Tag Archives: podcast

“Are You Okay?”: The Deconstruction of Ego Through Simulated Murder

Jiu jitsu is simulated battle, and when a man taps he admits defeat in that battle. Luckily, it IS simulated, so tapping is not followed by murder. Much like in chess, a checkmate is not followed by the pillaging of the king’s castle and the slaughter of its citizenry.

are-you-okay-cat

Tapping is the catalyst for a brief personal psychotherapy session. The therapy couch is the mat, and your therapist is the man leaning over you with a concerned look on his face, saying: “Are you okay?”

The reddit post entitled “Your pokerface when someone destroys you with a submission and asks if you are OK” describes precisely the response most of us give: “Yes.” But this is only a veil over a complex inner struggle between expectation and reality: the shattering of delusions. This is precisely the struggle from which you grow as a martial artist and as a human being.

im-okay

EDIT: Based on some comments, I have to clarify a point. The “painful” part of tapping should NEVER be about physical pain. You should tap early and tap often. The “pain” should be of the same kind when a friend beats you in a friendly game of chess.

Tapping is the process of prodding your sleeping ego with a stick. And there is always some ego, no matter who you are or where you are on the journey through martial arts. I don’t believe that training can ever truly involve “no ego”, no more than a bullrider can ever achieve a state of “no bull”. The goal is to control ego and to channel it into productive positive growth. This is something I talked to Ryan Hall about in a recent interview.

On a more practical level, here is how I grow from every time I tap. Whether I’m going at 100% intensity or 20% intensity, the questions I ask are:

  1. What exactly were the detailed chain of events that led to this tap?
  2. Next time, how can I prevent each of the steps along that chain?
  3. Next time, how can I escape the bad position at each of the steps along that chain?

As far as I’m aware, jiu jitsu is the easiest and safest way of going through this humbling process of “self-deconstruction”. Enlightenment through suffering, as the Buddhists like to say.

dean-lister-rodolfo-viera

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

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

AnnMaria De Mars Interview Takeaways

annmaria-de-mars-take-it-uneasy-podcastI had a conversation with AnnMaria De Mars on the Take It Uneasy Podcast. She is the first American to win gold at the World Judo Championships. She has a PhD in applied statistics, is a mother of 4 kids including Ronda Rousey, and a CEO of 7 Generation Games.

Just in case you didn’t know, here’s the list of Americans who have ever achieved the same feat:

  • 1984: AnnMaria De Mars -56kg (then: Ann Marie Burns)
  • 1987: Mike Swain -71kg
  • 1999: Jimmy Pedro -73kg
  • 2010: Kayla Harrison -78kg

She writes a great blog: AnnMaria’s Blog on Judo, Business and Life. I sometimes say that people have a “great” blog. What does “great” mean? In some cases, that means it’s very informative. But frankly, “informative” alone is way too boring for me to be a regular reader. What makes her blog “great” AND make me actually go there and read often is that she has A LOT of opinions and is not afraid to say them. I agree with her often, disagree with her often, but either way it’s always a good read.

I’m going to make a habit of writing up some post-interview thoughts for these podcasts, so here are some takeaways from the podcast interview I did with her:

Ronda Rousey: Going From Judo to MMA

RondaRousey_HeadshotBeltRonda Rousey was one of my favorite judoka when I first started judo. In fact, it was watching her and Travis Stevens in the 2008 Olympics that got me into the sport. So when she decided to leave judo after that Olympics for MMA, I was one of the people that thought it was a bad decision. And AnnMaria, it turns out, was understandably sceptical as well, but now admits that she was wrong. Ronda single-handedly changed the way the world sees women in any combat sport (including judo, jiu jitsu, wrestling). So beyond the money, the fame, the personality, she will be remember long after she retires as helping the public accept the idea that two girls can punch each other in the face as a sport. That will do more for women than Simone de Beauvoir ever could with her books.

Ronda is defending her UFC title this weekend in UFC 170 against Sara McMann. AnnMaria’s prediction? Quick win by armbar.

Fear of Death

“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

200px-DenialofdeathcoverI tend toward the dark and the philosophical, so I asked an Ernest Becker inspired question about whether AnnMaria is afraid of death. I find it remarkable how differently people approach the answer to that question. Some of the most accomplished people I know are of the same mind as AnnMaria. They have “come to terms” with death, because they are essentially living their dream or are passionately pursuing it. But of course, it is the fear of death that has created this approach to life, this urgency. I didn’t want to delve deeper into this question, but I do with friends over vodka, and probably will in future conversations.

Aggression

catch-wrestlingOne of my favorite moments of the interview was when AnnMaria answered the question of “What’s more important, technique or aggression?” with: Aggression. Of course, it’s obvious that both are important, and she went on to say just that, but her instinctual response first was: aggression. That’s something every competitor learns through experience, and also is the reason that many people get run over when they first start competing. They are not used to the often violent pace of competition. Jiu jitsu is often gentler if style and technique, but even there, in time-limited matches, aggression can pay great dividends if you are mentally and physically tough enough to keep up the pace.

Win With What You Got

david-and-goliath-malcolm-gladwellOne of the common criticism thrown at AnnMaria and American judoka in general is that we lack technique and make up for it with gripping, groundwork, and cardio. That always sounds funny to me. Any statement that starts with: “The only reason she won was…” is probably going to be a stupid statement. “Won” is the key word there. What I learned from reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is that you have to be brutally honest with yourself about your strength and weaknesses. Based on that honest self-analysis you have to develop a plan on how you will win with the tools you have. You weaknesses have to become your strengths.

Justin Rader Interview Takeaways: Training Culture, Building Confidence and Mental Toughness

I did a podcast interview with Justin Rader. Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes. The following are three post-interview thoughts I finally got around to writing up.

1: Wrestling Culture vs Jiu Jitsu Culture

“The wrestling environment can truly be summed up by ‘kill or be killed’.” – Justin Rader

corrida_quees_holl.gWrestling is about two things: (1) growing up on a farm and (2) grinding down your opponent until he breaks.

Jiu jitsu is about three things: (1) efficiently neutralizing force with technical trickery, (2) surfing, and (3) philosophical introspection.

I’m generalizing, but there’s no denying that there is a culture that permeates each sport, and the culture is different for each. The level of brutality is different. The hatred of losing is more pronounced in one than the other.

Rader has trained a lifetime in both wrestling and jiu jitsu, and we talk about this distinct difference. Part of the difference is that wrestling is often run as a school program and jiu jitsu is part of a standalone business. When you pay money directly to the instructor, the relationship changes. After all, it may not be a good business practice to make a student quit by pushing him/her too hard. In wrestling, this is a much smaller concern. In fact, trial by fire is standard operating procedure.

2: Believing In Yourself

coach-wrestler-after-loss

Loss is part of life, and it sure as hell is a part of sport. There is no way to escape it. In the end, what every champion shares is a unshakeable belief in himself and his goal. For many people the road to achieving that level of confidence is a long one. After all, winning matches is really the only effective way to build that kind of self-certainty. It’s hard to fake it. I would say impossible even. You can visualize all day, but without a lot of big wins on your record and on your brain, confidence will never sprout.

Like I said, the road to winning can be a long one, and this is where most people quit. It’s daunting. When you suck month after month, year after year, you get to thinking. Thinking leads to doubt, and at that point, most people are able to rationalize quitting, and so they quit. Of course, the problem is: quitting is perfectly rational. In a cold rational sense, success in sport in meaningless. Who cares if you can throw a ball into a hoop better than a million others? But it does matter. It matters because of the genetic history of our brain. It matters because doing something hard, and succeeding, provides a deep sense of satisfaction, happiness. A life full of sacrifice is also a life that can have the greatest moments of pleasure. The chase of the dream and the dream realized is the essence of life.

That said, a good support system can help carry you through the long road of struggle: coaches, friends, family. And that’s what Rader talked about. In his life, his parents and his coaches (both in wrestling and in jiu jitsu) were instrumental in their unwavering belief of his potential. When a coach believes in you, it is that much easier to believe in yourself, until the wins start racking up.

3: Cutting Weight

wrestling-weight-cutting-philosophyCutting water-weight, when taken to the extreme level that many wrestlers take it, can seem unhealthy bordering on dangerous. But having made big cuts myself and talked to many who have done it, the lesson is simple: your body can get used to anything.

Rader and I talked about the tough cut he went through for the 2013 ADCC tournament, and how he believes that the cut did not drain him for the actual matches. Sometimes you do have to suffer. You may be just two pounds away but too exhausted and thoroughly dehydrated to do the long 40-60 minute run that might be needed to make those 2 lbs disappear. That’s where the suffering comes in. You get up and do it anyway. The doubt, exhaustion, and any negative thought has to disappear and you just do it. One step at a time.

The statement in the picture to the left has some important insight. Perhaps the weight cut is less about the weight and more about mental toughness, training it, proving it to yourself, and eventually, to your opponent.

Weight Cutting Regulations for High School Wrestling

After talking to a friend of mine Charlie, a wrestling coach, on the Take It Uneasy podcast, I realized that of all sports and all places, these days, high school wrestling in the United States is taking regulation of weight cutting very seriously. Here’s the full 2012-13 NFHS Wrestling Rules Book if you’re curious.

Now, if we can all turn to page 8 and read the three parts of Rule 1.5:

Minimum Body Fat Percentage

Require that minimum body fat should not be lower than 7% for males or 12% for females:

Each individual state high school association shall develop and utilize a specified weight-control program which will discourage excessive weight reduction and/or wide variations in weight, because this may be harmful to the competitor. Such a program should be planned to involve the wrestler, as well as the parents/guardians, appropriate health-care professional and coach in establishing the minimum certified weight class. An ideal program would be one where an appropriate health-care professional would assist in establishing a minimum weight class through hydration testing, body fat assessment and a monitored descent plan. Minimum body fat should not be lower than 7% for males or 12% for females.

Minimum Hydration Levels

Require that specific gravity of urine (USG) be not greater than 1.025.

For health and safety reasons, the state’s weight control program shall require hydration testing with a specific gravity not greater than 1.025, which immediately precedes the body fat assessment. A minimum weight class will be determined by a body fat assessment. Any wrestler’s assessment that is below 7% for males and 12% for females shall have a medical release to participate signed by an appropriate health-care professional. This release shall not allow a wrestler to participate at a weight class below that for which the initial assessment allows. A program to monitor an average weight loss of 1.5% a week, with descent, may use the minimum weight determined by the body fat testing as the lowest weight class a wrestler may wrestle. This weight management plan should also involve a nutritional component developed at the local level.

Minimum Weight

A minimum weight class will be determined for each wrestler.

The state’s weight-control program shall require each wrestler to establish a certified minimum weight and prohibit recertification at a lower weight during the season.

Application in Other Sports

Olympic judo is now playing with weight cutting rules, requiring that athletes be within 5% of their weight class the morning of competition. Other sports are struggling with this as well. Cutting weight is a socially-accepted norm. Very few coaches of professional athletes will recommend that an athlete not drop weight.

Leave it to high school wrestling to lead the way on implementing interesting practical regulations. Most athletes welcome these changes. We prefer a world where no one does the water-cut vs the current world where 95% of people do the water cut.

I leave you with a video of Khadzhimurat Gatsalov who moved up 50 lbs from 96kg to 120kg to win another Freestyle Wrestling World Championship this year:

Best BJJ Podcasts

Ever since we started the Take It Uneasy podcast, I began looking into what other podcasts on BJJ there are out there. I knew of Open Mat Radio and Fightworks Podcast, but I didn’t know any beyond that. Anyway, I believe that the more the merrier. The only kind of podcast I don’t like is one with crappy sound quality. It’s funny, but I very rarely encounter a podcast with content so bad it makes me not want to listen, but I do very often encounter a podcast with sound quality so bad, I can’t hear anything or there is so much noise that my ears bleed a little with every episode.

best-bjj-podcasts

I thought I’d investigate and put up the following list in case others are looking for the same thing. Of course, please do check out my podcast on the website or on iTunes, but after you do that, disappointed and disenchanted, try out one from the following list. I won’t tell you which my favorites are. They are all good, so when I say “Best BJJ Podcasts” I really mean “BJJ podcasts I’m aware of that still have a website and don’t have horrible sound quality”. But that title is less catchy.

In alphabetical order, here they are:

After making this list (but way before publishing it), I also came across the same kind of list in a Google Doc from a friend and fellow blogger Slidey Foot. Check that link out because he also has some notes on each podcast in terms of what the content is.

If there are BJJ-related podcasts out there that I didn’t mention, please post them in comments below.

Winning is the Best Confidence Builder

wrestling-confidenceThe more I compete the more I realize the importance of confidence. I have to believe that I can win, no matter the opponent.

I think the only way to achieve that confidence is by having done it successfully MANY times in the past. I think, you have to win, A LOT. There is no way around it that I know of. No way to truly fake the kind of confidence you get from winning. I talked about this in a recent podcast interview with Kit Dale. Visualization can help, but only to a degree.

The great thing is: losing doesn’t have the reverse negative effect if you don’t let it. While losing hurts very much, for me it doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on my confidence. I just focus on the detailed mistakes that resulted in my loss, and work hard on fixing them.

So if winning adds confidence, and losing doesn’t hurt it, the formula for developing confidence in competition is simple: compete as often as possible.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons that competing is tough to squeeze into the weekly way of life for a recreational competitor: time, money, work, family, responsibilities, etc. But I find that people often assign more weight to each of those reasons than they ought to. There are always many local tournaments, and $80 is not that much money if you put that money aside and plan for it (financially, mentally, and schedule-wise) months in advance.

Robson Moura Academy Visit

lex-fridman-robson-moura-academy-visitI’m in Tampa for a conference, coming back to Philly today. While here, I visited Robson Moura’s Academy for the Wednesday night advanced jiu jitsu class. I got to meet Robson and take a class with him.

Robson Moura is a 5-time world champ, but I think a lot of the jiu jitsu community has gotten to know him through his instructional DVDs: Super NoGi, Fusion Modern BJJ, and Fusion 2 Modern BJJ. I recommend these highly.

Sometimes when I visit a school and take a class, the instructor will show a technique that’s completely outside my comfort zone, like spider guard for example. But this time I got lucky and Robson showed a set of techniques that I consider to be in my “A game”. He went over an x-guard entry and a set of 3 x-guard sweeps. They were all the basic ones, but with slight details that I haven’t considered before. Each one of the three sweeps he did differently than I learned and have always done. A lot of times, I focus exclusively on the details that allow me to complete the sweep and stabilize the top position. Robson was looking a step ahead of that and performing the sweep in such a way that you end up in a dominant position (heavy side control).

This being an advanced class with a lot of higher ranks, the session was structured in the way that I most prefer. It started with a hard short warmup. Then Robson spoke quickly and clearly, maybe under a minute, explaining all the techniques we’ll be doing. You were expected to know how to execute them, because they were doing the same set of techniques in all classes that week. So, he reiterated the details only twice over the whole class. Then we began drilling at a high pace in 2 minute intervals. It was the kind of drilling where you’re breathing hard and sweating 5 minutes in. We did that for about 30 minutes. Then, the training started. Everyone I went against was an active and frequent competitor, so the matches were great, especially with the purple belts. When a visitor of the same rank comes in, sometimes you flow roll, but more often than not it’s a hard training session that has a lot of the similar stress and tension of competition. Josh and I talked about it on our last Take It Uneasy podcast episode that visiting another academy is a great alternative to competition for exposing yourself to different styles and training approaches.

All in all, I was reminded that training while traveling for work is truly a pain in the ass. It requires a tremendous amount of motivation to find my way to a BJJ academy after a full 8-10 hour day of standing on my feet, presenting, talking to people, smiling. Everyone I meet at the conference is very interesting and are just good people in general, but since I’m mostly an introvert, the whole experience can be draining. So yes, after all that to put a gi in your bag and figure out a way to make it to a school is tough. I’m glad I did, but home and routine awaits.

PGL Qualifier Experience and Videos

agl-5-lex-fridman-john-battle-pgl-qualifierI competed in the PGL qualifier middleweight tournament. I won four matches for first. It’s a cliche, but it’s true, that I learn a lot from every time I compete. In the semis I had a tough match against a teammate who submits me on the regular back at the gym. You better believe I will be talking trash about it on the mat for months to come! 😉 The “middleweight” in the name is actually 170 to 200 lbs. I weighed in at 185, but am the fattest I’ve been in quite a long time. I’m enjoying food to say the least, but I didn’t feel great movement-wise, so I want to lean-out a bit for the No Gi Pans, World Pro trials, and beyond. PS: Congrats to John Battle (left in the picture above) who won his lightweight qualifier in relaxed dominant fashion with all submissions.

By the way, in the picture, I’m wearing the Sloth shirt, giving my respects to the venerable Vogel clan. In fact, Josh Vogel and I started a podcast last week called Take It Uneasy. Check it out. Here’s a drinking game: every time Josh says “rapscallion”, take a shot.

At the tournament, I got a chance to try a few moves that I’ve been experimenting with. In particular, I’m trying stuff off the feet that opens up my own game. Pull guard, stand back up. Shoot, pull. Etc. Straight-up wrestling against a good wrestler often turns into a match where no points are scored for a long time. The matches I learn the most from are the ones where lots of stuff happens. I still have a smashing game (slow heavy pressure), but I don’t want to have a stalling game.

The tournament ran long, so I didn’t wait around for the gi. I have a lot of trouble (in the form of deadlines) recently in my work life. On Friday, I was told how important it is for me to hit a tough deadline this upcoming Thursday. So I was (and am) incredibly stressed about that. But I tried to completely block that out during the tournament and just enjoy my time relaxing and seeing good friends. That’s important: if you’re doing it, might as well enjoy it.

Here are videos of my four matches. The cool thing is that Jay Regalbuto was doing a live commentary for the official Grappling Leagues videos, and my cam caught some of it. One of the reasons I like watching the PGL videos is his commentary. The guy knows his jiu jitsu (check out his YouTube instructionals).