Tag Archives: stalling

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


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.


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.


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.

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.

Interval Jiu Jitsu

To improve cardio, jiu jitsu athletes will often do interval training of going hard for 20 seconds and light for 10 seconds at whatever exercise like running, kettlebells, or bodyweight stuff over and over.

In theory that simulates a jiu jitsu match. In reality, it simulates a jiu jitsu match if your technique, confidence, and strategy are all solid. Most matches at the lower ranks seem to be balls-to-the-wall non-stop with a gradual decline in intensity as both guys become progressively more exhausted. The best guys know when to relax, so that they recover properly for the bursts of intense effort needed to improve position, finish a submission, or just win a scramble.

And I’m not talking about stalling. In fact, stalling can often take up a lot of energy as well. I’m talking about relaxing whatever body parts that are not needed in the current exchange. That sounds kind of weird, but it’s the way I think about it. For example, I try to maintain a dynamic side control where I’m very heavy but completely relaxed. If my opponent decides to go crazy, I will expend energy as well to maintain the position, moving around to north-south, knee-on-belly, or even back to a bad guard that I can pass again right away. But I always try to spend significantly less energy than my opponent.

Of course, all that is easier said than done. Relaxing requires an understanding of a lot of details involved in maintaining and improving the position. If my opponent does something that makes me nervous, I’ll tense up and use energy to hold on just like I did on the first day of training as a white belt. The more I learn, the more confident I become in the fundamentals of good base, grips, posture, etc. With this confidence comes that ability to relax amid chaos.

It’s a weird balance to try to strike between the competition intensity of “win at all costs” and the need to relax at any good opportunity.

Don’t Watch the Clock

When I competed at the NY Open this weekend, I was twice caught in a realization that I was winning and that there was very little time left in the match. I didn’t start stalling but I was distinctly aware of the thought that I don’t need to score any more points. “Don’t take risks” I thought. What that amounted to was “don’t do anything”.

Depending on your personality, the pressure to win can be counter-productive in the long term, and for me, it very much is. Let me explain…

Looking back at the matches I lost over the last two years, I lost because I didn’t want to “take risks” or (more clearly) I didn’t believe in my technique. That mindset leads to a lot of wins by 2 points, by 3 points, by 5 points. At the brown and black belt level, that’s a solid performance. At the blue belt level, to me, that’s an embarrassment. The good guys in my division submit everyone (including other good guys), except for the 1 or 2 people with whom they have a close war. That’s who I want to strive to be.

When I’m up by 2 points, I want to strive for 2, 3, 4 more points. I want to work for the submission, even if that means I lose the match. Because if I am content to win by 2, I will never develop into the kind of competitor I want to be on the mat.

What’s needed: A supreme confidence that my cardio and guts is tougher than my opponent’s.

How to achieve it: Push myself past the limit of exhaustion often though training, through running, through anything. In other words, refuse to quit. It’s easy to say, hard to do. But I can say that I’ve begun seriously working on it, and will be ready for Worlds.

Osoto Against a Kneeling Opponent

When your opponent goes to his knees in judo, the ref will usually call “matte” and give him a stalling penalty. Otherwise, it’s considered that they entered newaza (ground work). There’s a little hazy area (in terms of the refs having to make a judgement call) here if the opponent is on his knees but starts standing back up. The two videos below show cases when the refs give an ippon for an attack in such a situation. I can see an ippon for Tony in the second video, but I honestly can’t see an ippon for Anai in the first video. Either way, it seems wise, in general, to stay turtled up and take the penalty if your opponent still has a grip on you.

Avoiding the Penalty for Stalling in Judo

I’ve been watching videos of judo matches from the Tokyo Grand Slam. As my own judo gets better, I start to notice more and more details in these matches about gripping, footwork, strategy, timing, etc.

One of the things I’ve noticed, especially in the female divisions, is the use of what are essentially a succession of quick kicks that are supposed to look like footsweeps but don’t involve much upperbody commitment. The most popular of these is the kouchi that would never throw anyone but is designed to give an appearance of attacking. I’m talking about attacks that look something like this (except of course with good posture, etc):

The key observation I made is that the ref’s are buying these non-committed attempts as positive judo. The players that were putting together these combinations were not being penalized for stalling.

I need to utilize this strategy more often, especially against stronger defensive players that don’t open up. In order for me to throw, I need them to open up, and a pretty good way to do that is to get a yuko lead through penalties. Of course, the story is a little different in randori when people don’t get penalties, but such combinations just might frustrate folks enough that they try to throw (thereby opening themselves up to be thrown).