Grappling

Tournament Recap - NAGA Atlanta 2018

Our kids had a great weekend in Atlanta! There were so many hard fought battles and great memories made. With each tournament, I am more and more impressed with their effort, skill, and most importantly - character. I couldn’t be more proud as their teacher!

We posted videos and pictures all of last week on our social media pages, so I thought I’d gather them all up here in one place for you in case you missed some!


Connor (in grey rash guard) slaps on a perfect Anaconda choke in his first match of the day in the Advanced Kids division! He went on to use the same choke with the same result in the finals!


Connor gets his second anaconda choke of the day. I haven’t seen a kid go to sleep in a tournament before, so having it happen twice in the same tournament was pretty crazy. For those concerned, both kids were okay!


6 month’s ago, Grace had to face a big challenge when she stepped up to fight in a boy’s division at her very first tournament. She lost her matches at that tournament, but came back with tremendous experience to build off of - today she picked up two submissions and earned first place in her division!

The wins and medals aren’t why we do this. These competitions for kids help them learn so much about themselves and how to find the spirit and confidence to persevere through such difficult challenges. We had many great performances this weekend - in both wins and losses. And Grace was one of our stand outs!


Look out because here she comes.

This was a big tournament for Maggie. She has improved so much in the last few months, but primarily in one area - starting off strong and bringing the fight to her opponent for the full match.

She demonstrates tremendous skill, heart, and effort in this clip (including a textbook guillotine escape), but what you don’t see are the hours of hard practices she put in to get there. She made huge strides in class with her training partners, and decided she was going to fight differently this tournament.

This is Maggie!

ps - she loved training to this song so we had to throw that in the video.


Ty had some of the toughest matches of the day, and was our vote for the MVP this tournament. He won with mental toughness and good position. I’ll share a couple of videos so you can see the intensity that his opponent’s brought, but has one of our parent coaches said - Ty has ice water in his veins.

In this match he has to overcome a tight Kimura submission, fight back to tie it up before time runs out, and then win in overtime. Please excuse the camera being off occasionally, we were a little preoccupied with the match!

His mental fortitude was they key element, and his physical preparation in the months prior to this are what seals the deal. All of those early Saturday morning practices doing their job…


Here’s another quick one! Grace gets her second submission of the day with a back take from the closed guard and a Mata Leao (Rear Naked Choke).


Alex demonstrated excellent top control and continues to showcase more control and confidence with every tournament. Our team is full of kids that are extremely coachable. We’ve built a great relationship between our coaches and kids, and you can see it in how well they receive guidance and make adjustments mid-match.

This relationship is built on respect, openness, and trust.


Aiden worked really hard on his strategy and position over the last few months and executed it so well in this match.

Watching the whole team takes such big leaps forward from tournament to tournament is an amazing process to be a part of.


Here's a longer highlight of PMA's whole team - we have a little bit of each kid in this video. Our team took 21 competitors to this tournament, with 1 teammate that missed out this time (Mack), as he was in Houston competing with his robotics team at the world championship!

There is footage from both wins and losses in this video. Our kids know that the coaches are just as happy with a win or a loss as long as we get two things - they have fun and give us a perfect effort. And in that regard, we were 21 for 21 this trip.

These kids will remember how tired they were for a few weeks, they’ll remember their matches for a few months, but they will keep the memories of their time together with their team forever!

The Competition Team came back and celebrated last week, and they are right back on the mats training! A little tired, a little sore, but ready to go.

And we had them pose for one last picture with their medals and swords from another incredible trip!

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Jiu Jitsu Thrives in the Championship Rounds

*NOTE* I ran out of time to finish the blog post I was working on, so this week's post is a recycled article I wrote that was posted on GracieMag.com in 2010.

Link: http://www.graciemag.com/en/2010/08/09/jiu-jitsu-thrives-in-the-championship-rounds/

On Saturday, August 9, 2010, Anderson “Spider” Silva won his 12th-straight fight in the UFC Octagon (a record). After being dominated for 23 minutes, Silva pulled off the submission that is arguably Jiu-Jitsu’s signature move: the triangle choke.

The triangle choke can not only put the person to sleep but it is applied from the bottom, a position most every martial art would say is disadvantageous. You should not ever choose to take the bottom in a fight because of the damage that can be done from the top. However, the fundamental principles of Jiu-Jitsu instilled by Helio Gracie were to use Jiu-Jitsu to survive the fight and most importantly NOT LOSE! Anderson was able to do this that night…from the bottom.

It is a rare occasion that one can see this applied in mixed martial arts competition (not losing, as opposed to trying to win). The reason for this is that the nature of the sport demands that the competitors train themselves to the best and push the pace from the very beginning to try to win. There is a limited amount of time to win the fight, therefore every second counts.

However, in this fight, the five championship rounds provided fans the opportunity to witness this fundamental principle of Jiu-Jitsu: patience.

Anderson was taking a beating, but surviving the fight. Though he was continuously put on his back, Anderson neutralized many of the strikes that were being thrown by Chael. Through many of the rounds, Anderson was positioned to execute the triangle, he had wrist control on the right arm of Chael close to his legs and the left arm of Chael was extended inside the guard. In this position, it was a matter of slipping his leg over Chael’s right arm and… game over.

So why didn’t Anderson pull this off quicker? Nobody can answer this but Anderson. It seemed to me as though he was not sure if the timing was quite right. Without the proper timing, Chael could defend the triangle, possibly advance his position, or at the very least have a read on what Anderson would be trying to do. Chael Sonnen did an outstanding job of putting Anderson Silva where he does not like to be, but we had seen this finish once before versus Travis Lutter. When, he finally thought he had Chael distracted enough and the timing was right, the Spider’s legs locked down the submission.

Anderson represented Jiu-Jitsu very well that night, as did Fabricio Werdum a few weeks before when he pulled off a triangle choke finish versus Fedor Emelianenko. Helio Gracie time and time again demonstrated that he could use his Jiu-Jitsu to neutralize bigger, stronger, dominating opponents and look for a finish later in the fight. Mixed martial arts and sport Jiu-Jitsu competitions many times take away this possibility and thus change the nature of the art in most cases. Same techniques, different philosophies. This is probably necessary for the growth of the two sports, but should always be noted by spectators.

Only a few young, very conditioned athletes can perform at the highest level MMA competitions. However, people from all ages and fitness levels can train the arts that these competitions come from with a holistic approach and carry away with them such benefits as confidence, fitness, stress relief, flexibility, endurance, and overall well-being – the Martial Arts Way of Life.

Anderson had received a lot of criticism after his disappointing performance versus Demian Maia, but on this night he showed a champion’s heart and the patience of a Jiu-Jitsu black belt. After this fight, Anderson did not have a lot left to prove in the UFC. He had demonstrated his superior striking skills and backed up his black belt. From that point forward, it became hard to criticize this UFC legend again and he began to be called "the greatest of all time."

The Triumph of Human Intelligence Over Brute Strength

Jiu Jitsu represents the triumph of human intelligence over brute strength.”
— Helio Gracie

Helio Gracie is the founder of the famous martial art, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. His son, Rorion Gracie, was my father's first teacher in Jiu Jitsu and the creator of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Helio's quote above is one of my all-time favorites, and this past Winter Break I even had it put on the wall in our academy. The thing is though, when people see this quote and the word "triumph" or are told that martial arts teach smaller people how to overcome someone bigger and stronger than them, they tend to think that "triumph" or "overcome" means "to dominate".

If you watch any footage of Helio Gracie fighting, you will see something much different.

In the following fight, notice how Helio is thrown like a rag doll a couple of times before finally securing a move that will render his opponent unconscious and win him the match. This match is narrated by Helio's son, Rorion.

You see, the primary goal of Jiu Jitsu is just to survive against your attacker. Ideally, that would end with you choking them unconscious so you can get up and get home safely, but it may be just protecting yourself until help arrives, or until such time that you can run away.

Recently, I heard of a scenario in which an untrained male (internet troll) is claiming that he could defeat female mixed martial arts fighters because of how much stronger and faster the average man is. A female MMA fighter decided to take him up on the challenge, and it was held at an academy (as such a match would probably never be sanctioned by any organization).

Take a look:

 

As a martial arts instructor, I have seen this exact scenario play out multiple times. We get the opportunity to see our female students, smaller male students, older students, or any of our students for that matter, train with brand new students who are just getting started.

When I was a kid, I witnessed my Mom choke out a local wrestling coach with the same choke Helio used in the above video. 

I remember at age 18 watching my wife (girlfriend at the time), control a man that outweighed her by at least 80 pounds (of muscle). He started the match telling her that he was not going to use his strength. About midway through the match, he said, "I take it back, I'm going to use my strength." It didn't help.

You see it isn't that size, strength, and speed don't matter. They certainly do, as we've touched on many times on this blog before. It's just that they CAN be overcome with training.

One of the key takeaways from the video above is how quickly the in-shape male runs out of gas. An untrained opponent is not conditioned to fighting the same way as someone trained will be. In fact, not even close.

I will always remember a student coming to train at our school here in Knoxville when I was a teenager. He was an Olympic marathon runner, sponsored by Adidas. Arguably, one of the most "in-shape" athletes on the planet. He can run 26 miles faster than almost anyone else alive. BUT, within 30 seconds to a minute of grappling, he was utterly exhausted - just like every other person that begins training in Jiu Jitsu. This alone is one of the most important reasons to train.

Solely by training martial arts on a regular basis, you are preparing yourself physically and mentally for an altercation that your opponent will be grossly underprepared for if they do not train. We will teach you to weather the storm, and when their gas runs out, your opportunity to come out on top or to get away will present itself.

The funny thing is, in the interview after the match, the man states that it went about the way he expected and that he dominated until he gassed. What he should have said is that he dominated until she dominated! While his strength and speed allowed him to win the early exchanges, it quickly deteriorated, to the point that he actually tapped out to the exhaustion. That means he gave up (defeated both physically and mentally) due to just exhaustion - not from being hit or submitted by something like a choke.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned Rorion Gracie creating the UFC. Well that was now 25 years ago. At this past weekend's UFC event (the two hundred and twentieth event), we got to witness this exact scenario play out.

In the main event for the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the world, Stipe Miocic weathered the storm of the fearsome striker, Francis Ngannou, to keep the belt and remain the UFC Heavyweight Champion. In the process, he set a new record for Heavyweight title defenses (3). The strikers are so powerful in this division, the fighters have an extremely difficult time keeping the belt for very long before someone else comes along and knocks them out.

Francis Ngannou was promoted as the most fearsome Heavyweight to ever step into the octagon with the most powerful punch ever recorded at the UFC Performance Institute. In his last fight, Ngannou knocked his opponent out with one punch - an uppercut so hard that his opponent was lifted off of his feet by the punch.

Ngannou came out swinging this fight too but had run into an opponent with a gameplan to avoid Ngannou's punches, use his wrestling and Jiu Jitsu to get the fight to the ground, and control him. Despite Ngannou's 20-pound weight advantage, he was unable to escape from underneath Miocic. He had zapped all of his energy trying to knock Miocic out and defending against the grappling positions with a lack of technique (he is still relatively new to the sport). 

The fatigue allowed Miocic to cruise to his 3rd title defense, but gave the rest of us another clean example of overcoming strength. 

Tournament Breakdown (Videos)

PMA instructor, FILKENJUTSU Black Belt, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Blue-Purple Belt, Madelyn Fowler, competed in her first ever competition this weekend in Concord, North Carolina. After a few months of hard training in preparation, we picked out the NAGA North Carolina championships to be the battleground! With her being an instructor, we thought all of her students, training partners, friends, and family might like to see her matches!

We drove down on Friday night for weigh-ins, and Sempai Madelyn weighed in at 112 pounds and would fight in the 109-119 division (flyweights). After fueling up with a good dinner, we went back to the hotel to rest up before she'd compete on Saturday.

In her very first match, Madelyn demonstrated her skill and strength, executing a couple of takedowns before finishing with a perfectly executed guillotine choke. Our Brazilian Jiu Jitsu students will recognize the final move, as it was the EXACT variation that was taught on Thursday night last week!

Then, in the No-Gi finals she was matched against a very tough competitor who put Madelyn in danger early in the match with an arm bar submission. Madelyn would escape and counter with an ankle lock submission to tie the score 2-2, and in the final seconds, her opponent achieved the side control position to win 4-2. This earned Madelyn the silver medal in the No-Gi division, but it would not be her last time facing this opponent!

Now exhausted from experiencing how quickly energy is drained by the adrenaline, nervousness, etc. it was time to switch to the gi. Madelyn faced another new opponent in her first match and planned to use her guard this time to control her opponent and set up an attack. After multiple close attacks, Madelyn won via referee's decision.

She would now face the same opponent that defeated her in the no-gi finals, in the gi finals! After analyzing Madelyn's first match with this opponent and another one of this competitor's matches, we decided that her opponent really wanted to be on top. So this match, we would let Madelyn use her strength and skill in takedowns to keep the fight standing and fight for the top.

She landed a beautiful ogoshi (hip throw) into side control to go up on the scoreboard and would later score an advantage point for a near guard pass, and these would be the deciding points in the match to win the gold medal!

Most importantly, Madelyn is leaving this competition with a tremendous amount of experience. We would be so proud of her regardless of her results, but the wins make it even more sweet! Her results were great on their own, but when you consider that this was a pure grappling competition and she spends more than half of her time teaching and training in a striking art it is even more impressive. 

She demonstrated mental toughness, skill, sportsmanship, and even the proper way to handle a loss all in this one tournament. We could not be more proud of her and the way she prepared for and then carried herself in this tournament.

Maximize Your Repetitions - 5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Every Training Session

In January of this year, our Youth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition team began ramping up their training in preparation for their next tournament. We set our sights on NAGA Atlanta on April 29, 2017.

The team was now 19 members strong but all of the kids would either be competing for the first or second time. Thinking back to our last tournament in October however, I sat down to lay out the curriculum for the next few months by trying to do more of the things that led to success at the last tournament, and fix some of the errors our kids were making the most.

It's an interesting process because there are thousands of techniques and variations they will learn in the coming years.  I have to boil these thousands down to the most essential techniques to learn in the limited amount of training sessions between January and April.

So with this limited amount of time and practice, one of our themes at competition practice has been "Maximize your repetitions." The kids must have heard me say this 100 times over the last few months.

You only have a limited amount of time on the mat to practice the techniques being taught to you. Each repetition needs to be maximized, and I believe most of the time they aren't. 

What does it mean to maximize a repetition? 

It means to learn the most you possibly can from each repetition. 

Here are five tips to maximize every repetition on the mat:

1. Fully Engage Your Mind

Fully engage your mind to the smallest of details of the technique and analyzing them. We often just go through the steps without any thought as to why we are doing them, or what makes them work.

2. Learn Both Sides of the Fight

You can learn twice as fast if you also analyze what the person on the other end could do to stop this technique from happening. You can often learn to counter most techniques by just thinking about what makes the technique work.

Example: If you are learning a collar choke, and the first step is to open the collar with one hand and feed a deep collar grip to the other hand to keep the opponent close,  then we could deduce that if we are the other guy we should immediately establish posture and prevent our opponents from getting deep collar grips. Understand? 

You can do this with every technique and learn twice as fast. While most students are learning one side of the fight, you are learning both.

3. Practice Full Speed*

*Note: Full speed should be the fastest that you can do the technique smoothly without losing any of the details.

Try the technique at a faster pace to see what it will feel like when done in a live scenario. Often mistakes are disguised by speed (we'll talk about this more in another post), so be careful not to lose any of the details.

If you catch yourself leaving something out, figure out why, slow it down, and get that piece back in there. This will also help you realize which details are the most essential, and potentially find new details that make the technique work for you.

4. Don't Goof Off

Training is incredibly fun. Don't let yourself relax too much on the mat though and waste valuable practice time. It isn't good for you OR your partner.

5. Practice Kata & Randori at the Appropriate Times

In Japanese arts, training is divided into "Kata" and "Randori." 

Kata is the technique practice. This is where you learn a technique and practice it in the air or on a partner. At this time, no resistance should be included. The partner should set the technique up perfectly for you, and you execute it as close to perfect as possible.

Randori is the live practice or sparring. This is where you and your training partner have different objectives, and you are no longer just allowing your partners to practice the techniques.

Both of these are vital to success but do not confuse or blend the two. During technique training, do not try to stop your partner from being able to do the technique, and don't ask your partner to give you resistance either. That also means that you should strive to keep the technique refinement out of the randori practice. Don't stop a sparring session to ask about a technique, or correct your partner's technique. This can be done later and is not very beneficial. 


At both tournaments I have taken our kids to now, I have had referees, other coaches, and parents let me know how impressed they are with the PMA team. The kids act like total pros, and their technique is improving so quickly. I am unbelievably proud of them all and having more fun than I ever could have imagined coaching this team.

Check out a couple of matches from this past weekend's tournament:

Match #1 - Grady Fox

Grady was one of our most dominant competitors this weekend. You can always see the determination in his face, and he is focused from start to finish!

At eight years old and weighing in at a little over 40 pounds, he is usually fighting kids a little bigger than he is, and this match falls into that category. He went undefeated in his matches to win double gold in gi and no-gi!

Match #2 - Alex Torres

Two of our competitors, Alex Torres and Aiden Hemsley, did not have anyone in their division registered, so we chose to bump them up in skill level to the Intermediate division.

Alex's first match was a kid older than him with a couple of years of high school wrestling experience. The referee told me afterward that he thought Alex was going to get obliterated! Once the fight hit the mat, Alex's Jiu Jitsu took over, and he controlled the positions on his way to a 15-2 win. Alex went on to earn a silver medal in both gi and no-gi in the Intermediate division!

 

 

 

Is Jiu Jitsu Dead?

This is an article I wrote seven years ago that was published on GracieMag.com. Let's revisit it, and at the end, I'll address if anything has changed since then!

With the results of the most recent UFC event, people are already starting to pop the question, “Is Jiu Jitsu dead?” 

We watched Renzo Gracie get obliterated on his feet, BJ Penn had his belt taken from him on his feet, and Damian Maia lost his title shot to what started as a very impressive performance but turned into three rounds of running around the ring by Anderson Silva. 

Renzo Gracie, BJ Penn, and Damian Maia – you would be hard-pressed to find three better men to represent the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the UFC. So is this the end of an era? 

Jiu Jitsu dominated the UFC in the early years, was it just a phase?

Let’s imagine for a second that football has been around since the beginning of time, but all anyone ever did was a passing game. Then, all of a sudden in 1993 a team came out with a running game, went undefeated and won the super bowl. 

For the next few years, other teams started implementing running games into their arsenal and before you knew it – EVERY team had at least some running game in their playbook. 

Now, this year in the playoffs all of the matches were running teams versus passing teams. All of the passing teams won. After so much success, should we stop using the running game? It seems ridiculous to even ask such a question. Of course not, on this night the passing teams had the running teams numbers, and nobody could do anything about it. They just came out with a better strategy and implementation.

Jiu Jitsu is not dead, not by any means. In fact, there were some aspects of those fights last night that proved how alive it truly is. 

Anderson Silva and Matt Hughes, arguably two of the best fighters in the history of the sport said that there was no way they were going to the ground. They trained to keep that fight on the feet, just as the jiu jitsu players trained to get it to the ground, the Jiu Jitsu players just couldn’t pull it off. 

If anything is to be taken from these fights, it is the evolution of all martial artists. Jiu Jitsu in the United States has evolved tremendously. Fighters are taking the words of Bruce Lee to heart and using no way as way. Matt Hughes' Jiu Jitsu includes more aspects of fighting than Royce Gracie’s. His wrestling skills combined with the training he has in Jiu Jitsu enabled him to take out some of the best of the Gracie Family.

So what will I train? I will continue to train my jiu jitsu skills, both the sportive aspect as well as the street. I will continue to train my standup skills, but I will not limit myself to Boxing or Muay Thai, my standup will include Kenpo, Kali, Wing Chun, Muay Thai, Western Boxing, Wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and other martial arts that our family has incorporated into what we teach.

Where we believe some schools error is in calling their singular art “THE WAY.” There is no way, and once someone starts to tell you that this is the way, and no other martial arts are worth learning, be wary. 

However, don’t be fooled by the hype of the outcomes of these fights, on any night anything can happen. Watch them, appreciate their place as a competitive sport in which some aspects of the martial arts can be proven on the canvas battleground, and continue to train a very well-rounded program. 

Jiu Jitsu is not dead!

So 7 years after posting this article, has anything changed? If we look at that stats it seems that more fights (while still close) are being won by the strikers rather than the grapplers. 

Check out this post from my father:

No this does not mean Jiu Jitsu is dying but in fact the opposite. More and more fighters are learning it, which makes them much better at defending against it. Why are they learning it? Because the early success of Jiu Jitsu in this format proved it is a necessity.

However, every round starts standing up, and this plays into the hands of the striker - the fight starts where they want to be, so they just have to avoid letting the grappler get it to where he wants to be.

So, what are you training? Are all three sides of this triangle covered? If not, there could be a huge hole in your ability to fight in all scenarios.

Size Definitely Matters

When a new Jiu Jitsu prospect walks in, my favorite part of our interaction is watching their reaction when I tell them Jiu Jitsu allows a person to use momentum and leverage to control a much larger opponent.

The reactions are always a mixed bag, but my favorites are the faces of people who consider themselves at a physical disadvantage - whether it’s because of their gender, strength, or height - as they alight with hope or excitement.  On the other hand, my least favorite reaction, unfortunately, is probably the most common one: the non-believers or skeptics.
    
As a woman, sometimes they target their disbelief specifically at me. “There’s no way you can throw me!”  “You really think you can hold me down?!”  
    
Sometimes, their reaction is born from fear.  They want what I’m saying to be true, but whether from their imaginations or respective experiences, they can’t quite bring themselves to trust me - or, as a result, the technique.  “Are you sure this will work?  I don’t know.”  “Well, what if they do this? Then this? Or this? What about this?”

Whatever their reaction - excited or skeptical - every person eventually finds their way here: “They’re too big.”
    
Some prospective students acknowledge this right off the bat.  They see a room full of men and women of various sizes, but they zero in on the bodybuilder that looks like he could bench press a semi and, oh yeah, just happens to be seven feet tall.  They take one look at that guy, and think, There’s no way I can use leverage to control that guy.  He’s huge!

Some people have enough success with training partners similar in size to silence the worries in the back of their heads about bigger students.  These people usually start to doubt their abilities when techniques that have worked perfectly on smaller partners don’t work as well on larger opponents.

Their concerns are not without merit, and here’s why: size DOES matter.  Read that again if you need to, but don’t panic because while size absolutely matters, it CAN be overcome with technique. 

Here’s how I want you to think about this.  If an untrained person with the size and strength of a tank walks into a dojo and rolls with a smaller, well-trained opponent, the smaller man can win.  Take a look at this video to see this theory in action:

Now, if a trained person with the size and strength of a tank walks into a dojo and rolls with a smaller individual who is also well-trained, size is going to matter.  It can still be overcome with technique, but it will be harder.  The larger person has an advantage because they have size AND skill on their side.  
    
A perfect example of this is to watch one of the match ups between Mackenzie Dern, who is arguably the number one pound for pound female black belt in Jiu Jitsu, and Gabi Garcia, another talented BJJ black belt competitor who outweighs Mackenzie by nearly 100 pounds.
    
They’ve competed against each other multiple times with different outcomes.  When Gabi Garcia wins, Mackenzie Dern is still able to hold her own during the match.  Check out the video below to watch Mackenzie come up victorious in a match against Gabi at the 2015 Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship.

Sometimes, size does matter, but it can be overcome.  So don’t let that discourage you; let it challenge you.  And don’t let it make you a skeptic; let it make you excited!

3 Things to Avoid Saying to Your Training Partner

It’s hard to believe that I have been training for over ten years now!  When I first started my martial arts journey, I was an awkward seventeen-year-old who thought Jiu Jitsu would be the perfect fit for someone like me - gangly and graceless and likely to trip on air.  I figured if my training started on the ground, my lack of coordination and surplus of clumsiness wouldn’t be noticeable.  

I was right and wrong.  My lack of grace was, and is, very much noticeable, but despite this, Jiu Jitsu was perfect for me.  And from it, my love for training expanded into other areas of martial arts.

 Brittany sparring with her friend and training partner, Elizabeth, at 17 years old.

Brittany sparring with her friend and training partner, Elizabeth, at 17 years old.

Now, with ten years of experience under my belt, I can say a lot has changed - both for me personally and for the dojo that I call my home. 

Personally, I have grown faster, stronger, and healthier.  I’ve received a wealth of information that has improved every aspect of my well-being, from my knowledge base and execution of techniques to mental strength and peace of mind. 

I’ve also acquired a number of valuable friendships and acquaintances over the years.  I’ve had the privilege of training with partners of every shape, size, age, gender, skill level, temperament, etc., and I deeply value the relationships that are built among training partners.  

You have the ability to learn invaluable tips and tricks from them, and the honor of returning the favor with helpful skills of your own.  Your training partner is there to help you, encourage you, and constantly challenge you.  Training with others forces us to be vulnerable (it’s how we learn and grow as martial artists!), and because of this, there is a level of mutual trust and respect that is necessary for any training partnership to be healthy and beneficial.

Many things can get in the way of a healthy training relationship - ego, pride, and hygiene are a few that come to mind - but the way we talk to and about each other is paramount when building the rapport needed to maximize our mat time.

I can speak from my own experiences, both positive and negative.  I have unfortunately put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d care to count, and I’ve also been on the receiving end of a few too many well-meaning “can you believe a girl did that?!” jokes.  From these experiences, I’d like to share a few basic comments or quips that I’d love to see leave the mat.

1. Compliments are appreciated - patronizing is not.  

Please don’t compliment your partner’s technique and then undermine it by telling them you were really/actually trying to escape or maintain the position.

While the sentiment can be appreciated, I know personally that I will always try my best in class and hope my partners will do the same.  Please follow the instructor’s directions where intensity and resistance are concerned within a specific drill.  If he or she tells you the goal is to maintain the mount, please give it your all and assume your partner expects that of you.  While there may be some exceptions, you typically won’t need to tell them.  The favor will be returned when you switch top and bottom.

2. Please do not comment about anyone’s fight/feistiness to them or anyone else.

I hate overhearing one training partner telling the other that they “have alot of fight” in them during a roll.  It’s a pet peeve of mine that might come second only to hearing someone warn the class to “watch out - she’s/he’s a feisty one!”  

Always assume that your partner’s skill has more to do with their focus, execution, and consistency in training than their feisty personality.  Your partner might have successfully landed that sweep only after weeks or even months of practice and failed attempts.  Don’t take away from their moment of success by belittling their hard work.

3. Let the instructor be the instructor. 

I know it can be hard, and it almost always comes from the best of intentions, but try to avoid coaching or teaching your training partner - especially during sparring/rolling.  When your working technique with someone, it’s natural to point out a tip you use to make something smoother or share something someone told you that helped you remember which side your blocks start on or which hand goes on top in a Palm Up - Palm Down choke, but don’t overdo it.  

Don’t spend the majority of your practice time breaking the technique down for your partner, and try not to ruin their enjoyment by pointing out too many mistakes they’re making in the technique they just learned five minutes earlier. 

Avoid slowing down the flow of a roll or the momentum of a sparring session by stopping to point out something to your partner.  Instead, try to remember the details to discuss after the training session is done so you can both get the most out of your randori.  

Something that goes hand in hand with this is focusing on your own training.  Don’t play down your partner’s recent improvements by saying things like, “looks like someone’s been getting some extra training” or “you must have learned that in a private lesson.”

Instead of making excuses for why someone’s forms might be looking sharper or why someone is suddenly having success completing all of their arm bar attempts, try taking advantage of the training opportunities that are available to you.  Try maximizing your repetitions in class as an alternative to worrying about how much mat time other people are receiving. 

Let the instructor worry about teaching and keeping track of everyone’s material while you simply enjoy the class.

At the end of the day, no matter our respective motivations, we all just want to have the best training experience possible.  In order to learn and improve, we have to help each other - as training partners, as peers, as human beings.  Communication, among other things, can help build mutually beneficial and strong relationships with our training partners and even our instructors. 

So let’s build each other up and encourage each other with our words as well as our actions!

Do you have any other comments or habits that you'd like your training partners to stop doing? Or maybe something you enjoy that you'd like to see more of? Leave me a comment below!

Confidence vs. Overconfidence

In most athletic endeavors or any endeavor for that matter, mastering the fundamentals is probably the most important thing you can spend your time doing. The difficulty is that this isn't usually the most exciting activity. However, it does pay off in the end.

One of my favorite examples of this is Peyton Manning, and he is a legend here in East Tennessee so his story resonates well. You can find a video of Peyton practicing the same footwork drills in high school at Isidore Newman School, in college at the University of Tennessee, in the NFL while playing for the Indianapolis Colts, and at the end of his career before winning the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. He stayed committed to the basics throughout his whole career no matter how many records he had broken and understood the game as good or better than anyone to ever play. 

Sometimes it's easy to look at someone that is at an elite level and assume that they got there because of luck or some natural talent. And while those things certainly help, you will often find a bunch of hard work and a commitment to basics as well.

You will experience difficulty with sticking to basics though because as you begin to master them and have success, there is a tendency to become overconfident. You may start to tell yourself that you have mastered them and don't need to work on them anymore. When it comes to physical movements, though, once you reach a level of mastery, you must maintain it. 

Think back to the last time you saw an undefeated team or athlete come out, play sloppy, and have their first loss handed to them by someone who is obviously not as talented. How does this happen? Sometimes they just had a bad night, but often overconfidence has snuck in, and they may have stopped doing some of the things that helped them achieve their position in the first place.

Check out this video of one of the kids on my Youth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu team. This particular student stays driven throughout the duration of every practice. If I tell him to practice the technique 100 times, then he will do it 100 times without question. In fact, he did just that with this basic armbar from the guard. 

My student, Connor, is the one in the black gi. You will see him control the posture of the kid on top of him, using his arms and legs to keep his opponent close. Then he will pull one arm across the centerline, pivot his hips, and pass a leg over the head of his opponent. This movement puts him in a position to break/hyperextend his opponent's arm and the other kid taps out to avoid injury. I also love that he applies the submission carefully not to harm the other child, and immediately gets up to console his opponent afterward. The genuine spirit of a martial artist is demonstrated here.

He is a white belt in this video, and this is his first tournament, but he trained hard and stayed committed to practicing the basics during class every day. Now as he advances, I will be curious to see if I can keep him as committed to his foundation as he was before this first tournament. 

The fun thing with kids is they believe in the technique right off the bat, whereas adults can often be skeptical. Adults tend to wonder if the move works or if the movement will work for them, and they hesitate, not trying or committing, and thus, failing. 

So in your practice, seek to walk this line between confidence and overconfidence. Stay committed to the basics, and it will increase your confidence. Master the fundamentals! And hey, maybe even try to act like a kid sometimes!

The Most Effective Way to Learn Jiu Jitsu

Your first goal in Jiu Jitsu should be to survive and be comfortable in the worst positions. 

Our instinct here is to fight, struggle, and push but these things only make it worse. There will be an opportunity to escape if you are patient, but if you aren't it will be your demise. 

Unfortunately, there isn't a quick fix that will give you this skill. You just have to train, get there over and over, and practice remaining calm. 

I use to get claustrophobic underneath my opponents and tap out due to fear. I would cry after training when I was 12 and 13 and get frustrated (the picture featured was taken around 13 - I'm on the bottom getting choked). I was lucky though to be in a family where training was just what we did. And I loved it! That was why I was so frustrated.

Over time, I became comfortable on the bottom and recovering my guard, but I couldn't do anything with it. Well, eventually I was recovering guard enough that I began sweeping my opponents occasionally and getting to the top, but I couldn't hold it. Well, eventually I began getting to the top enough that I started to learn how to stay there and control my partner, but I couldn't submit them. But then eventually I was staying on top enough and controlling my opponents that I started catching some submissions when they would inevitably make an error because they panicked on the bottom. 

The circle was complete.

But this journey is not unique to my experience. Many of the best practitioners in the world were not dominant in the beginning. In fact, hardly anyone is unless they just happen to be the biggest or most athletic person in the room.

Learn Jiu Jitsu this way, and you will be comfortable and capable in any position or situation. This experience will give you confidence in all aspects of life and remove the majority of the fear of fighting (there should always remain some).

Remember that it will be a long journey. There are literally hundreds of techniques that you will learn along the way to acquire this skill. It will take hard work, dedication, and lots of patience. There are no short cuts. There aren't any tricks. And that's exactly why it's so rewarding. In a culture that increasingly is forgetting the value of working hard and putting in long hard hours to cultivate a passion, complete a task, or achieve a goal, having the patience to just keep showing up and believing in the training will be extremely fulfilling. 

Best of all, this has given me the patience and compassion to teach someone else Jiu Jitsu. I LOVE to pass on this skill to others because of what it has done for me. If you haven't started your journey yet, what are you waiting for? Don't think about it any longer, just pick up the phone and set up your first session.

You'll never look back!