They’re All About Duty

Note: This is a guest post I did for JiuJiteira, a new online community intended to promote events that feature female JiuJiteiras and encourage both men and women training together.

Jiujitsu has much in common with musical theater, specifically Gilbert & Sullivan.

No, really. Besides being subcultures that inspire completists to obsession, the themes in both essentially run parallel to each other.

If you want pop culture confirmation, consider this clip from the West Wing, where Ainsley Hayes corrects Lionel Tribbey on whether the song “He Is An Englishman” comes from “HMS Pinafore,” which it does. Tribbey insists that it is from Penzance, or Iolanthe, or “one of  the ones about duty.”

Ainsley responds, correctly: they’re all about duty.

If you’ve seen any Gilbert & Sullivan — and really, who hasn’t? — you can testify that this is accurate. In song and story, the Englishmen sailing the ocean blue struggle with what’s right to do. Michael Bisping might represent all that’s bad about the English aesthetic, but “Pinafore” represents all that’s good about it.

We hear a lot about duty in the martial arts. Qualities like loyalty and courage in the face of adversity are embedded in the Bushido code and what traditionalists refer to as jiujitsu philosophy.

But what’s duty? What do we owe other  people? The German philosopher Immanuel Kant was perhaps more concerned with moral duty than anyone else, and he came up what called the Categorical Imperative — a single rule more important than any other.

What is this rule, and what does this have to do with how we train? We’ll get to that in a second. If you don’t care about the echoes of German philosophy in martial arts, you might be interested in Sideshow Bob singing the score of Pinafore before trying, fruitlessly once again, to murder Bart Simpson:

The rule Kant came up with — that most important of imperatives — is: “Act only on those maxims (or rules of action) that you could at the same time will to be a universal law.” Or, put more simply, only do things that you’d be comfortable with anyone else doing, at any place and time.

That might sound familiar, like it’s a more detailed version of a rule common throughout the world’s religions and cultures. It also might sound like a good idea, and it is. The trouble isn’t the rule, the trouble is that people aren’t always attentive to it, or don’t apply it to their specific life circumstances.

Let’s apply it to our specific life circumstances. What do we owe to our training partners? What is our duty to them? I came up with three principles.

  1. The most important person in the room is your training partner.
    Your training partner – even if they’re the newest white belt – is doing you a favor. They’re putting their body on the line and using precious minutes of their finite life to help you get better at something you love.

    Let’s say we look at every training situation, in jiujitsu and out, this way: a mutual exchange where we’re investing time in helping each other. If you’re looking  at making universal rules for how people in that situation should treat each other, you’d probably say they should treat each other like gold. This is particularly true in something like jiujitsu, a niche activity where mistakes can have physical consequences.

    Sometimes I hear people complain about training with white belts. I love training with white belts, because making sure white belts have good experiences is the best way to grow jiujitsu. And I learn things every time: new people often react differently than experienced people, which improves my ability to respond in those situations. Even when there is a skill gap between training partners, we can still learn from each other.

    The person you’re drilling with and sparring with is the most important person in the room at that moment. Your responsibility – your duty – is to make sure they have a good experience and get something out of it.

  2. Everybody has a first day. It’s your job to make sure they have a second day, too.
    Duty means that we should always make choices that could be universalized – that is, we would be comfortable with everyone making the same choices we made.

    Imagine a new person comes in that rubs you the wrong way for whatever reason. Let’s say you act like a dismissive jerk: maybe you ignore them when it’s time to pair up and drill. Or worse, let’s say you encourage them to spar with you, and you smash their face for five minutes.

    If that choice is universalized – if everyone makes that choice – jiujitsu dies. Period.

    Jiujitsu is hard, and we shouldn’t shy away from making that clear. When I talk to the toughest of the toughest, oldest of old school folks, though, there’s a common undercurrent in what they tell me: training has to be fun sometimes, too. To help jiujitsu grow and survive, let’s not show new people the first part without the second.

  3. The  more vulnerable someone is, the more attentive you should be to your own actions around them. 
    Fundamentally, I believe in personal responsibility. We are a product of the choices we make.

    We often hear that jiujitsu is for smaller, weaker people. Helio Gracie said that larger, strong people already have nature’s jiujitsu. We all know people who have tremendous jiujitsu skills that would have developed those skills no matter what gym they ended up at — people who are naturally tough and physically adept.

    I am not one of these people.

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    I lucked out by walking into a gym that is very thoughtful about how to build people up. If that hadn’t happened, I might not have the chance to even do jiujitsu, let alone have it as a central, rewarding part of my life.

    Since I am, by any reasonable metric, a very lucky person, I think a lot about what I owe. What I owe people, what I owe the world.  Since there were people that kept me coming back, I want to be one of those people for somebody else.

    When people come into the gym that might not feel welcome for any reason – maybe they aren’t natural athletes, maybe they’re women who are worried about training with men, or maybe they struggle with claustrophobia, or are physically disabled in some way — I feel like it’s incumbent on me to make sure they see the possibilities that jiujitsu can represent for them.

Some things are universal. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect. We all want to train in place with people who are true and attentive. We are, all of us who train, a part of the same story.

So, yes, this is something that jiujitsu and philosophy and musical theater share in common.

They’re all about duty. And if we’re decent, so are we.

Introducing Dirty White Belt Radio

More a little more than a year, I’ve been doing a podcast. We’ve made 58 shows. Learned a lot. Made more than 60 videos about technique, nutrition, live event coverage and funny things. Plus, the occasional webcomic.

It’s been an amazing year. Now it’s time to take it to the next level — which means a couple of big changes.

First, the name of the show is changing. The show was called the Cageside ConcussionCast, but we wanted a name that’s going to reflect our focus on Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and more broadly the healthy lifestyle associated with jiu-jitsu. The new name of the show will be Dirty White Belt Radio — after this blog. dwbrtempfbcover

(You can also call us “The Artist Formerly Known as The Cageside ConcussionCast” if you want.)

Regular readers might know that the idea behind the “Dirty White Belt” name is this: as my belt gets darker, I always want to retain the white belt attitude of consistently learning. I want to learn forever, and this project is a way to stay on that journey with my fellow travelers.

But that’s not the only big change.

We’re creating a new website which will launch at DirtyWhiteBelt.com that will house ALL the content we produce — podcasts, blog posts, video instructionals about jiu-jitsu, food and nutrition, webcomics, and a unified events calendar for seminars, tournaments, superfight events and MMA fights throughout the Southeast. We’ll also have ways you can support the charities we back, as well as ways to support other local North Carolina brands. Right now, that URL just points at this blog, but that’s going to change soon.

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We want you to expect more from us. We’re still going to have the content you’ve come to expect — just more of it and a better version. We’ll always focus locally on jiujitsu and other fighting arts in the Carolinas and beyond, but now we’re going to be bringing in more big, national guests, especially guests with historical significance. (We already have some interviews recorded that I can’t wait to share with you). We’re also going to produce more regular bonus content to go along with the podcast — things like videos and comics.

All of this will be housed at the (currently under construction) dirtywhitebelt.com. We hope to launch the website on Jan. 1, to start next year. And we had so much fun at the ConcussionCast Carnival last year, we hope to do another live event in 2017!

In the meantime, we’re going to slowly transition everything under the Dirty White Belt label. We’re also going to be able to sell advertising, so … if you’re a jiujitsu brand that wants to reach a passionate, smart and good-looking audience, boy do we have that. (Thumbs up, cheap pop).

What does this mean for you, the listener and supporter? Not much, I don’t think. Now begins the process of transitioning to the new name on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, and our various social media channels. If you already subscribe to us in one or more of those places, you shouldn’t need to do anything else — and if you don’t subscribe already, please do. And be aware that when you see something from “Dirty White Belt,” that’s us.

Our goals remain the same: to shine a light on all the fantastic things happening in our local scene, and to talk to the great people making them happen; to bring you the best possible interviews with both local folks and legends of the fighting arts; and to spread the word about jiujitsu to everyone who needs to hear it. And everyone needs to hear it.

Thanks for listening, and for hanging with us through this exciting transition!

15 Quotes From Moby Dick That Are Actually About Jiujitsu

I first read Moby Dick at a young age, too many years ago to admit. I first realized that the book is actually about jiu-jitsu just this week.

Herman Melville’s opus chronicles a titanic struggle between an otherworldly whale and his human arch-nemesis. Although ultimately the whale teaches Ahab to laugh and love again through the healing power of sea chanties — sorry for the spoilers — the novel is really about obsession.

The most powerful passages from what is, to me, the most American of novels, hit on these themes: there is power in passion and commitment, but also danger; the beautiful corners of life can also be terrible, and that terror has substantial interplay with the beauty; and finally, we’re drawn as human beings to perilous pursuits, but there is peril in ignorance and comfort as well.

Moby Dick is about a subculture of diverse, intrepid people who share an extreme life experience that only a small fraction of human beings ever will. Their journeys take them spectacular places, far out of each individual’s comfort zone, and are marked by the knowledge that nothing really serves as a substitute. Like I said: it’s about jiu-jitsu.

If this makes sense to you, you’re probably a nerd. If this really makes sense to you, you’re a nerd who trains. Either way, you’re in the right place.

I could’ve easily picked the top 100 passages from Moby Dick that speak to the jiujitsu lifestyle. Upon the advice of my attorney and life coach (a 10-year-old hound dog named Penny), I’ve whittled it down to 15. Here goes:

 

1. “…the great floodgates of the wonder-world swung open…”

The narrator of Moby Dick, who goes by the name Ishmael, speaks with awe and wonder of being at sea, using this phrase to describe his perception.

Remember the first time you hit a move cleanly on someone who was trying with all their might to stop you? Or: remember the moment when you first chained two or three moves together? For me, executing my first scissor sweep was like watching an angel came down from heaven and play the entirety of Led Zeppelin IV.

When you’re in the flow, the whole glorious world of possibility opens. This is what it’s like when Ishmael goes to sea, or when many of us hit the mats. We open the great floodgates of the wonder-world.

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Learning shin on shin guard from Michelle Nicolini opens a lot of doors.

 

2. “…to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

The most rhetorically powerful speech of the book is also its most direct reference to grappling. These climactic epithets Ahab shrieks at Moby Dick always fire me up — and make me think of those gnarly death rolls in the final round of a tournament.

Ahab could really cut a promo, even on a marine mammal. I think more people would love Moby Dick if they produced a version that included just his venomous speeches. I mean, just read that passage again: it’s as if the Spartans at Thermopylae had a speechwriter that wrote for an academic version of Ric Flair. If they boiled down Moby Dick to these speeches, it’d be like Thomas Jefferson’s version of the Bible: lean and mean.

 

3. “It is not down on any map; true places never are.”

The cannibal moral center of the novel, Queequeg, is a native of Rokovoko, “an island far away to the West and South.” But you can’t find it. Because it’s not on the map.


Speaking of jiujitsu is a journey is common — because it is. Your instructor might show you a move, or teach you a concept. It’s up to you to perfect that move for you, or internalize that concept. That takes time, and effort, and commitment.

It also takes faith. If your instructor could tell you “do these three things, and you’ll be an expert at guard passing,” it would make life a lot simpler. But no honest instructor would do that. You’ve got to pursue that yourself, trusting that walking the path the right way will ultimately lead you to the destination.

Jiujitsu is the truth. That’s why there’s no roadmap.

 

4. “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

This is Ishmael describing in vivid detail how turbulent his life would get between trips to sea. In the book, the sea provided a release valve for all that pent-up aggression.

One of my friends used to get into a lot of street fights. He’s trained in several martial arts, fought, competed, and generally run the gamut of training options. Once he told me that jiujitsu in the gi is the only art that ever made him a better person.

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Don’t walk around knocking hats off of people, or beloved mascots: train.

We all know people who can only simmer down their blood by training. If you’re reading this, you can probably name a dozen people who are sanest and calmest immediately after class.

Maybe you’re one of those people. I am.

 

5. “There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”

Sometimes in class, you’re a step late to every move. Sometimes the people you usually submit get away, the people you usually dominate positionally give you hell, and the people who usually whoop up on you lay the smack down even worse than normal.

Sometimes a meme of you getting choked ends up everywhere on the Internet. Life is funny!


6. “I try all things, I achieve what I can.”

One of many “words to live by” lines in the book comes from the maybe-unreliable narrator, Ishmael. When he tries to describe the whale, he confesses it’s not his area of expertise, but he’ll give it a shot.

You have to do this in jiujitsu: you might know you can’t pass your instructor’s guard, but try. Fail. Fail again. Fail better. Try everything. Achieve what you can.

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Sometimes, you can win the worlds. But on your way to achieving one thing, don’t forget to keep trying all things.

 

7. “There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”

Ishmael says this after he’s been staring into a fire, reaching a near hypnotic state.

The reality is this: sometimes, you should feel bad. Ego isn’t always the enemy, and disappointment is a natural fact of jiujitsu life. There is always someone better than you, and sometimes you have a tough day of competition or a night where everything you try gets shut down.

I’m not going to tell you not to feel bad when this happens. Disappointment is the source of strong motivation. There is wisdom in the woe that comes from a bad result.

In Moby Dick, Ishmael acknowledges that people with strong will — those with souls “in the mountains” — can profit from woe and gloom. This is the way we transcend the ordinary. Don’t let it drive you crazy, though, lest you end up on a boat with some nutjob, or in an emo band.

 

8. “Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure.

 

Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.”

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When you walk into a jiu-jitsu gym, you might think you know who the baddest people are just by looking at them. You’re often wrong.

Like the sea under the surface, jiu-jitsu is subtle, and the deadly creatures come in all shapes, sizes, genders and ages. Like the sharks in Moby Dick, the mat animals are treacherously hidden until it’s too late to avoid them.


9. “Ignorance is the parent of fear.”

This is how Ishmael feels about bigotry: that lack of exposure to cultures like Queequegs leads people to make unfounded assumptions, resulting in anxiety — which perpetuates the lack of awareness that leads to fear in the first place.

This is how I feel about leglocks.

 

10. “Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-labourers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules.

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Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally, as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill humour or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.”

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Who doesn’t love a good head squeeze? We squeeze each other’s heads with our arms, we squeeze each other’s necks with our legs. Then, like the sailors on the Pequod, we squeeze hands afterward in a gesture of friendship and comity.

… and in that passage, Ishmael is talking about whalers breaking up the lumpy spermaceti that is found in the whale’s head and sold. What did you think he was talking about?

11. “To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

Life is a struggle between hardness and softness. You don’t want to be completely hard, because it stops you from enjoying existence. You don’t want to be completely soft, because you’re unprepared for what life throws at you.

Jiujitsu is fun. Jiujitsu is hard. Hard training necessitates discomfort, which prepares you for other forms of discomfort.

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You’ll never stop being uncomfortable. You will learn to embrace the discomfort.

 

12. “For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught – nay, but the draught of a draught.”

The week Grandmaster Helio Gracie died, he was working on a new choke. Think about that. He’d constructed this art over his whole long life — and was still working on innovations at the end of it.

You’re never done doing jiujitsu. Ever. The power of the art is that you’ll never finish. There is — like the open sea — always more to explore.

This is the source of the blog’s name, too: training jiujitsu means you never stop learning.

 

13. “I am past scorching; not easily can’st thou scorch a scar.”

Stuff like this happens to you in jiujitsu. Are you really going to be scared of a conversation with your boss after this?

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14. “All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.”

Ahab’s admission of his own lunacy rings true for me. I think meticulously and constantly about the best practices for improving at jiujitsu. I review scientific research about nutrition, body and brain health, and the process by which we learn complex tasks.

I do this so I can take part in things that strike the people who don’t train as, well, nuts.

Once, during a hard session preparing for a friend’s fight, we had five upper belts and one white belt taking part. It was summer in North Carolina and the temperature had cracked 100 degrees with the type of humidity associated with a steam room. The sweat was flowing like water and the action was non-stop. The wet air made it tough to breathe.

The white belt was young and in good shape: at least as good as any of us, and maybe better. But he was struggling, and after each drill or sparring round he’d look around at each of us in disbelief. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for — I was using all my mental resources to follow instructions and not fall apart, in that order — until about 20 minutes into the training.

He walked to the door, and opened it, letting in a fresh burst of air. Then he walked outside and shouted back at us:

“You guys are crazy!” It was clear he was leaving.

Without looking up, all five of us instinctually replied: “See ya.”

We kept training. He shook his head in disbelief and I don’t think I’ve seen him since.

If you want to improve, these are the things you do. It’s the correct means to a mad end. Here’s the thing: no one who doesn’t train has to understand.

15. “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”

This one is better left out of context. It’s just a good rule to live your life by.

We have no idea what our futures include. If they include jiujitsu and laughter, I think we’ll all be all right.

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Basics of Grip Fighting on the Ground

You’d think grip fighting would rank at the top of the “grappling fundamentals” list. When you grapple with someone, you have to grab them, and if they’re wearing clothes, those clothes are an ideal target for said grabbing.

Yet when I started jiu-jitsu, I remember my knowledge of grips lagging behind. I don’t want this to happen to you, and so although I’m hardly an expert on grip fighting, I’m going to list some of the principles I wish I’d known all along.

Because grip-fighting is its own universe, we have to narrow it down: this post will focus on grip strategy for when you’re on your back in guard, although a lot of the principles apply everywhere else in a fight or grappling match. Let’s talk about two crucial overarching principles first.

Control Inside Space: We’re more powerful when our arms are pulled in close to our bodies. This makes it easier to push and pull an opponent, harder for them to push and pull us, and creates a barrier to them striking us. This is why pummeling is so important in nogi situations and MMA — and the principle holds true when wearing the gi as well.

For a simple example, from your closed guard, try grabbing the outside of your opponent’s sleeves. Not only would your opponent be able to punch you pretty easily, you’re less able to control their arm movements. Now, pummel inside and put your hands on their biceps. The situation changes. I’m not suggesting the hand-on-bicep play as a preferred position: just trying to illustrate that if your opponent’s grip-fighting has allowed them to successfully control inside space, you need to address that.

Deny Their Grips First: An ounce of prevention is worth a 16 ounce can of whoop ass. I think Confucius said that, or Stone Cold Steve Austin. Whichever. If your opponent can’t effectively grab you, they can’t effectively grapple you.

Judo players are some of the best at this. I’ve watched Olympian and world champion Jimmy Pedro’s Grip Like a World Champion DVD several times, and I still feel like an high school student auditing a Ph.D class when I do. Pedro illustrates both of these principles in this short spot:

This second principle might seem self-explanatory, but its importance can’t be overstated. If they don’t get the grips they want, their game never gets going. As Jimmy Pedro says in the video, the more skilled person is always going to win given equal mastery of grips. But if you get into a situation where your grip is much more advantageous, you can win exchanges with opponents who are more skilled than you are. That’s powerful.

If we initiate our ideal grips, we can do double-duty: if I control the sleeve well, getting a deep grip and putting my knuckles on the back of my partner’s wrist, I can both get good control and prevent my partner from re-gripping.

Now let’s get into what grips you want. The attacks you prefer inform the grips you want, and vice versa. Let’s talk first about what we can do with grips when we’re in the guard.

Note: there are endless possibilities (and you’re welcome to share your favorites in the comments), but these are some solid fundamental grip options to begin playing with.

When We’re In Closed Guard, or They Pass From the Knees

Collar and sleeve: We reach for the cross-collar grip (deeper the better) with one hand. For example, my right hand would reach deep in my opponent’s right-side lapel. Then, my free (left) hand grips my partner’s same/mirror side, in this case his right hand.

This allows us some control of our opponent’s posture, since we can use the collar grip to prevent them from posturing up, and accesses powerful fundamental attacks like the cross-collar choke and the scissor sweep. Because we have control of one sleeve, our opponent can’t post that way, and so if we off-balance them in that direction, they risk losing top position.

Cross-grip on the sleeve: This powerful grip is the counter-point to the mirror grip. If I can grab my opponent’s right sleeve with my right hand, for example, I can turn that opponent’s body at angle that allows me to expose their back. If we get a good grip here, we can put constant pressure of a back attack on our opponent — which also sets up fundamental sweep options like the pendulum sweep, taking us to mount instead of the back.

I will often set up the cross-grip off of a grip break. Check out the Vicente Junior video  below for good grip break tips.

When They Stand To Pass Our Open Guard

If they’ve opened our guard and stood up, they have more mobility — but they also have a less stable base.

The answer to problems in jiujitsu is usually “move your hips,” so don’t think getting grips alone is going to save you here: you’ve got to engage your legs and hips and move. But a couple of basic grip configurations will help you get started.

Personally, I don’t do a lot of grabbing the collar when my opponent stands. Lots of people who are better than me do this, though, so don’t think it’s wrong if you wind up liking it! I just find that the collar grip is easier to break when people are standing, so since I have weak grips, I am more likely to grab a grip that’s tougher to break — like the belt. We’re not going to talk about belt grips here, but I use that as an example.

Two options that are good to start with, and also serve as jumping-off points for the more advanced open guards:

Sleeve and the heel/cuff of one pant leg: If I get a sleeve — mirror side or cross-side — this sets up fundamental attacks like my favorite sweep, the tripod sweep. I like to grab the heel of one leg, because it diminishes their mobility, and also because it allows me to play De La Riva guard. Even if you don’t do De La Riva guard, though, controlling their leg and stepping on their hip diminishes their mobility and allows you some control/attack options.

Double sleeve grips: Michael Langhi is magic with these. I like controlling sleeves because when we control sleeves, we control posts — where our partner can place their hands. If they can’t post a hand, there’s a good chance we can roll them over that direction and get on top.

Just like sleeve/heel grips are good entry points to De La Riva guard, the double sleeve grips are solid entries to the world of spider guard. When we have the sleeves, it’s a short jump to step on biceps.

Troubleshooting

But what if they get their grips before we get the chance to get ours? If they do get the grips they want, you can break their grips, of course. The great Vicente Junior, along with his black belt Lance Trippett, show some good drills for doing that:

Another option can be to re-grip, which Jason Scully shows from the top guard position here:

The more I learn about grips, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Grip fighting is a vast thing, and you won’t ever learn all you need to understand.

This post is intended to provide a framework for you to explore and to go down whatever rabbit hole of grip resources you choose — like any of the videos linked here. Check out this Reddit thread for more tips.

How to Prepare for your first IBJJF tournament

For one brief, shining, day, I was a Cub Scout. There are pictures. As it turned out, there were elements about it that I couldn’t abide (conformity) even though, paradoxically, I really liked the uniforms. Yeah, yeah, I’m a paradox.

The one shining lesson from scouting that has always stuck with me from those glorious few hours is simple: be prepared. With the IBJJF’s first trip to North Carolina coming up in a mere 10 days, I know that many Triangle Jiu-Jitsu students are competing with the federation for the first time. Others, presumably, are in the same boat. Hence, a quick post designed to help you not be nervous, not be flustered, not be scared, but to be … well, you know.

Much of this advice applies to any tournament, and I encourage you to check out my Getting Ready For Tournaments 101 post as well. There are particular aspects to IBJJF competition, though, that merit some attention. So even though we’re fewer than two weeks out, let’s start there and proceed.

TWO WEEKS OUT

Make sure you know the rules and scoring system, especially the legal submissions for your belt level. Note: the IBJJF has different rules than US Grappling or NAGA, so while there are overarching similarities, don’t go for that wristlock unless you know it’s legal.

Train hard. Work your cardio. Focus on the moves that you know are your best moves, that you’re most likely to need and use in the tournament. I’m a huge believer in high-rep drilling, so when the time comes, your body legitimately doesn’t know how to do the move any way but the right way. I do a drill called “Perfect Match” where I drill every move on my partner in order, as if the match went perfectly. Then I change my drilling based on circumstances that might occur (I end up on bottom, he gives me his back, etc.). But I drill my best 1-3 moves for each common position. This isn’t the time to learn new tricks, but to sharpen the tools you have.

Eat clean. Drink tons of water. Cut out alcohol, sugar and junk foods, especially if you’re close to weight.

This post isn’t about cutting weight — that could be an entire series — so I will only say two things about that. I don’t recommend cutting much, if any weight. I think you should compete at your natural weight, with you healthy. That means fueling your body with healthy food and lots of water. If you’re close to a particular weight class, though, and want to drop a few pounds, the single most effective method I’ve found is eliminating any beverages from your diet except for water and green tea. Drink a ton of water — I drink 1.5 to 2 gallons a day — until a few days before the tournament. This way you’ll be nice and hydrated, you won’t eat junk calories, and you can shed a few pounds easily without compromising anything.

ONE WEEK OUT

Keep eating clean. You’re eating for performance. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth taking seriously.

competitorscreed

A week out, it’s time to taper down your training. Some schools, including Robert Drysdale’s, have suggested competitors not train the week before the competition — that way, you’re hungry and excited and your body has recovered from the hard work it’s done. I don’t go that far, but I do mostly drilling and only roll light rounds, and then only with people I know and completely trust. This is another lesson I’ve learned the hard way: Don’t roll with that guy who sometimes goes too hard. Don’t roll with the guy you don’t know. You’ve put in time, effort, financial resources — don’t let an ill-advised sparring session jack you up 2 days before.

Personally, I drill light on Thursday, run through my perfect match, and then do nothing on Friday. If I’m close to weight, I’ll do yoga. (Hot yoga will take water out of you fast, but it might also deplete you if you’re not used to it.)

If you’re worried about weight, cut down on salt intake a few days before, and water intake 24 hours before. Note: be careful of ibuprofen. I’ve learned that hard way (after gaining four pounds overnight) that it’ll make you retain water. Otherwise, eat wisely, don’t over-exert yourself, and don’t take unnecessary risks.

AT THE TOURNAMENT

Bring:

* a bag of healthy food (fruit, nuts, protein bars) and water
* your ID
* at least one complete spare gi
* music or a book to get lost in if you like

Get to the tournament as early as you can. This isn’t because you’ll need to be there all day (although you’ll probably want to watch your teammates, too): it’s because you want to be familiar with the environment, acclimate yourself to the surroundings, and just get relaxed and comfortable. There will be many mats going, and it can be overwhelming. Give yourself time to get used to it.

Well before your division is called, if you’re close to the weight limit, go to the bullpen — an area blocked off with yellow barriers — there is a practice scale there. You can check your weight. Be sure to do so in your competition gi, so you can be assured of an accurate reading. This will give you an idea of how much food or water you can consume beforehand. If you’re thirsty, your teammates can get you water after you weigh in. More on that in a second.

The schedule will have a rough estimate of when your division will be called. Plan to be in the area an hour before, just to be sure: schedules change. When your division is called, you’ll go to the bullpen. Bring your ID with you.

When it’s time, the mat coordinator will call your name and check you in. Shortly after that, you’ll go to the line to have your gi checked. A worker will make sure your gi meets the IBJJF legal requirements for length and for patches. This is why you need a spare gi: they might disqualify your gi, or your belt, or make you tear patches off. This probably won’t happen, but it’s best to be prepared.

After they approve your gi, you’ll go to the scale. You only get one chance to weigh in, so be sure you’re on weight before you step on that scale.

Assuming you’re on weight, they’ll take you right to the mat that you’re going to compete on. Your coaches and teammates can join you there — and hand you water if you’re thirsty or get dry mouth.

From there, you’ll win your first match. You’ll get a break before you have to compete again. After that, if you have a second match, you’ll win that one too. This continues until you win your gold medal match, and decide to compete in Absolute (you have to medal to qualify for Absolute). Then you win Absolute too.

At least, that’s what I hope for you. Now go forth and have fun out there.

Creative work, remixes and ripoffs

Once, in 1997, I was in a bar with my drunk friend. Even while sober, my friend was kind of a holier-than-thou hater. After the whiskey started to flow, well, you can guess.

“Tubthumping” came on. You remember: “I get knocked down / and I get up again.” I still have a good deal of fondness for this song, and for Chumbawumba generally, so it was clear I was enjoying myself. True to hater form, my friend couldn’t have that. So during the breakdown, where they quote lyrics from the old Irish traditional “Oh, Danny Boy,” my friend started to rant.

“They’re ripping off Irish music!” his spittle-flecked hipster screed began. I rolled my eyes and ordered another beer.

It was, of course, a meritless criticism. This was a remix of a classic in the public domain, a reinvention of the familiar into something new and different. Even if it was a pure “quote,” jazz musicians have been inserting bits of classic compositions during performances forever. (Besides, as I should have pointed out: Johnny Cash also covered “Oh, Danny Boy.” Hipsters love Johnny Cash almost as much as they hate being called hipsters).

Which brings me to the real topic of the day: creative work in general lends itself well to what might be called remixing. Collage artwork draws on existing visual work. Mash-ups pull audio into new combinations. Andy Warhol certainly didn’t create the Campbell’s Soup logo when he drew on the can for pop art. Even parody of pop culture phenomena might be considered a remix of a sort.

It’s parody of pop culture that I want to talk about today, and creative work.

There is nothing new under the sun. That dope idea I had last week? Some ancient Greek already did it better. That genius concept I based an entire freelance project on? Some dude in Cleveland or Chicago or Constantinople might already be working on it.

This is especially true when you’re talking about making pop culture references. You’re not the only person who has seen Deadwood, or Doctor Who, or Daredevil. It’s a big world out there, and there are more clever people doing creative work faster than ever before.

Sometimes I see people angry when they see a meme that’s a lot like the meme they made. Worse, I see fans of brands — or brand owners, or brand staff — leap to the conclusion that a similar design done elsewhere is a result of someone directly copying them.

Rip-offs absolutely happen, of course. I’ve had my designs taken by random people on Teespring and sites like that. If you look, you’ll see the repeat offenders are out there. That’s sad and gross, but those people will make themselves known soon enough.

Generally speaking, though, I think it’s more productive to make generous assumptions about people, particularly creative types. Remixes happen when we are more free with access to ideas, and remixes and collaborations can be mindblowingly cool. I hate to see potentially productive creative relationships poisoned by hasty assumptions.

Simply put, if you think your style got bitten, it’s the best practice to just assume you drank from the same well as the other guy — and hope that it wasn’t the well my hater hipster friend drank from in 1997.

Demian Maia and complete jiujitsu

Demian Maia is, by any measure, one of the finest representatives of jiujitsu. You probably already know this, especially if you watched his most recent fight with Carlos Condit. It was a masterful performance against an accomplished opponent where, despite Condit knowing precisely what Maia wanted to do, Maia achieved a submission victory while taking virtually no damage.

One apparent lesson from this: despite what you might hear in certain circles, jiujitsu is a complete martial art. One less-readily apparent lesson, which is no less important: fundamentalism in any form is dangerous.

To explain what I mean, let’s start with self defense. True self defense means we train to protect ourselves from harm. This means avoiding bad situations, but also preparing for when dangerous situations arise. Being locked in a cage with a UFC-caliber fighter certainly qualifies as “dangerous.” This is why Royce Gracie’s performances in the early UFCs so animated martial artists: here was living proof that, during a no-time-limit fight with effectively no rules, a smaller opponent skilled in jiujitsu could defeat huge, dangerous attackers.

During Maia’s last four UFC fights, he’s absorbed 13 significant strikes — fewer than four per fight, against the best mixed martial artists in the world. That’s protecting yourself. That’s further testament that jiujitsu — original complete Gracie jiujitsu — is still effective.

Just listen to Maia himself, ever humble about his own achievements, explain why it’s the art that’s doing the vital work of protecting him:

Most of us will never fight in the cage. But there are lessons there for each of us: jiujitsu a complete art composed of striking, grappling, takedowns, and standing self-defense, along with a philosophy of self defense. Inspired by the Maia-Condit fight, the past day I’ve been re-watching Demian Maia’s DVD about stand-up techniques. It might surprise some people that Maia has an hour-long instructional of this nature, but it should only be a surprise you if you view jiujitsu through the prism of ground grappling. Original jiujitsu was designed to be a standalone martial art, and that’s the jiujitsu Maia does. As he says:

“I’ve always believed in Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art and not only a sport. That’s why I have always trained all aspects of the art. Despite being a competitor for years, I never stopped training self-defense or takedowns. I still do the same with my students today.”

This is a consistent theme in Maia’s interviews throughout the years. He’s a jiujitsu world champion, Abu Dhabi champion, and UFC title contender — but he’s never stopped training the self defense aspects of Gracie jiujitsu. He still does it all.

To me, this is an important lesson for those who are competition-focused to the exclusion of all else. Competition is fun, but — whether we’re talking about sport jiujitsu or MMA — winning awards in a setting with predictable, mutually agreed upon rules is just a part of what the art is about. It’s certainly a far cry from the early UFCs, where virtually anything went, and you had to be prepared to stand, to fight from your back, to be on top on the ground, or any other situation.

In some ways, the growth of sport jiujitsu has created incentive to specialize: one effective means to win a strategic game is to focus intently on a subset of that game, then force your opponent to play it on your terms. It’s why we see complex, ever-evolving aspects of the modern lapel guards: if you can trap someone into playing that game, and you know that game miles better than your opponent, it’s a smart way to win. This incentivizes people who are exceptional at the berimbolo, for example, to get into berimbolo-ready positions, and drill those technique to the exclusion of others. But if you’re going to do that, and only that, you’d better be able to get to that position in every situation where you might have to defend yourself.

Can you imagine a position, in grappling or fighting, where Demian Maia would be lost? I can’t. There are reasons that his jiujitsu is the subject of much study for the masterful way he moves through positions. I can’t help but think his completist approach is a reason why.

When I hear people complain about training self-defense, it’s usually because they’d rather be doing something else — like sharpening their sport tools. There’s nothing wrong with working on your favorite techniques. There is, however, something wrong with failure to develop a well-rounded skill set. There is also something wrong with failing to see self-defense techniques for what they are: techniques designed to give anyone tools to protect themselves in common situations outside of sport grappling.

It’s no secret that I love sport jiujitsu. What I dislike is fundamentalism: the attitude that what I prefer is the only pure way. It impedes learning and progress. To return to Demian Maia, he trains original, complete jiujitsu, including self defense — and finds a profound template for success there.

There’s a flip side to this, though. Many self defense purists are skeptical — or even out-and-out hostile — to sport jiujitsu. My own experience tells me that competition is one of the most powerful tools for improving one’s self defense abilities.

But this is about Demian Maia. Maia competed from white belt all the way through black belt, entering sport jiujitsu tournaments at every belt level and winning the worlds at a couple of them. Indeed, despite his status as elite fighter, he even said he’d like to take a gi jiu-jitsu competition match if the situation was right.

He’s not alone. In the upper echelons of MMA, most of the top-tier jiujitsu fighters also competed successfully in sport jiujitsu while wearing the gi. (Only Frank Mir stands out as an exception, although it’s possible I’m missing someone.)

The anti-competition argument goes that if you train sport techniques, you’ll be unprepared for a real-world confrontation. I disagree with this, both at the premise and the conclusion levels, and my reasoning could be the topic of an entirely different post. In the context of this post, though, I think both the arguments against training self defense and to competing can be answered this way: a well-rounded martial artist should at least explore both. We can learn different things from different experiences, and to reject out of hand certain experiences seems like fundamentalism.

It’s not my usual tendency to tell people what to do without being asked. We all have different goals, and success should be defined according to those goals. For those of us who want to have complete jiujitsu, though, we have to remember that the art is rooted in self defense. And for those of us that want to have the most effective self defense possible, we should consider that competition can help — not hinder — our progress toward that goal.

Demian Maia, a truly complete jiujitsu fighter, is an example of this. We could all do worse than to emulate him.

How To Start Your Podcast

Many of you know about the radio show and podcast I do with Trevor Hayes, the Cageside ConcussionCast. It’s a blast doing the show (although it’s a lot of work — more on that later).

Lately, a few people have asked me for advice about how to start their own podcasts. I wanted to put some solid podcast resources in one place for those folks, and also talk a little about my own experience podcasting. If you’re interested in doing one, my experience might help you — although frankly, how I’ve done it is a little atypical.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS AND HOW? 

The first question you should ask yourself is: why do you want to do this? If you’re looking to make something cool to amuse yourself and friends, that’s a great reason. If you’re looking to learn new skills, or maybe to fill a niche that isn’t currently being filled, those are also excellent reasons.

If you are looking to make a career out of it, I won’t say “that is not a great reason,” but I will simply wish you luck. This isn’t me trying to discourage: I just think that, much like jiujitsu, podcasting is a journey that you should enjoy whether or not it ever translates into money dollars for you.
You do get the side benefit of being a VIP. And take a good look at that recording kit: we talk about it below.

You do get the side benefit of being a VIP. And take a good look at that recording kit: we talk about it below.

Alex Kapelman is a successful podcaster . He wrote this good primer on podcasting for AIR,the Association of Independents in Radio, which gives similar advice (He also likes the word “dope,” and so do I).

There are a lot of  different ways to make a podcast, from pure interview shows to storytelling shows with extensive editing. If you don’t have a lot of audio editing experience, maybe that informs which type of show you’d like to do.

Before you record your first show, plan out your first six shows. Will you have interviews? Who will they be? Will you have segments? Will these segments be occasional, or will they recur? Think of these first six shows as a season, and have some idea of your first season before you begin. In fact, plan out eight shows, because at least two ideas are going to fall through.

I’ll acknowledge that our show is changing and evolving all the time, despite having done it for (wow) more than six months now. This is my last piece of overarching advice: relax and don’t worry if these plans you’ve made don’t work out. You can change them. You’re doing this for fun and to learn, right?

GREAT GENERAL RESOURCES

Once you’ve decided that you’re going to do this, please also decide to do your research on technique, gear and storytelling. Transom has amazing training resources and gear reviews/recommendations. I love their Good, Better, Best series, which will help you decide on what gear you need to buy.  NPR’s free training site is also excellent.

It is easier and cheaper now than ever to create a show. You can get started for exactly zero dollars and make a show that sounds adequate-ish. You can also spend a few hundred dollars and dramatically improve the sound, but my advice is to do a few shows to be sure this is something you’re going to enjoy before you break out the credit card.

This is where my experience is unusual: Trevor and I began doing the show when local radio station WHUP opened. Come in and use our equipment, they said, and we’ll automatically upload your live radio show as a podcast. I kind of lucked into an easy situation where I got to work in a professional studio with excellent facilities and equipment, and didn’t have to learn any of the technical details.

Not going to lie: having top-quality pro equipment is really nice.

Not going to lie: having top-quality pro equipment is really nice.

This was great, because I didn’t have any initial capital investment and I didn’t have to learn much. The fact that we generally record the show live is also my excuse for every time anything goes wrong, and I love excuses.

But then, I travel a lot for work and jiu-jitsu, and I noticed that when I had to pre-record the show on my computer, it suddenly sounded way worse. Listeners were (and I was) used to the higher-quality sound, so the difference was pronounced — and I didn’t like that.

To be clear: when you first start out, I think it’s best just to use your basic computer or headphones mic at first, while you’re figuring out what level of commitment to this you’re going to have to the project. But having a good mic really improves the sound, and as my travel commitments increased, I just had to figure out how to make it sound less like shouting through a tin can.

After consulting with friends and reviewing the Good, Better, Best series, I decided to invest in a mid-level set-up. For recording live interviews, I use a H1 Zoom digital recorder (small! Cheap!) and plug a nice shotgun mic into it. This maximizes portability while minimizing expense, and gets quite good tape quality.

Me interviewing Charlie Brake and his awesome dog Crowley with the remote kit, while Trevor exudes radiance.

Me interviewing Charlie Brake and his awesome dog Crowley with the remote kit, while Trevor exudes radiance.

There are several terrific mic brands: I use an Audio Technica AT 8035 shotgun mic, which is very reliable, and you can find for $250. It’s better than the Nady and even a step above the Rhode, which is another nice sounding mic. I went fairly high-end and still managed to outfit myself for less than $400.

Also, my brilliant radio friend Bec Feldhaus-Adams once told me this about investing in gear: “Cry once when you buy it, and never cry again. Rather than being happy with a cheap mic and then crying continuously when you get crap tape. Cry once, my friend!”

Also, think about your recording environment: you want to minimize extraneous noise. There are many hilarious ways to do this, and here is mine:
Semipro tip: I often record under my blanket to minimize ambient sound. Actual pros will unplug their appliances.

Semipro tip: I often record under my blanket to minimize ambient sound. Actual pros will unplug their appliances.

What if you and the interview subject aren’t in the same place? Though it’s sub-optimal, I usually have the other person call me on Skype or Google Hangout. I open an Audacity file and just record straight to the hard drive. For shorter interviews, try this valuable trick. Simple and elegant and perfect, like a hip bump.

REGRET IT? NOPE. EDIT? YEP. 

We talked a bit about recording technique: here are some notes on editing.

As I alluded to above, I like to use Audacity (free) and upload the files I create to Soundcloud (free, unless you produce a lot of material: I have Soundcloud Pro, which is $125 a year for unlimited uploads). Soundcloud creates an RSS feed for you automatically, which you can use to submit your show to iTunes and Stitcher if that’s something you’re interested in.

For editing purposes, I suggest you learn the basics: how to edit out profanity (coughFRANKIEPATCHEScough) and how to mix segments together. This is simple and straightforward.

From there, even a free program like Audacity has a host of filters, bells, whistles, foofaddles, and dingdoggies. You can sped a lot of time learning audio editing, and it’s time-consuming to do it well. I generally spend about 3 hours editing a remote podcast. Consider the additional hour (at least) of recording, and that’s a lot — especially considering I work full-time and try to train full-time, too.

Speaking of training, I just edited a bunch of audio on the train back from NYC. Good times.

Speaking of training, I just edited a bunch of audio on the train back from NYC. Good times.

While that editing process is actually fun for me, if you like ease of use and efficiency, Auphonic is a godsend. Finish recording, upload the file, they equalize the levels for you. There’s a considerable amount of free upload hours, and I’ve never had to pay — although the service is worth it, and if I ever exceed the free file size limits, I’ll pay happily.

Once you have a file that sounds good, upload it to Soundcloud, and bam — you have birthed a podcast. You’ve done the hard work, so now enjoy the fun part: going to a public library and setting every computer to play your podcast to boost the spins count.

Kidding: that’s why you get an intern.

There are roughly 1.21 million other tasks you can occupy yourself with (Logos! Promotion! Social Media!), and if there’s enough interest, I’ll do another post on that. For now, go forth and make great radio.