and fecal matter onto the mats via your bare feet. If your gym doesn’t have any, bug them to get some. Let’s be real here, guys- and sometimes even women- miss the mark, and miss it with a frequency that would make a visually impaired sniper’s record look pretty good. Even if individually you hit the can, you’re still probably stepping in someone else’s failures. Wear the shoes. Don’t forget to wash your hands, too.

Similarly, we’ve all heard of the numerous studies that indicated there could be fecal matter on toothbrushes left in washrooms, check out this study http://www.climbing.com/news/study-finds-fecal-veneer-on-gym-holds/ done in a rock climbing gym that suggests the stuff is all over climbing holds due to members doing the do in their climbing shoes. Don’t track this stuff onto the mats and make your partners sick. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Wear the shoes.

Next, wash your gear. This includes sports bras and cup straps. For most of you this is obvious; why would I want to stink and use my chest and crotch to cart around all that thriving bacteria? But some folks feel they can stretch these garments out a bit further than their natural one-use-between-washes life. Lots of people only have one or two of these items, so sometimes the best solution is to just go out and invest in a few more cup straps or sports bras. It should go without saying that gis and no gi rashguards must be washed after every use. And no, you won’t wash the magic out of your belt if you throw it through with your gi. You’ll only wash staph and ringworm-causing bacteria out. Sorry for your loss. A gym can have the tightest disinfection regime, the flyest in-washroom shoes and disinfectant fluid available all over the place, but it’s always as vulnerable as its least hygienic member. Don’t be datch guy. Wash your gear.

Stay home when you’re sick! It’s bad enough that I just absorbed your bodily fluids via sweat dripping in my eyeballs, I don’t want your mucus and germs, too. You’re not a beast when you train sick. You’re just kinda being a jerk with no consideration for your partners. I don’t like taking time off either, but you need to submit your cold/flu before you even think about submitting anyone else. This goes for folks with communicable infections, too. Be excellent to your training partners by staying home and working on your solo drill, knitting a Wookie suit or baking a cake. I don’t care. Stay home when you’re ill.

This leads us to our next entry: treat your infections and viruses. The longer you leave things like warts and ringworm, the harder it becomes to treat them. They’re not going to go away on their own, and they’re going to wind up in someone else’s system. Not sure? Go to a doctor. Don’t pick at it, definitely don’t train *or visit other schools! Don’t do it!* and don’t mess around. Treat it with something that’s had clinical trials conducted on it and a proven track record of working.

Finally, if you happen to be a true beast and train Muay Thai for a couple hours, then follow it up with a couple more hours of jiu jitsu, be a mensche and change your clothes in between. This isn’t so much an issue of communicable diseases (although fresh clothes between sessions will reduce the chances of transmission), as it is about not grossing your drilling and rolling partners out. With great power, comes great laundry responsibilities.

Those are the ropes, folks. Feel free to leave a comment if you’d like to add another gym hygiene commandment.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson 3: Ego Isn’t Your Bro-There’s No Shame on Tapping.

Lesson #3: Ego Isn’t Your Bro.

Tapping is a fact of life in Jiu Jitsu. You will tap. You have to tap to learn. You will tap to someone better or quicker or more clever than you right up until the day you hang up your coral belt. You’ll tap to folks that you consider less talented than you. Eventually you’ll even give up a tap to the noobs here and there to help them learn. There’s no shame in tapping. Never. I can’t say this enough and any more firmly; There is no shame in tapping!

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Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about why we don’t tap. There are two primary reasons why someone doesn’t tap: Ego and inexperience. There’s different levels of ego on the mats, so for the purpose of this discussion, I’m not talking about being a jerk on the mats, just being overly stubborn or proud. Usually ego and inexperience go together, so before you think you’re a complete idiot because your elbows, shoulders and knees are jacked up from not tapping… Most beginners go through this somewhat painful and often embarrassing stage. You don’t know when to tap, but you’ll be dammed if you’re not going to give your all when you roll (we’re going to talk about the well known ‘White Belt Spaz’ another day). So you go hard and stay way too long in a kimura you thought for sure you’d be able to get out of. Not your finest moment, but ideally during your next rolls you survive longer before you tap to that kimura, and at some point along the way you’re going to say to yourself “Ah ha!!! I keep getting getting caught in this kimura because I keep letting my partner isolate my arm in his/her guard!”. This is learning. They may still have other ways of getting that arm, but now you’ve learned a defense to one.

A personal experience that I can share, I was at an open mat in Toronto as a relatively new white belt. While rolling with a purple belt, she caught me with my very first knee bar. I’d never felt one, never even seen one before that moment. I didn’t tap when I should have because I didn’t understand the mechanics of a knee bar; and I was too proud to tap to this tiny lady, even though she was ranked way higher than me. Meanwhile the poor purple belt assumed I knew what it was and what to do because I only train no gi. Needless to say I was very sore for a few weeks and even had the audacity to blame my partner, which isn’t fair. When in doubt, tap. I didn’t tap because I was ignorant of the submission and too proud to tap and ask what it was and how to counter it. Tapping is your responsibility.

There is no shame in tapping, there’s only lessons and experience. So when you have those days where everyone on the mat is a hammer and you’re feeling a lot like a nail, just think of all the experience you’re gaining and all the money you’re saving on painkillers and joint supplements! You may have tapped three times to the same darce, but I bet you won’t get caught a fourth time! And if you do, so be it, now you know you need to work on your darce defense.