Category: Life Lessons

Life Lesson: You Never Know Where Someone’s Coming From

In contrast to the last post, everyone’s the new guy sometime, something else I’ve learned in BJJ is you never know where someone is coming from. Loyal readers of this blog will know that I started BJJ at 34 after essentially being a couch potato for 20 years. I came in a blank slate. All I knew about BJJ was what I saw in MMA fights. I didn’t think that meant I knew how to do anything, but basically it meant I knew the term arm-bar, rear naked choke and mount.

A couple months after I started there were a few more white belts that started. It would have been a big mistake for me to assume that they were starting from the same base I was. In fact, one was a high school wrestler. While that means he didn’t particularly enjoy working off his back, it also meant he knew lots of ways to distribute his weight and enforce his will.

A few months after that, I was sparring against a white belt I had never seen before, within a  matter of seconds (30 maybe?) he had taken me down and arm barred me. We were talking later and he told me that he used to be quite active in BJJ (and possibly did some MMA, I’m not sure.)  The point is, I can’t look at someone and know their skill level. Just because you’re a no stripe white belt does not mean that I should beat you (and I guess just because you’re a blue belt doesn’t mean I should lose to you.)  One question I get asked a lot by friends who know I’m learning BJJ is “So does that mean you can take anyone in here?”  My standard answer is now “I can probably hold my own against someone who has absolutely no training, including wrestling in high school 15 years ago. But we don’t know who those people are.”

Perhaps the ultimate example of this was earlier this year. We had a seminar with two guys from Nova Unao, Leo Pecanha and Wendell Alexander. Both of these guys are world class black belts. In fact, I feel like calling them world class black belts is a bit of an understatement. The seminar was great. One thing that stood out to me, though happened before the seminar started. When I got to the gym I saw Wendell and Leo. Their reputations had preceded them.  As I looked at Wendell he looked like an in-shape 40 something. I commented to one of my teammates that if you saw Wendell walking down the street you’d think “That guy looks in shape. I bet he watches what he eats and goes to the gym.”  But there are bigger dudes than this guy. Guys who bench more than he does, or have bigger arms. The thing is, Wendell could incapacitate you with relative ease if he had to, and you would never see it coming, because in a lot of ways, he’s just another guy.

Life Lesson: Everyone’s The New Guy Sometime

Over the past 6 months, there have been a handful of times that I’ve sparred with someone who hasn’t sparred much (or at all) before that night. It has been an interesting experience for a couple of reasons. First, it really highlights my progress. I get down on myself from time to time because the guys I train with are getting better at the same time I am, so I don’t always seen that I’m getting better. However, when I roll with someone brand new, it illustrates it for me.

Another reason it’s an interesting experience for me is that it reminds me what it’s like to be the new guy. It wasn’t that long ago that I was the new guy. I didn’t know what it mean to have an underhook or how to hold my hands in a gable grip. If someone put me in half-guard, I had absolutely no clue what to do. (Now I just have no clue, but not “absolutely no clue”.) It’s a good reminder of the fact that even the guys that routinely dominate me were new guys at some point. It might not have been at this gym, it might have been a decade or more ago, but there was a time when even our most experienced guys were “the new guy.”

It’s not just BJJ where this is true either. It’s all aspects of life. Looking back I can see lots of areas in my life where there were things I didn’t want to start or didn’t want to try because I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what was going on. Which was funny, because I didn’t know what was going on. I think practicing BJJ has helped me see that if I want to learn something or do something, I’m going to have to start at the bottom, and that it’s okay to start at the bottom, because that’s where everyone starts. I’m reasonably sure that I’m fairly patient with new classmates, because I remember clearly what it was like to be brand new. I hope that carries over into other areas of my life as well, and makes me more patient with “the new guy” in all areas.

Life Lesson: You’ll Wind Up In Bad Situations

Bad Situations

In BJJ bad situations happen. Especially when you’re a white belt. There have been numerous times in my training where someone more experienced and/or bigger than me put me somewhere I didn’t want to be. For example, this week we were working back escapes and we were alternating between learning a technique and practicing it at close to full speed. It was my turn to to try and escape, as I was trying to escape, my partner was able to move into mount. As I tried to escape mount, I wound up being stuck on my side, with my sparring partner was laying on my top shoulder driving me down into the ground. At this point I was concerned about my neck. Where my partner was he had easy access to my lapels, so I had to be careful about any type of escape I did.  In the end, I wasn’t able to escape, but he wasn’t able to accomplish anything either, and time ran out.

But that’s not the first time I’ve wound up in bad situations. However, being in those bad situations has taught me what to focus on.  When you’re pinned down by someone who outweighs you by 40-60 pounds (or more) your first thought isn’t “How do I arm-bar this guy?” Instead, it shifts to “How can I get away from this guy?” And even more importantly, “How do I make sure this guy doesn’t harm me?”  Being in those bad situations helps you to realize exactly what is important at that moment, and what isn’t. You start remembering things like “chin-down” and “elbows in.” Your brain tells you to move your hips away, get your knee or foot between you and your opponent so you can create space and escape.

The point is, you’ll more than likely find yourself in these positions throughout your BJJ career. At least in the first year you will (that’s all I can talk about authoritatively, I’m hoping at the 13 month mark it magically never happens again, but I have my doubts that’s true.)

The same thing is true in life as well. I don’t know what kind of bad situations you’ll face in your life, but I’m positive there will be some. There will be a time when your only focus needs to be on survival. Perhaps it’s losing a loved one due to illness. Perhaps you’re the loved one with an illness. It could be a financial struggle, or something related to your job. It could be seeing your kids hurt. It could be any of literally countless options that will put you in a bad situation.

Once you’re in a bad situation, it’s almost too late to stop and think about what needs to be done when you’re there. On the mat, if someone gets to mount and I try to take a minute and think “What should I be doing here?” they are more than likely moving on to an even more dominant position, or attacking me.  So too with bad situations in real life.  How you handle that situation has a lot to do with how you’ve “trained” before that point in time.

If you lose your job, have you thought about expenses that you can cut that day to lessen the burden? Do you have a list of people in your field that you could call on the drive home from work if you were to be laid off? If someone you loves get sick, are you aware of the extras in your life that you could instantly jettison to make time for that person?

In order to get to a better position, the first thing you have to do is survive the position you’re in. Then move to escaping that position. If you can’t handle the bad positions, it’s going to be really hard (impossible?) to find yourself in a better position.