Tag Archives: competition

Losing is Valuable when Winning is Everything: Why I Compete

The greatest benefit I get from competition is when I lose, having given everything I can to win. Let me explain…

Miyao-cryingI believe that competition is one of the most potent catalysts for honest self-analysis. I’m not just talking about jiu jitsu. In the hours and days after a tough tournament loss, I’ll often struggle with the question of “what the hell am I doing with my life?” That question can take many forms from the small to the big, from “why the hell is my butterfly sweep not working?” to “why the hell am I not pursuing the job I’ve always dreamed of having?” Through this process of questioning, I arrive at new resolutions, changes in everything from daily rituals to long-term goals. And then, the hard work begins. In this way, competition presents the sobering catch-22 of life that we often grow the most from failure. We find ourselves not in the achievement of our dreams, but in the grind toward them…

“I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”
– Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

PS: Check out my conversation with Ryan Hall about the value of competition:

Dunning-Kruger Effect: The Illusion of Superiority or How the Stupid are Too Stupid to Realize They’re Stupid

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” – Bertrand Russell

Dunning-KrugerIn researching some material on skill acquisition, I came across the mention of the Dunning–Kruger effect. It describes the cognitive bias of incorrectly estimating you own competence at a skill. The Cornell University researchers after whom the effect is named (David Dunning and Justin Kruger) highlighted that the unskilled often over-estimate their abilities, while the skilled often under-estimate their abilities. In their own words:

“The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”

Put more simply: The stupid think that everyone else is stupider. The smart think that everyone else is smarter.

homer-everyone-is-stupid-except-meI have experienced this effect in my own beliefs with many of the activities I’ve undertaken, and perhaps there is a good reason for our minds to work like this. If we correctly estimated our own incompetence when first learning a skill, the sheer enormity of the undertaking might be too overwhelming to continue. At the same time, once you become an expert in a skill, it may be beneficial for continued growth to believe that there are a lot of people out there who are far more skilled than you. This gives you reason to continue striving to improve (in as much as competition is a motivator).

The practical conclusion I draw from this very human self-delusion is that I need to constantly look for ways to gauge my actual skill-level in the most objective way possible. For sports, that’s easier because often you can evaluate yourself directly against others in organized competition. For intellectual pursuits, like in academia, this is far more complicated. You have to seek feedback from your peers and social circles. However, this process is fraught with bias as the following video describes:

Metamoris 4 Predictions: Galvao, Lister, and Keenan Win by Submission

Metamoris 4 is going down on Saturday, August 9. Check out the countdown videos here. And check out the Around the Mat show previewing Metamoris:

The card is:

  • Chael Sonnen vs. Andre Galvao
  • Josh Barnett vs. Dean Lister
  • Saulo Ribeiro vs. Robert “Comprido” Medeiros
  • Vinny Magalaghaes vs. Keenan Cornelius
  • Gary Tonon vs. Kit Dale
  • Secret Match

metamoris-4-predictions

Here are my predictions:

  • Galvao submits Sonnen, because Galvao is 6x ADCC medalist and a 13x Worlds medalist with many of his best performances being relative recent (2011, 2013, 2014).
  • Lister submits Barnett, because submitting Dean Lister is nearly impossible, and not getting heel-hooked by Dean Lister is equally hard, even for a catch wrestling specialist and top notch jiu jitsu black belt like Barnett.
  • Saulo draws Comprido, because Saulo is too patient and methodical to get a submission in 20 minutes on another patient and experience old-timer.
  • Keenan submits Vinny, because Keenan will create scrambles where submission opportunities will arise, and in 20 minutes, statistically speaking, no one can escape his wizardry.
  • Gary Tonon draws Kit Dale because Gary is probably the hardest person to submit on this whole Metamoris card and Kit Dale is incredibly good at controlling position and not making mistakes that will result in Gary ending up on his back. If this is no-gi, then maybe Gary catches a heelhook or an RNC, but in the gi, it’s a draw.

I’m hoping the secret match will be between Joe Rogan and Ed O’Neill, but more likely it’ll be a match involving a Gracie, hopefully something epic like Renzo Gracie vs BJ Penn.

What are your predictions?

First Brown Belt Tournament: Grapplers Quest U.S. Nationals

DSC_0065-lex-1st-place

I competed at Grapplers Quest US Nationals yesterday. This was my first tournament as a brown belt. The brackets were small (2 or 4 people) but I did 4 divisions and ended up with 3 golds and 1 silver. I won 5 matches (four by submission) and lost one match in the absolute by an advantage. The main lesson I learned is that need to be quicker and more aggressive in the initial exchanges against larger opponents: attack, attack, attack. I can’t just let them get a comfortable position because they have the strength to hold me there, forcing me to take bad risks. Lesson learned.

lex-fridman-brown-belt-footlock-submission-grapplers-quest

I’ve been working on a few new techniques in the past few months so it was nice to test them out against people who were going 100% and wouldn’t tap unless the submission was really on. That’s one of the biggest benefits of competition is you get to really see what works and what doesn’t, or more accurately, it reveals the problems in your game (from the mental to the technical).

DSC_0079-bassil-lexSeveral of my teammates competed. For some, it was their first tournament. Everyone did well. I’d like to especially give a big congrats to Bassil Hafez (in the picture) for winning his purple belt division, but more importantly, for stepping up to do the advanced no-gi absolute $1000 division. I truly believe he has a solid chance of winning that division. The kid’s got heart. He faced Rustam Chsiev in the first round and lost 4-0 in a great match. Rustam ended up winning the division, beating Garry Tonon in the finals. My favorite part is how disappointed he was at this loss. He truly believe and wanted to win the absolute. That’s something I often talk to my instructor Ricardo Migliarese about is that confidence is a prerequisite to achieving anything on the mat (and in life).

I look forward to many more tournaments at brown belt. I have a few tournaments coming up are NAGA, PGL, and a catch wrestling tourney, all leading up to a very tough middleweight division at No Gi Pans in NYC on September 27.

DSC_0084-steph-lex-with-giI’m grateful to my girl Stephanie (in the picture) who was there before, during, and after being the biggest fan, and making the usually long wait easy.

My Experience at the Hellfish International No-Gi Championship

medal-hellfish-no-gi-championships-lex-fridmanLast weekend, I competed at the second installment of the famed international Hellfish tournament hosted by the equally famed Tim Carpenter. Check out his jiu jitsu school and blog.

The tournament was awesome. My experience competing was sweet and yet bitter like the not-quite-yet-ripe bananas that were sold at the concession stand.

I had 5 tough matches, losing in the finals to end up with 2nd place and a medal that makes the IBJJF Worlds medal look like a McDonald’s happy meal toy.

This was an open-weight division with 5 purple belts and 2 brown belts. I was right in the middle, weight-wise, at 183 lbs. The heaviest was Tim Williams (1st place) at  210-220ish, and lightest was Dan Pacific (3rd place) at somewhere around 110-180 lbs. Every one of these guys was very good. Below is the picture where it looks like we are standing on a podium… but we are not. Also, it’s hard to tell, but crucially important to mention, that the 1st place medal is black (not gold) and has skulls on its ribbon. And rightfully, the ribbons for 2nd and 3rd place are flimsy and flowery to bring those who wear them shame.

hellfish-lex-fridman-tim-williams-dan-pacific

Lesson Learned #1: Russians

A Russian coaching a Russian. This lesson is yours to be learned, reader.

“You know the easiest thing about fighting Russians? Nothing.” – Anton

Lesson Learned #2: Losing

Last person to submit me was Garry Tonon over a year ago, and now: Tim Williams. Both were no-gi matches and both had incredibly strong squeeze on their chokes. I made mistakes in both cases, and worked to fix them right away in training after.

I try to strike a balance between hating losing and taking everything in life (good or bad) with a chill smile. Losing leaves a sting for days that’s good for the ego. I soak in it for a bit, and then let it go. I come out on the other end of that feeling a better grappler and a better human being.

Lesson Learned #3: Refereeing is Hard

I got an opportunity (first time) to ref a bunch of matches and came to the obvious realization that the job of a good ref is damn hard. For people that know me, I’m a student of the rules. When I play a game (and it’s all a game), I like to learn the rules, before I let go of them and just compete.

But “knowing” the rules is different than being able to apply them on the fly in the heat of a match. Here are some things that I learned. It’s a lot of text, so you can stop reading now, and go train!

Pay attention: After a while, it’s not so easy to be completely focused for every second of every match. I only had to ref for about an hour or two, but if I had to ref from 9am to 8pm, it’s possible that I would make some bad calls. Like anything else this takes dedication and practice.

White belt scrambles: I saw some crazy white belt scrambles that lasted for 30 seconds and involved 5+ major position changes, and in the end I would give one score, and would actually struggle to remember who was on top and who was on bottom when the scramble started.

Subjective advantages: The biggest thing I realized is there are a lot of subjective decisions left to the referee, especially when giving advantages. So, basically the important thing there is to be consistent. Here are some things the IBJJF clarifies about advantages that was useful for me at this tournament:

  • Escape submission without holding position: Rule #3.3.1 When one athlete comes to point-scoring positions but only gets out of the submission in hold without staying in these positions, he/she will not receive any advantage for that positions.
  • No advantage for a takedown if it started as a defense to a sweep: Rule #3.4 Athletes who, in defending a sweep, return their opponent back-down or sideways on the ground shall not be awarded the takedown-related two points or advantage point.
  • Assessing “danger”: 5.2 An advantage is counted when the move to a point-scoring pass position is incomplete. The referee should assess whether the opponent was in any real danger and if the athlete clearly came close to reaching the point-scoring pass position.
  • Assessing “danger” again: 5.3 The athlete shall be awarded an advantage-point when he/she attempts a submission hold where the opponent is in real danger of submitting. Again, it is the referee’s duty to assess how close the submission hold came to fruition.

Never forget: I’m expected to remember (sometimes for over a minute) how the positions progressed so that when a new position is finally stabilized, I can give points or advantages. See the “zoning out” problem above. (Rule #5.4: The referee may only award an advantage point once there is no longer a chance of the athlete reaching a point-scoring position.)

Half guard: Why, why, why are we still supposed to give an advantage for reaching half guard? I don’t care if your opponent’s back is flat on the ground. I don’t care if you have an underhook and he is weeping from the shoulder pressure. Get past his legs! This one was a very annoying rule, because it forced me to pay attention to the incredible amount of half guard hugging that was going on. (Rule #5.7 Examples of Advantage Points: When the top athlete achieves half-guard position, with exception to reverse half-guard.)

Other Highlights

Marco Perazzo, of NJMA fame, and an interviewee on the Take It Uneasy podcast, was working the scoreboard. He brought his alter ego this time: a kind gentle soul who showered me with praise and polite small talk. His previous Hellfish appearance was slightly less reserved:

There was a black belt superfight between two technical, athletic dudes Anton Berzin and Derek Leyer. Just good jiu jitsu. The fans won:

Alright, that wraps up my professional coverage of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Champions were made. Wills were broken. Fun was had by all. I highly recommend that everyone, EVERYONE compete in the next one.

Metamoris 3 Preview (Video) with Podcast Supergroup: Aesopian, Open Mat Radio, Verbal Tap, Take It Uneasy

In 1966, Eric Clapton put together the supergroup Cream that gave the world Crossroads, White Room, Sunshine of Your Love, etc. In the same way, five decades later, Raf Esparza brought together Verbal Tap, Aesopian, Open Mat Radio, and Take It Uneasy  to preview the upcoming Metamoris 3 event. Here are two of the clips, I’ll put the other links up over the next few days.

Eddie Bravo vs. Royler Gracie

I was given a limit of 2 “in Russia” references per response, and I took full advantage:

“In Russia, innocence is preserved for you by the state.”

Kevin put together many words that none of us knew, but his fancy drink and the gi he was wearing made him very convincing:

“This is a Socratic environment.”

Keenan Cornelius vs Vinny Magalhaes

Matt eloquently voiced the opinion of the group with:

“Keenan is so hot right now.”

Kevin countered just as eloquently with:

“Yes, but Vinny has been hot for a very long time.”

Rafael Mendes vs Clark Gracie

Zak Maxwell vs Sean Roberts

Gui Mendes vs. Samir Chantre

Dean Lister vs. Renato “Babalu” Sobral

Metamoris 3 Predictions: A Tale of Awesome Mismatches

Update (Mar 29, 2014): The six video from our panel discussion are now added below.

Metamoris 3 is coming up on Saturday, March 29. It’s 20 minute matches, submission-only. Below is the line-up (along with whether I think it’ll be gi or no-gi). In bold is who I predict will win. I refuse to predict ties, but I know (sadly) several of the matches will likely go the distance without a submission. I’ll be watching this with several friends, and will take a big Russian shot of vodka for every prediction I get wrong.

  1. Zak Maxwell vs Sean Roberts (gi): Zak – armbar
  2. Gui Mendes vs Samir Chantre (gi): Gui – bow and arrow choke
  3. Dean Lister vs Renato “Babalu” Sobral (no-gi): Dean – heelhook
  4. Keenan Cornelius vs Vinny Magalhaes (no-gi): Keenan – triangle
  5. Rafael Mendes vs Clark Gracie (gi): Rafa – armbar
  6. Royler Gracie vs Eddie Bravo (no-gi): Royler – rear naked choke

Do you disagree with any of these predictions? There are some more details below.

I joined a panel of podcasters to talk Metamoris: Raf and Kevin of Verbal Tap, Matt of Aesopian, and Paul of Open Mat Radio and The Journey Podcast. The YouTube links for each of the six videos from that panel discussion are included below:

Zak Maxwell vs Sean Roberts

zakZak was one of my first training partners / instructors. He left the school I was training at after only a couple weeks of me starting there. But I’ve got to know him pretty well through his friends, without ever exchanging more than a few words with him. The guy is a quiet, humble warrior. He is a much more seasoned black belt while still being very young (25 I believe). I don’t see him losing, but I expect this to be one of the more exciting matches, since Sean Roberts has a lot of submissions up his sleeve. Still, with a better guard and better positional control on top, I’m picking Zak with to win by armbar.

Gui Mendes vs Samir Chantre

guilherme-mendesIf you bet against a Mendes brother, you must know something I don’t. Gui is a jiu jitsu mastermind. He is a much more accomplished competitor: a 3x world champ. A tie is possible here, but most likely it’ll be Gui by choke from back control.

Dean Lister vs Renato “Babalu” Sobral

Dean Lister is a philosopher, and that’s thedean-lister-contra-xande-ribeiro-no-metamoris-pro quality I value above all else in a warrior. If this was an MMA fight I’d give Babalu an edge, but even then it’d be a war. But in a 20 minute jiu jitsu match, I don’t see any way that Babalu escapes Dean’s heelhook, and even if he does that is definitely no way that he is catching Dean (one of the hardest guys to submit). So, Dean wins with a heelhook.

Keenan Cornelius vs Vinny Magalhaes

keenan-corneliusAssuming this will be no-gi, both guys are world class. This is artist versus fighter. Like in the song “Devil Went Down to Georgia”, Keenan is Johnny and Vinny is the devil. This will probably be by far the most exciting no-gi match of the tournament. Still, I just don’t see Keenan getting submitted. This is either a draw or Keenan wins by triangle.

Rafael Mendes vs Clark Gracie

rafaClark Gracie has a great offensive guard, so he will be exciting to watch, and he is 30-40 lbs heavier than Rafa, but… Rafa’s last name is Mendes (of the Mendes brothers), and that means you just can’t bet against him, ever. Clark won Pans in 2013, while Rafa won Pans twice, Worlds three times, and medalled at Worlds 5 times. There will be many submission attempts in this match, but in the end Rafa wins by armbar.

Eddie Bravo vs Royler Gracie

roylerThis is unorthodox weird jiu jitsu versus old school orthodox jiu jitsu. This is Goliath coming back after losing to David in 2003. Eddie is full of surprises, heart, flexibility, and creativity. But Royler is a 4x World Champ, 3x ADCC champ, and he has a room full of killers to train with. On the other hand it looks like Eddie is a bit more fired up for this, and he is getting a lot of love from people online, which is understandable. Eddie is a personality and someone that a lot of people connect with. But still, I’m picking Royler to win by rear naked choke.

Answering Reddit Questions

Mismatches that Look Like Good Matches

To me, it looks like every match was brilliantly put together to look like it’s an even match from a distance, but if you look at the actual competition record, it’s a complete mismatch. That’s brilliant because a mismatch is more likely to result in a submission, and that’s what people want to see. But, of course, I could be completely wrong, surprised, and drinking shots all night. To summarize my predictions are:

  1. Zak Maxwell vs Sean Roberts (gi): Zak – armbar
  2. Gui Mendes vs Samir Chantre (gi): Gui – bow and arrow choke
  3. Dean Lister vs Renato “Babalu” Sobral (no-gi): Dean – heelhook
  4. Keenan Cornelius vs Vinny Magalhaes (no-gi): Keenan – triangle
  5. Rafael Mendes vs Clark Gracie (gi): Rafa – armbar
  6. Royler Gracie vs Eddie Bravo (no-gi): Royler – rear naked choke

Do you disagree with any of these predictions?

My Experience at the Submission-Only Tournament in Philadelphia (Good Fight)

podium-lex-fridman-good-fight-championAbout 2.5 years ago, I competed in a submission-only tournament organized by US Grappling and loved it. The rules were simple: no time limits, someone has to win by submission.

Rose Gracie and Javier Vazquez have been championing the idea of submission-only tournaments in organizing the Gracie Worlds and yesterday she teamed up with Jim Fortunato of The Good Fight to run a submission-only tournament in Philly. When you put the words “submission-only”, “tournament”, and “Philadelphia” in the same sentence, you don’t have to say anything else, I’m going. I had a lot of work for a deadline next week, but I couldn’t miss this one, so I put my excuses aside, packed some apples, a gi, my Kindle (in case things got ugly time-wise) and went.

Results

I competed in the 185 lbs purple belt division, but I didn’t weigh myself at all, so I was ready to compete in the 205 lbs division. I decided last year that I’m going to blame my losses on a lack of technique and heart, and not on anything related to weight. I’m a grappler, not a bikini model, so weight cutting, at this level, should be the last thing on my mind. Some people disagree, but that’s where I stand. Technique is king.

As the picture above shows, I won my division. It was one of the bigger divisions at this  tournament with 9 people. That’s small for the tournaments I usually do, but big for a regional submission-only tournament. I have been working on a lot of different submissions lately, but I won all my matches in a boring way: by quick choke. I took what was there and didn’t force anything else.

Rules

The rules of the tournament were like those of the Gracie Worlds, and different from the US Grappling submission-only tournament I mentioned above. Here are the most notable distinctions:

  1. Time limit except finals: All matches except the finals have a time limit of 15 minutes. Finals are no time limit.
  2. No submission, both guys lose: If neither guy gets a submission by the end of the 15 minutes, both lose.
  3. “Reaping the leg” redefined: Loosen the IBJJF reaping the leg rule. Allow reaping the leg unless you are clearly performing an extreme reaping action similar to a heelhook.

Lesson Learned

  1. Submissions are hard to get. I would love to see actual statistics on this, but a lot of the matches I saw (in white, blue, and purple belt divisions) actually went the full 15 minutes with neither guy getting the submission. This was especially true for the heavier weights. I wonder if the story would be different for unlimited time matches. The Good Fight will continue putting on these submission-only tournaments. I think as people learn and adjust to these rules, we will see less stalling and see the competitors open up more.
  2. Don’t let go of submissions too early. In my finals match I went for a quick straight footlock and my opponent tapped my leg once, the ref saw it and said stop. And then my opponent started to complain that it wasn’t a tap, but an attempt to defend the footlock. Even though the ref said the match was over, I honestly believed the guy, and asked if we can keep going, and we did. I felt bad for letting go so quick. It’s a habit I built up in training. I’ve been letting go of certain submissions early so that people don’t hate me for doing them over and over and over. But of course, this is not good for a tournament when it’s important to get a clear tap before letting go. By that I don’t mean “injure my opponent”, but I simply mean to bring his leg/arm to the breaking point and hold it there until a tap is clearly seen by the ref. If I break a leg or arm, I really want to give my opponent a legitimate opportunity to tap first. So, control and steady pressure is key. I don’t want to hurt myself nor anyone I compete against. Winning a grappling match is important, but not that important for me at this stage in my life.
  3. Everyone is friendly. In every submission-only tournament I’ve done, the competitors, the coaches, and the spectators are a lot friendlier. I don’t know why, but my guess is it’s because the #1 reason for complaining and tension is disagreements with the way the refs give points. In a sub-only tournament, there are no points, and the refs don’t have to do anything but watch for whether the guy tapped or not. Plus this style of competition feels a lot more like training. So people relax, open up, and just go for the sub, which results in a more beautiful jiu jitsu. If I have to lose, I would rather lose by beautiful jiu jitsu. It’s when I learn the most.

Memorable Moments: In Pictures

Here are some memorable moments from the tournament. First, and most of all, my friends and training partners Drew Vogel and Christine Vogel (husband and wife) both competed and won their divisions. Drew is a black belt. Christine is a blue belt. Did I mention I interviewed them on the podcast about their trip to Japan? Here is a picture of a cool moment where they were both competing on the mat at the same time:

drew-vogel-christine-vogel

After I was done competing, Christine gave me a delicious sandwich. It was simplicity at its best. Good bread, meat, and a little bit of bacon. No sauce. No nonsense. I compete a lot and I don’t remember the last time I ate something delicious at the venue. I’m usually too preoccupied with the matches, but being forced to take a break and enjoy good food was very zen-like. Just me and the sandwich:

sandwhich

bananas-prashant Outside of good food, a good laugh makes the long wait of a tournament easier. For those in the know, Prashant Paul is a Muay Thai instructor at Control Kickboxing who is a great trainer and a funny dude. I won’t say more about it, except that he made me very uncomfortable in trying to eat a banana. Thanks bud.

sunshine-lex-at-starbucksAfterwards, a few of the Balance folks went to Starbucks. I drank coffee with no sugar, a thing I’m still sticking to. Mark took this picture of me which makes me look a lot more intelligent than I am. So I’ll take this opportunity to say that I’m glad that I got my ass out of bed, ignored all the excuses, and stepped on the mat. If you are asking yourself: “Should I compete?” My answer, for sure is: Hell Yes.

As always it was good to hang out with the usual crazy crowd of competitors, many of whom are now my friends. I have to give a huge thanks to all my coaches and training partners from Balance Studios. Here is a picture of some of my teammates who were at the tournament:

team-balance-good-fight-submission-only

Learn to Win: Compete at Your Skill Level Before You Move Up

Travis Stevens (see my podcast interview with him) posted some cold hard advice on his Facebook page that I think is worth considering for beginners and amateur competitors in general:

“What people don’t understand is you have to “learn” how to win! To many people show up to events that are above there level. As nice as it is to compete at the highest level all your doing is learning how to lose. You may have better technique you may be stronger but until you learn how to win it’s all wasted talent. People always over look this fact an keep showing up to events thinking that one day they will get the hang of it but the reality is all their learning is how to lose. I’ve watched for years people throw away matches because they don’t know how to win their not comfortable winning they don’t know how. There are competitions all over the world for people of all skill levels. Compete in your skill level and once you start earning medals consistently move up a level and so on don’t just jump to the top just because it’s allowed. Learn to win so when the time comes you don’t throw away matches.” – Travis Stevens

Most people in the judo and jiu jitsu communities are quick to expose and criticize “sandbagging”: the practice of competing at a level below yours to easily win a gold medal. But people are not so quick to criticize, and instead sometimes even applaud, the opposite practice of competing above your skill level. If you want to succeed at the highest level, you first have to succeed at every level below that. There are exceptions to this, but they are rare, and too often are more myth than reality.

Competing at “above your skill level” can be easier done in judo because the concept of rank is not very strict in judo competitions. For example, white belts are allowed to sign up to the black belt division at nationals. In jiu jitsu, it’s frowned upon to compete above your rank, but you can still compete at “above your skill level” by doing major international competitions without having done many or any local ones. PS: I talk about this in an interview with Sebastian Brosche.

winning-takes-care-of-everythingI often see this tendency to try to progress too quickly, especially in beginners. Of course, like most things, it has to do with ego. When you win a local tournament at blue belt, you start thinking that you can win the Worlds at blue belt. It’s good to believe that, to train your ass off for that dream, BUT you have to be realistic about what it takes to win Worlds. As Travis says, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to magically win in a division of 130+ people, many of whom train full time, unless you’ve “practiced” the hell out of winning already. How do you practice winning? You win… a lot. You win NOT by sandbagging but by competing at your level over and over until you can medal CONSISTENTLY. As a blue belt, don’t decide you’re competing at Worlds without first competing 5+ times before that at local or regional tournaments like a Grapplers Quest or one of the IBJJF Open tournaments. Otherwise, most likely, you’re going to get smashed, and more importantly will not learn nearly as much from the experience, nor have nearly as much fun.

It’s good to get the experience of traveling to Worlds, especially if you go with a team of good friends. And you will get a lot from it off the mat, as you would from any road trip with close friends. But if you want to have a chance of winning, you better first get a lot of wins under your belt, and you do that by trying out your game locally.

Once you move up the rank to brown and black belt, competing at only major tournaments is more practical, if you’ve already gotten 100+ wins under your belt at the lower ranks. Winning builds confidence better than anything else. And on the flip side, depending on the strength of your character, too much losing can often have the negative effect of breaking down your confidence.

So, embrace the challenge by competing at Worlds, but embrace it intelligently by building up to Worlds by competing at many local tournaments.

Patience in Jiu Jitsu: 8 Reasons You Need It

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau

patient-catIf I had to describe with one word what (in my mind) is required for a successful journey in jiu jitsu, I would have to say: patience.

I find the idea of “no ego” misleading in the short-term, when trying to figure out how to live day-to-day life. It’s like telling a kid in a candy store to have no ego. For myself, it’s better to tell that inner kid to be patient and instead give him a salad.

Speaking of patience, you will probably need a lot of it in order to get through this post, so instead, just skip ahead to the parts you find more interesting:

1. Working on a New Technique in Training

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
– Winston Churchill

Learning a new technique (or position/concept) in training requires that you stick to that new technique even when it is failing, in order to learn how and why it is failing. The result, however, is you might do a lot worse in training than you usually would. For example, I’ve been working on a weird cross-collar grip while passing. Conceptually this solves a few  problems in my game, but for a while it was allowing many people to off-balance me and sweep me easily. Every time I got swept, I learned something. But I’m also human, so if I get swept, I get a little frustrated, and patience is the process of silencing that frustration and sticking to the new technique anyway. By the way, I’m not in the school of thought that says frustration is bad. Frustration is good. Frustration is the fire that inspires progress.

2. Survival: Escaping Bad Positions

Turtle-Guillotine-ProblemsThis was a tough one for me, still is, especially in competition. As a wrestler, my instinct has always been to act in all bad positions as a wrestler acts when he is getting turned to his back. Basically: go berserk. This is often not a good idea in jiu jitsu.

The moment you stop going berserk, you also have to face that weak-ass negative voice inside yourself that says: “Shit, shit, damn it. I’m losing. I’m going to lose.” I have seen some incredible competitors, more often than I ever expected, get in trouble by being swept, get their back taken, or even put into submissions, and… escape to eventually win the match.

The kind of patience required here is very zen. It’s a calm under fire, staying relaxed and focused on defending. Jiu jitsu is a game where taking a step back is sometimes required in order to take two steps forward. As absurd as it may sound, it is difficult to dominate in good positions without the confidence that you can defend yourself in bad positions.

3. Stalemate in Training or Competition

There are several kinds of stalemates in jiu jitsu. One is because the other guy is blatantly stalling by having a controlling grip or position and yet not making any effort to progress from that position. Patience is required here because a lot of guys that do this are waiting for you to make a mistake and capitalize on it.

The second type of stalemate is when you and your opponent are evenly matched in a particular position, both with a controlling grip, and constantly battling to progress position without success. It goes on back and forth: attack, defend, attack, defend. Especially in competition, there is a big temptation here to throw in an unorthodox attack because your main A-game is being defended well. Patience is required here to stick to the game plan, stick to your strength. Unless you have a wild open style, leave improvisation for the academy and keep to well-tested techniques on the competition mat.

The last kind of stalemate is a tricky one, and comes from experience. In competition, you have to face a lot of different games and sometimes you get a weird feeling about a particular position. It may be one you’ve been in many times, but this particular opponent is doing it slightly differently. Patience is required here to “test the waters” and feel out what the opponent is looking for or maybe backup and try a completely different strategy of attack. Follow your instinct, but ignore irrational fear, if you can tell the difference between the two.

I’ll go to chess for a brilliant example of the third kind of stalemate. The following is a world chess champ V. Anand taking almost 2 minutes to think over a standard early position during a world blitz game (where he is given a total of 5 minutes to make all the moves in the game). Why did he wait so long to make such a simple move? Because something was off. His instinct told him to rethink the position and he was confident enough to calmly follow his instinct without letting the pressure of the clock break his focus.

4. Tournaments: Getting There, Waiting There

dmv-hellWhen you sign up for a tournament, most of your competition experience is not spent on the mat competing. You will spend anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days in transportation to and from the tournament (cars, trains, or planes). Once at the venue you will spend an average of about 6 hours at the tournament site, registering, weighing in, warming up, waiting for your first match, waiting between matches. And all that is for one division.

If you decide to do gi and no-gi, or weight and absolute, you can easily show up at 10am and leave at 9pm for a nice 11 hour experience. That’s a lot of dead time. Patience here is required in the same way as in any situation that needs waiting for a long time in an uncomfortable environment: relax and make yourself comfortable.

5. Losing in Competition

reality-mirrorReality is a bitch. And nothing hands you a cold hard dose of reality like losing in competition. Some people blame the ref. Some people blame cutting weight or not cutting weight. Some people blame doing adult instead of masters. And all these could be legitimate reasons, but deep inside you know: you fucked up. This knowledge will stay with you for days, weeks, and in some cases months. Patience here is required in order to channel the pain of that knowledge into productive learning and training, and not into self-pity and clever excuse-making.

6. Training Around an Injury

detour-signDamn this is already a long post, so I’ll hurry up, just three more…

Training injured is a big part of jiu jitsu. If I took time off every time I lightly hurt something I would never train. I have not been seriously hurt (yet) after 4 years of lots of competing, but take my advice for what it is: an opinion. My opinion is that the best way to avoid serious injury is to never take a lot of time off. If you take time off from the mat, you have to be drilling on a dummy or alone or doing yoga-type movements that mimic grappling at least remotely.

But if you are slightly banged up, you have to train around that injury. Patience here is required in order to take the ego hit from not being able to roll 100% or sometimes even close to it. In the grand scheme of things, your guard being passed by a white belt for a few days/weeks does not even come close to mattering, if it means you get to continue training, and living the happy healthy jiu jitsu life.

7. Training with a “Dangerous” Training Partner

trex7The previous one (#6) also applies for training with a “dangerous” training partner. Some people are VERY aggressive or spazzy or just not sensitive to the music of jiu jitsu. Training hard and training rough are very different things. You want to train hard not rough. So if a person has hurt you in the past, you should not try to go HARDER this time. You should go lighter. Let them submit you a few times if ego is an issue at all. If you are training for competition, you should still go hard but the #1 goal should be get from safe position to safe position without injury. Again, my opinion. Take it for what it is.

8. Training When You’re Mentally Worn Out

woman-cryingThis is one I deal with often personally, especially at this stage in my life. I have a lot of deadlines at work, and really my whole life at this time is my work, so sometimes the lack of sleep spills over to my training. Add women on top of that, and the idea of being mentally engaged in 1+ hours of hard rolling with purple, brown, and black belts is just… tough. Patience here is required to suck it up, enjoy the grind, and train your ass off through the mental exhaustion with a beautiful fucking smile on your face.