Tag Archives: weakness

Brown Belt Promotion

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

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


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

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

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

  1. Challenge.
  2. Fun.

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

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

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

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

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


Training Mental Toughness

I think every workout on and off the mat has or should have a goal. Whenever I drill or train jiu jitsu / judo, my goal is rarely “go so hard that you test the limits of your cardio”. I’m a big believer in the power of technique, and so my goal for a training session usually revolves around improving some specific aspect of my game through drilling or positional sparring.

But I like to test myself in competition, and the experiences I’ve had recently have been very sobering. It’s not about winning or losing, I won most of my blue belt matches. It’s about what was going on in my mind. And that’s where I feel I’ve been failing myself, or at least failing the big overarching goal of my martial arts journey of becoming a strong-willed human being.

I won’t go into the psychological aspects of my weaknesses on and off the mats. I will summarize it in the following simplistic way that I’m too often the gazelle in the following picture and not often enough the lion:

I know exactly how to overcome these weaknesses, it’s to push myself to the limit in training (on the track or on the mat) and then not quit. But there’s more, I can’t allow the voice that tells me to quit even begin to take hold. It’s hard for me to admit this crap, but I’m very aware that I have something like panic attacks on the mat when the going gets real tough. They are rare, but they arise during the toughest matches, when I believe for whatever reason that I absolutely have to win, and it seems that there is no way I can win.

Training mental toughness is the most difficult part of preparing for competition because there is simply no way around going through hell. I can drill techniques all day, have fun with it, and improve dramatically without ever truly stressing myself mentally. But I can’t do that when the goal is to improve mental toughness. That requires something like suffering, controlled and incremental but suffering nevertheless. There’s no way around that.

I believe that I’m very tough in terms of long term pressure. So you can drop me in the middle of a desert and I will find my way back. But I’m not nearly as good with short term pressure. So with something like waterboarding I probably wouldn’t last very long. Those are just extreme examples, but I’m trying to make a point about what I need to improve.

That’s the biggest hole in my game right now, and as always, acknowledging it is the first step to getting rid of it.

Self Knowledge

“The fighter’s self-knowledge must turn the battle into something pleasant. The Jiu-Jitsu practitioner must have fun in the championships. That way, it all becomes easy.” – Fabio Gurgel

I got the above quote from a remarkably good list of 20 ways to improve your grappling. It presents suggestions from some of the most respected competitors and teachers in jiu jitsu.

I’d like to focus on this quote, or rather what I take from it. My ultimate goal is for there to be no place that a match can go where I don’t feel comfortable and happy to be there.

I think this requires honest self-analysis, finding the weaknesses, and attacking them. Technique wise, my currently least favorite position is on bottom in side control. Today a very good player (significantly lighter than me) held me there for maybe 3-4 minutes. Since he was smaller he couldn’t just lock down and hold, he moved with me constantly threatening mount and submissions.