The Morning After

The morning after a loss is an interesting thing. This weekend, my teammates and I traveled the IBJJF No-Gi Pans. Even though I lost my first match, I felt OK about my performance: my opponent was very skilled, and it wasn’t what I screwed up so much as what he did well that decided the match.

I had chances to win, and I do feel like if I’d made some different choices during the match that I could have — but that just means I need to improve my technique. Nobody likes to lose (at least, nobody that wants to win as badly as I do), but sometimes you do your best and the other guy is better. It happens to just about everybody.

This was my mindframe for the whole day yesterday. Had a blast rooting on my teammates (one of whom won double gold), meeting people and finally eating a meal without thinking about what was in it. I just kind of let myself enjoy the rest of the experience.


Today, I’m a little more reflective and analytical. My subconscious mind must have been processing the match in detail for the past 20 hours, because now all I can think about it what I have to work on. How could I have finished that submission? Why was I hesitant to go for the sweep when I had it? Is it time for me to change my strategy and stop playing so much closed guard?

More or less, I’m really anxious to get back to training and work on all of that stuff. It’ll be nice to get back in the gi, too.

One great thing about jiu-jitsu tournaments is getting to meet all the best in the world — and occasionally getting an amazing story out of it. While I was competing, my teammate Harold had his shoulder pop out of joint during a match. The EMT was struggling with the injury.

Suddenly, over the barrier jumps none other than Renzo Gracie himself.

You may have heard about Renzo’s exploits combating muggers. Well, he’s even better at putting a shoulder back in than he is at fighting crime — and he’s pretty good at Twitter, too.

“I learned how to pull them out, so I learned how to put them back in.”

That’s right, Renzo jumps the barrier, puts Harold’s shoulder back in place, and heads back to his seat like nothing ever happened.

If I hadn’t met and talked with Renzo, I might not believe he is real. The guy is truly a larger-than-life figure, and it was an honor to meet him.

Next year, our team might just have to pop Harold’s shoulder out again — it seems like that’s Renzo’s equivalent of the Bat-signal.


Beating the Adrenaline Dump

I remember my first tournament match like it was yesterday. I’d trained tons of cardio, with lots of live rolling, Bikram yoga and Fight Gone Bad. In my gym, we go hard at each other during rolling, and I was able to do six straight rounds, no problem. I was in shape. I was ready.

My game plan was set, too. It was a no-gi match, so I was going to shoot, hopefully get a takedown, and work from there.

Everything went according to plan. Shot a single, got him to the mat. He shrimped out and recovered full guard. About 90 seconds into the match, I was exactly where I’d planned on being. We’re up 2-0, we’re in a good position. “OK,” my mind said, “let’s pass the guard.”

“Yeah …. about that,” my body replied.

What 30 minutes of straight rolling couldn’t do, a minute-and-a-half of a tournament match did. I was tired, and I mean tired. I’d experienced the dreaded adrenaline dump.

How I felt afterward.


This came as a surprise, since I’d competed a ton in other pursuits. I thought I’d be prepared. The lesson I took away from the experience is that adrenaline dumps can be unpredictable, and it’s best to be aware of and plan for them.

So, how do we do that? I set out to do some research. The good news: my instructor had some great ideas that helped me a lot in my first big competition. The bad news: there is surprisingly little in the way of hard scientific research on adrenaline dumps in athletic competitions. Most of the studies relate to officer-involved shootings and other examples of stressful situations for first responders.

I could always have missed some studies — and if I did, please leave a comment, since I’d love to know more — but I searched the Physical Education IndexSPORTDiscus  and a few other databases, and I couldn’t find much beyond the basics. Some blogs offer specific nutrition advice, but I can’t find any real scientific testing for this counsel. The best I can say is that improving nutrition isn’t likely to hurt. I don’t think there’s a specific catch-all formula that’ll solve the problem, though.

What I aim to do in this post is share some techniques — some you can use during training camp, some for the day of the competition — that helped me avoid problems with the adrenaline dump. If you have some of your own, please leave a comment: it’s something worth exploring more, for sure.

(Before we get started, some folks struggle with severe anxiety. That’s not what I’m talking about here, but it is addressed in this JiuJitsuForums thread. One poster suggests beta blockers for individuals with serious performance problems. Those are prescription level, can have serious side effects, and are not the tactic to use with the garden variety “wow, my arms and legs feel heavy and I’m gassing hard” dump I’m talking about here, but I feel like they’re worth noting.)

How do we train to beat the adrenaline dump?


Train Hard. Yes, this is obvious. Yes, you should be doing this anyway. But I feel like beyond the obvious reasons you should be doing this (improving technique, building cardio) lies a subtle anti-adrenaline dump factor: you give yourself less to worry about. Anxiety feeds the fight-or-flight response. The last thing we want to be doing right before we step on the mat is wondering if we’ve trained as hard as our opponent has. That feeds anxiety, which leads to a self-defeating cycle.

Ideally, I want to be able to say to myself, “I might lose, but if I do it won’t be because I haven’t trained hard enough.” Training like crazy gives you peace of mind and stops the brain from unproductive churning.

Pay Attention To  Proper Rest and Nutrition. The blog post I quoted above has lots of specific diet and supplement advice, but I feel the same way this guy does: if you’re not getting enough rest, drinking enough water, and taking care of your training basics, then the other stuff is nice but superfluous.

Take care of the basics first, and then you can begin experimenting. It may be that B vitamins, choline and taurine are the end-all-be-all of anti-adrenaline dump nutrition. If you’re not sleeping well and aren’t properly hydrated, it won’t matter.

Simulate (As Best You Can) Tournament Conditions. When one of our guys is training for an MMA fight, our instructor will do this: he’ll dim the lights, play our guy’s walkout music, and have the guy walk out of the locker room toward our cage while the rest of us go crazy cheering. Yes, it’ll never simulate real-world conditions exactly. But the closer you get, the more prepared your mind and body are.

“Compete more” falls under this category as well. When you get used to something, it feels more natural.

It’s tough to simulate the Mundial bullpen experience. But worth trying.


You’ve trained as hard as you can. You’re prepared in the best way possible. Then they call your division. What do you do now?

Be In The Moment. This is an insight from my coach, who is great at helping students with the mental game. Because jiu-jitsu is so technical, focusing on details is important. Because we train it so much, many BJJ players are very comfortable breaking down techniques into particular movements. So why not break an intimidating task down into the sum of its component parts? “First, I’m going to slap hands. Then, I’m going to work for the takedown.” The specifics keep us focused.

Breathe and Stretch. I’m not just saying this because I’m a yoga guy: there’s a ton of science that validates the relaxation benefits of breathing deeply. We don’t want to be mellowed out before the match, but we do want to be relaxed and calm. Deep breathing and a regimented stretching routine can help. At least, it worked for me.

Focus on Enjoying Yourself. This sounds simple, but it might be the insight that helped me the most: this is what I do for fun. No matter what happens in this match, I just love training and improving. If I win, that’s the outcome I hoped for; if I lose, I’ll learn something.

To illustrate this, I’ll end with the counterpoint to the opening story.

At the Mundials this year, I was alone in the bullpen. This can be an intimidating place: 12 mats are going, you’re surrounded by the best in the world, and you’re about to go out there in front of hundreds of people in a win-or-go-home situation. You’ve trained for six weeks, spent lots of money, paid close attention to your diet, and sacrificed tons of time, energy and comfort just for a shot at this. Unlike local tournaments, your friends aren’t around and your coach can’t be in the bullpen with you.

By any measure, this is a higher-stress environment than the first match I described.

I did all the things described above. Sat by myself. Breathed deeply, stretched. Thought about each moment of the match and what I wanted to do. Whenever doubt or nerves would start to creep in, I’d ask myself “Is there any place you’d rather be right now?” The answer was always no.

Tired. But *good* tired.

This is what we do for fun. It’s not always easy, but not a lot of things worth doing are.

I was more relaxed for that match than I’ve been at a lot of local tournaments. I think mental techniques are different for everybody. But what I’ve described here worked really well for me, and I hope the same is true for you.

Don’t Get Staph

The headline summarizes my advice to you, the reader. After wrestling in middle school and a year in high school — and after 18 months of training BJJ — I finally zigged when staph zagged.

It’s frustrating, because I’ve been training really hard for the Pans at the end of the month, and when the infection hit I felt like I was better than ever in terms of technique, timing and conditioning. Making matters doubly vexing, I’m the guy who takes every precaution: I always wash all my gear after every use, even my belt; we mop our mats after every class; I use Athletic Body Care body wash and lotion.

Ultimately, no matter how many precautions you take, mat-borne illness can get you. It’s just part of the price of admission to this great sport of ours. (I’m particularly at risk, I must acknowledge, because I have eczema, so I have more breaks in my skin than most people on average).

I was lucky. I was also paranoid. These two factors enabled me to catch it early. I tell this story so others will know the warning signs. Hopefully you’ll never need to know these signs, but if you have the misfortune to get the illness, the sooner you get after it, the better.

Training the previous night had gone great. It was my 24th straight day training, but I didn’t feel run down or sore. But when I went to bed, my shin was sore. “Huh,” I thought. “I must’ve clashed shins with someone and not realized it.” I didn’t see a bruise, but you don’t always turn black and blue when you get whacked.

About a half-hour later, I noticed a small patch of my skin had turned red. I raised an eyebrow at this.

About a half-hour after that, a portion of my shin about 3.5 inches by one inch was red and swollen. My skin felt stretched out, and the ara felt warm to the touch. Uh oh.

I called the doctor.

Fortunately, they were able to see me just two hours later (if they had put me off, I would have gone to the emergency room). I was amazed to hear that most people my doctor sees that have staph wait until it starts to weep before they make an appointment. By this point, you’re a raging mess of contagion and it takes much more work to get the infection under control.

Since I have no illusions that I am stronger than a bunch of microbes, I eagerly accepted the powerful antibiotics she prescribed and gobbled those suckers down.

As if you needed convincing, having staph (even a mild case) is awful. There’s the pain, of course: mine felt about twice as sore as the worst bruise I’ve ever had. The antibiotics themselves mess you up, too, and take my advice: do not gobble these on an empty stomach. If you’ve been given the right medicine, you will get sick.

Far and away the worst part for me, though, was just not being able to train. I feel the same way about injuries: being off the mat drives me crazy, and retards my progress. Injuries are the enemy.

Infections are worse, though, because if you’re honest about what you’ve got (and you MUST be, unless you’re a real prick), a lot of people will balk at training with you. This is totally understandable: nobody wants this stuff, and with good reason.

So I played it safe. I was told on Thursday that I wasn’t contagious, but I waited four days after that to get back on the mat. No reason to take unnecessary risks, and even though it was driving me crazy not to train, I wanted to be certain I wasn’t putting anyone else in danger.

Needless to say, it was a big setback. I took time off from training, missed a US Grappling tournament (I’d signed up to do all eight divisions again), and generally had to sit inside and sleep a lot. And it could have been a lot worse.

So now, several days after that, I only have one more day in my antibiotic regimen. Hopefully, this will end both the staph and the “feeling like crap from antibiotics” portion of this training camp.

Fortunately, I have implemented a new anti-staph strategy in my training.

Rainbow tights: is there anything they can’t do?

The rainbow scares away the microbes, you see.

Felipe Costa says just keep training

Felipe Costa never won a major tournament from white belt up to brown belt. He was promoted to black belt right before the world championships (Mundials). He lost in the first round.

The next year, he won the Mundials at the black belt level.

What changed? The guys at Open Mat Radio asked him that in a wide-ranging and excellent interview.

Felipe’s answer is simple, but really inspiring. It sounds cliche, he admits, but many cliches have their roots in truth.

I saw so many people — and I still see so many people — giving up every day. Because they train a little bit, and then they don’t have the result they expect right away — and they already gave up. If I had to give up, I would give up on my yellow belt! I have always had the mentality of trying again and not getting discouraged. …

It’s gonna take time for you to achieve what you want. Very few people do it at the first try  … if you’re going to give up on the way, you’re never going to reach what you want.

It’s a great way of saying “just keep training,” from a guy who knows. He lived it.

While they’re training, we’re training. When they’re slacking, we’re training. When they give up, we keep training.

Felipe Costa’s whole interview with Open Mat Radio is interesting, inspiring, and available now on their site (or you could subscribe through iTunes, which I recommend).

Technique Prevails: Mendes Brothers and Durinho Seminar

This weekend, I was fortunate to attend a seminar in Charlotte at Fernando Loor BJJ taught by the Mendes Brothers and Gilbert “Durinho” Burns.

It’s pretty rare that you get three world champions teaching a seminar at the same time, and I was especially excited because Gui Mendes competes at my weight. Whenever you get the chance to learn from a guy your size who happens to be the best in the world at that weight, you have to take it.

Predictably, the seminar was packed. About 50 people attended, including multiple black belts. If you’ve seen any of the Mendes’ technique videos, you know how absurdly detailed they are — everything these guys do, they do for a reason. A technique that you see someone else show in 2 minutes takes them 10 minutes, and it’s not because they’re padding the time. All that additional information comes from the countless hours they’ve spent thinking about how to optimize the technique.

In person, they’re even more impressive. Rafa and Gui encourage you to ask questions, and no matter how esoteric the query, they have an answer for you. “Why do you put your hand there?” “If I put my hand here instead, it would be easier for a big guy to smash, for these three reasons.” Stuff like that. There are many reasons these guys are the best, and they were all on display.

Put it this way: my notes from the seminar are 2,000 words long, and I’m sure I missed a bunch of details.

The Mendes Brothers have a reputation of trying a lot of innovative techniques, but I can also report that I successfully worked one of the things they showed into rolling yesterday against a very good training partner. That says something about their teaching ability, since it usually takes me a month or two to work seminar techniques into my sparring.

Enough of that, since I’m not going to talk about the specific techniques. I am going to talk about the last 40 minutes or so of the seminar, though, which is where Rafa, Gui and Durinho rolled with all of us.

I’ll explain how it works, and then give the two reasons I think it’s an awesome idea for seminar-givers to implement. Everyone gets in a line, and when one of the three instructors is free, you jump in with one of them. You get three minutes with them or until they submit you, whichever comes first.

Hey, I did something right! … and it still worked out how you’d expect.

I got to roll with Gui, which was exactly what I’d hoped for (and big thanks, Hameed, for helping me rig the line). You don’t need me to tell you how good he is, so I won’t (but he is, and his top pressure is heavier than any dude our size has a right to).

What I will say is that he’s great to roll with. I watched him adjusting his intensity to the skill level of his partner. Mostly, he’d just stay five percent or so ahead of you. If you did something good offensively, he’d let you work it; if you defended one of his attacks correctly, he’d move on to something else. Let’s be real, this is a guy who could get pretty much whatever he wants on you, however he wants it, so that was really cool of him.

After tapping me with a wristlock from a mounted triangle position. Really fun 3-minute or so experience.

This leads me into the two reasons I think this is a great practice for seminars. First, it’s obviously really fun and rewarding for the attendees. If you want to learn from someone chances are you want to roll with them. It’s a learning experience and also just a fun story to have, no matter how it ends up.

But the second reason, I believe, offers some insight into the Mendes Brothers. These are guys that think all the time about optimizing their training. That’s why they’re the elite: they’re constantly working on ways to get better at jiu-jitsu.

Now, normally, when upper belts roll with me, they’re basically doing me a favor. They’re not going to get as much out of the experience as I am, from a learning perspective. And when you’re a world champion, it’s not like sparring with a random blue belt is going to teach you anything new.

However, rolling for 45 minutes to an hour straight, against people of varying skill levels and sizes — that’s likely to be a great workout, if nothing else. Also, having to adjust from me (a 145-pound old guy blue belt) to one of the next guys in (a 200+ pound black belt) is likely to present interesting challenges.

What I’m saying is this “line of rolling” isn’t just fun for us participants, it’s a way for Rafa and Gui to get some training in while they’re teaching. Maximizing your time like this demonstrates intelligence and efficiency — and isn’t that really at the core of jiu-jitsu?

Besides the excellent instruction, the Mendes Brothers and Durinho were all very cool, too. At Hameed’s request, Durinho even gave him the distinct honor of a post-seminar judo throw. I have pulled the photos together into this animated GIF for your amusement.

You Gonna Get Thrown (you might have to click on this to make the animation work)

Bottom Line: This was a great experience. If you have the chance to take one of these seminars, don’t balk at the asking price: it’ll be worth it.