“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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That GOOD Pain

Have you ever been exhausted?  I don’t mean “Have you ever been tired at the end of a day at the office?”  I mean have you ever just felt every muscle in your body yelling at you to sit down? Have your muscles ever been so tired that your eyes want nothing more than to close for 8 or more hours? Have you ever been so tired that it’s a chore to walk across the room, not because of anything particularly sore or injured, but just because you’re that exhausted?

Have you ever been sore? Have you been sore and you don’t know why? Again, not in a “I must have slept wrong” kind of way. But more of a “How on Earth could my SHINS hurt?” Where, when you stand up to walk to someone’s desk at work you notice that your ribs are sore. As you walk down the hall you detect some fatigue in your knee.

BJJ has done all of that for me (or is it to me?)

But it’s been a while.  For the past six months or so, I’d put a project at work ahead of training. That’s probably the “mature” or “adult” thing to do.  I went from training around 6-7 hours every week to something like 4 hours a week.  The reduction in mat time, the addition of stress from work, and the availability of candy led to me gaining some weight as well.

This week, though, I went back to my old routine.  I trained two hours on Monday, two on Tuesday (including lunch time sparring with the “Noon High Ninjas”), three hours on Thursday (again including lunch time sparring, this time it was no-gi), and then two more hours on Saturday. So nine hours total.  By the end of the BJJ class on Saturday my body was telling me that it was good that I was taking off until Monday.

All through the week I was sore and tired. I have some kind of gi burn behind my right ear. I have/had mysterious bruises on my arms and chest this week. My ribs were tender. Not bruised or anything serious. But I definitely felt it even when the lightest guy started in kesa gatame.

And you know what? I have really missed that feeling.

I have missed random soreness.

I have missed being down right exhausted.

I discovered that I love it. I don’t love being in pain. But I love what that pain represents. That pain represents growth on the mat. It represents getting better. It represents progress. I don’t ever want to wake up in this kind of pain having done nothing the day before. As it is right now, that pain reminds me that yesterday I did something. Yesterday, I went out and tried to submit someone and keep someone from submitting to me. Yesterday, I fought. I didn’t fight people. I fought myself. And the pain and exhaustion are the reminders of that, and encouragement to do it again next week.

Empty Shell

Exhausted.

In a fog.

Distracted.

Out of air.

An empty shell shuffling between matches.

Those all describe how I felt tonight.  I was excited to get back to sparring after being off a couple weeks. I was excited to see a full class tonight.  I had a couple decent rolls to start the night.  Then…something happened. I felt like I was a white belt again.  I was rolling with someone and could not catch my breath.

It wasn’t like when you run a sprint or compete in a hard fought BJJ match and you’re over in the corner sucking air. Instead it felt like I was under water, and had to come up gasping for air.  I tapped.  In a way, it felt as if I’d panicked, something I hadn’t done in probably two years.

In other ways, it felt like I gave up, like I quit.  I’m not sure what happened.  Even 45 minutes later, on the drive home, I could still feel it. I could breath fine. I wasn’t short of breath. I had not problem taking deep breaths, but I felt it.  I really don’t know if it was my asthma (I took my inhaler, something I rarely have to do) or was just one of those times when I could actually catch my breath but convinced myself I couldn’t.

Whatever it was, for the next few matches I felt almost lifeless. I was sparring someone underwater. Every movement was slow and sluggish.

I’m not sure what my problem was tonight, but this was definitely one of those times when I didn’t have “it.” Instead, anything I did, I had to work hard for.

It wasn’t a fun night. But, it was another night in my journey of BJJ.

Belt Purgatory

Tonight, after rolling, we got to talking about someone I saw at a tournament that was probably in “belt purgatory.” By that we meant this guy had been stuck at purple so long that his purple belt looked like a white belt.

I said I thought I was going to be in blue purgatory, then purple purgatory and then brown purgatory.  As I thought about that on the drive home, I thought how purgatory described how I often feel right now.  I’m stuck in between two worlds. The white belt world and the world of the other blue belts I see.  I often feel like I earned not being a white belt anymore, but at times, I still feel like I haven’t quite earned a blue. I’m stuck in limbo.

The more I thought about that the more I had to challenge myself with what I was thinking. Each belt is a progression. I’m sure there are things that every blue should know/do and every purple should know/do, etc.  But someone that just got his blue belt today is going to have huge gaps from what someone that might get their purple tomorrow, and yet their both blue.

While there are definitely times I still feel like I’m in limbo (beyond white, not yet blue) I also realize that I’ve grown. Even tonight, while I was getting dominated in a sparring match I realized two things:

  1. HAD to stay off my back while in bottom half-guard and/or side control
  2. I was in a position I could not shrimp from (My feet were up, not on the ground.)

As I thought about that I realized that most likely, a year ago, I wouldn’t have realized that while rolling. Now, did I fix it? Sort of, I didn’t get flattened out, but I also didn’t shrimp away.  But I think even seeing that stuff is growth.

One other area of growth that I realize I’ve seen over the last couple months is being able to ask a question.  It hit me recently when an instructor was asking the class what questions we had.  We ran out of time before he got to me, but I actually had a question!  When I was a white belt and the instructors would ask what I was struggling with, I would never know what to say.

So in reality, I’m probably not in purgatory or limbo between belts. But it sure feels that way sometimes.

The Double-Edged Sword of BJJ

I’ve been really sporadic in my training this year. Just a lot of things going on. A lot of excuses I can offer as to why I haven’t trained as much as in recent years.  But none of those matter, I haven’t put in the mat time in 2015.

This week was the first time for me to be back in the gym in 2 weeks. Which might not sound like much, but last year I was training about 7 hours a week. Anyway, one thing I’ve been struggling with is the lack of progress I’ve made as a blue belt. Obviously lack of mat time is a big factor.

Today after sparring something dawned on me. BJJ is a double-edged sword. That sword is its simplicity.

Hear me out.

It seems to escape every bad position is essentially this: If you can bridge. If you’re flat, get up on a shoulder, then an elbow and possibly a hand. Move away. Put your feet on your opponent and control the distance.

It might be more nuanced than that. But today I was rolling and was in a bad position, I hear our coach telling me to get up on my elbow. I tried, but ended up in a worse position. After the round he showed me what he meant. It really was to get up on an elbow, scoot my butt towards my elbow and keep doing that until I could do a knee shield or foot on his hip etc.

Why is that a double edge sword? Because I think I learned all of that the first month or so of training.

It’s not that once you get to blue you learn more moves, and the purple, brown and black learn even more (I’m assuming, anyway, nobody has taught me secret blue belt moves.) Instead, it’s realizing that if your opponent is behind you with their chest on your shoulder and their knee pinning your legs, you still need to shrimp and get up to your knees and scoot away.

The techniques are that simple.

At the same time, their difficult to pull off in every situation. Or for me, their even difficult to recognize in every situation. I’ll wind up somewhere and think “Surely THIS position calls for a different escape.” So far the answer every time has been “No. There’s nothing special about this position either.”

It gives me hope that I can get better on those moves. It’s also incredibly frustrating that 3 years in I still can’t do the basics.