Tag Archives: submission

“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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

My Purple Belt Good Fight Experience


Update: here are the videos of my matches with commentary.

I competed at The Good Fight “Tournament of Brotherly Love”. I wrote exactly one year ago a post about how I’m happy to see the evolution of this tournament. It’s really has come a long way. It runs on time, runs well, attracts some great competitors, refs, organizers. It’s expensive (around $80), but it’s worth it. It’s still not on the level of IBJJF in terms of the number of competitors for purple, brown, and black belt divisions. My division (purple belt middleweight) had 8 guys. Some IBJJF tournaments will have less, but the bigger ones will have 30+ purple belts. Still, it’s growing, and the important thing is they keep providing a good experience

I definitely had fun competing. I won gold in my division with three tough matches (with two submissions). I ended up not doing the absolute division. The 2 hour wait killed me this time. I went to bed at 4:30am last night due to a paper deadline, so while the lack of sleep didn’t affect me during the actual matches, it did contribute to me crashing afterwards. I have to figure out a system for myself of something like taking a nap between divisions to get refreshed for the open. It’s tough every time to weather that 2-8 hour wait (depending on the tournament) between the weight division and the absolute division.

tim-hart-coachingI was reminded today how much I like being a purple belt. Everyone I went against threw a different technical game at me. There was no aimless aggression. Especially my first and third matches were against the type of guys who compete and win A LOT. They were relaxed, focused, and had a clear gameplan. I’m sure they are the ones who would rise to the medal stand in any purple belt division whether it be 8 people or 80 people. I had to come back from behind in both matches, and could have easily lost both. I love matches like that because it gives me stuff to work on, and still I get to enjoy the good simple feeling that comes from winning a match. I’m sure I’ll face both these guys again, maybe at the IBJJF New York Open next month, and I look forward to the challenge. In fact, one of the cool things about competing is going against the same people as they go up the ranks and evolve their game. In a way, we evolve together, responding to flaws that the other reveals.

I met a lot of old and recent friends, which is really the best part of these tournaments. It’s like a battlefield reunion. I caught the above in-action shot of Tim Hart coaching. He was intense and very precise about his on-the-mat instruction. Great stuff as always.

Thanks to everyone who teaches me, kicks my ass, and pushes me at Balance. Special thanks to Aldo and Marco for coaching. Marco was a man of a few words, but they were the right ones. Aldo is actually a brilliant coach. Before today, I thought of him as a competitor and knowledgeable jiu jitsu guy, but I didn’t realize that he was also the Sun Tzu of jiu jitsu coaching. The memory I’ll take away from this tournament is Aldo saying “You did good. Made me proud”. That made me feel like a Game of Thrones character returning from battle.


The Strategy of Unceasing Aggression

aggressionAs I gradually improve my jiu jitsu game, I notice my movement getting slower and more subtle. Understanding the tiny details and timing that make certain guard passes or sweeps work allows me to improve position without wasting energy. All that is a good and natural part of jiu jitsu growth, but it worries me in that I’m neglecting the thing at the core of any combative sport: aggression. I don’t mean aimless aggression, I mean keeping the kind of pace that allows me to stay one step ahead of my opponent (in competition) the whole match.

I’m distinctly aware of situations when I fail one attack and before continuing to the next I’ll take a little 1-2 second breather, not because I’m forced to, but because… well… there’s still a lot of time left on the clock and the guy I’m going against is pretty good and aggressive, and I surprised that the previous attack failed… and more excuses like that. That’s good in training, because training is about learning, but in competition it does nothing but gives my opponent the opportunity to start attacking as opposed to defending my attacks.

Anyway, aggression is not a simple switch you can just turn on. A lot of NCAA wrestling programs specialize in building aggression through intensive training (sparring and cardio) to basically give the wrestlers the confidence that they can push the pace the whole match and not crash in the process. It takes a lot of work to build that confidence. I think most people (including myself) are simply afraid to embrace this strategy. Unwilling to pay the price of going balls-to-wall. And so we point out that there are “smarter” ways to win. While that’s true, too often “smart” somehow begins to mean “passive”. It’s impossible to deny that in competition there are times when relentless aggression is necessary. Again, I don’t mean spazzing all over the place. I mean chaining together endless sequences of attacks without a pause in between until your opponent makes a mistake.

But as I said, it takes a lot of work to build that mentality, and that work takes a toll on your mind and body. Many of us love jiu jitsu, but have lives outside it. And a Dan Gable work out every day is just not something that a human being can manage without dedicating their whole mind to it. So most recreational competitors such as myself have to find a balance. In a way, it’s depressing to know that I’m not doing everything I would need to in order to win. At the same time, it’s a reminder that FOR ME winning gold at IBJJF events is not the most important thing. By the way, when I step on the mat at a tournament, I’m there to win, period. Put in an another way, I’m there to have fun, and to me winning is fun. Losing is not fun. I believe I have a chance at beating any purple belt out there today. And when I compete that’s what I go to do. But I have to be honest with myself about my preparation and only train as hard as the rest of my life affords but not less than that!

Marco Perazzo suggested to me a couple of months ago that I should be doing a little Muay Thai as part of my training because he’s seen it help a lot of jiu jitsu competitors step up their aggression a bit. I think that’s very true, and this advice has been on my mind for a while. I haven’t added it to my training yet. I don’t like starting stuff and then stopping. So I’m always very cautious about adding new things.

This whole post came after I read the following Patton quote that is an absurdly blunt example of the kind of unceasing aggression that I was talking about:

“I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy’s balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like shit through a tin horn!” – George S. Patton

Three Years of Jiu Jitsu

three-years-birthday-cupcakesI’ve been doing jiu jitsu for three years now. It’s humbling to think that tens if not hundreds of thousands of people are out there that have been doing it much longer than me. I am following along together and behind the crowd of a very interesting community of people. Introspection, aggression, and weird humor is all around me every time I step on the mat.

Positive Cult

I remember Joe Rogan called jiu jitsu a “positive cult”. And I think he’s onto something. It’s good to be part of a cult or two. I’m currently a member of a couple: a  local book club and a jiu jitsu / judo club. Those are two damn good choices for a cult. It helps me stay healthy, humble (relative to my usual asshole-self), and thoughtful.

Competition Goals for This Year

There’s winning and then there’s winning: I’ve been told by coaches and fellow competitors that “winning is winning”. For some reason my personality is such that the only time I remember feeling truly shitty after competing is when I won matches against tough opponents and didn’t go for submissions because I was concerned of losing. Win or lose, I want to leave every tournament this year knowing that I never “held on” to the lead, and always worked aggressively towards a submission. That’s what makes me proudest: not “winning” a jiu jitsu match, but giving everything for a submission. Too often I fail to drop my fear of failure, and pursue that sometimes-exhausting fight.

Judo: I want to put in a good full year of competition in judo. I’ve taken a few months off from regular judo training and competing, focusing exclusively on jiu jitsu and its wrestling-style stand-up game. But I love judo, both for it as a martial art and the friends I have in the judo community, so mixing it in with jiu jitsu is something that I want to do this year, and for the rest of my life,

Place of Martial Arts in My Life

As my work life grows in the breadth and number of exciting projects, I’m realizing that while jiu jitsu and judo can be a big part of my life, it will never be the main thing in my life. I enjoying my work too much to be one of the people that can’t wait to get in the gym as an escape from work. I’m lucky in that way, but also that means that I have to wrestle with the balance between work and training. I would like to find a better balance with it than last year, that I found to be too stressful too often.

New 2013 Judo Rules

The International Judo Federation (IJF) released a new set of rules for 2013 through 2016 and beyond. Last time (4 years ago) they made a drastic change banning leg attacks, which stirred the ire of the judo community, but eventually people calmed down, though I personally think that the long term effect of that rule change will be bad for the growth of judo in relation to other martial arts. This time the rule changes are less controversial but still very interesting. Here’s a basic overview, ordered from most important to least important in my humble but very biased opinion:

  1. No time limit on Golden score (aka overtime period). A match does not end until one of the contestants scores or gets a shido (penalty). This means that we could see some matches that take both guys into some deep waters.
  2. Old school ippon: Give the ippon score only to throws that result in “real impact”. Meaning, bring back the old school ippon. This is not so much a rule but a guidance to the refs. So it’s unclear whether it will change anything, but one can hope.
  3. No running from the pin or submission: Once the pin or “effective” submission starts inbounds and both contestant go out of bounds, the pin and submission attempt is allowed to continue! My judo instructor Ray will appreciate this one 😉
  4. Shidos don’t lead to points: It’s still 4 shidos for disqualification, but now getting 1, 2, or 3 shidos does not give your opponent points. Shidos are used only as tie breakers. They are now more like advantages in BJJ. So if you have 3 penalties against you but you threw your opponent for a yuko, you still win.
  5. Shorter pin: Pin duration reduced from 25 seconds down to 20 seconds. (10 seconds for yuko, 15 seconds for waza-ari).
  6. The Rhadi Ferguson rule: It sometimes feels like the IJF has a special committee on how to best annoy one of America’s most outspoken judoka, Dr. Rhadi Ferguson. Four years ago, the IJF banned his bread-and-butter throw morote gari. This time the IJF is penalizing the breaking of your opponent’s grip with two hands. This further reduces the grip fighting game, and in my opinion will make fighters more cautious in engaging and not less.
There are other rule changes, but these are the main ones as I see it. I’m a big fan of judo as a sport and in the bigger context of martial arts and combat in general. I don’t just want to see the sport of judo grow, but also want to see more effective judo on display in MMA. I think the sports of MMA, submission grappling, and wrestling have to be considered in developing the rules for the sport of judo. The rules should try not to discourage cross-training by banning techniques that are used effectively in other disciplines.

Drilling Micro Transitions to Submissions

I’ve written a bunch about drilling lately, especially inspired by Jordon Shultz and his recent ebook dedicated exclusively to the subject of drilling. Lloyd Irvin released a nice video on the “micro transitional drilling” yesterday and I can’t pass up the chance to comment on it, even though a few great blog posts have already been written on it:

Analogy: Calories In, Calories Out

For diet that maintains weight, the simple formula is “calories in = calories out”. There’s more to a good diet than that, but the math can’t be tricked. In the same way, for developing good competition jiu jitsu, the simple equation is: you have drill the transition to submission more than your opponent drills the defense to that transition. There’s more to it than that, but once again, you can’t trick the math.


In the video, Lloyd Irvin emphasizes the importance of working on the small but critical transition that leads directly or indirectly into a submission. This is different than the way I’ve been drilling. When I work on transitions, I’ll often chain several together. That’s very important to do but it definitely doesn’t sharpen my instinct as much as the micro-transition drilling. I tried it today for several microtransitions into submissions: ezekiel choke, americana, and the teacup armbar.

More Reps, Less Brain

I really liked the result. I didn’t count exactly, but I was able to get over 100 reps in each 5 minute round of drilling without pushing the pace at all. What I also like was that I started to really focus and internalize the flow of the technique. Obviously 100 reps is nothing, but I could sense that 10,000 reps of each technique would make the transitions into these submissions very difficult to stop.

Hard Work is Hard

The above video from Lloyd Irvin doesn’t particularly tell you anything you didn’t already know. He simply reiterates the truth of what breeds success: deliberate practice. Just as he says in the video, whatever good prescriptive advice he provides, most people will take it in, agree with it, enjoy it, plan on doing it, and never actually do it (more than a few times). The challenge is to do it regularly for months and years. It has to be part of your jiu jitsu training.

Most Underutilized Submission in Jiu Jitsu

I was listening to an interview with Paul Schreiner, and he mentioned that the north south choke is the most unterutilized submission in jiu jitsu (both gi and no gi), given how low-risk and high percentage it is. Here’s a slow motion video of him pulling it off in an impressively quick and crisp fashion during training:

I’ve heard Marcelo Garcia express a similar appreciation of this choke, and watching him train on MGInAction, he certainly pulls it off on a lot of people.

Like many jiu jitsu people that see this, I invested some half-ass effort into trying this choke during training every once in a while. However, this is one of those techniques that you have to put in a lot of reps into in order to develop a feel for it. A lot of people can get close to the finish position, but actually finishing (on a good guy) is another matter.

Anyway, it’s something to think about. I am going to be hunting for submissions more aggressively this competition season, so a couple of high-percentage options are good to have in the arsenal.

My Experience at the 2012 US Grappling Diamond State Games

I competed at the US Grappling Diamond State Games today. Won gold in both my weight division and the absolute division. Overall, the tournament was run very well, as usual. There was a good amount of white and blue belts, but what was cool is there was a ton of purple and brown belts as well.

Also, the free shirt you get when you pre-register was great this time. It was black with simple white and red text. Simple is best, when it comes to shirts, in my view.

Some Quick Self Analysis

I got tired in my very last match, and was mad at myself for stopping hunting for a submission with 2 minutes left. I was up by 3 points, and was on my opponents back, able to go for a bow and arrow, and literally thought: “Lex, you write many glorious blogs about always working to finish, and here you are, no matches left for the day, only 2 minutes left on the clock, clear opening for a submission, and you’re holding the position just because you want to wind down the clock a bit.” There was no excuse to not go all out for the submission.

When you are winning by 3 points and are on top, it’s actually a great place to be, because you can open up, take risks, and if you get swept, you are still winning. I knew all that, but I was literally too tired. I ended up going for the submission with 30 seconds left, and almost getting it, but I already failed myself at the goal of never quitting.

More and more, I’m starting to see losing and winning as meaningless, and the more important goal of never quitting as the real thing I want to work towards as a competitor.

This is a whole lot of whining, but I wanted to share my inner experience. I really do think that you grow most as a person in overcoming the moments when you want to quit, and don’t. Go to your limit, no matter what that is, and push beyond it.

I’m doing two more tournaments before Worlds, with the goal of pushing the pace, and never quitting the hunt for submission after establishing a dominant position.

Some U.S. Grappling Rules to Remember

As a side note, the refs and organizers did a great job of running the tournament efficiently, but it was clear that some coaches, spectators, and competitors (including myself) did not know the rules as well as they might.  So here are two rules where I saw some mistakes on the part of competitors:

1. For gi division, kneebars, toe holds, and bicep/calf slicers are legal for brown and black belts only. For no-gi division, however, kneebars are okay for everyone.

2. If you do a big judo throw, but end up on bottom, that’s 2 points for the other guy. I’m still not 100% clear on the details of this rule, but it seems that if you want to get 2 points, you better end up on top (and show control for 3 seconds).

As always, I have to thank Andrew SmithChrissy Linzy, and many others for running a good tournament. Also, thanks to Eric Silverman and Steve Bowers for coaching me, and Jimmy Cerra for solid ref’ing and a good sense of humor about it.