Category: Uncategorized

One Thousand Hours

0206181231c Today is a special day for me. Over lunch I went and trained with the “Noon High Ninjas” at Mid-America Martial Arts. It was sparring day. So I sparred for an hour with white, blue, purple, brown and black belts.  But that’s not what makes it special. That class happens every Tuesday and I make it to that class a couple times a month.

What makes it special to me is that class was my 1000th hour of training. (And it also shows a bug in my training app.)

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One thousand hours ago, I stepped on to the mat for the first time.

Over the last 5+ years, I’ve been fortunate to train with some great people. From the coaches that were teaching the intro classes (Charles and Scott) to the coach that saw me watching on the sideline and invited me to class (Kyle) to the coach who called me up to the gym before a tournament to help me get ready (AC) or the coach that is teaching me the amazingly simple things I do wrong (Ed).

But it’s more than coaches. My teammates have made it possible. There are the teammates I have that I know when I roll with them it’s going to be a battle. They’re going to beat me up, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in the past 5 years. Most of them have been white belts, but I’ve seen my fair share of blues (and the occasional purple) walk off the mat to never return.

In the past 1000 hours, I’ve haven’t been injured. I’ve been hurt quite a bit. Just about every joint I have has been sore and hurt at some point. I’ve had some deep bruises on my shins from who-knows-what. I broke a toe once. I’ve even had my ears hurt. But I’ve still been able to train.

In the past 1000 hours, I’ve tapped a few people here and there.

In the past 1000 hours, I’ve been tapped several thousand times.

One thousand hours seems, at the same time, to be an accomplishment and just the start. After all, 1000 hours on a job is roughly 6 months, but 1000 hours at a gym reflects years of weekly dedication. When it’s hot, when it’s raining, when it’s snowing, when I just don’t feel like it. It’s persistence. The time is going to pass anyway, so I might as well spend it training BJJ.

If, as they say, it takes 10,000 hours to be a master, I likely won’t make it. That would put me at around 85 years old. But maybe there’s a lesson there, in just how much time it does take to get good at something.

Even after 1000 hours, there are days that I wonder if I know what I’m doing out there. There are nights that I ask myself “Why do I do this?”

I don’t know if the next 1000 hours will answer those questions, but I’m going to find out.

Play the Position, Not the Belt

Over the past year or so I’ve been taking privates, and it seems to have helped. One thing I picked up a few months ago was this phrase “Play the position, not the belt.” It actually goes two ways.  The original meaning was that when I spar against blues and whites I’m worried about getting beat and so I’d try harder and do dumb things. So Professor Ed was reminding me to keep playing the position whether the guy was a white or blue belt.

Lately, though, I’ve been finding that I’m also applying that against higher belts. This time it’s a reminder that even though the person I’m going against might be a purple, brown, or black belt, they’re still just putting me in different positions. They have half-guard, or side control, or mount. And I might have to work a little harder to escape, but the principles are the same.

Over the past month or so, I’ve caught myself sparring only to have my brain say “Play the position, not the belt.” It gives me that focus to start to think “Where should my hands be?” or “Which way should my hips be going?”

It’s not failsafe, far from it. It’s not magical either. But it is helpful, its’ a good reminder that I need to escape a position, or keep a position and to do either of those things, I need to focus on the fundamentals.

Yearly Progress – 2017

This year I managed to get 222.5 hours of training in, which is up from last year (183 hours.)

From the numbers below, I averaged basically 3 hours of BJJ every week for the entire year, which is lower than I would have liked. I had some stuff with work and family come up that kept me away from the gym. That’s not really an excuse, as every year there are opportunities to skip the gym and opportunities to train when I didn’t.  For example, too often I decided to skip the lunch day class and stay at work.

In terms of rank, I finished where I started, a 2 stripe blue belt.  However, I can tell from the sparring that I was able to improve my guard in the past 12 months. I’ve even had a few people comment on it. It wasn’t from learning any new guards or specific moves, but rather from working in private lessons on principles. Anyone who has been around Professor Ed has heard him talk about contact, leverage and pressure. Figuring out what that means in the guard has helped immensely. I’m simultaneously disappointed that it took me so long to learn, and excited to keep growing. In fact, I’m finally starting to actually feel like a blue belt.

I tried out Muay Thai as well. I think I only trained on Tuesdays, so that means I trained for about 4 months. I enjoyed the class, even if Kelsey constantly made fun of me, but my true love is still grappling.

Along those lines, I managed to hit a judo class almost every week for the year. Even when I was out of town, I got to visit Welcome Mat in Kansas City and had a great time training there.  Additionally, I competed in my first judo tournament, the Cornhusker state games. I placed 3rd, winning my first match by Ippon before losing by arm-bar and then by o soto gari. I ended the year passing my sanku (brown belt) test.

The one number I’m slightly disappointed in is total hours for BJJ. I was really hoping to hit 1000 total hours this year, but I came up 23.5 hours short. Baring some catastrophe, I’ll hit that early this year.

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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.