It’s Not Just a Belt

There’s a lot of talk in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu about belts. In part this is because there are so few belts that people look at them as major accomplishments. For example, it took me 2 years to go from white to blue. Next month, I’ll have been a blue belt for 3 years, and probably only about 1/2 the way to purple at this point.  So when someone gets a new belt, it’s a big deal.

But there are also people who talk about how the belts don’t matter, and you should just enjoy training. And there’s truth to that. If you’re in this for belts, you’re in the wrong martial art. An average person with a job that gets to train a couple times a week is looking at 10-15 years to get a black belt. That’s a serious commitment.

I didn’t get in to BJJ for the belts, truth be told I didn’t even know how many there were when I started training.  And I don’t show up at the gym thinking “maybe this will help me get to my purple.”  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my belt color.

But something struck me this week. I had finished laundry and was packing up a bag for training this week. I threw in a gi, and a rashguard and a towel and then I realized I didn’t have my belt. So I pulled it out and as I did, I just looked at it for a few minutes.

0905171927That’s one end of my belt. Three years ago that was a nice, rich, blue. The left hand side there was a solid black bar that wrapped all the way around the belt. The left most piece of tape has been replaced a couple times now over the past 18 months. You can see the edge of the belt is frayed and the white is starting to show through.

As I stood there and looked at the belt I realized, for me, it’s not just a belt. It’s much more than that.

In the past 3 years this belt has been tied around my waste a few hundred, if not thousand, times. It comes off during a hard roll, and afterwards, I have to pick it up off the mat, wrap it around my waste, tie it in a knot and get to the next round of sparring.

Those frays represent hours upon hours of trying to get better.  A lot of sweat, some blood, and a few tears (at least mentally.)

The disappearing black bar reminds me of the dedication it takes to keep training. It didn’t get beat up sitting in my closet. It got beat up, like me, by being out on the mats.

There’s no notches on my belt for people I’ve tapped (relatively few) or gold medals I’ve won (still at 0.) Instead, there are notches, wear and tear on the belt for every time I tapped and started over. For every 90+ degree day, covered in sweat I pulled myself off the mat only to walk 5 feet and start it all over again with my next training partner. They represent the days when I didn’t really feel like it, but still made it to the gym. They represent the reps with newer people, showing them why I love the sport. They represent people helping me learn from my mistakes.

Most of all, the represent hard work. Years and years of hard work.

And that’s why, for me, it’s more than just a belt.

Five Years

August 6, 2012 was the first day I walked into Mid-America Martial Arts. I took a tour of the facility, bought a gi, learned how to tie my belt, and the became completely exhausted from the warmup.

I had no idea back then that I’d still be doing this in 5 years. Nor did I realize that I wouldn’t stop with jiu jitsu. True, that’s the bulk of what I’ve trained in. According to Gym Time, an app I wrote to keep track of how much time I train, I have spent 928.5 hours in the past 5 years training BJJ.  If I can hit 71.5 hours in the next 4 months, I’ll be at 1000 by the end of the year. It’s going to be close. But in addition to BJJ, I have 113 hours of Judo and even this year started doing some Muay Thai and have accumulated 14 hours there.

I have done 11 tournaments in BJJ and one in Judo.

There were several things I didn’t know when I started. Basic things like how to tie a belt, or what belts were in BJJ. But I also didn’t realize the relationship between BJJ and Judo (as Mike Penny says, “The only difference is the rules you compete under.”) I also didn’t know there were tournaments, much less that I would do 11 of them. (I’m 12-31-3 at tournaments by the way.)

But BJJ and MAMAs has changed my life. I have met people there that I know have my back in life and I have their. I have gained confidence. It’s not that I necessarily doubted myself before (as my wife will tell you) but I was only confident in certain things, like my ability to write software or something like that. But now, through various trials in BJJ and Judo, I know that I can push myself.

I also know what it’s like to really want to quit. Not training, but to quit a tournament or a match for various reasons, whether it’s because I’m exhausted or because of anxiety or something else. I have to admit that I’ve given in to that desire a couple times. But there are more instances where I’ve been able to push that thought out of my head and press on.

I’ve had weeks where training 8 hours wasn’t enough, and I’ve had weeks where I didn’t make it into the gym and was okay with that.

I can’t even begin to count the number of sparring classes where I ask myself “Why do I do this?”

I’ve had bruised shins — not from Muay Thai, but from BJJ or Judo. I’ve only broken one bone (a lesser toe) and had the occasional sprain or strained joint.

I don’t know if there’ll be a 10 year anniversary blog or not. I don’t know if I’ll make it that far. I don’t know if this blog will still be a thing then. I don’t have any plans on quitting, but things happen.

Tomorrow is Monday. God willing, I will load up my bag with all the stuff I need to do a gi lesson over lunch and another one at night followed by an hour of sparring. I’ll get home about 13 hours after I leave in the morning, exhausted, needing a shower and longing for sleep. And I’ll be glad I did.

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I Fought Judo and Judo Won

Today was the day of the Judo tournament.  I definitely learned some things about myself (and about Judo.)  In the end, I earned a bronze metal by going 1-2.

The first match started with my opponent trying to go for a hip throw, he missed and I was able to try and work a choke before we got stood up. I had a good idea that he was going to try that throw again. He did and I hit a tani otoshi. The ref said “ippon” but I didn’t hear it. I heard “work the pin” so I did. I finally heard matte. As I stood up to fix my gi I saw that I had an ippon on my scoreboard.

At this point, my first Judo tournament was better than my first BJJ tournament. There I went 0-4 (submitted twice and didn’t score a point.)

I had a bit of a break, and then had to go against the guy who won his first match. I could tell he liked tai otoshi and also drop seo nage, so I was trying to figure out how to counter. He tried to hit one, I stuffed it and tried to choke him. Matte was called and I was issued a shido because when I tried to lapel choke him it was across his chin and not across his neck.

We restarted, and were working for grips, matte was called and I received a shido for same side grips. I don’t doubt that I had sleeve and lapel on the same side, it’s so natural for me to grab that. Problem was, I didn’t attack within 3 seconds.

We restart again and he again tries for a drop seo nage. I defend, come the side, use my knee to push him down, pass his guard and try to work a pin. He bridges and escapes, and we fumbled for a bit before being stood up again.

We once again wound up on the ground, I again passed his guard got kesa gatame. I heard “osaekomi” meaning the counter for the pin was called. I then heard “toketa” meaning it was broken. I heard the word. I thought “I know what that means” but I reacted as if he said “Matte” for stop. I backed away, and stood up. The referee asked me if I understood “toketa” and I said I did. It wasn’t for about another 10 minutes before I realized I reacted as if he said “matte.”

Not much else happens and time runs out. I assumed I had lost because I had 2 shidos, and there was no ippon and no wazari. But that’s not the rules. If the score, apart from shidos, is tied you go to golden time. Where first person to score wins (or if I picked up another shido or he picked up 3.)

Once again he tried for a drop seo and again I largely defended. I tried to get a cross lapel choke, and then an armbar. I was unable to get one and as he rolled out of it, he grabbed my arm. It was a typical belly down armbar. The kind I’ve defended in the gym 100 times. I had nothing, though. I couldn’t escape and had to tap.

I was now 1-1.  I had to go against the guy from my 1st match (who won his second match, that eliminated the 4th judoka.)  I thought “Ok, he’s going to come out with hip throws again.”  As we were “on deck” I stood up and had a huge head rush. I started getting tunnel vision. I had to turn towards the wall for a second and hope that the match before us would go long, but it didn’t.

As I stepped to bow on to the mat, I was seeing floaters. My brain was telling me “If you lose, you still get a medal, and you don’t have to go again.” I tried to convince myself that he was just as tired and that I didn’t need to show him I was exhausted.

I made to the middle and bowed. I heard “hajime” (begin) and when I reached for his lapels suddenly I wasn’t light headed, didn’t see any floaters. But at the same time I had nothing to give.

He hit me with a good foot sweep attempt. I defended. He tried again. I defended again. I tried one against him and it probably felt like a fly brushing his leg.

He tried one more time, and I set my weight to defend it. He switched it up and hit an awesome o soto gari. The match, and the tournament, were over.

I have still never, at any tournament, won back-t0-back matches.

But I learned a few things.

First, I learned I’m way more comfortable as a “counter-puncher.” That’s how I won my match, was to let him attack, and me counter. But that doesn’t always work, and in the 3rd match it was part of why I lost, because I wasn’t attacking, he was able to set up a good throw.

Second, 3 minutes of Judo is way harder on me than a 5 or 6 minute BJJ match. The constant up and down off the mat wore on me.

Third, and related, if I compete, I need to be mentally tougher. By the time my 3rd match started, my mind had already checked out. I was trying to get it back, but I was exhausted physically and it impacted my performance.

Fourth, I enjoyed competing. At the same time, I’m not a huge fan of the rule set. Not solely from my matches. Other matches I watched highlighted rules that I’m not a fan of. I DO like the idea of a good throw ending the match. It’s largely the other things.  I don’t know if I’ll compete in Judo again or not. I’d say probably, but that could just be the post-tournament vibes talking. But I imagine I will compete in BJJ again, and it will be interesting to see the difference once I go back there.

Judo Tournament Meditations

Tomorrow, July 22, 2017, I’ll be competing in my first Judo tournament as I enter the “Male, 17&Over, Novice” division at the Cornhusker state games.  It’s been quite a while since I competed in BJJ. My last competition was August of 2015, so essentially it’s been 2 years.

As I do most mornings, I will spend time reading my Bible. As I do almost every tournament morning, tomorrow will be Romans 8. It has a few of my favorite verses. One that I gravitate towards is 8:31-34

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn?

That combined with the first verse of the chapter:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

are tremendous helps to me. Neither of them are talking about Judo or competing or anything like that. They’re much weightier subjects that they’re tackling (one’s eternal relationship with God, and how secure that is.)  So why do I gravitate to these verses?

Competing Scares Me

I know all the right things to say, that I’m hoping for experience tomorrow, or that “you either win or you learn” and I do honestly believe those things. At the same time, it’s scary. I’m not scared about what my teammates will say, or will the spectators watching think I suck. I’m scared because tomorrow I’m going to line up across from someone who’s sole job is to throw me in such a way that, if there were not a mat, I would not be getting up.  Or if they can’t throw me, their goal will be to choke me to the point I either pass out or tap out. And that scares me.

I get it, it’s a game, we’re not really fighting, this isn’t MMA or the streets. At the end of the match, we will shake hands, we might even become friends on Facebook. But for those 3 minutes that the match is going on, we’re trying to inflict enough damage to someone that they must tap to avoid getting seriously hurt.

And honestly, its not even the 3 minutes. It’s the time leading up to that. The drive out that I have to think about this event.

Competing scares me, and when things scare me, I remind myself “It is God who justifies, who is to condemn?”

I Can Be Honest With My Performance

Because of Roman’s 8, I know where I stand with God. He is, and must be, my ultimate treasure, my ultimate goal. This allows me to compete, in some ways, without fear.

If I go out tomorrow and try my absolute best and lose what does that say about me? It likely says that I’m not great at Judo, I might not even be very good at it. At the very least it says that there are other people who are better at Judo than me, who worked harder, and were more prepared.

If I don’t have the security of knowing that doesn’t fundamentally change who I am, that regardless of the outcome tomorrow, I will still be chosen by God, then I can compete harder. Because my best might not be good enough, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. I’m focused on something larger.

If Judo was all I had, and I was worried that someone might beat me, I might try to find an excuse:

He used an illegal grip

He weighed a lot more than me

He had a cheering section

The referee didn’t give me my points

And the list goes on and on. Because I would have to rationalize why I lost, in order to convince myself to keep training.

But being as I stand uncondemned by God through the blood of Jesus Christ, I know I can go compete as hard as I can and if I lose, I’m still uncondemned by God.

 

“Guessing” What You’ve Done

I just pushed out a couple updates to Gym Time. The biggest one is that the app will now “guess” what you did today.  I added this feature for myself, because I’m a creature of habit. For example:

  • Monday: Technique and Sparring
  • Tuesday: Muay Thai (a new habit)
  • Thursday: Judo and Sparring
  • Saturday: Private lesson & Technique

I thought others might be like me, and if so, it would be great for the tracking app to just prompt you to fill those in. So that’s what it does now.  In the screen shot, you can see a blue message box at the top of the activity form. I picked next Thursday as my date and it detected that it was Thursday and that I normally do Judo & Sparring on those days. If I were to click on either name, it would instantly add it to my list for that day.   If I’d already entered Judo, on Thursday, it wouldn’t appear in the list.

Try it out.

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Year in Review

I’ve wrapped up year number four training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I started the year as a 1 stripe blue and ended as a 2 stripe blue. I appreciate the added stripe, it always feels good. At the same time, this stripe, to me, was the least “meaningful” one. My first stripe on my white belt felt amazing. Stripe #2 was for submitting someone at a tournament, so that was pretty cool. Stripe #3 at white meant I was getting close to blue (I never did get a 4th stripe.) The first stripe on my blue was for technique, so that was pretty cool. This stripe, though, felt a little empty. I’m not saying that my coaches got it wrong, or it was a kind gesture. But instead, what I mean is I’m constantly seeing how much room for growth I have. So am I a 2 stripe blue belt? If my coaches say I am, I must be. But does being a 2 stripe blue belt hold any significance to me? Not at all.

The reason I’m becoming aware of how much I don’t know/how much room for growth I have is because in 2016 I started taking privates once a week.  It’s been a huge help. I initially went in wanting to get better at arm-bars and I think that I learned a lot about arm-bars.  But along the way I’ve learned about space, leverage and contact.  I’ve learned how to be heavy in side control (I’ve had one or two people tell me that in the past 2 months…first time in 4 years someone has described me as heavy.)  Seeing the little details that I never picked up in 3 years of training highlights how much more growth I have.

The privates have helped in regular classes as well, as they’ve helped open my eyes to see some of the little details that I might not have known to pay attention to. It’s also forced me to pay more attention in my rolls, because if I’m going to ask a question about why something didn’t work, I have to know about what it was I was doing.

On the judo side, I went from an orange belt (gokyu) to green belt (yonkyu). I still have a hard time pulling the trigger, but I think I’m getting better at it, and I definitely have less nerves about standing up (still some nerves, just less.)

I ended up training 183 hours this year. That’s down about 10 hours from last year, which isn’t too bad considering that I had another first this year: first bout of ringworm. Actually, first and second, as it went away for about 1 week only to show back up. I think early summer I missed something like 3 weeks of training.

That 183 hours includes 47.5 hours of judo and 128.5 hours of BJJ (the remaining 7 hours were “conditioning” that I must have done that one week :) )

No tournaments in 2016.

New Version of Gym Tracker

It’s been about 3.5 years since I first wrote about the app I wrote to track how much time I’d spent at the gym doing various classes. I’ve been using that app the entire time, and it’s been good, at best.  However, there were some things that bugged me. For example, I might do a technique class and a sparring class, both of which are BJJ, but are two distinct classes, and so their totals didn’t show up combined.  At the same time, I might do Judo or conditioning, so I couldn’t say my monthly or yearly total were 100% BJJ.

That was one of the changes I unveiled. By clicking on your name on the right hand side, you’ll be taken to a page where you can create categories. Below I’ve created a BJJ category and put all the different classes that are part of BJJ in there.  I did not create a judo category, because I only have 1 judo class, so there’s no need to create a category for it.

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Now that I’ve created categories, I can see statistics for those categories. By clicking on the Statistics menu, I’m taken to this page. Statistics are shown per category. They’re shown for Current MonthCurrent Year and All Time.  I only have 3 categories myself, but if you had more here, it would show those as well.  So at a glance, I’ve done Judo 43 hours this year, and a total of 78 in my life.

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That’s what’s new, besides the look & feel.  But I still have some of the old features as well. When entering your activity there were some shortcuts you could use. You could use : to indicate a note, or ! to indicate how long the class was. So if you wanted to enter sparring and mention that you executed your first clock choke, you could have done sparring : first clock choke.

The problem was, that wasn’t very well known and it wasn’t very discoverable. So it’s been replaced with a form that’s a bit more explicit, but accomplishes the same task.

 

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This is the Add Activity page. It’s the page you’ll see when you first log in.  As you enter your activities for a specific date, they’ll show up in the white space below.  Additionally, if you change the date, it will fetch the activities for the day you’re on. That way you don’t have to wonder “Did I already enter my lunch time training today?” Because it will be on the screen for you.

When you’re not entering your latest training times, you might be interested in seeing a history of your training. You can do that by clicking the History menu item. You’ll see a screen similar to the one below. It will start with the most recent date, and display the classes you attended on the days you trained.  You can scroll through your history on this screen.

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If you’re ever curious about a particular activity, you can also click that name while you’re on the history page and it will direct you to the details page. Below is the details for my judo training. I have 78.0 hours total. My first ever recorded class was May of 2014.  I took 6 classes in 2014.

You’ll notice some numbers are highlighted in red and others are highlighted in green. The red numbers are the months that you trained the fewest hours in.  The green are the months you trained the most in. So for me, I trained the most (8 hours) in February of 2016. And I only trained 1 hour several times, most recently in August 2015.

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The app is up and running at track.couchjitsu.com. You log in with your Facebook account, but don’t worry, I won’t post to your wall, or look up your friends, or do anything other than verify that you are who you say you are.

The Value of Privates

For the first 3 years of my BJJ career I think I had a few private lessons. But I don’t think many of them on purpose. Usually I would be the only one to show up to a particular class.  I didn’t actively resist privates, but I just didn’t think I was ready for them yet.  I likened it to when I played golf. I never bought golf shoes. I decided once I got to the point where I was consistent on the links, and I thought shoes could improve my game, I’d buy shoes. I quit playing golf (and sold my clubs) before I ever bought shoes.

I had been going to class consistently and saw a lot of growth and so I thought I could get enough out of just going to class. Plus, it was a matter of pride. I wanted to be able to say “I did ____ without taking a private.”

But then earlier this year, I sent a text to one of our instructors and told him I wanted to get better at arm bars and we set up some times to do some privates.  It was really inconsistent.  I would go to a private, then be out of town, then we’d have another, then he’d be out of town. I got ringworm that kept me off the mats for about 2-3 weeks. He got staph that did the same.

About a month ago we finally got some consistency going.  We worked on breaking posture and combined it with some arm bar drills.  I hadn’t really sparred much in the past month (opting instead to work late — a dumb choice.)  But this week we did some pass/sweep/submit drills and I was able to see some of the things that we’d worked on. A couple times I was able to break down the posture (something I’ve always struggled with) and a couple other times I missed my opportunity because of timing — but at least I saw it.

Then this Saturday we talked about leverage & space. I was told before the private that it was going to make me mad, because I was going to end up asking “Why are you just teaching me this now?”  While I didn’t have that reaction, I could see why people would.

And that’s when it hit me. The things we’d talked about and worked on in my private lessons weren’t “special knowledge.” Instead, it’s been things that would be really hard to teach a room full of people at the same time.

That’s the value of the private lesson, the attention to detail. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Your guard is like this….My guard is like this…” and I feel the difference between his guard and mine.  There really hasn’t been anything major that I have been doing totally wrong the entire time. Instead there are things that need tweaked that will have a big impact.

Additionally, I don’t feel as if going to privates has ruined me for regular classes, in fact it’s the opposite. I now feel more equipped to observe and see things that the instructor is doing. By focusing on the fundamentals, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to apply those same concepts in class.

I would say that everyone should consider taking privates, but I don’t need you guys getting better just quite yet…let me gain some ground.

Four Years

Four years ago today I walked into Mid-America Martial Arts in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.  I did a tour of the place and payed $95. It was $25 for the first month plus $70 for a white gi. I went into the bathroom and put on the gi with no idea how to tie the belt. I walked over to an area that was probably 20×10, where a beginners class was just getting ready to start.

There were 3 or 4 people in that class, and a guy standing at the front of the class with a worn & tattered blue belt, tattoos all over his body.  He showed me how to tie my belt, I lined up with the others and class started.  I don’t remember a whole lot from that day. I remember it was HOT. I remember I was out of shape. I remember the warmup hurt and drained me. I remember leaving class, changing back into my shorts & t-shirt and heading to my car. My t-shirt was soaked.

I didn’t say it to anyone at the time, but I was hooked. I was 2 months away from being 35, and had never done anything like that. I’m still not sure why BJJ resonated with me. I think it was several factors. It was physical, something different from my day job of a software developer. It wasn’t just physical, though. It involves strategy, which activated something in my brain. The people at MAMAs are super helpful and friendly.  All of those things factored in, I’m sure.

A few months after I started, I started logging every class I took.  In the past 4 years, I’ve spent 825 hours doing BJJ/Judo, and another 168 hours doing “conditioning.”  The BJJ breakdown looks like this:

Technique 308.5
Sparring 283
Judo 65
open mat 55
no-gi 46
no-gi sparring 43
Seminar 13.5
Competition Training 12.5

A Few Hours With Buchecha

This week, our gym brought in Buchecha (a 3x world champ) to do a seminar. I had some extra money and so I figured why not show up to all 3 sessions.  I don’t do a lot of seminars. This is for a few reasons. First, as with everything else, it’s a commitment of time and money. This seminar was $150 for 6 hours of instruction.  So when I signed up I committed to that time and money. Second, I like learning the basics and getting better at that. I want a firm foundation, and I get the impression that a lot of times that’s not taught at seminars because you have freak athletes teaching and they want to make sure you get your money’s worth. And once or twice I’ve gotten the impression the person doesn’t really want to be there teaching, but that they’re getting paid so they’ll do it. (And from reading other people’s accounts online, that isn’t uncommon.)

However, this seminar hasn’t been that way. I showed up about 15 minutes early to the first seminar and Buchecha is rolling with guys, whoever wants to roll with him.  A 3x world champion is rolling with white, blue, purple, brown and black belts. Why? Because he likes rolling with people, and he’s having fun.

Second, the techniques he was showing were very practical. He commented numerous times that he likes to work on the fundamentals. And he showed techniques that helped him win the world championship, and they were pretty basic.

But I think what got me most, though, was his interaction with us. The first session, I was probably about the 12th highest rank (read: in the middle, possibly on the low side.) We had 3 other black belts, a brown a bunch of purples and some other blue belts.  He showed the first technique and we all went off to practice it.  A couple minutes later I hear “Yeah…that will work. But if you do that, let go of the other hand as well.” I look up and Buchecha is talking to me. He’s walking around the room checking on everyone. I had messed up the move, and he was telling me the way he showed it was best, but if I wanted to do a variation I needed to switch my hands.

Honestly, a lot of what I like about Buchecha and this seminar is I think he’d fit in as an instructor at MAMAs. It didn’t feel like a seminar, it felt like a normal class (a normal class taught by a world champion, but still, a normal class.)  He walked around and made sure people were getting the technique. He answered questions. He was available before the session and after the session.

In a lot of ways, he and Robert Drysdale had similar seminars.  For that reason, I got a picture with him before the second session. I believe, apart from my own coaches, this is the first picture I’ve ever taken with anyone in the BJJ community. But he is a great coach and if you ever get the chance to go to a seminar, make sure you do it.

 

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