My First Real Time Away

On August 8, I was teaching an early morning BJJ class. I was filling in for the main instructor. We had a few people getting ready for Worlds so we sparred the entire time. I wanted to up the intensity a bit, so the last 5 or so minutes were 1 minute rounds where people were pushing because you only had 1 minute to do anything.

We then finished with a bit of fun and did some sumo to round out the class. We had a couple belts down on the mat and the goal was to push, pull or otherwise force your opponent out of the circle.

Just as I was about to force my guy out, he got me to step out and as I did he came down on my foot. He immediately asked if I was ok and I said “Yeah” because I didn’t even think anything had happened. As I walked to the edge of the mat, my foot really started to hurt. By the time I got to work, I decided I was going to go home and rest it. When I got home my wife said she was taking me to urgent care.

Unfortunately, urgent care wasn’t that helpful. They said nothing was broken and it should get better in a few days. And, to be fair, it did get better but it didn’t completely heal.

After about a month I finally went to the doctor and found out I had 2 sprained ankle ligaments and plantar fasciitis. I was in a walking boot for 3 weeks.

So all told, I was away from the gym for about 8 weeks. It was the first time I’d been out of the gym for more than a week or two in my 7 years training. And I always wondered what that would be like.

Would I be dying to get back? Would I be really antsy or grouchy while at home? Would I count the seconds until the boot came off? Would I not care and never go back? I didn’t know, but I’d wondered.

In the end, it wasn’t a situation where I was dying to get back. I wasn’t coming home each day frustrated that I couldn’t go to the gym and train.

Once the boot came off, I gave myself a week of normalcy to make sure my foot was ok before I headed back. And when I went back it was interesting. It was really good to be back at the gym. It was great to talk to people I hadn’t seen in a couple months. It was enjoyable to train. I had truly missed it, and I was glad to be back.

And I started thinking about it, that shouldn’t have been a surprise for me. That’s kind of how I am. I don’t often get excited about things, and I don’t often get bummed out by things. I like routine. And that was part of the experience for me. I wasn’t dying to get back, but when I did, everything felt good and right. And it made me think that I’ll probably be training BJJ and Judo for as long as my body allows me to. Not because I can’t live without it right now, but because I enjoy just being at Mid-America and training.

I’m Still Learning Humility

Today I received my purple belt. It was a surprise. In fact, while they were talking about who they were giving the purple belt, I was sure it was one of the other students. It wasn’t until they mentioned Judo that I realized it was me (of the 4 of us who were 4 stripe blue belts, I’m the only one that trains Judo.)

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While my coach was tying the belt around me, he shared some wisdom with me (that I will keep to myself.) But after listening to him, I realized that they don’t just give purple belts out, especially not at Vaghi schools. I might not be a world champion, and I don’t have to be to get a new belt, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t earned it.

That’s hard for me to grasp at times. Even after class, people were telling me congratulations. I had to filter the thoughts that were coming in to my head. Someone would say “congrats” and what I heard in my head was “yeah, I don’t know why I got it” or something similar. But that’s not humility, it’s self deprecation. I’m fairly good at self-deprecation.

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As CS Lewis says, thinking less of myself isn’t humility.

So what does that look like in BJJ? I have earned a purple belt. But that doesn’t mean I did it on my own. I have an entire team that got me to this point.

There’s two aspects there:

  1. I have a team
  2. I’ve achieved this level

The first point is easy for me to embrace. The second point, is where I struggle. But it’s something that I’m focusing on.

Gi Review: Elite Sports

Disclaimer: A representative from Elite Sports sent me a gi for free to try it out in exchange for the post.

I’ve been training BJJ for just over 6 years. In August of 2012 I bought a white gi and that was my only gi for about 4 months. I’d wear it to class on Monday, wash it on Tuesday and wear it on Wednesday. Eventually, I bought a new gi so that I could train more than 2 times a week.  I liked those gis, they were nothing special, just what my gym sold.  About 2 months ago, the pants of the first gi and the jacket of the second both got ripped.  Then a few weeks ago, the first gi jacket finally developed a hole that made it unsafe for my training partners.  So I was in the market for a new gi. (By the way, in the intervening 6 years I’d bought several more gis, so I had more than just the two.)

So I was pretty excited to get to try out the Elite gi, because 1) I needed a new gi and 2) their prices are seriously low. I think they’re around $55 which is about 1/2 of what I normally pay.

My new gi showed up on Monday night which was perfect timing as I had a sparring class the next day. I got the navy blue as I had never had a navy blue gi before.

Right away, I noticed the tie on the pants. I like gis that have multiple oops and this style of cord. I’m not sure why, but it’s the little things that make me happy.

It sure looked nice, but how would it fit? I’m right at 6’0″ and about 195lbs. Looking at their chart I decided to pick an A3 as I thought if & when it shrinks it will be a good fit.

I put the gi on that night and it seemed like it was a perfect fit.

The next day I wore it to our “Noon-high ninjas class” because that’s always a series of tough rolls. As I walked into the gym that morning, I noticed one of our whitebelts was wearing a white version of the same gi. So I talked to him for a few minutes. He liked it, and in fact, he’d just ordered the gi I was wearing. He said he originally paid $80 for the gi, and was pleased. When he saw the price dropped by more than $20, he added a second gi.

After an hour of sparring, I grabbed a training partner to grab some pics. You can see it fit me perfectly. And it held up to all the various grips that my teammates were throwing on me.

After I got home, I threw the gi in the washer with my rashguard and towel from training that day. And then I did something that you’re never supposed to do to a gi, I put it in the dryer. I didn’t even read the label because while you’re supposed to hang dry your gi, I never do. Largely because my wife is not a fan of our laundry room being full of damp gis.

The other reason I dried it was that I was sure I wasn’t the only one to dry their gi and I wanted to tell you how much in shrank. In reality, if it shrank, it was imperceivable. I tried it on once it was out of the dryer and it fit just as well as the pictures above.

When I need a new gi, I’ll be hitting up for another gi. (or if you’re in the UK: or for Australia)  It’s a good gi and completely worth the cost.

Seeing Training Over Time

This week someone reached out to me and asked me if there was a way to see previous year’s statistics. It was something I had always wanted, but never got around to creating. This request was enough to kick me in the pants and make me write the feature.

There’s now a link on the Statistics page that will take you to a view that shows you all your activity broken down by year.

The image below is all of my activity.

This was somewhat opening to me. The first two years (2013 & 2014) I had a combined 565 hours. Late in 2014 I got my blue belt. Since then, I have a combined 469 hours. When I saw that, it made sense. I felt like I had grown quite a bit leading up to my blue belt, and then trailed off. I’d always heard it was the blue belt blues, and it might have been, but it took me the next 2 years to match my 2014 total for BJJ.

There’s a couple reasons for this drop off.  First, in 2013 I found a hobby after years of my wife telling me that I didn’t have one. Then in 2014 she reminded me that I did have kids, and so I started to trail off my training.

Also late in 2014 I took on a side gig (with Pluralsight) and that started occupying my spare time as well.

Also, you can see an ever increasing number of judo hours (and even tried Muay Thai.) Still, my overall hours decreased.

That all explains some of the reduction of training time. It also helps me to see that while I keep training, I’m progressing slower than I was because I’m not devoting as much time as I used to.

One Thousand Hours

0206181231c Today is a special day for me. Over lunch I went and trained with the “Noon High Ninjas” at Mid-America Martial Arts. It was sparring day. So I sparred for an hour with white, blue, purple, brown and black belts.  But that’s not what makes it special. That class happens every Tuesday and I make it to that class a couple times a month.

What makes it special to me is that class was my 1000th hour of training. (And it also shows a bug in my training app.)

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One thousand hours ago, I stepped on to the mat for the first time.

Over the last 5+ years, I’ve been fortunate to train with some great people. From the coaches that were teaching the intro classes (Charles and Scott) to the coach that saw me watching on the sideline and invited me to class (Kyle) to the coach who called me up to the gym before a tournament to help me get ready (AC) or the coach that is teaching me the amazingly simple things I do wrong (Ed).

But it’s more than coaches. My teammates have made it possible. There are the teammates I have that I know when I roll with them it’s going to be a battle. They’re going to beat me up, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve seen a lot of people come and go in the past 5 years. Most of them have been white belts, but I’ve seen my fair share of blues (and the occasional purple) walk off the mat to never return.

In the past 1000 hours, I’ve haven’t been injured. I’ve been hurt quite a bit. Just about every joint I have has been sore and hurt at some point. I’ve had some deep bruises on my shins from who-knows-what. I broke a toe once. I’ve even had my ears hurt. But I’ve still been able to train.

In the past 1000 hours, I’ve tapped a few people here and there.

In the past 1000 hours, I’ve been tapped several thousand times.

One thousand hours seems, at the same time, to be an accomplishment and just the start. After all, 1000 hours on a job is roughly 6 months, but 1000 hours at a gym reflects years of weekly dedication. When it’s hot, when it’s raining, when it’s snowing, when I just don’t feel like it. It’s persistence. The time is going to pass anyway, so I might as well spend it training BJJ.

If, as they say, it takes 10,000 hours to be a master, I likely won’t make it. That would put me at around 85 years old. But maybe there’s a lesson there, in just how much time it does take to get good at something.

Even after 1000 hours, there are days that I wonder if I know what I’m doing out there. There are nights that I ask myself “Why do I do this?”

I don’t know if the next 1000 hours will answer those questions, but I’m going to find out.

Play the Position, Not the Belt

Over the past year or so I’ve been taking privates, and it seems to have helped. One thing I picked up a few months ago was this phrase “Play the position, not the belt.” It actually goes two ways.  The original meaning was that when I spar against blues and whites I’m worried about getting beat and so I’d try harder and do dumb things. So Professor Ed was reminding me to keep playing the position whether the guy was a white or blue belt.

Lately, though, I’ve been finding that I’m also applying that against higher belts. This time it’s a reminder that even though the person I’m going against might be a purple, brown, or black belt, they’re still just putting me in different positions. They have half-guard, or side control, or mount. And I might have to work a little harder to escape, but the principles are the same.

Over the past month or so, I’ve caught myself sparring only to have my brain say “Play the position, not the belt.” It gives me that focus to start to think “Where should my hands be?” or “Which way should my hips be going?”

It’s not failsafe, far from it. It’s not magical either. But it is helpful, its’ a good reminder that I need to escape a position, or keep a position and to do either of those things, I need to focus on the fundamentals.

Yearly Progress – 2017

This year I managed to get 222.5 hours of training in, which is up from last year (183 hours.)

From the numbers below, I averaged basically 3 hours of BJJ every week for the entire year, which is lower than I would have liked. I had some stuff with work and family come up that kept me away from the gym. That’s not really an excuse, as every year there are opportunities to skip the gym and opportunities to train when I didn’t.  For example, too often I decided to skip the lunch day class and stay at work.

In terms of rank, I finished where I started, a 2 stripe blue belt.  However, I can tell from the sparring that I was able to improve my guard in the past 12 months. I’ve even had a few people comment on it. It wasn’t from learning any new guards or specific moves, but rather from working in private lessons on principles. Anyone who has been around Professor Ed has heard him talk about contact, leverage and pressure. Figuring out what that means in the guard has helped immensely. I’m simultaneously disappointed that it took me so long to learn, and excited to keep growing. In fact, I’m finally starting to actually feel like a blue belt.

I tried out Muay Thai as well. I think I only trained on Tuesdays, so that means I trained for about 4 months. I enjoyed the class, even if Kelsey constantly made fun of me, but my true love is still grappling.

Along those lines, I managed to hit a judo class almost every week for the year. Even when I was out of town, I got to visit Welcome Mat in Kansas City and had a great time training there.  Additionally, I competed in my first judo tournament, the Cornhusker state games. I placed 3rd, winning my first match by Ippon before losing by arm-bar and then by o soto gari. I ended the year passing my sanku (brown belt) test.

The one number I’m slightly disappointed in is total hours for BJJ. I was really hoping to hit 1000 total hours this year, but I came up 23.5 hours short. Baring some catastrophe, I’ll hit that early this year.

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It’s Not Just a Belt

There’s a lot of talk in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu about belts. In part this is because there are so few belts that people look at them as major accomplishments. For example, it took me 2 years to go from white to blue. Next month, I’ll have been a blue belt for 3 years, and probably only about 1/2 the way to purple at this point.  So when someone gets a new belt, it’s a big deal.

But there are also people who talk about how the belts don’t matter, and you should just enjoy training. And there’s truth to that. If you’re in this for belts, you’re in the wrong martial art. An average person with a job that gets to train a couple times a week is looking at 10-15 years to get a black belt. That’s a serious commitment.

I didn’t get in to BJJ for the belts, truth be told I didn’t even know how many there were when I started training.  And I don’t show up at the gym thinking “maybe this will help me get to my purple.”  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my belt color.

But something struck me this week. I had finished laundry and was packing up a bag for training this week. I threw in a gi, and a rashguard and a towel and then I realized I didn’t have my belt. So I pulled it out and as I did, I just looked at it for a few minutes.

0905171927That’s one end of my belt. Three years ago that was a nice, rich, blue. The left hand side there was a solid black bar that wrapped all the way around the belt. The left most piece of tape has been replaced a couple times now over the past 18 months. You can see the edge of the belt is frayed and the white is starting to show through.

As I stood there and looked at the belt I realized, for me, it’s not just a belt. It’s much more than that.

In the past 3 years this belt has been tied around my waste a few hundred, if not thousand, times. It comes off during a hard roll, and afterwards, I have to pick it up off the mat, wrap it around my waste, tie it in a knot and get to the next round of sparring.

Those frays represent hours upon hours of trying to get better.  A lot of sweat, some blood, and a few tears (at least mentally.)

The disappearing black bar reminds me of the dedication it takes to keep training. It didn’t get beat up sitting in my closet. It got beat up, like me, by being out on the mats.

There’s no notches on my belt for people I’ve tapped (relatively few) or gold medals I’ve won (still at 0.) Instead, there are notches, wear and tear on the belt for every time I tapped and started over. For every 90+ degree day, covered in sweat I pulled myself off the mat only to walk 5 feet and start it all over again with my next training partner. They represent the days when I didn’t really feel like it, but still made it to the gym. They represent the reps with newer people, showing them why I love the sport. They represent people helping me learn from my mistakes.

Most of all, the represent hard work. Years and years of hard work.

And that’s why, for me, it’s more than just a belt.

Five Years

August 6, 2012 was the first day I walked into Mid-America Martial Arts. I took a tour of the facility, bought a gi, learned how to tie my belt, and the became completely exhausted from the warmup.

I had no idea back then that I’d still be doing this in 5 years. Nor did I realize that I wouldn’t stop with jiu jitsu. True, that’s the bulk of what I’ve trained in. According to Gym Time, an app I wrote to keep track of how much time I train, I have spent 928.5 hours in the past 5 years training BJJ.  If I can hit 71.5 hours in the next 4 months, I’ll be at 1000 by the end of the year. It’s going to be close. But in addition to BJJ, I have 113 hours of Judo and even this year started doing some Muay Thai and have accumulated 14 hours there.

I have done 11 tournaments in BJJ and one in Judo.

There were several things I didn’t know when I started. Basic things like how to tie a belt, or what belts were in BJJ. But I also didn’t realize the relationship between BJJ and Judo (as Mike Penny says, “The only difference is the rules you compete under.”) I also didn’t know there were tournaments, much less that I would do 11 of them. (I’m 12-31-3 at tournaments by the way.)

But BJJ and MAMAs has changed my life. I have met people there that I know have my back in life and I have their. I have gained confidence. It’s not that I necessarily doubted myself before (as my wife will tell you) but I was only confident in certain things, like my ability to write software or something like that. But now, through various trials in BJJ and Judo, I know that I can push myself.

I also know what it’s like to really want to quit. Not training, but to quit a tournament or a match for various reasons, whether it’s because I’m exhausted or because of anxiety or something else. I have to admit that I’ve given in to that desire a couple times. But there are more instances where I’ve been able to push that thought out of my head and press on.

I’ve had weeks where training 8 hours wasn’t enough, and I’ve had weeks where I didn’t make it into the gym and was okay with that.

I can’t even begin to count the number of sparring classes where I ask myself “Why do I do this?”

I’ve had bruised shins — not from Muay Thai, but from BJJ or Judo. I’ve only broken one bone (a lesser toe) and had the occasional sprain or strained joint.

I don’t know if there’ll be a 10 year anniversary blog or not. I don’t know if I’ll make it that far. I don’t know if this blog will still be a thing then. I don’t have any plans on quitting, but things happen.

Tomorrow is Monday. God willing, I will load up my bag with all the stuff I need to do a gi lesson over lunch and another one at night followed by an hour of sparring. I’ll get home about 13 hours after I leave in the morning, exhausted, needing a shower and longing for sleep. And I’ll be glad I did.


I Fought Judo and Judo Won

Today was the day of the Judo tournament.  I definitely learned some things about myself (and about Judo.)  In the end, I earned a bronze metal by going 1-2.

The first match started with my opponent trying to go for a hip throw, he missed and I was able to try and work a choke before we got stood up. I had a good idea that he was going to try that throw again. He did and I hit a tani otoshi. The ref said “ippon” but I didn’t hear it. I heard “work the pin” so I did. I finally heard matte. As I stood up to fix my gi I saw that I had an ippon on my scoreboard.

At this point, my first Judo tournament was better than my first BJJ tournament. There I went 0-4 (submitted twice and didn’t score a point.)

I had a bit of a break, and then had to go against the guy who won his first match. I could tell he liked tai otoshi and also drop seo nage, so I was trying to figure out how to counter. He tried to hit one, I stuffed it and tried to choke him. Matte was called and I was issued a shido because when I tried to lapel choke him it was across his chin and not across his neck.

We restarted, and were working for grips, matte was called and I received a shido for same side grips. I don’t doubt that I had sleeve and lapel on the same side, it’s so natural for me to grab that. Problem was, I didn’t attack within 3 seconds.

We restart again and he again tries for a drop seo nage. I defend, come the side, use my knee to push him down, pass his guard and try to work a pin. He bridges and escapes, and we fumbled for a bit before being stood up again.

We once again wound up on the ground, I again passed his guard got kesa gatame. I heard “osaekomi” meaning the counter for the pin was called. I then heard “toketa” meaning it was broken. I heard the word. I thought “I know what that means” but I reacted as if he said “Matte” for stop. I backed away, and stood up. The referee asked me if I understood “toketa” and I said I did. It wasn’t for about another 10 minutes before I realized I reacted as if he said “matte.”

Not much else happens and time runs out. I assumed I had lost because I had 2 shidos, and there was no ippon and no wazari. But that’s not the rules. If the score, apart from shidos, is tied you go to golden time. Where first person to score wins (or if I picked up another shido or he picked up 3.)

Once again he tried for a drop seo and again I largely defended. I tried to get a cross lapel choke, and then an armbar. I was unable to get one and as he rolled out of it, he grabbed my arm. It was a typical belly down armbar. The kind I’ve defended in the gym 100 times. I had nothing, though. I couldn’t escape and had to tap.

I was now 1-1.  I had to go against the guy from my 1st match (who won his second match, that eliminated the 4th judoka.)  I thought “Ok, he’s going to come out with hip throws again.”  As we were “on deck” I stood up and had a huge head rush. I started getting tunnel vision. I had to turn towards the wall for a second and hope that the match before us would go long, but it didn’t.

As I stepped to bow on to the mat, I was seeing floaters. My brain was telling me “If you lose, you still get a medal, and you don’t have to go again.” I tried to convince myself that he was just as tired and that I didn’t need to show him I was exhausted.

I made to the middle and bowed. I heard “hajime” (begin) and when I reached for his lapels suddenly I wasn’t light headed, didn’t see any floaters. But at the same time I had nothing to give.

He hit me with a good foot sweep attempt. I defended. He tried again. I defended again. I tried one against him and it probably felt like a fly brushing his leg.

He tried one more time, and I set my weight to defend it. He switched it up and hit an awesome o soto gari. The match, and the tournament, were over.

I have still never, at any tournament, won back-t0-back matches.

But I learned a few things.

First, I learned I’m way more comfortable as a “counter-puncher.” That’s how I won my match, was to let him attack, and me counter. But that doesn’t always work, and in the 3rd match it was part of why I lost, because I wasn’t attacking, he was able to set up a good throw.

Second, 3 minutes of Judo is way harder on me than a 5 or 6 minute BJJ match. The constant up and down off the mat wore on me.

Third, and related, if I compete, I need to be mentally tougher. By the time my 3rd match started, my mind had already checked out. I was trying to get it back, but I was exhausted physically and it impacted my performance.

Fourth, I enjoyed competing. At the same time, I’m not a huge fan of the rule set. Not solely from my matches. Other matches I watched highlighted rules that I’m not a fan of. I DO like the idea of a good throw ending the match. It’s largely the other things.  I don’t know if I’ll compete in Judo again or not. I’d say probably, but that could just be the post-tournament vibes talking. But I imagine I will compete in BJJ again, and it will be interesting to see the difference once I go back there.