I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi while I was sick and found it to be full of simple wisdom on how to get good at anything:
Do it every day.
Do the same very select set of tasks.
Keep trying different ways of accomplishing those tasks with the goal of finding a better way.
Jiro is a chef who narrowed his attention on just sushi. No soup, no salad, no noodles, no fish not in sushi form. For that matter, rice has to be part of it. And actually I think he only makes nigirizushi and not makizushi and temaki. Whatever. The point is he does very few “dishes”, has done it for 70+ years, every day, obsessed with always improving.
In jiu jitsu world, I would equate this approach to only working on closed guard bottom and submitting everyone from there. If you end up on top, you let the person sweep you right into your closed guard.
One of the most memorable, and perhaps absurd, moments of the film is when Jiro explains that he used to massage the octopus meat for 20 to 30 minutes in order to make it less tough, but now he does it for 40 to 50 minutes. Then, there was footage of an assistant hand-massaging octopus meat. I know very little about cooking, but that just seemed a bit insane.
Perhaps, that’s one of the best ways to know you’re on the way to mastery: you should be doing stuff that will seem insane to others. So, ask a friend: “Hey bro, are there things you see me doing that you think are insane?” If his answer is “No” then you need to step up your game and massage the f’ing octopus for at least an hour.
Theories about how to get good at a grappling sport are as widespread as theories on how to lose weight, how to pick up chicks, and how to win an argument. Probably the only ingredient that’s consistent among winners in competitive fields is that they have a singular focus and obsession with always improving. The specifics can vary drastically.
The Truth is That There is No Truth
Any one individual who has achieved success will usually tell you a specific set of steps to follow so that you too can achieve success. Naturally, they base their theories on what worked for them. Or they will base their theories on some statistical arguments on “what works for most people”. The problem, of course, is that most people never rise above mediocre, so the statistics are less quantitative and more anecdotal We might as well be using astrology to design your training program.
The following are some brief comments on different approaches and theories I’ve encountered. It is my sincere belief that you can use any of them and achieve success. You can pick one and stick with it. You can keep switching. You can spend 2 hours a day or 10 hours a day. There are no “right” answers, and if statistics tells us anything it’s that you will probably fail, eventually giving up and switching to another set of goals. If those goals don’t have to do with family, friends, and/or survival, then you’ll be fine. The only reason I recommend sticking to the same goal is because I believe that it’s ultimately the most rewarding path. It seems that the more time you spend working at something, the more you enjoy every little step of progress.
Theories on How to Get Good at Grappling
Scientist: Meticulously track how every change in your training regimen affects your development. The goal is to maximize improvement over a fixed (often highly limited) amount of time. This develops a great technician.
Soldier: Follow the training regimen prescribed by a coach without exception. The goal is to do everything you’re told no matter how difficult. This develops a mind that can’t be broken with a high-pace or any other mental challenges.
Free spirit: Follow no regimen at all. Simply live on the mat, and enjoy the hell out of every minute. Drill rarely, flow roll all day.
Theories on How to Lose Weight
The example diets below are just the shallow gist of each diet and are not intended to be all-knowing generalizations.
Stick to Your Kind: Eat only one kind of food, or restrict one kind of food. Examples are no-carb or low-carb diets (e.g. Atkins) or all fruit diets (e.g. fruitarianism, 30 bananas a day).
Portion Control: Count calories, and don’t eat more than a certain amount (e.g. Weight Watchers).
Healthy Rules: Basic rules to follow in order to avoid “bad food” and get more “good food”. Usually some kind of story is woven around it to make the rules seem very reasonable. Examples include Paleo diet, low-glycemic diet, raw food diet, volumetrics, etc.
Theories on Strength and Conditioning
The following are various approaches on improving strength and conditioning outside of doing the actual activity you’re training for (e.g. grappling).
Olympic Lifting and Power Lifting: Go heavy or go home. Focus on big full-body lifts that focus on “slow” strength such as squats, deadlifts, bench, rows, or explosive lifts that focus on power such as snatch, clean and press, jump squats.
Functional Strength: Put the fun in functional. Use just the weight of your body, and not much more for full-body endurance exercises that challenge your body in a way that’s more naturally applicable to the specific sport. Obviously this includes a wide range of approaches from yoga to Herschel Walker’s 1000 pushups a day to MovNat to kettlebells.
Interval Training: Do something intense (e.g. sprint) that takes your heart rate to 180+ for X seconds and spend the next Y seconds trying to recover. Repeat until you want to die. A good split for X/Y is 20/10.
None: Don’t do any strength and conditioning. If you want to be good at a sport, just play that sport, A LOT.
This was a long post, and you probably learned nothing. That’s the point. It takes a long time to learn anything in these endeavors and years down the line you’ll just might figure out that you were doing it all wrong. Good luck!
I’ve been eating a lot, working a lot, enjoying life.
The food is healthy (veggies, lean meat, some fruit) but the quantity is what I’m not limiting. I want to give myself a breather, before diving back into it for the fall.
Before I finish writing this status update, let me go grab a random snack. Why? Because I can! That’s a damn good feeling. Oh and I’ll be competing in the local tournaments in the extra fat divisions. No real cutting until September.
The problem with the “diet” I was on before is that I never quite followed it seriously enough. When I competed at Worlds, my carelessness with food resulted in me being 2 lbs overweight. I ran it off in just 10 minutes and that served as a good warm up, but still this was supposed to be my fat division (middleweight, ~177 lbs). A “fat” division is one I should be able to make without cutting at all or even thinking of cutting.
Competition is stressful, and my goal for this year is to reduce that stress as much as possible. I want to not have to think about any tournaments (except the really big ones) until the day of the event. A strict diet plan leading up to each competition is part of that. While I’ve been very systematic about learning jiu jitsu. I’ve been a complete white belt meathead about learning dieting, and dieting is the thing that breaks many competitors who have demanding jobs (and/or other responsibilities) outside the sport.
Another random rant comes to a close. PS: I had beer with my coach yesterday while watching judo. We should make that a regular thing.
Michael Arnstein is an ultrarunner (runs ultramarathons and longer distances) and like most ultrarunners is a facinating person to read, listen to, and learn from. Here is a good lecture from him on some details of why he runs, his diet, his motivation, his routine, etc:
There are a lot of things mentioned in this video that I’d like to comment on at a later time, but there is one thing he said that really struck me. Michael said that his main challenge in his running life and the most important part is getting enough sleep. He said that if he gets 10 hours of sleep the night before a run, he can run any distance without a problem.
He drew a distinction between rest and sleep. He said that a lot of runners tend to taper before a race. Tapering is reducing the training mileage as you approach the race, so your body is sufficiently recovered and well rested. He suggests that this is a crappy alternative for simply getting a full night’s sleep night after night, and most importantly the night before a race. You may agree or disagree with that idea, but one thing is for sure, most of us recreational athletes do not get enough sleep, and I would venture to guess that most professional athletes do not get enough sleep either, especially before a big competition.
That served as a reminder that I need to take sleep, not rest, more seriously. And also, if I know that I have to wake up at 6am for a tournament next weekend, I better be waking up at 6am for many consecutive days before then.
Anyway, I’m officially declaring to myself as a goal that I’m going to get at least 6 hours of sleep every night for the month of May, and shoot for 8 hours as often as possible. You should do the same.
There are a bunch of methods for cutting water weight for night-before weigh-ins. It seems the golden standard is sweating it out at a sauna. I hate this method, I prefer running (or any kind of exercise) in a sweatsuit instead, even if it kills my legs. I won’t get into why here, but suffice it to say that I like being in discomfort while doing something as opposed to not moving and not doing anything.
That said, the big weight cuts (which I try to avoid for dear life) seem to require at least some sauna. So, I decided to compile a list of gyms in the greater Philadelphia area that I know have saunas. The list is small now, but I’m hoping to get some more suggestions from people. Please leave a comment if you know of another gym in or around Philadelphia that has a sauna.
I’ve met very few top grappling athletes and coaches that don’t see cutting weight as an integral part of the sport. I think it’s an unfortunate but necessary fact of life for the pros. However, a major downside of that is that this mindset trickles down to the amateurs (such as myself and others I compete against), the weekend warriors, the lower ranks. I’ve often met guys going into their first tournament that focus exclusively on the weight cut without putting much emphasis on drilling solid technique, learning, and just enjoying (win or lose) their first tournament experience.
I am an academic by day, night, and weekend. All I do is read, write, think, and program. I’m often sleep deprived. On top of all that, I have a fat kid in my brain that loves food. I think my friends know me as someone who is very strict about his diet, but there is a reason for that. It’s because I lack the ability to stop eating bad food. The only way, I can live happily is by eating healthy and strictly controlling the portions I eat. But all that falls apart on days and weeks when I have tons of work and am not able to sleep as much as I want.
If I don’t have any deadlines coming up at work, and I get full 8 hours of sleep, dieting is easy. But without that, it becomes extremely difficult. So I decided some time ago that I won’t let weight get in the way of my enjoying competition. Whatever weight I am, I decided to enjoy the experience without cutting weight. It’s very difficult for me to beat out the wrestler mindset that wants to come in 10-15 lbs lighter than my fat weight, but I’m working on it, and trying not to letting the obsessive weight cutting of others affect me.
That said, there is a tournament coming up in a month where going to the 163 lbs division (from my current weight of 180 lbs) is good because in that division (light blue belt absolute) I have a chance to win a fully-paid trip to compete in Abu Dhabi. There are two divisions: 163 lbs and below, and 163 lbs and above. I have confidence that I can do well against 200+ lbs guys in terms of strength, but it’s the length (long and lanky) that I struggle with, and at 180-220 lbs guys can get really damn tall.
So the question is, do I want to cut 17 lbs in one month. The weigh-ins are the night before, so a lot of that can be water weight 24 hours before. That’s very important, obviously, since I wouldn’t make such a huge cut otherwise. But some of that (~7 lbs) will have to be real weight, which means dieting, which means more cardio (like running) than usual, which means suffering through the days when I have a ton of work, little sleep, and no chance to eat away the exhaustion.
I don’t know. I have to stay up tonight again, working. My knee is still hurt, and I don’t quite have that mental energy required to go to bed on an empty stomach, but I’ll give it a try. I’m going to compete either way, whatever the division, and am going to enjoy the hell out of it.
I’ll leave the post witha cool video of Krzysztof Soszynski making a big cut for a UFC fight.
Cutting weight is a big part of grappling and fighting sports. I like any system that forces an athlete to fight at the lowest weight they can be at while still being 100% in terms of energy, strength, and mental state without doing things like cutting water weight before a weigh-in and rehydrating right after.
Too often the weigh-ins become a fight in themselves. There is a mindset out there that if you’re in peak shape at 180 lbs, then obviously you need to cut down to 165 lbs. That’s only “obvious” because everyone does it. I think that a system can be put in place that strongly disincentivizes athletes from making such a cut. The ADCC this year has made me believe that such a system is possible and feasible, if not at the amateur level, then certainly for the pros.
Here’s what they did:
First weigh-in is on Friday (the day before competition)
Second weigh-in is right before the first match on Saturday
If you make it that far, third weigh-in is right before the first match on Sunday
And the icing on the cake is that a referee can call for another weigh-in at any time. That means you can’t play games with water weight. Basically, you have to do your damn best to make a real 2-3 month cut by dieting, and step on the scale hydrated and ready to fight.
I know that some ADCC participants really liked this rule and some didn’t. I think the ones that didn’t have simply become weight-cutting experts and thus this new system takes away one of their strengths. But in the long term, I think it’s for the best. After all, we not only want to see the healthiest fighters out there, but also ones that have 100% fuel in the tank, ready to battle.
I guess that if you were to look at my “diet” in the context of how most people eat, you would say that I follow a very strict boring diet. I eat the same thing over and over. It’s simple to make, it tastes good to me, so I see no reason to change. The diet includes:
Veggies with lean ground turkey/chicken
Tuna from a can with veggies or salsa
To me, the most important part of any diet is portion control, or just control in general. Eating anything in excess is bad. I have an addictive personality and I find that there are certain foods that I just can’t successfully control portions with.
Of course, there’s delicious food that has a ton of sugar, fat, and usually both. But because I know that they are clearly bad, I tend to have much less trouble staying away from them (examples: ice cream, fast food, beer, wings, etc). These are the “enemies” that I refer to. I don’t mind keeping them close.
It’s the healthy “friends” like fruit that cause the most trouble for me. Because they are “healthy”, I tend to overeat them. There is literally no limit to how many lbs of cherries I can eat. This basically applies to all carb-heavy foods that one would consider healthy. Oatmeal or whole grain cereal is a good example. In fact, I have to separate the oatmeal I eat into measured portions in order to help avoid the all destructive decision of “should I have more?”
It’s all a little OCD, but it works for me, at least better than the alternatives.
When I first started grappling, I thought I’d just show up once or twice a week, get my ass kicked, and then go home happy. But the more I trained, the more I learned that there are things that I have to do off the mat in order to improve my game or even just to make the whole experience pleasant and feasible as part of a busy life:
Laundry. A gi should never be worn for two practices without being washed in-between (unless you did zero work, but even then). Also it should be thoroughly air-dried.
I used to think that diet was about losing weight. It is. But it’s also about eating stuff that can keep you energized throughout the day and through training. Also, my digestive system is pretty screwed up, so a big part of a diet for me is figuring out what to eat in order to avoid getting sick or having a stomachache in training. If I fail in this aspect, it definitely makes training less fun.
Drink water (to counter-balance the pots of coffee I consume)
Shower. Right away after every practice.
Medical Tape. Most of the taping I do is to cover cuts and mat burn so as to help avoid infection. This is really a major pain in the ass.
Learn the public transit system (the subway and rails are hard enough, but the bus system is a chaotic mess of routes and schedules)
Learn how to stay productive while riding or waiting for the bus/train
Watch competition footage
Watch instructional videos
Read instructional books
The above, to me, is the “jiu-jitsu lifestyle”: doing laundry, taking showers, and riding the bus. It’s not as glorious as sex, drugs, and surfing, but I still love it.
Mike Tyson indeed has gone vegan, though with him the level of dedication or understanding of what it means to be vegan is highly uncertain.
What is important is that there are more and more fighters going vegan, or at least breaking away from some of the more popular diet plans for athletes.
Jon Fitch is one of my favorite fighters, wrestlers, grapplers, and just overall scramblers. He has a fight coming up this weekend at UFC 127. He released the follow light-hearted video on his diet recently:
It would’ve been nice to hear how those meals match up with training sessions (whether he eats before or after), but it certainly looks like he doesn’t eat much, nor does he eat almost any meat.
I’m a big believer that most diet advice is unscientific money-making propaganda. It has just as much of a chance of working for any specific individual as not working. I know that about 99% of people that I run into at the gym swear by 2-6 servings of protein powder a day. They seem to all believe it works. I think it does, but I don’t know, and the science is not clear on this or any other supplement / diet.
Fitch’s relatively low-protein diet should make us think, and at the very least encourage us to try radically different approaches to eating. Personally, I think the video is a bit ridiculous, but I have so much respect for Fitch that I’m honestly considering trying a vegan diet for a couple months. I don’t need to lose weight, this would be just for the sake of learning / exploring. I’m training so often that I would be able to clearly measure the effect a new diet has on my body, mood, energy levels, etc.