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Wednesday, 30 October 2013


The most important part of jiu-jitsu is the constant testing of ability in full resistance situations. The majority of this is done in sparring during training but competition also plays a big part.

I think, if nothing else, everyone should compete at least once. I, and many others, love competing, so if someone doesn't give it a try I think they could be missing out on something which will make jiu-jitsu even better for them. Now, like anything, lots of people won't like the experience. Competition is tough, can be stressful (if you get stressed I guess, I've never felt stressed about anything), you'll feel the effects of adrenaline, possibly nerves and if you lose everyone gets to see it. Personally, I don't really think these are reasons not to compete... they are problems to overcome and doing so will help to improve your jiu-jitsu. But hey, if you try it and don't enjoy it there is no reason to force yourself into it and maybe destroy your enjoyment of jiu-jitsu as a whole.

So, I don't think it's wrong that an individual doesn't compete... what I do think is pretty lame are entire clubs which don't compete, or have very few active competitors, or none of the instructors ever compete. Without students and instructors stepping outside the academy to compete, it's impossible to judge the club's overall level of ability... does each level of belt at your academy stand up to those from other academies? Can your academy compete against the rest? Are the students well rounded or is there an area where lots of people struggle? These are all questions which regular competition will answer. Also, without a large number of students competing regularly the sparring in training is likely to lose it's edge and become too far removed from a proper test of ability.

As an instructor I love watching students compete because it is the ultimate validation of everything I do. If they can use the jiu-jitsu I have taught them to beat people who are fighting 100% to stop them, what more can I ask for? It shows that not only can I pass on techniques from my instructors but I can develop people into actual fighters. This is why it's important for a club to have a large number of competitors too. Individuals can win fights and even whole competitions through athleticism or just toughness, but if a team produces multiple winners then they definitely have a high level of instruction.

Having said that, it's important to note that winning can't be seen as the only worthwhile goal of competing. When stepping up to fight, everyone should always believe they can win, but being realistic there are plenty of cases when it's highly unlikely. However, if you start to focus too much on gold being the only reason to fight it quickly makes people only want to fight if they can train every day, do extra strength & conditioning work and cut down to the lowest possible weight class... the real reason for competing should be to get out there and test your jiu-jitsu. You can do stuff in the academy, but can you do it under real pressure? It's easy to go for something in training knowing that if you fail and it goes wrong, it doesn't really matter, but in competition if you fail with one technique it could mean you lose the fight. That's where the real test is.

I wrote about excuses from people who say they are going to start training but never do... competition is probably the thing which produces the most excuses from those who do. Excuses not to compete; "I can't make the weight I want to fight at", "I haven't trained much the last few weeks", "I've only just been promoted" etc... I've heard them all and more numerous times. Simply put, competition isn't fair and it isn't meant to be. Even with the belt divisions in jiu-jitsu there are massive disparities in skill level within each belt, some people train once or twice a week whereas others train once or twice a day, some people have a lifetime of athletic training while others might have started jiu-jitsu totally out of shape... if you want a fair fight (and most people probably want a fight in their favour if they're honest) then competition is not the place to find it, but it's also not the point. Competition is facing the unknown and seeing how you fare. You put everything on the line and win or lose it's the most honest test of your skills possible.

The second part where excuses come in to competition are after losses. People say "I didn't get any sleep the night before", "I hurt my knee two days ago", "I didn't drink enough after my first fight", "The ref screwed me over" etc... and although things like that no doubt contribute to the result, it is the wrong thing to focus on afterwards. Everyone has those problems, including division winners and medallists. If you allow yourself to blame outside factors then it's easy to start not caring about winning or losing. All that matters is what happens during each fight and what you can learn from it.

So what can you learn from competition? Mainly, can you fight in a high pressure environment and use your skills against someone who is resisting to the maximum of their ability. But there is more than that... are you able to remain calm? Can you deal with the adrenaline which competition causes? Your cardio might be good in the academy but can it get you through multiple competition fights? Then there are smaller things; competition is a good place to find technical areas you struggle with. It's easy to not realise certain things you aren't good at in training. You might get caught in a submission you had never learnt an escape for, or you might find out you're not as good at escaping side control as you thought. All these are issues you can go back to your instructor and work on in order to improve your jiu-jitsu ability.

"It's not the winning that matters, it's taking part" is something I'll never tell anyone and never believe. Winning does matter, the point of competition is to try to win. It's just not the only thing which is important, and it doesn't mean that if you lose you shouldn't be able to enjoy the experience. If winning didn't matter, competition wouldn't matter. Fight to win but don't discount the experience if you lose...

...and there will be losses. If you compete then at some point you will lose. It might be a clear loss through being submitted, or by the closest of margins, or even a contested loss due to poor reffing, but regardless of why and how, you will lose. The fear of losing is probably the biggest reason that a lot of people don't ever compete but I think it's a silly reason not to. Just like tapping is part of training jiu-jitsu, losing is a part of competing, you just have to accept it. Now, that doesn't mean you shouldn't care about losing, I hate losing. But a loss isn't just an end to a competition, it's another experience which you can learn from and improve your jiu-jitsu... and sometimes even a loss where you get dominated can have positives; if you managed to not get tapped and escaped bad positions against a much superior competitor then it bodes well for future competitions.

So get out there and compete. Test the skills you spend so much time and effort on learning. If you really don't like it then don't force yourself, but please try it at least once!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Busy times

Still not much blogging action I'm afraid as the competition organisation has taken preference. Registration is closed now so divisions have been drawn up and then the usual messages to change divisions need to be dealt with. So that's basically everything done until Sunday, the day of the competition. My next job for it will be to referee all day... 10am until it finishes, no breaks, just a quick mouthful of food between fights. Hard job but worth doing it to run a competition.

I won't be competing but I still love any competition day. Seeing students fighting hard and representing the academy is one of my favourite things in jiu-jitsu. Some will lose, that's part of competition, but I know a lot will be taking medals home with them. I just can't wait to see people fighting and giving it their all, competition to me is the essence of jiu-jitsu.

Before that though, I have another full day of teaching tomorrow, so time for bed. I will be back for a full length, more focused blog shortly. In the meantime, train a lot!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Three rest days!

It's enough to send me crazy but I haven't rolled for three days now. I have long-term knee injuries which I'm awaiting surgery for so I have to take rests now and then and can rarely roll flat-out on consecutive days.

Last week I went four days rolling in a row though, ending on Sunday. So three days off was a safety to try to minimise any deterioration. What's most annoying is yesterday they felt great but now today I am having pain in one again... without having trained! Gutted. The good part is that one knee is feeling really good and I think the injury I had may even be fully healed, the bad one definitely requires surgery though... torn meniscus.

The point of this post though... for people who train regularly (i.e. every day or most days) it can be hard to take even one rest day, let alone multiple in a row... but it's a must. I've learnt the hard way that training through some injuries is a bad idea. I once trained with a fairly painful shoulder which led to me having 8 months off and numerous times I've had an injury which would probably have healed with a week off, but not taking time off led to a much longer healing time.

Unless you are sure it's ok to train with an injury, take time off and use ice. In the long run it will definitely be the best option.

But anyway, I'm mega excited now, full day of rolling tomorrow :)

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


I had a conversation today with a student who runs one of the team's affiliate clubs. He told me that they are struggling to get big numbers in classes and thought that the location could be the problem as they are not situated in the middle of the town. Lots of people tell him they would come training but it's difficult for them to travel to the club.

The truth is that it's not a great distance at all, and it's not the travel which is the problem at all. The people who say that are simply too lazy or scared to actually go training. If it's not travel used as an excuse it's time, cost, or fitness, or something else. Very rarely as those things actual problems which prevent people training; I have students who regularly travel an hour each way, people say they don't have time to train yet they watch hours of TV each night, they spend more in one night out than monthly unlimited training would cost them etc...

People's reasons for saying these things must vary and I find it really tricky to understand the mindset at all. I guess for some they are trying to save face a bit; they want people to think they want to do, but they know they really don't have any interest for whatever reason. They probably think those who do train would think less of them for some reason, but the truth is nobody cares. I've come across some people in my time who want to pretend to be a part of the club without training, which I find really strange. They might do one class but often never train at all, then they message constantly saying why they couldn't turn up for training last night and updating you on when they will be there... repeating that cycle over and over. If anyone can tell me what's going on with these people, please do!

A good bet for why a lot of people make excuses is the ego issue again. They convince themselves they could do it, they probably even convince themselves they'd be really good at it, but they do everything they can to avoid actually getting involved and letting their fantasy world get destroyed. Some of these people probably even believe their own excuses are true. The same thing goes for people who are just lazy, they pretend they're not by making up excuses for themselves. They couldn't go training because it's too far to drive, yet they can sit at home doing nothing all night no problem.

These excuses aren't always from people who never start training but also from people who quit. This is something I find even stranger, because they used to train and not have those issues but all of a sudden they can't train any more? Ok, sometimes people do have a change to their life (job, kids etc) but nearly always they could still train even if it was less regularly. Again, these people are using excuses to lie to themselves so they can feel better.

But there is also another source of excuses from people who train, and that's competition losses. Every competition leads to someone saying "I lost because...".  Sometimes these things are self-critical and that's fine, but often it's some sort of attempt to somehow lessen the impact of the loss. This is something worth staying well away from. Yes, you can get screwed by a referee, you might have not slept the night before, you may have felt a bit sick... but if you lose you lose. The best thing to do is to accept it, learn from any mistakes you made or techniques which beat you and move on. Go back to training and work on the problems. Learning to accept loss is an important part of competing because it allows you to do those things... telling everyone the excuses for your loss will prevent that happening.

Now, none of this means there can't be legit reasons for things. Sometimes you really can't make training because you had to do something else, or you were ill... whatever, but if you've been too lazy to go training for a month don't say "I just haven't had any time", be honest, say you were being lazy and then do something about it.

This all applies to any other part of life; excuses are something to avoid. At best they are worthless, but they cause problems themselves; they will prevent you learning from mistakes because you will just be happy to make excuses again the next time something happens.

What are you doing tomorrow? I've got a day off teaching jiu-jitsu so I'll be in training!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The plateau myth

I haven't blogged for a few days as I've been busy with other stuff (I'm currently organising a competition and have been trying to advertise it online etc), but as always I've been training a lot.

Something which has recently been mentioned to me by a few people, and I regularly see spoken about on forums, is that they feel they are not improving and their skills are plateauing. Now, I'll tell you this straight, no such thing exists! If you are actually training and are training properly then you will be improving all the time. It might be slow, it might be hard to notice and you may not even realise or believe it, but trust me you are improving.

There are a few reasons people think they're not improving, with the biggest being that most people tend to judge themselves by their performance against others (which is natural but not always sensible). If someone is training more than you, they will usually be improving faster than you, so if you judge yourself by how you get on with them in rolling you will think you haven't improved but they have. The truth is you have both improved, just at different rates. Don't judge yourself directly against others, think about stuff like "Am I harder to submit now?", "Can I move my hips better?", "Do I hit techniques and transitions smoother?" etc...

Another big part of this, and I think I've mentioned it in a previous blog at some point, is that jiu-jitsu is based on your performance in the moment, and we all vary day-to-day on this. The higher level you get the more consistent you will be but there will always be minor variation every session, and when you're a novice the variation can be massive. What affects this even more is that it's not only your own performance which matters but that of your competition opponents or sparring partners. If you perform below your peak and they are at the top of their game, you're going to feel like you've just taken two steps back, but all you're really experiencing is normal random variation. If you roll with the same person again in two weeks time you might find things go very differently.

What you have to always remember is that jiu-jitsu is a long game. You shouldn't be too concerned with session-to-session variation, or whether you've improved since last month. Always look to the future and instead of worrying that you're not improving, just try to focus on any specific areas you struggle with (I used to have privates with my instructor to fix these when I was just starting out).

Plateaus don't exist, keep training and enjoy it.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Respect the tap

This has got to be the most important rule of training jiu-jitsu; you must respect the tap.

The reason jiu-jitsu works is that the training involves a large amount of full resistance training. This means you learn to use the techniques under proper pressure, not just in a sequence of pre-determined moves. But in order to do this, and to be able to apply submissions with proper intent, you have to have a way to signal you have been caught in a submission... and this is obviously the tap.

So as everyone who trains jiu-jitsu knows, the tap is normally the act of tapping your hand on your opponent multiple times to signal you can't escape and would either go unconscious or have a joint broken by the hold. But a tap can take other forms... most of the time you tap on your partner's body but sometimes it will be on the mat, sometimes you will have to use a foot if your hands and trapped, and sometimes you will have to verbally tap. To verbally tap you should always say "Tap" and nothing else unless you know your partner definitely understands what you mean.

What follows from this is that there are better and worse ways to tap. Personally I think verbally tapping is the best option; it allows for a much higher intensity of attack, especially between higher level fighters. After this is the most common method of tapping with your hand on your opponent's body; for this you should always tap multiple times and fairly hard. Then if you need to tap the mat (due to positioning) you should, again, tap multiple times and hard enough to make a loud sound. If you are using your foot, it will pretty much always be on the mat, so make sure it is repeated and loud otherwise your partner may think you are just trying to base.

Now, the most important part of tapping is that it has to stop the hold being applied. There is no excuse for not releasing something immediately in training. If you break this trust then the rules of sparring change and it is no longer a safe environment. This is obvious to pretty much everyone who trains. However, what some people may not consider is the other side of it... the person tapping also has to respect the tap; you should only tap if you have to. Just because you are stuck in a position it doesn't mean you can tap in order to restart. You also shouldn't tap before someone gets close to finishing a submission; they might not even want to submit you with it and could be waiting for you to escape so they can try countering it. If you tap too early you cheat your partner out of proper training experience and you also completely avoid learning to escape in a full resistance situation. So this means the respect between sparring partners is balanced... you know you have to stop when someone taps because they will only tap when they have to.

The last part of this should be obvious, but over the years I have seen most of these rules broken. There are no circumstances where it is ok to fake a tap. Making a hand movement seem a bit like a tap to try to get someone to release and then continuing to fight is not only cowardly but it will quickly turn a training environment sour. A tap is not a slap either, and should never be aimed at vulnerable parts of the body (although this could happen accidentally); you might be annoyed (sort your ego out!) but if you think you are getting some sort of petty revenge you should remember you could have been put unconscious or had a joint destroyed! Also, as I've already covered, you should only tap because you have to. This doesn't always mean a submission, you may feel like you're about to be sick or feint, or may have injured yourself during a movement, but never, ever tap because you're tired or unable to escape. Again, doing this will make your partner start to not respect your taps... everyone knows the story of the boy who cried wolf (if you don't, Google knows).

Spar hard, tap if you have to.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Everyone has bad training sessions

I often hear people moaning about having had a bad training session and not performing as well as they think they should. A lot of the time I think those people think it's because they are low level and aren't good at "getting" jiu-jitsu... as if they have some sort of problem understanding techniques. The simple fact is that at any level the same thing happens, everyone can have bad sessions.

I had one today, and it would be easy to reel off numerous reasons why or explain the things which I feel made me perform badly... but none of it matters. Fact is it's done and dusted, just gotta take the lessons I can from it and prepare for tomorrow's training.

So if you're feeling like it's pointless trying to get good at jiu-jitsu because you're a 4 stripe white belt and you just got tapped by someone without even 1 stripe, just remember that black belts have bad sessions too... but we've learnt that the only response is to keep going.

Use your disappoint to fuel your next session :-)

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Just another great day of training

I taught two classes today and continued the current focus of armbars. Just one technique per class... armbar from mount in the day class and armbar from guard in the basics. Nothing special, nothing flashy, just basic techniques that will work at all levels and a focus on being able to maintain tight control in the finishing position.

My favourite thing about teaching like this is that I can see everyone start drilling the technique and a lot will be struggling with basic movements and positioning. Then once those problems are corrected, by sticking to the same basic technique throughout the class I can add in numerous details which everyone will be able to implement straight away. That means everyone leaves the class with a new technique which they can start to use immediately rather than having experienced numerous techniques for the first time ever and be unable to do any of them well. I'm sure this approach can be frustrating to some people because they want to learn everything straight away, but in the long run a slow and steady approach is definitely the way to go. If you want to learn quicker, train more.

I'd been off sparring most of last week as I'd been a bit ill, so I turned it up a notch tonight which is always fun. Lots more subs than normal in order to work up a proper sweat. I need to do this for a few weeks now as I'm going to be competing at black belt for the first time in November. The only downside is that both my knees are now pretty sore (I'm awaiting surgery on both of them) but I can't resist competing so it's got to be done. This comes back to how much I love jiu-jitsu, the feeling of competing is awesome, I can't resist it.

One other thing I've been thinking about on the ego issue while rolling with lower grades is this... people fight much harder if they think they've earned a position than if you just give it up easily. I have turtled up before and then been surprised that my rolling partner doesn't engage, which they said was because they thought it was a trap (Admiral Ackbar style). If people think they got to a position by merit though, they tend to really go for it as they see there chance to tap a higher grade (and who doesn't like doing that? haha).

Let's hope my knees feel good tomorrow so I can get my ass kicked by my instructor.

Monday, 14 October 2013

I love jiu-jitsu

I've said before that not everybody is going to enjoy jiu-jitsu, but for those that do it often goes the other way... so many people absolutely love jiu-jitsu, but why? I don't think people love it because of the benefits, although they no doubt help. What I believe hooks most people are two things; the camaraderie amongst the team and the never ending challenge.

Lots of people end up training jiu-jitsu four or more times a week and most people train at least twice a week, that's a lot time spent with the same group of people and so it's natural to become good friends with those people. I have hundreds of friends who I know very well and I get to spend loads of time with, how can that be anything other than awesome? You don't just go training and learn new techniques, you have a laugh and banter with your mates the same time. This is another reason I like to keep lessons as informal and relaxed as possible. Basically, jiu-jitsu classes are like a night out with your mates but instead of wasting money on getting drunk you get to improve your life and learn how to beat people up... just joking... partially ;-)

Then the other part of jiu-jitsu which is awesome is that it never gets boring. There is always something new to learn, from a totally new sweep down to a tiny grip variation which improves a guard pass or tightens a submission. You can always try new things in training, I don't believe anyone could ever perform every technique a human body is capable of. Plus there is the performance aspect to this... unless you are an elite world class competitor there are always going to be loads of people better than you who you can aim to catch up with. I've been training for over eight and a half years (the last three full-time) and there are still plenty of people in the UK who can smash me... Braulio Estima makes me feel like a first day white belt. So when I know the level of ability that is possible I always have something to aim for, there is no end point.

Now that I think about it, there is probably a third reason... when you are training it's hard to think about other stuff, you become so in the moment while rolling. So any stresses or worries you have are forgotten for the time you're training, and quite possibly afterwards too. This isn't really a big factor for me because I don't let myself stress or worry about anything anyway.

I absolutely love jiu-jitsu and can't wait to get on the mats tomorrow. If for some reason you're reading this but don't train, give it a go. If you do train, do it more. If you used to train but stopped for some reason, stop being silly and get back to it!

Friday, 11 October 2013


Now this is a big subject in jiu-jitsu and one that I think a lot of people pretend not to have a problem with but probably do.

The first thing that people tend to relate ego to is that you have to accept you are gonna get tapped. This is definitely true, especially so when you first start, and I covered this in my previous blog post as a reason that many people quit straight away. However, this is something that everyone who continues training past one lesson gets over immediately (the only other option being that they quit) so it's not really the big issue when you first start, it takes time to become a problem.

The big issues surrounding ego are what happens to people as they become more experienced, and especially if they are training at a relatively low experience level club (i.e. a purple belt at a club of mainly white belts). Although anyone who trains jiu-jitsu will have accepted they get tapped, this is easy to handle as a white belt... the problems start at the first promotion to blue belt. Now, all of a sudden, after what could be 2 years training, or more, there is the new possibility of being tapped by a lower grade. A lot of people can't handle this, and it only gets worse the higher the belt they wear. This shows how overcoming the ego issues surrounding being tapped when you start jiu-jitsu doesn't mean anything in the long run. To train jiu-jitsu you have to be able to accept the truth that if you want to learn efficiently and you train at a competitive academy you will always be at risk of getting tapped by lower grades. The best way I can explain this is through my own experience...

Since 2007 I have been the second most experienced member of the academy, this has meant that my instructor (Chris Rees) has been the only regular sparring partner able to always put me under pressure. Due to my experience I also became an instructor and eventually a full-time instructor. In this situation I think it would be easy to start worrying about being tapped or "losing" a round in sparring, especially as jiu-jitsu is ultra competitive by it's very nature. But training jiu-jitsu isn't competitive, in training you are meant to be improving yourself and your team each session. Being overly competitive in the training environment is harmful to yourself and the team. If you start to worry about being tapped then you will make sure you avoid certain sparring partners... I am very often vastly outmatched in both size and strength, the academy has numerous brown and purple belts who definitely all have the potential to tap me, and no doubt will at some point (some already have), but if I avoided rolling with them I would be missing out on the best sparring available to me. Being worried about getting tapped or beaten will also mean you avoid trying new techniques... as a purple belt I specifically remember being tapped by experienced white belts on a few occasions because I was trying out a new technique. This will happen if you always put yourself in new positions and try new techniques; you will make mistakes and people will take advantage of it. If you don't constantly try new things and put yourself in bad positions you will retard your improvement and your submission defence will be lacking when you really need it.

But ego goes further than this, there are many other issues. One classic is the people who will talk about who they can tap, or feel the need to tell people "I swept so and so the other day". If you tell people these things then consider, who are you trying to impress? Your instructors will not be impressed, so are you really trying to look good in the eyes of white and blue belts? The fallout from this sort of talk is also bad for the training environment; nobody wants to be the person someone is boasting about tapping, and if the instructors/higher grades think every time they let someone sweep them or pass their guard it will become a part of the changing room conversation it will stop happening quickly, meaning much worse sparring experience for the lower grades. Everyone knows roughly who taps who, everyone knows the approximate pecking order in an academy... we wear our grades around our waist after all. The only possible reason to discuss things that happen in sparring is if you are speaking privately with an instructor regarding your own progression... but even then, they probably already know the truth :)

A little bit more on trying new things during sparring; it's easy to try stuff on people much lower level than you; there is a small chance of it going wrong, but most of the time it will work out in your favour. But if you only ever do this you won't gain as much experience as you could by trying new things on more experienced people. I always look to make new techniques work on as high level sparring partners as possible. If this means I don't tap someone during a round or would have lost the round under competition rules, so be it. I wouldn't see this as a failure as I will undoubtedly have learnt something about the new techniques I was trying; the more experienced sparring partners are much more likely to take advantage of mistakes you make trying the technique. If you only ever try them on low level partners, you will gain a false sense of security and may be performing a technique incorrectly but still managing to finish it successfully. This won't work out well when you try it in a competition.

Something very similar to this is letting people do certain techniques to you. Lots of the time people think that if you are a coloured belt and will let a white belt sweep you during sparring, you have no ego. But I think this couldn't be further from the truth. If all you ever do is let people cleanly perform techniques on you, it's just another way of protecting your ego. Anyone can let someone hit a clean technique... you know you let them so what does it matter? Some people also go out of their way to make sure the person knows they let them, and that speaks for itself. What I don't see a lot of people doing is to let someone get halfway through a technique (or more, or less) and then try 100% to prevent or counter it. I love doing this during sparring and sometimes it does lead to the person successfully completing the technique, but what does this matter? It makes sparring harder for me and so makes my training more beneficial. It also lets people have experience attacking someone who is higher level and who will counter/reverse them if they make any mistake. Everyone wins. Another aspect of this is that I've heard people suggest to let people tap you to get rid of your ego. I have no idea how this gets rid of ego. If you're letting someone tap you, you know it only happened because you let it, so what's the point? You don't need to be tapping to make sure you have no ego.

The whole 'I let them tap/sweep/submit me' thing is actually another way ego manifests itself in training. It's an excuse people use whenever it happens. This is the sort of thing you have to guard yourself against, and it's easy to do. Although most of the time when I roll I do like to play around with positions, let people work attacks, put myself into submissions etc... there are sessions when I decide I won't give up anything at all. No submissions attempts, no points, no bad positions, not even one advantage. That way I don't even have the option of pretending that I let it happen. The other option is that I will decide I am going to tap everyone at least once every round (a lot of the time I don't worry about getting submissions), so if I fail I have no excuse for it I just know I failed. Doing these things makes sure that my ego is kept in control.

Then there are the less jiu-jitsu based facets of ego, people can be arrogant or boastful in any part of their life; inside or outside training. Be proud of your achievements but don't feel they make you better than anyone. Be modest and constantly try to improve yourself in everything you do.

Which brings me to the final point... you control your ego, you don't get rid of it totally. Some ego is good, you should want to be determined to be the best and to win at competitions, and you should hate losing (you only lose in comps, not training!).

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Life is tough at the bottom

I've just got home from teaching two classes tonight, a beginners course lesson and a normal class which was made up of mainly white belts. This brought up a number of conversations relating to the experience of just starting out in jiu-jitsu.

The main thing I always try to stress to people is that jiu-jitsu is tough; physically and mentally demanding beyond anything else most people will have done before. This results in a big drop-out rate after people do one class or within the first few weeks... and I don't believe any instructor/club who say otherwise, unless they don't put people in to sparring straight away (which is just delaying the inevitable). If you are just starting out with jiu-jitsu and are struggling with the fact that you just get beaten up every round and feel sore as hell the next morning, realise that the tougher something is the more rewarding it is to overcome and prosper in.

But I want to look at some of the specific things I think people struggle with when they start...

- Getting your ass kicked in sparring
This is definitely the main issue for most people, but it can be a problem for different reasons depending on personality. For some people it's a straight up ego problem, they can't handle facing the fact they are the lowest rung of the ladder over and over. But if this is the case, why will hiding from it be any better? The other reason people struggle with this is they feel like it's pointless to try because everyone smashes them. Both of these reasons lead me to say the same thing... why would you bother training if it was any different? If you could walk into a jiu-jitsu academy and handle yourself against experienced fighters what would you have to gain from the training? Let your ego go, don't worry about being a novice (everyone used to be), keep training.

- Being sore after training
Jiu-jitsu is a highly physical activity. Except for beginners course lessons, I have an absolute minimum of 30 mins sparring every lesson and have done a 2 hour class of 20 min rounds straight through before. If you weren't sore after a class something would be wrong. As you body adapts, the soreness will become much less of an issue... you simply won't feel as sore after a session and you'll be used to it. There are also things you can do to reduce the soreness; when I started I used to soak in a really hot bath straight after training and found it almost totally prevented any feeling of soreness the next day. I hear alternating hot shower/ice bath is even better... but I'd rather not sit in a bath of ice myself!

- A feeling of not improving
This probably accounts for a lot of people who drop out after 6 months or so. It's easy to think that by that stage you should be able to do much better against the experienced guys, but in a lot of cases you'll probably actually seem to perform worse against them than a few months ago. There can be two things going on here... one is that the people you are comparing yourself to are training more than you so improving at a faster rate. This will mainly apply to people who aren't all that far ahead of you in the overall scheme of things. The second part of this can be that the other people are now going much harder against you in sparring; when you first started they were probably happy to let you work positions a bit, partly to help you out and partly so they can train certain positions/counters. Now that you have improved they will be less willing to give you so much room to work. You should see this as a positive... they now consider you more of a danger and so they work harder against you. Whatever the problem, if you feel you're not improving, you are.

- Feeling like you'll never be "good"
This is similar to the last one and what people deem "good" can vary a lot but usually it comes down to the fact that even after a long time training... years... you still won't be able to get close to the top grades. There is nothing much can be said about this except that jiu-jitsu takes a lot of training to get really good at. Even those considered prodigies (BJ Penn, Caio Terra etc) still took 4 years or more of full-time training to get to the top level (Mundials champion), and the sort of person who can achieve that makes up a tiny percentage of the population. So for most people a realistic goal of just becoming a black belt is still something which is going to take 10 years or more. Don't set out expecting to become high level in a short amount of time, because if you do you will probably be very disappointed.

- Becoming frustrated at fluctuating performance results
You do one session and all of a sudden you can land all the techniques you did last week, then the very next class you can't do anything to anyone. This might not even be the result of different level sparring partners, just personal performance. For the less experienced, even blue belt level, this can be easily explained by the fact that you still have big holes in technical knowledge so depending on the positions you end up in you might have quite a few options or none. This results in a huge variation in success during sparring, and all more experience will do is reduce the variation... a purple belt sparring with a higher level might do ok if they can get to their best positions, then next session they might get smashed because the same sparring partner manages to avoid them.

- Disappointment at competition results
I have seen so many students over the years who train a lot right from the day they start, they start to get good quickly, they can beat most of the white belt in training and maybe some of the blue belts... then they compete, and they lose, maybe even lose quickly. Why? Could be any of a number of reasons; adrenaline kicks in, the opponent is just better, they just make one mistake, they use poor tactics... whatever, the result is the same. I think the reason for quitting after losing in competition comes down to two things; ego and being unable to deal with losing or thinking that their training has been pointless/insufficient/lacking. The simple fact is... people lose. Even the best guys ever lose. If you compete you will lose at some point, nobody always wins. That doesn't mean you shouldn't care about losing, you should hate losing, I hate losing. Use it as a positive, when you lose you just go back to the gym and train harder or more intelligently. Talk to your instructor about why you lost and make any changes you need, or focus on any technical areas you are lacking in.

- Injuries
I covered this in depth in a previous blog but they are part of the sport. If you follow my advice in that blog hopefully you can reduce the amount of injuries you pick up, and more importantly the severity, but you will get injured at some point. There is no way around this.

The main thing here is that jiu-jitsu is tough, if it was easy I would never have bothered sticking with it. It's tough and it will make you tough. If you keep training you will one day wear a black belt and have serious fighting skills, no matter how long it takes... but if you quit and sit at home thinking about what you could have done you will be worse off than before you set foot in the gym the first time. If you don't like it, fine, jiu-jitsu isn't something everyone will like, but if you enjoy your first lesson all you have to do is never quit and you will reap the rewards.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Does jiu-jitsu make you weird?

Don't know if it's just me but tonight in training I got kneed in the head and eye-gouged and I love it.

I don't think there are many things in life which feel better than getting home after training, tired and sweaty, covered in gi burns, bumps and bruises and getting in to a really hot shower.

Is this weird??

Sunday, 6 October 2013


Without doubt, one of the most frustrating parts of jiu-jitsu (after 'getting your ass kicked and not being able to do anything about it') is dealing with injuries. Unfortunately it's something which will happen to most people who train, and usually quite a few times.

Before anything else, I can't stress enough that if an injury seems really bad (lots of pain, massively decreased range of movement etc) you should seek medical attention. The more time you leave between getting injured and seeing a medical professional the worse things can get; longer healing time, harder to treat, more complicated surgery, worse infection potential etc. So if something seems bad, go to hospital!

Lots of minor injuries can be treated immediately using the R.I.C.E. protocol and then icing can be used to help recovery along with anti-inflammatories and stretching/massage... although you should only do these things if you understand what you are doing and have experience of the medical care provided by professionals. If you get things wrong, you can make stuff a lot worse.

The next thing to look at is injury prevention. There are plenty of things you can do which should reduce the frequency and severity of injuries...

- Make sure you tap. There is no excuse for being hurt by a submission in training if you could have tapped.
- Learn when you have to rest. Some injuries you can train with, but some you have to rest (more on this later).
- Supplement your training. The best stuff for injury prevention is to increase strength and flexibility. A basic powerlifting routine and some yoga classes will cover this.
- Know when you have to stop training early. A slight muscle pull can easily turn into a full tear if you decide to finish the round of sparring, or do one more round. This could be the difference between a week off and months.
- Don't try to be a gym hero. You don't need to fight every sweep or pass to the bitter end. If a leg or arm or anything is in a dodgy position, let your partner move on.

However, jiu-jitsu is a contact sport and you will probably get injured at some point. Not all injuries are equal though, they can vary dramatically in severity and some you can still train with fairly normally, some you can train if you modify the way you spar and others mean you have to rest end of story. Knowing what injuries you can train with takes experience, so it's always worth being overly cautious when you are a novice. The more experienced you are the better you can control sparring too, and so can manage to train with worse injuries than novices. Whatever the case though, always think about the risk/reward balance; is starting back a few days early worth the potential risk of setting yourself back by months? Jiu-jitsu is a long-term activity, so don't ruin that by taking pointless risks early on in your training.

If you are training with injuries the most important thing to remember is you can always tap. You don't have to be caught in a submission, it could just be a position which is awkward due to an injury, or maybe your partner has just gripped an injured wrist or ankle. Again, don't be a gym hero, tap and restart. One thing I dislike is before you roll telling your partner "Don't attack this cos I'm injured" etc, just say you are injured and might have to tap for no apparent reason so your partner is ready for it. If you can roll then just roll, there is always the option of tapping to prevent further injury.

You can even train with fairly major injuries if you are experienced enough and sensible about it. It might mean that there are positions you have to avoid or even only a handful of positions you can comfortably use. The most important issue with this is that you need to be experienced to be able to do these things. When you are a novice and have a major injury your best bet is definitely to rest it until it's fully healed.

One thing I would never recommend is taking painkillers to be able to train. All this does is mask the pain signals and can easily lead to further injury.

Probably the worst thing you will experience in jiu-jitsu are the times you have major injuries and have to miss training for a long period of time. Making sure you have proper medical treatment will reduce the amount of time off but some things can still take months or a year or more to recover from, so how can you deal with this? Obviously different people cope with adversity in different ways, but beyond anything else I think the most important thing is to remember that you will heal. Injuries which are impossible to heal 100% are thankfully very rare, and even most of those injuries will still heal enough to allow you to train again.

So if you're out for a long time, what things can you do? As I said, it will vary for each person but outside jiu-jitsu I like to do the things I normally would. I never watch many videos, just the big competition broadcasts, and I think it's a bad idea to watch lots of instructionals as you won't be able to try out any of the stuff you see for a long time. I think it's more likely to make you more frustrated. For the same reason, I don't think it would be a good idea to buy any new gear. Try to just live your normal life outside jiu-jitsu, don't preoccupy yourself with jiu-jitsu and remember that you will heal!

There are things you can do while injured. There is no reason you can't attend classes to watch (as long as your instructor will allow it, but I don't see why they wouldn't)... this will help you still feel part of the club and obviously lets you see your friends who you train with. Depending on your injury there may still be some things you can do on the mats too. In the past I had a very bad shoulder injury which put me out of action for 8 months. In that time I use to go to the academy and do as many solo drills as I could; stuff like backward, forward, sideways rolls, shrimping, sit-outs etc (I might do a video of this sort of thing at some point). Anything I could think of which didn't cause problems to my shoulder (it could bear weight but I couldn't move my arm much). As my shoulder got better I increased the intensity of these sessions (moving faster, more reps, for longer etc) so that when I got back to training I had at least a little bit of cardio. However, as dealing with time off is more of a mental issue, you really have to find your own way to deal with things.

Knowing when you are safe to go back to full training can be difficult to judge, and it's not something anyone else can tell you whether you're ready for. You have to make a judgement call based on what it feels like to move the injured body part. A good way to safely check is to drill something which involves moving or putting strain on the injury and then building up the intensity/resistance of drilling.

You also need to be prepared for returning to training after a long period off. It's not easy and it's a big cause of people quitting training totally. I have seen a lot of people over the years who get injured, spend months off the mat then return only to disappear after a few sessions back. Why does this happen? Quite simply, it's another ego issue. When you spend a long time away not training everyone else is, so you can easily find yourself being tapped by lower grades and people you used to tap. This is no reason to stop training though, it's just another hurdle to overcome and is no different to what everyone faces when they first start training. If you are a coloured belt you need to realise that any pressure you feel to perform is only something you make up in your own head; if you get tapped just suck it up and keep training.

The worst part of returning to training is lack of cardio. Even if your injury allowed you to still do some cardio training, it won't be the same as jiu-jitsu cardio and you will find it tough when you first start back. The only way to deal with this is to get stuck in straight away and not avoid hard work. As long as your injury has healed enough to allow it, you should be sparring every round as soon as you're back. If you just do a couple of rounds then sit out because you're tired your cardio will take a long time to come back, but if you just suck it up and do every round you will soon be back to the level you were before.

The last issue with returning from a long hiatus is a loss of skills. Personally, I don't think skills decrease that much with time out (unless you are very inexperienced). You will lose quickness of thought and your reactions won't be as good as they were, but your general skill level will remain and it won't take you long to get back to normal the same as cardio. I always use the analogy that I haven't ridden a road bike now for around 15 years, but I know I could jump on one and ride it without problem. Obviously riding a bike involves less technique than jiu-jitsu, but it is a useful example.

So basically in summary; you are gonna get injured, treat it properly and get back on it as soon as properly. But remember, fingers and toes don't count ;-)

Saturday, 5 October 2013


I don't like much formality in jiu-jitsu, or even life in general. Politeness doesn't have to mean a set of arbitrary rules. That said, I do think there are some rules of etiquette worth following in jiu-jitsu...

1. Be clean!
This is the most important. There is no reason or excuse to have poor hygiene at any time, but definitely not when you're taking part in a sport with such close contact. This means...
- you HAVE to wash your gi every time you wear it, and do it as soon as you get home... don't leave it sitting in your bag for hours.
- wash your belt! I know people who say you shouldn't wash your belt for whatever stupid superstitious reason, but the simple fact is your belt can smell and contain bacteria just as much as your gi. It doesn't get as sweaty so doesn't necessarily need cleaning every session, but do it regularly and especially after any particularly sweaty sessions.
- you should be clean and not smell when you turn up for training. You don't need to shower directly before (and I've read that this is actually a bad idea as it makes you more susceptible to picking up infections) but you must be clean.
- your finger and toe nails should be short, nobody wants to roll with Wolverine.
- you definitely shouldn't train with anything contagious; skin conditions or general illness.
- if you have any cuts/open wounds make sure they are totally covered, and if the tape/bandage/plaster comes off throw it in a bin and replace it immediately. If you bleed on the mat, tell your instructor immediately.

2. Always remember you are a representative of your instructor and academy
When you're talking about your instructor or academy online, or you're waiting in the reception while the kids class clears out, whatever situation be mindful of what you say. Something which is an in-joke at the academy could sound very different to an outsider.

3. Treat your academy with respect
It's the place you go to train and probably spend a fair amount of time at, so don't leave your rubbish in or outside the academy and definitely don't step on the mats with shoes on!

4. Treat your instructor and training partners with respect
Should go without saying. Also, adults shouldn't need to have this explained to them; obvious things like you should listen to what your instructor says, don't talk while they're explaining technique, don't belittle training partners or make anyone feel uncomfortable etc...

5. When rolling and you are close to another pair, the lower grades should move... most of the time
I don't like imposing rules of seniority but in this case someone has to move and I think it's fair to let the higher grades get on with it. However, if one pair is just sitting in a closed guard and the others are halfway through a berimbolo, it's much easier for the pair in guard to move regardless of grade.

6. Don't talk about who you can tap or who you swept etc
For numerous reasons; firstly training is training, the only submissions which really count are in competition. Secondly, it breeds a poor training environment and takes away from a sense of being a unified team. You are meant to be there to help each other improve, not trying to beat each other and feel like you need to prove who is the best. Definitely never celebrate tapping someone in training!

7. Don't undermine instructors or students
If you feel an instructor has taught something incorrectly then speak to the head instructor not other students, definitely don't talk about it in front of the whole class. If you have an issue of any sort with another student then again, you should speak to your head instructor and not start talking to other students about it.

8. Respect the tap
When someone taps, you stop, end of story.

...and I think that's about it. I may have forgotten something though, and would be interested to hear anything you think should be added.

Friday, 4 October 2013

The secret to getting good at jiu-jitsu!! And this time, you really don't have to pay for it :)

Ok, get this, getting good at jiu-jitsu is simple... it's just not easy.

This is how you get good...
1- train as much as you can
2- listen to your instructor
3- always try new things

1 is pretty self-explanatory. The more you train the quicker you will improve. I find that for novices there is an exponential rate of learning, because they are starting from zero knowledge and every little thing they learn will help them in multiple positions/techniques. So when you start, if you train every day for a month you will find that there are much more experienced white belts who you can now tap. This rate of learning drops off eventually though, and that's the point you have to make sure you train in a way which you will improve the most. It should go without saying that 'train as much as you can' means you need to do full resistance sparring a lot! Drilling and light, more technical rolling have their place, but full sparring is where you truly learn jiu-jitsu.

2 sounds obvious but it's surprising how many people I see who don't listen to advice given by their instructor(s). The people who improve the quickest are those who ask their instructor for help on something, then listen to the advice and try to put it into practice. If you ask questions then second guess the advice, or think you know better for some reason, don't expect to get much better.

3 is probably the most important. You have to always try new techniques. This especially means you should try to use the techniques you have just learnt in the rolling session afterwards, even if it's something you think might not work for your body type or whatever. If you're rolling with someone you can dominate, definitely use it as an opportunity to give it a go, and on anyone else try it out if you end up in the correct position for it. Also, just try stuff you think might work... if it doesn't work you still learn from it. If you never try anything new you will just get slowly better at the small amount of stuff you use, but if you always try new things you will constantly learn and improve your overall knowledge of jiu-jitsu. Each technique is not a separate entity, nearly everything has cross-over... you might realise how important one detail of a technique is and then suddenly realise that's why another technique hasn't been working on anyone.

I didn't include it as a separate point because I think it falls under no.3 but you should also try to roll with as many different people as possible. People who kick your ass, people who's ass you can kick and people who will be a tough and even scrap. People bigger than you, smaller than you, the same size as you. Strong people, weak people, tall, short, fat, muscular... every option will give you different challenges and force you to learn to improvise and make adjustments to techniques/tactics. My last blog post is also relevant to this, check it out here.

So now you know the secret of getting good at jiu-jitsu, and it probably feels like it sucks because there are no short-cuts and no easy ways of getting experience. That's jiu-jitsu though, it takes a lot of training to get really good at it and it's tough because you have to go through a long period of just getting beaten up every session... but as I've said before, it's the same for everyone.

There are other things you can do as well, like cross-training in other arts (judo, wrestling), physical training (for strength, flexibility etc) and also competing is an excellent way of helping you improve. I'll cover these things in the future though :)

You should be able to get something out of every roll

I really think that every single person, no matter their grade/age/size/whatever, should be able to learn and improve from every single round of sparring no matter who their partner is. However, it won't happen if your goal every round is to "win".

Before I get into it, I need to say that in this, and any post, when I say "white belt" I mean a real Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu novice, not someone who has done 10 years nogi or is a judo 6th dan and just started jiu-jitsu.

Now, if you are sparring with someone roughly around your own level it's gonna end up a tough fight so just go for it. This is fine, and probably most of your sparring should be around this level. Outside of sparring with people you're roughly equal with is where it takes more work though...

What about when you are totally outclassed and have no chance? The biggest factor is that it's up to them how things are gonna go; they might decide to crush you and give you no chances at all or they might play around and let you move a bit. If they go with the first option then it's gonna be a tough roll but you can work on just trying to defend; keep your elbows tight, keep your chin tucked and don't try too much. Your aim should be to make it as hard as possible for them to submit you. But if they decide to give you a bit more room to work you should definitely try stuff... aim to try your best techniques that you know well, then pay attention to what they do to shut you down, counter or reverse. If they are rolling like this then most likely they will be happy to help you out with stuff as you roll too, so ask questions if you're stuck in a position and don't know what to do. Or if they counter your best attack, ask them how they did it (this would be better to ask at the end of the round).

Of course, the opposite situation is where you totally outclass your partner. This depends on the levels involved I think; a black belt rolling with a purple belt will get something out of totally crushing them, but a purple belt rolling with a white belt probably won't (unless the white belt is ultra strong/athletic maybe). If you're way better than someone you should try to make it interesting, you know you can submit them so there is little point in doing that again and again. Try to work on one specific attack (multiple entries into the same submission, multiple attacks off the same set-up, secondary attacks after letting them escape the first etc) or constantly put yourself in bad positions or work on submission escapes. Work on new techniques you've learnt and see what happens in a full resistance situation, or something else I like to do is try to get into weird situations/positions which I haven't experienced before and then work from there. Obviously another good option is to help whoever you're rolling with :-)

But those situations are the more normal stuff...

What about the guy who will just stay inside your closed guard, not try to pass and is tough to sweep or submit? Just look at it as a good challenge... you know you're doing well if you manage to sweep or submit for a start, and if you can't get close then open up your guard and try to make them work. It might result in you getting your guard passed but it's training not competition. It might not end up being the most useful of sparring, but it's only one round and it's a tactic you will probably come up against at some point if you compete.

Another type of person I know people don't like to roll with are the really small students who are also not strong. Some people almost seem to feel like it isn't a challenge, but the challenge should be twofold; don't overpower them with strength, just use good technique, and keep your ego in check. I have seen many times where a stronger man is rolling with a woman and they will roll without strength until they end up in a bad position, then they go all out and use strength alone to escape. Don't fall into that trap, you won't learn anything new, you won't be able to use that tactic against people who are also strong and you're missing out on great training... the smallest students have nothing but technique to rely on, so the chances are they can definitely teach you something.

Sometimes it's not your partner who makes you have to use certain tactics to learn, it might be you. If you're much bigger or stronger than most people then make sure you don't always go to the top position, work on your guard and escapes back to guard. But don't make another classic mistake I see people doing in this situation; pulling guard then just jumping back to knees and driving someone over, or letting someone go to top side control then bench pressing them off. All these things prove are that you're stronger/bigger. Work on your technique, even if it means you can't escape. Don't give in to ego and kick back into hulk mode!

I can't cover off every possibility but I hope this gives you ideas. Except for people who are unsafe or unhygienic (who the instructor should sort out anyway) there shouldn't be anyone you avoid for any reason. Make sure you get something out of every roll!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Stuff you need to buy if you train jiu-jitsu

The obvious things you need for training jiu-jitsu are a gi, a belt and some underwear, plus it's traditional to turn up and go home with clothes on so some of them too. But beyond that there isn't really much else which are totally necessary. However, there are quite a few things I recommend you invest some money in...

Ice packs - get at least two and keep them in your home freezer. Using ice packs on minor injuries (I do it 20mins on, 10mins off as long as possible) will help you to heal much quicker and it's such an easy thing to do.

Spray-on plaster - normal plasters won't stay on due to sweat, even masses of tape can come off during hard rolling and regular training quickly uses up a lot of tape. The spray-on plaster you can buy will prevent bleeding and I've never found it to fail, although sometimes I have applied 2-3 layers (knees/toes).

A proper gumshield - I definitely don't mean a cheap boil & bite. I never understand why people will spend money on "limited edition" gis and top end custom rashguard/shorts but not on a good gumshield. I have an OPro and highly recommend them. These sort of gumshields cost over 10 times more than the cheap ones, but they fit perfectly and can save you huge dental bills.

Alcohol based hand spray/gel - an easy way to at least clean your hands before you head home (obviously not necessary if your academy has showers) and also helps to clean any wounds you open up during training. You could also go for packs of disposable wipes, but I don't find these as easy to use.

Electrical tape - great for taping up toes or fingers, or covering cuts if you don't have spray-on plaster. Also works well to sort out numerous other problems.

Kneepads - just the thin variety, nothing major. Your knees take constant punishment during jiu-jitsu so reducing the problem on impacts is worthwhile.

Cold spray - good for any minor injuries you pick up, before you get home and can ice it.

Heat rub/oil - helps to loosen up any muscles which are tight/sore before training. Don't use too much though, and only apply on areas which will be well covered.

Kitchen roll - good for wiping up any blood from you or your partner and it doesn't fall apart from sweat like toilet paper/tissue.

Small towel - goes without saying that you will be sweating a lot during training. Wash it every time!