Tag Archives: Fun

Brown Belt Promotion

2014-07-01_03-lex-fridman-brown-belt-promotionYesterday, I was promoted to brown belt in BJJ. I’d like to thank Phil Migliarese, Ricardo Migliarese, and all my training partners and friends at Balance and everywhere else in the jiu jitsu world. In some ways it’s just a belt, just a color, but I think it’s a great time to reflect on what I learned from jiu jitsu so far and how grateful I am to be a part of this community.

I’ve grown a lot as a person in the years that I’ve spent on the mat. Jiu jitsu forced me to be honest with myself. It revealed to me my weaknesses and illusions. It made me realize that there are no shortcuts to success: hard work is always required and those who work the hardest tend to achieve the most (in whatever pursuit they take on).


It also taught me the paradoxical fact of human nature, perhaps best stated by Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus:

“There is scarcely any passion without struggle.” – Camus

Happiness is found in the struggle, in the challenge, in the climb. I learned to set difficult goals, but not to dwell too much on them. Life happens in the moment, not in the future. So while “struggle” usually requires long-term goals, happiness is found in the “now”. That all leads to the two things I look for on the mat:

  1. Challenge.
  2. Fun.

My personal goals for brown belt are two-fold: (1) compete, compete, compete and (2) become a better teacher. I don’t think I’ll ever be an instructor, but I do enjoy discussing techniques and principles with people. What I would like to learn is how to better explain what’s on my mind clearly, concisely, with philosophical depth, and a slight tinge of Russian flavor.

I’ve come to a tough spot in my career that requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice. Jiu jitsu for me is a hobby. My life, work, and passion are in my academic pursuits. That is where I believe I can contribute the most to the world, and more importantly, that is what I love doing the most. Still, jiu jitsu is a grounding force, a place I return to time and again to get humbled and to reflect on my place in the world. The challenge is to find a balance: not a lazy balance, but a productive balance.

I will wrap this post up with another excerpt from The Myth of Sisyphus. In this essay, Camus uses the example of Sisyphus, a figure in Greek mythology, who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. This (in a nutshell) is the struggle. It may be meaningless, but still there is fulfillment in it. There is real happiness in it. The essay concludes:

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain… This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”  – Camus

Congrats to everyone else getting promoted on July 12. I wish I could be there to celebrate, but I will certainly be there to be break in the new belts.


How to Practice Taoism: 3 Steps to Happiness

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to know.” – Winnie the Pooh

winnie-the-pooh-piglet-what-day-is-itAfter some tough training on Sunday morning, I got coffee (no sugar) with a couple friends in what was jokingly referred to as a book club. The three of us recently agreed to read The Tao of Pooh. It’s a book that introduces Taoism through the example of Winnie the Pooh. I prefer philosophy to be delivered with a baseball bat not with a cute fuzzy half-naked bear, but I knew very little about Taoism so this served as a good introduction, despite the style of the delivery.

I’ll cut to the chase. Taoism is a philosophy of going with the flow: not resisting nature but going with it. Like love, sex, fighting, psychodelic drugs, it’s a thing that can’t be fully described with words, it has to be discovered through experience, through searching. Ultimately, taoism is less book club, more fight club. Less think, more do. Less intellect, and more direct sensory experience.

So, now to the title of the post… There is no clear way to “practice” taoism, but here are three ways in which I look to apply the ideas of taoism in my own life.

1. Taste vinegar with a smile.

Enjoy all experience, good or bad, without resisting it, for the inherent beauty and richness of the balance it produces in the world. Without bitter, there is no sweet. PS: The vinegar reference refers to the vinegar tasters:
“Sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.”

2. Embrace this life, here, now.

Don’t look too much around the corner for what’s next. It’s good to have goals just to give you a practical reason to move along the path of life, but it’s the very act of moving that IS life. The day-to-day process of life is the thing to be enjoyed, embraced, experienced. Here’s Alan Watts conveying this idea with music as a metaphor:

3. Embrace the inner snail.

Do whatever you do in the easiest and most relaxed way you can manage. Move with intention but smoothly, softly without sudden jerks. Without tension or excessive emotion of anger or excitement. Remove the clumsy and the spazzy from your movement and your life. Here’s a good short Gus Van Sant clip describing this very concept of efficiency and grace in movement:

The Tao of Pooh Quotes

Here are some quotes from The Tao of Pooh that I saved on my Kindle.

Two catch phrases to live life by are: (1) “things are as they are”

“You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.”

and (2) “life is fun”:

“When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.”

Resistance is futile, and ultimately a waste in the grand scheme of things:

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”

More, simple human-to-human interaction is just more natural and enjoyable when you don’t try so damn hard. Don’t try, just do.

“The surest way to become tense, awkward, and confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard – one that thinks too much.”

Don’t invest too much of yourself in the “race”. Goals help guide you, but goals are meaningless outside of that. The journey is the experience, and experience is life.

“There are things about ourselves that we need to get rid of; there are things we need to change. But at the same time, we do not need to be too desperate, too ruthless, too combative. Along the way to usefulness and happiness, many of those things will change themselves, and the others can be worked on as we go. The first thing we need to do is recognize and trust our own Inner Nature, and not lose sight of it.”

Happiness is in the today not the tomorrow:

“A way of life that keeps saying ‘Around the next corner, above the next step,’ works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good.”

The journey of discovery should start by be directed inwards. And does it ever need to go beyond that?

“How can you get very far,
If you don’t know who you are?
How can you do what you ought,
If you don’t know what you’ve got?
And if you don’t know which to do
Of all the things in front of you,
Then what you’ll have when you are through
Is just a mess without a clue
Of all the best that can come true
If you know What and Which and Who.”

What Song Represents Your Jiu Jitsu?

“You are the music while the music lasts.” – TS Elliot

macklemore-thrift-shop-jiu-jitsuPaul Wickes, a recent black belt, instructor, experiments a lot in his teaching of jiu jitsu. Experimenting is interesting to me because that’s how things get discovered. Of course, my personality is one that tends to avoid experimentation. For example, I’ve eaten oatmeal in the morning for the last several years, unless I wake up in a foreign place with a tiger and a baby (Hangover reference), and oatmeal is not on the menu. But, I try to force experimentation on myself.

That leads me to something that Paul asked people in class yesterday, and I had to write a blog post about it. The question was: what style of music represents your jiu jitsu as it is and as you want it to be? He was mostly asking about the latter (what you want it to be) but I think the former is important to.

I guess the question is asking if your highlight video had a soundtrack, what would make the most sense? Instead of “style of music”, I think picking a representative song (without thinking too much) is probably the way to go, since the question is absurd in premise anyway. For what I want my jiu jitsu to be, my off the cuff answer was Macklemore’s Thrift Shop. Another example, in the same vein, is Sabotage by Beastie Boys. The music is catchy, “playful”, active, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, while still being somewhat flashy. So yeah, at that instant, I wanted my jiu jitsu to be Thrift Shop by Macklemore:

Unfortunately, my jiu jitsu is currently a lot closer to Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt: slow, simple, heavy, and full of old man wisdom and painful lessons learned. Nothing light, playful, or upbeat about it:

I didn’t catch everyone’s answer, but I know Paul himself wanted his jiu jitsu to be funk, and Elliot (a very unorthodox brown belt) wanted his jiu jitsu to be polka, which is somehow fitting for his game.

Check out people’s song suggestions on Facebook and on Reddit.

BJJ and Judo Competition Goals for 2014

worlds_medalI’m a big believer in setting goals: tough, reachable, and numeric.

Most of my day is spent at my job (that I love) but jiu jitsu is an escape from that, and an important escape. It’s the most easily accessible, systematic way I know of taking myself out of my comfort zone: especially when I compete.

I keep my goals for work and life private, but for jiu jitsu and judo I like to write it in a blog so that my teammates and friends might join me in on some of these, and we can support each other. So here we go…

Competition by Numbers

These are numeric goals I MUST reach, no matter what. It’s a small simple list, but that’s what a goal list should be. The rest of this post is philosophical chitter-chatter.

  • Win: Win 100 matches in BJJ competition (gi or no-gi).
  • Submit: Get 50 submissions in BJJ competition (gi or no-gi).
  • Judo: Win 10 matches in judo competition.
  • Big Throws: Throw 5 black belts for ippon in judo competition

Mindset Goals

These are not really “goals”, but things to keep in mind and strive for, in order to make the actual numeric goals make me a better human being and fit into my life.

  • Lose: It’s okay to lose over and over. Lose a million times, as long as I reach the above goals.
  • Forget: Put every loss behind me immediately (except for the technical mistakes made). Just because I get mounted and submitted, doesn’t mean I can’t come back in 5 minutes and return the favor to the same guy.
  • Fun: Have fun competing and training. Smile (at least on the inside) and enjoy the fuck out of the ride.

Competition Attendance

Again, these aren’t really goals but are guides. Travelling far for a tournament is tough especially when I’m working weeks of 10-12 hour days, so I’m not going to put the pressure on myself that I *must* do it, but I do strongly believe I should and want to. Here are the BIG tournaments that I want to attend with the full intention to win gold.

  • World Pro Trials Montreal
  • Pans
  • NY Open
  • Worlds
  • No-Gi Pans
  • No-Gi Worlds

See “Forget” above. It’s very important to put any losses at a major tournament immediately behind me.

Drilling, Cardio, Training

I set drilling, training, and cardio goals often and I think these goals work a lot better on the scale of 1-3 months. Competition goals are the ones that work better on the scale of 1 year, so that’s what I did in this post.

Hellfish International In-House BJJ Tournament

hellfish-international-in-house-bjj-tournament-medalI competed at the Hellfish in-house tournament last week, but it sometimes takes me a few days/weeks/months/years to write a blog post. The two people that read this blog don’t complain often enough.

It was a good experience. In-house tournaments are awesome, especially ones run by the venerable Tim Carpenter and the fighting Hellfish. Honestly, I learned just as much as I did traveling to California for Worlds, while paying almost nothing. Funny thing was that I was more nervous at the in-house, because so many of my friends and training partners were there. So I was more cautious than usual, and so wasn’t happy with the kind of jiu jitsu I played, even though I was lucky enough to pull out a win in all three matches.

Here’s a picture of my ass (it’s the only pic I have without my face in it):


Hellfish In-House: The Movie

Here is the movie that the critics are already talking about for this year’s Oscars:

Tim Carpenter Post-Tournament Analysis

Tim and Ricardo weighed in with their in-house tournament experience:

Surviving a Guillotine

lex-hellfish-tournament-guillotineI learned a lot of tough lessons, but the one that stuck with me most is captured pretty well by the picture on the left. In a tough match with a teammate, I was up on points in a deep guillotine from a takedown, with 30 seconds left. I went into it based on the fact that this position is supposed to be safe, but because I was breathing very hard, I was stuck there, and he had a good angle on it, I felt like I was going to go out and I couldn’t breath. But that was just panic talking. THAT’s what jiu jitsu taught me. Even when adrenaline is going crazy: trust the technique and relax…

Celebrity Sightings

No tournament would be complete without a few black belt celebrity sightings. First, the superfight champion Steve Plyler, featuring the best hair in jiu jitsu:


On deck, we have the beautiful Dom Cosenza and the legendary Ronnie Wuest:


And finally, we have the animal himself, Ricardo Migliarese, entertaining a bored 3-year old spectator:


History of Innovation Summarized by Two Cat Videos

I recently got to see Moshe Kam‘s presentation on How Art Intersects with Technology in Cinema and was amazed to hear the history of innovation that defined this industry condensed into a one hour presentation. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. And yet, while the tools changed, the things that entertain “the masses” have not. Example: cat videos.

Here’s a video from none other than Thomas Edison from 1894 of “boxing cats”:

And then, 117 years later, here’s a video that uses a century of innovation in film to bring us the same kind of cat-fueled entertainment:

PS: I’m fully aware, that most cat videos do not have anything like the complexity of the two videos above, and are in fact just videos of cats being cats:

The Dude Abides: Lessons for Jiu Jitsu from The Big Lebowski

The bowling scene from The Big Lebowski is pretty much an exact representation of the two types of characters that I encounter in competition: The Dude and Jesus. One is care-free and the other is a caricature of self-assured grandiosity. Both are confident of victory and fearless in their own way. Here’s the scene:

Most competitors embody some aspect of both. I go back and forth as well, landing somewhere between wearing a pink matching outfit and kicking back with a white russian (vodka, kahlua, and cream).

Here’s some more brilliant absurdity from John Turturro (playing Jesus):

Too Old for The Internet: Meme Illiteracy

College Humor published an image a while back that basically summarizes the memes and celebrities that have defined “The Internet” over the past few years. See the interactive version here. Here it is in image form:


I was surprised to see that I only knew about 10% of the memes referenced, even with the legend. Some of them vaguely sounded familiar, but the vast majority looked like a door into a Hunter S Thomson-like universe I’ve never visited.

This is one way to see the internet: a mosh pit of absurdity and wit. The thought that these characters have garnered billions of views on various social sites reminds me once again that I have no grasp of who we are as species.

No More Tackle Football: Matt Turns Thirty

matt-lex-allen-brad-harandi-bashMy best friend Matt (the brown guy in the picture to the left) turned 30 this weekend. He does a barbeque thing in the park every year that has become a tradition at this point. I try to make sure that I’m there every year, because these are some of the ugliest dudes I know, and so it gives me a much needed annual confidence boost.

We play various sports all day, talk shit, and eat burgers (and in my case: a veggie medley that naturally accompanies a last minute weight cut for some upcoming grappling tournament). I get a lot of crap for this. They are jealous of the fact that I belong to the elite club of people who have ever ordered a salad at a diner.

Tackle Football

For many years, the highlight of the day has been a game of tackle football. Naturally, this was the time and place for many of us to prove for recorded history that we can still hit hard and get hit no problem. This year we all collectively retired from this violent ritual and instead opted for the game of TOUCH football. This was also the first year a few of us actually stretched a little, trying to justify it as a sign of wisdom, not a sign of old age.

pete-allen-bags-dominationPictured right are my other two buddies Pete and Allen. I put this picture up because most of the competitive spirit that was usually reserved for tackle football was channeled into the game of bags. We did a 16+ man tournament that Pete and I won. Every team pretty much had a good person and a shitty person. I was the shitty person on my team, Pete doing the bulk of the actual winning. But because no one expected anything from me, the rare times I scored were a much celebrated event. Since it has become such a tradition, all the guys got together to shop custom football uniforms and now we look legit!


At the Dog Park

rex-matts-dogThe other thing I noticed is that everyone (single or married) now had kids or dogs or both. Rex (pictured left) is Matt’s 16 month old fierce animal. He was probably 5 times smaller than any of the other dogs in the dog park, but in his mind he was the alpha. This is inspirational to me on many levels, in life and in sport. Off the battlefield, he is a sweet guy and fun to play with. Also, has a one track mind when it comes to food: he likes it all. My dog, Homer (at 200+ lbs), was very picky about the kind of things he liked to eat. Him and Rex would make a good eating couple.

Epic Ping Pong Battle

Continuing with the theme of unmanly sports, I got to video the end of a ridiculously competitive (and somehow fun) game of run-around-the-ping-pong-table. Allen and Pete were the last two remaining “competitors”. Both of them took off one of their shirts, which for old people is a big deal:

It was good to see everyone. I love these folks. I’ve known most of them for 17+ years, and they really haven’t changed a bit.

Train Less and Save the Fun Stuff for Last

It’s been said many times in many ways that “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”, but I was reminded of it with a particularly good phrasing of this concept in a new book Winning on the Ground by AnnMarie De Mars (her blog):

“The difference between being #1 in the world and #100 isn’t so much the hours on the mat. It’s what you are doing in those hours.”

I think this applies to people who train professionally as well as to people who train as a hobby for different reasons. In the former case, your body and mind can only take so much in a day. Anyone who’s ever tried to drill (really drill) a move for an hour will know the wear it can have on you, not physically, but mentally. The focus required to perform a technique to the best of your ability is as draining as trying to solve a difficult math problem (or puzzle for the non-math-inclined).

For the hobbyist, the reality is that you really do have a very limited amount of time per day that you can train. Ironically, with the higher constraint on time, I find that people do less of the good stuff (drilling very specific techniques, transitions) and more of the fun stuff (rolling in jiu jitsu, randori in judo).

rocky-in-russia-in-the-snowI was always of the opinion that you have to earn the fun stuff. To me “fun” is rolling without any constraints on my game, without a focus on a particular position/technique, etc. That’s very good to do a lot of, especially if you have 4-6 hours a day to train. But if I only have an hour (or less as usual), I have to become my own drill sergeant. I’ll get in 30-60 minutes of hard fast paced drilling on a dummy or a partner no matter what, and enjoy a few sets of training. It’s a balance between short term “happiness” and long term “happiness”. Ultimately, I really enjoy getting a better understanding of the art of jiu jitsu, and that requires the not-so-fun process of drilling and rolling with a purpose.

By the way, I’m also realizing that “drilling” is like “dieting”. It’s a concept that is used by a lot of people to describe a wide variety of activities. So I have to be more specific. I do a lot of kinds of drilling, but the one I refer to as “really drilling” is where I do 100-200+ reps in 30 minutes of one technique. This isn’t some new technique, it’s one that I’ve already done thousands of reps of and most importantly have tried in positional training, live training, and competition. Every other kind of drilling is more relaxed. This is hard work. Productive hard work.