Grapplemania Recap

This blog post will be organized into two questions.

QUESTION THE FIRST: Is it weird that two or three of my favorite matches from this past tournament were ones I lost? 

U.S. Grappling’s Grapplemania tournament just wrapped up. It’s always a fun and well-run tournament, and I decided to do six divisions: all the 30+ divisions in gi and no-gi, all the young man weight divisions gi and no-gi, and both 30+ absolute open weight divisions. (When U.S. Grappling posts the complete results, I’ll tell you how my team did, but for now I just have some anecdotes).

I knew doing six divisions meant I would be really tired by the end of the day, but I didn’t realize exactly how tired. I’d done all eight divisions on two occasions, and only one of those gassed me out this hard.

Part of it was competing against guys with super cardio: one of my opponents that I faced three times used to be a professional runner, and he’s great at pushing the pace to tire you out. Part of it was doing absolute: you’ve got to work pretty hard to stop big guys from passing your guard.


The thing is, when you’re tired, your technique takes over — because it has to. Rickson Gracie has said that he’d exhaust himself before certain training sessions just to be sure he wasn’t muscling anything or using explosive athleticism.

Now, I don’t have muscles or explosive athleticism to begin with, so you can be sure I’m using all technique by the middle of the day.

Don't sweat the technique.

That’s why I think my three favorite matches were ones where I came up short. In each of these matches, I gassed hard. But I was able to fight through that adversity and survive, relying on technique to do so. I always try my best to win, but one of my main goals for the tournament was to focus on the training and learning aspect of competition as well. I’ll give one example of these matches to demonstrate what I mean.

In a six-minute blue belt match, I faced that tough, skilled opponent with great cardio I mentioned before. For the first third of the match, I was doing well. Then, the pace he forced me to fight at made me bonk, and bonk hard. I seriously felt nauseous. That’s when he passed. It got worse from there: he flowed through a series of bad positions for me — took knee on belly, mounted, went back to knee on belly, etc. Ugh.

Out of necessity, I went into survival mode. I told myself, “you have one minute of hard rolling in you during this match. You have to survive the onslaught for three minutes, and then just go full-out and try to submit him.”

And that’s what happened. I didn’t win, of course, and lost by a lot of points, but I was really happy with my survival skills (which are at the core of jiujitsu) and with the fact that I’ve gotten to know what my body is capable of.

No win for you this time!

No win for you this time!

At the end of the day I had three silver medals and one bronze out of seven divisions. Sure, I would have loved to get one gold or pick up one or two more medals, but on balance I’m happy with how I did.


QUESTION THE SECOND: Does anyone know where to buy a giant novelty check?

I ask because the year is half over, and one of my donors and I want to deliver the charity project funds with one of those comically large Ed McMahon-style checks.


Quick recap for those who are new to the blog: I’m donating $10 for every match I win this year to the Women’s Debate Institute. But to encourage others to get involved, I asked people to vote on a second charity to benefit as well. I’ve told some folks this, but the winner of that vote was anti-cancer charity the George Pendergrass Foundation, edging out other worthy causes like Reporters Without Borders, RAINN, the
Wounded Warrior Project and Carolina Basset Hound Rescue.

A few gracious people offered to match my donations, meaning every win this year is worth $25 to charity so far. There are still a ton of cool rewards you can win if you get involved, including a bottle of the rarest and best beer in the world, Westvleteren 12. Check out all the ways you can get involved and help.

And now, let’s tally the results! I won seven matches this time around, adding to the total from before. Here’s where we’re at:

Matches Won This Tournament: 7
Total Won For The Year: 11
Money Raised For Charity: $175
Total Raised So Far: $275

Custom Photoshops: 2
Private Lessons: 1

Next stop: the Atlanta Open on Aug. 31. I can only do one division there (two if I get really lucky), so there won’t be as many matches for me. But Team Royce Gracie North Carolina is going to take a big group of people, so hopefully we can make some noise.


Hope To Cost Myself Some Money Tomorrow

My tournament schedule this year got thrown for a loop with a couple of nagging injuries, but we’re back at it tomorrow for US Grappling’s Grapplemania in Henderson, NC.

If you haven’t read the site much, I’m donating $10 for every match I win this year to the Women’s Debate Institute and to another worthy charity, the George Pendergrass Foundation. (I’ve had a few generous folks agree to match me as well: thanks, all.)

It’s rare that we hope something we paid for winds up costing us more money, but that’s where I’m at. Here’s hoping I come home with a light wallet but a happier guy. Full report to follow.

The Book of Lists And Decision Trees

I’m a compulsive list-maker. Maybe it’s because I have a lot of things going on. Maybe it’s because all my concussions make my brain the consistency of vichyssoise. Or maybe it’s just an effective organizational strategy.

Because jiu-jitsu is so vast, the techniques I use today bear little resemblance to the techniques I used 6 months ago. Sometimes, that’s good (hey, I’m learning new stuff!); sometimes, that’s bad (hey, I’ve stopped using the stuff that works in favor of other stuff that’s doesn’t work yet!). Regardless, in a long game like learning jiu-jitsu, list-making can be an effective learning tool. I’d like to talk a little bit about what I try to do, and how it helps me learn.

I’m going to be writing about two related tactics. Making lists of techniques to study and work on in training helps show you where your strengths and weaknesses currently are. And making flowcharts of “If X happens, I can do Y or Z” can help you figure out your game plan for rolling in competitions.

These are two distinct issues. That super-fancy new sweep from Tornado guard may be cool as hell, but you might want to wait before throwing it into the “A” game bucket. The techniques you want to do most in training aren’t necessarily the ones you want to break out at a big tournament. Once you’re in that big tournament, though, you want a decision tree that supports the transitions you want to make.

Let’s talk about basic list-making for training first, since that’s way simpler. I keep a notebook with a few techniques I’m working on from every position. I use Evernote, which is free software that lets you add links to photos, videos and other instructionals. That way I can keep the whole works on my phone and laptop, so if I’m curious what details I’m missing on that new guard pass, I can check it out quickly.

This is what the interface looks like: as you can see, in addition to the notes I write, I can keep notes from class and from seminars I attend, videos of techniques I want to study and other research. You can search by keyword and tag, too, which is useful. (Click to expand the picture)

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 12.24.25 PM

The specific way you actually make a list or flowchart is peripheral, though. We all learn in different ways, and some of us will get more from books than they will from videos, or vice versa. I just think it’s valuable to spend time thinking about these topics, however you do it. The more mental energy you spend on technical matters, the more likely you are to improve. For me, the mere process of making lists reminds me of things I used to do that worked, but that I don’t do any more for whatever reason, and keeps fresh in my mind the new stuff that I’m working on, but am not good at yet.

The lists help me figure out what techniques I know, what I’m comfortable with and what I need to improve. The flowcharts help me organize all these components into a game plan. To illustrate how this works, I made this sample flowchart. We start and end with the orange circles, and the items along the way give us options along the lines of “If he does this, I can do this or this.”

So, for example, we start in the center, standing. If he’s a normal human, I usually shoot and try to take him down. If he’s a very good judo guy or a skillful wrestling guy, I probably pull guard. Then you follow the chart from there.

It’s like choose your own adventure, but with real-life consequences! You’ll want to click on it for the big version in order to really see it.


You’ll note this is an oversimplified version. In this magical flowchart world, we never get swept or get our guard passed. Optimism! (But also, the submission defenses, escapes and guard recovery techniques you use are subjects for a whole other flowchart).

And yes, I should probably have lines between Side Control and Neon Belly and Mount (and, for that matter, between Side Control and Back), because of various transitions. This is more of a “here’s how I would do this,” with some jokes thrown in, than an actual game plan.  Although it does have some elements of my actual game plan in there — you’re welcome, opponents!

The point isn’t to have a rigid structure that tells you exactly what to do in every situation. The point is, if you think a lot about your options from different positions, you’re more likely to smoothly flow toward those options than if you haven’t thought much about them before. Don’t think that just because the flowchart says you’re going for one of these three things from a position locks you into it.

Does anyone else do something like this? If so (whether you do it in a similar or different manner to how I do it), how does it work for you?