Tag Archives: ibjjf

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.

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.

My Experience at 2013 No Gi Pans

lex-fridman-no-gi-pans-2013-ibjjfI competed at the 2013 No Gi Pans this past weekend in the adult purple belt medium-heavy division (175 to 188 lbs). The tournament was in NYC at the usual place: City College of New York. I’ve competed at this venue so often that I remember all the little details of the layout: the bathrooms, bullpen, testing scale, locker rooms, water fountains, and even the quiet places you can go to gather thoughts before “battle”.

There’s a moment at a tournament when I first arrive and walk into the hall/gym where the tournament is going on that I feel like I just came back to see a girl that I haven’t seen in a long time, but have loved all along. (Long thoughtful pause as I take a sip of my whiskey and look out the window for a few minutes). I can’t help but smile. That’s how I know I love competing. I might be full of nerves, and thoughts about crap I have to do for work, but the tournament venue feels like home to me.

Second Match

My division had 15 guys, which is actually pretty light for purple belt adult, but everyone was super tough, and many of the guys could win the division on any given day. That fact was reflected in the matches themselves. It was a low scoring division for the most part. Lots of matches were decided on advantages with no points scored. I lost my second match just in this way, 0-0 with the my 1 advantage to his 3 advantages. Losing is a bitch no matter what happens. There are a lot of lessons to be drawn from that match, but either way a score of 0-0 is a loss for me whether I win or lose.

First Match

My first match I won by a few points against a very good guy who won many big tournaments in Europe, and was making his way to America to test out the competition. I usually don’t like talking to my opponents before the match, but he started a conversation with me and his British accent and genuineness as a human being was disarming. Listen, at the end of the day I don’t care about any of the competing crap. I do jiu jitsu because I like the people that do jiu jitsu, and this guy was a good example. I think I can be close friends with a guy before a match and try to kill him during (not literally). I do this all the time in training. I train at 110% with a bunch of good friends every day. Anyway, the more I compete, the less inclined I am to be a cold douchebag before the match. I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness, at least not for me, and not in jiu jitsu.

Here’s the video that first match:

It turns out that his name is Lee Ambler and he is a recent YouTube celebrity of sorts, even making his way onto ESPN2 with the following video:

I think stepping in to control a situation like that is something that the majority of people in this world would not do. For that I give him much respect.

Competition Team Training

I think that competing is one of the best ways to improve your game, as Josh Vogel and I talked about a couple of weeks ago on the Take It Uneasy podcast. Check it out: Episode 5: Competing as a Black Belt, Antifragile Cats, and Megaton. But, obviously, the hardest part is not the actual tournament but the hard training in the weeks and months leading up to it. That’s the stuff that brings people together, competitor or not. I’m not much of a “rah, rah, go team” guy. I’m far too cautious of what that produces in the real world outside the realms of sport in the times of war. But I do believe that a team working hard together to prepare for a competition is a good way to solidify friendships and in so doing help motivate each other to work harder. Funny how kicking each other’s ass brings people closer together. I have made some very close friends in jiu jitsu, and have learned from some incredible mentors, and a lot of that happens during hard training sessions like the following Balance competition training session one week out from the No Gi Pans:

It doesn’t show much except a crowded mat, since I was too focused on training to dedicate much thought to filming it well. But you get the idea. Good coaches, good training partners, good technique.

Losing Occasionally is Good for You, or So I Tell Myself

Overall, as always, it was a good experience, and I got a chance to watch a lot of my friends compete as well. In the last 3 tournaments I did, it so happened that I haven’t lost a match, so losing here was good for me in a way. It made for a long bus ride home and several days of thinking about what I did wrong and how I can fix it. I’m still thinking about it today.

I have several tournaments coming up this month including US Grappling Diamond State Games and the Abu Dhabi World Pro Trials in NYC. There’s a nice mix of gi and no-gi in there, and the level of competition will be incredibly high at the trials. I will not win gold without having to go through a few wars. I’m both dreading it and looking forward to it. The usual.

Why I’m Glad Russian Wrestlers Don’t Do Jiu Jitsu (Yet)

In jiu jitsu, we often talk about overcoming ego. It’s kind of like the concept of “eating healthy”. Everyone knows they need to do it, but few actually live it 100% of the time. For no one is the process of “overcoming ego” in jiu jitsu more challenging than Division I collegiate wrestlers. I’m friends with a few (current and former), and am yet to see any of them get on the mat in a gi for the purpose of learning the art of jiu jitsu, despite being naturally interested in MMA.

I think what’s keeping these guys away is the fact that they have to suck again for at least a few months, and they haven’t sucked at any athletic endeavor for many many years.

As MMA (and its relative allure of fame and fortune) becomes more popular, the idea of submissions is slowly creeping into wrestling rooms all over the world. While the jiu jitsu community has grown by leaps and bounds, we can’t forget how small it still is relative to the wrestling and judo communities. We can’t forget that there’s thousands of elite level grapplers that have been putting in millions of reps on their takedowns and thousands of hours of intense scrambling. They just haven’t heard about Abu Dhabi or IBJJF… yet.

Here’s a video of some beautiful scrambles by Russian wrestlers. Teach them the guillotine and the rear naked choke and they’ll help bring the submission grappling competitions to another level.

Top 5 Brown Belt Battles of 2013 Worlds

I watched a lot of the purple belt and brown belt matches from the Worlds. I enjoy watching good lower ranks (especially blue and purple) competing. They seem to take more risks and also are an indication of where jiu jitsu is headed in the next several years. The lower ranks integrate the popular new positions and techniques much quicker than the black belts (who already have a solid game that has served them well for years).

My top five favorite brown belt matches from the Worlds revolve around 6 people: Keenan Cornelius, Sebastian Brosche, Jackson Souza, Kit Dale, and the Miyao brothers.

5. A Moment’s Hesitation: Sebastian Brosche vs Jackson Souza

This match might not at first glance be very interesting outside the fact that these are two of the best brown belt top players (“top” meaning they look for takedowns and guard passing). In fact, were I to rank guard passers, I would put Brosche at #1 among all the brown belts in the world. This absolute division match up was the quarterfinal that came after the Brosche vs Miyao match (below). Sebastian is a medium-heavy bronze medalist and Jackson is a heavyweight gold medalist.

One of the reason I like this match is because it has two people who are usually unwilling to pull guard, and going aggressively for the takedown. The biggest reason, however, is that this match captures something very dramatic about the Worlds tournament that I’ve experienced myself. You train your ass off for a year (or really for many years) for this one day. And in a single moment the tide can turn from winning to losing, because of your own screw up or some other element of confusion. The frustration in Sebastian’s face and body language is very relatable. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that. He went toe to toe with one of the toughest dudes out there and took him down to take the lead but let that slip away.

4. One for the Little Guy: Keenan Cornelius vs Paulo Miyao

I wouldn’t feel right not including this match in the top 5. I didn’t like watching the match, but the end of the match was probably the purest moment of happiness I’ve seen on the face of any competitor. I don’t think anyone works hardest than Miyao brothers. In some sense they represent the original beautiful ideal of jiu jitsu, that a little guy could defeat a much larger opponent. Most people don’t like this double guard pull style match, but I can appreciate the technical complexity and strategy of the exchange. I just hope that matches like this are few and far in between, and I think they were for the most part in the absolute division.

3. Keenan’s Closest Match: Kit Dale vs Keenan Cornelius

Keenan Cornelius submitted everyone on his way to medium-heavy brown belt gold EXCEPT for his first match where he faced Kit Dale and barely squeaked out a victory by advantage with the score tied at 2-2. The only thing more epic about the jiu jitsu in this match is Kit’s mustache:

2. War of Worlds: Jackson Souza vs Keenan Cornelius

In the minds of many observers (based on my conversations with people, the forums, and live chat during the event) this was the most anticipated and the most exciting match up of the tournament. Keenan Cornelius has become more than just a top notch jiu jitsu competitor, he is also a jiu jitsu personality/celebrity (partially thanks to Lloyd Irvin and the Kumite). He seemed unbeatable, and it was thought that if anyone could beat him it would be Jackson Souza, an aggressive guard-passing Checkmat heavyweight from Brazil.

1. Sebastian Brosche Solving the Unsolvable Miyao Puzzle

Sebastian Brosche is a guard passing genius. He has a unique style, and has passed some of the most difficult guards out there. The relentless pressure, base, grips, and balance are all on display in this match. I’ve never seen anyone else systematically take apart the guard of Joao Miyao, even going for a submission with an old school cross choke.

Tai Otoshi Judo Throw in BJJ Competition (2013 Pans)

To me one the main benefits of judo for a jiu jitsu competitor is as simple as providing confidence in basic movement on the feet, basic gripping, basic posture, etc. That’s how it helped me, but it’s especially cool to see the occasional judoka pull off a textbook throw at the higher level of competition. I’ve seen a few drop morote seoi nage’s and a lot of excellent foot sweeps, but I haven’t yet seen a tai otoshi pulled off quite as nice as it was done in the following clip of a brown belt match from the 2013 Pans:

Here’s Jimmy Pedro breaking down this exact technique. He describes a useful grip variation for a BJJ competitor, but the guy in the above clip didn’t need the variation. He did it the old school judo way.

Days Leading Up to a Big Tournament: Training, Weight, Work

ibjjf-new-york-open-2013-banner

I’ll be competing in the IBJJF New York Open next weekend. If I win every match, I’ll have around 7-8 matches. I’m of course only thinking about the first match, but it’s still good to go in knowing that I very well could have a long day and to be mentally prepared for it. Here are some thoughts off the top of my head at this moment on the week leading up to the tournament…

Moving Up a Weight Class

I have a tough week at work and my experience taught me is that lots of work means I’ll be sleeping less, and that staying on diet will be harder to the point where I very easily could burn out and not enjoy the competing experience. I’m currently 2.5 lbs under without the gi which means I’m probably over by 1-2 lbs with the gi. So I’m deciding to move up a weight class. I am confident I can do well against any size opponent. Most of the stress that comes with competing for me is derived from having to cut weight.

It’s tough to fight up a weight class in a culture that sees weight cutting as an absolute necessity. I’m sure many of the people that train with me will read the fact that I’m “1-2 lbs over” as an obvious case where I should cut those two lbs without question. But I really believe that I need to develop the ability to enjoy tournaments more, and that means doing nothing different than I do in training. I don’t cut weight for training. There are many days after training when I’m exhausted but happy. That’s how I want to feel at the end of next Saturday.

It boils down to this: I want to continue competing into my 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and in order to do that I want to build a mindset that allows for that while having a more-than-full-time-career, family, etc. It might be different for different people, but from my experience of myself and people around me, a failed plan to “get in shape” is the main reason people stop competing. I want to compete when I’m skinny, I want to compete when I’m fat. It doesn’t matter. That mindset requires practice. I’m starting this weekend.

Bas Rutten: Competing for Yourself Only

I heard Bas Rutten (of all people) give two excellent pieces of advice on the Joe Rogan podcast recently. First, he said “if you fight, you can’t lose”. He explained that to mean that if he gets in there and gives everything he’s got, then he will be proud of himself at the end of the day. The only way to lose is to give less than you can, to give up, to quit. So I’m thinking less about winning and more about putting everything I have behind the techniques I’ve drilled over and over.

Second piece of advice the wise old Bas Rutten gave especially struck a note with me. I don’t remember the exact phrasing but basically he said that the only nerves and stress he felt about fighting is because of others: expectations, judging, etc. He said something like if he was locked in a room with a dude looking to fight and no one would see it and no one would hear the results, there would be no stress and no fear. It’s just another chance to test your technique, your conditioning, and your heart. That’s what I love about competing. The trick is to put myself into that state of mind. That, too, requires practice.

Competition Training

We’ve recently done a bunch of high-paced competition training sessions. That helped me develop a more aggressive pursuit of improving position in terms of wrestling, guard passing, sweeping, etc, but mostly it helped me deal with the feeling of being too tired to keep going. Last two big training sessions I came in mentally tired which was great because I got a chance to hit “the wall” early on and pushed through that.

A Single Leg is Hard to Finish

I tweaked my hip yesterday and was limping all day like an old wise judoka. Add to that a lack of sleep due to a bunch of deadlines and stress at work, and I was a damn mess (and missed the usually very good competition training session at Marco’s). When I’m mentally drained in that way, I’ll drill at home and watch some instructional videos on the same several positions I’ve been working on over the last year. Here’s one: the single leg.

Look at 5:50 in the following video. It’s two minutes of AJ Agazarm trying to finish a single leg on Victor Silveiro in a brown belt match-up at the 2013 Pans.

I see this kind of battle a lot, especially at the lighter weights, and especially in no-gi, but it really spans all weight divisions and styles. As is often said in wrestling, the way to win this battle is early aggression. It’s best to attack in combinations before the opponent gets a chance to establish good balance on the one foot. For this reason, I don’t like the single leg in training. If the training partner doesn’t want to go down, there often isn’t a nice and controlled way to put them down. I like to work technique that don’t hurt people, because I want to get a lot of reps in, and it’s easier to get reps in when the other person isn’t being destroyed in the process.

A lot of jiu jitsu guys (Marcelo Garcia is a great example) like the “running the pipe” finish. I think it’s effective, but it never clicked with me the way the “sweep the leg” finish has. Kolat shows a good version of it:

Here’s a nice set of 9 videos on finishing single leg takedowns:

The way to finish a single leg is simple: (1) keep them moving, (2) combine attacks, (3) aggression. All that is a lot of work. I like to think of the single leg finish as almost a position in itself, and like any position my goal is to make sure that I’m expanding less energy than my opponent. I think I’ve often fallen victim to that adrenaline rush that goes with the feeling that I’m very close to taking the guy down. There is no “almost” in grappling or life. You have to do the smart thing up until the very end. Don’t throw technique and sense out the window just because you’re “almost” there.

Riding Out the Lows

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.” – Dale Carnegie

sisyphus-happyI got trampled by the flu last week. For the first time since I started judo or jiu jitsu or even just working out in general, I didn’t want to do any type of exercise, not for physical reasons but purely mental ones. It was a strange feeling, and a pretty dark one that I still haven’t quite shaken. But I’ve lived just long enough to know that all such feelings pass, and all you can do is smile and watch it pass.

I still showed up to train every day this week, but far from my usual pre-planned purpose-driven practice. I just showed up and enjoyed it in a very different way than I usually do. I didn’t care about improving, learning, etc. I just enjoyed the simple conversation with the usual suspects. I get a certain comfort from talking to people who are always there, especially black belts and old timers, knowing that they’ve gone through this shit hundreds of times before. Everyone goes through dark times: due to injury, due to tension at home or at work, due to just the way the Earth rotates about its axis.

One of the things that was particularly upsetting to me is how little I wanted to compete. There was a local tournament this weekend that I was planning on going to because a couple of my buddies were going as well, but I just hated the idea of stepping on the mat. I promised myself a long time ago, that I can be scared shitless, tired, not ready, none of that matters. But if I’m not simply happy to step on the mat, there is no reason to do it. I compete to challenge myself, but at the end of the day, beyond the stress and nerves, I just love the thrill of “battle” if you could ever call judo or jiu jitsu that 😉 So it sucked very much not to look forward to competing.

I’m going to take it easy, continue drilling, training, watching videos, and hope to do the following upcoming tournaments. I might do none of them, but I sincerely hope to do all of them:

  • NAGA Philly (Feb 3)
  • World Pro Montreal (Feb 9)
  • Boston Open (March 3)
  • Pans (Mar 23)
  • NY Open (April 20)