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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Other stuff on promotions...

I've seen a few discussions on forums/facebook etc recently, all about who should give out belt promotions.

To start, black belt is the most important promotion no doubt. So who should promote someone to black belt? Ideally it should be someone who has seen that person develop from the start of their training and given them every belt... but that can be impossible for a huge number of reasons. It should definitely be someone who has been teaching that person for at least a few years, otherwise what meaning does the belt have other than an arbitrary indicator of ability? A black belt is a sign that the instructor is happy for the student to represent them in competition and teaching at that level. An instructor who has just met someone can't know enough about a person to make that decision in good conscience.

The most official reckoning on who should promote to black belt is the IBJJF who say 2nd degree black belt and I think that's a good rule to follow. For someone to be getting promoted to black belt they should really have a direct relationship with or one step removed to a 2nd degree black belt... otherwise what sort of set-up is an academy which doesn't have a link to a 2nd degree at all?

As for belts below that, I don't think it matters too much as long as a 2nd degree is happy with it under their name or the person promoting is a black belt. What is important is that someone who regularly teaches someone and is able to judge their ability is involved in awarding the promotion. Ideally this will be a black belt, but if it's a lower belt who has been authorised to do so then so be it. The only dodgy stuff is when people promote someone to a higher or equal grade than themselves, they promote without having legitimate lineage themselves, promotion is done during a seminar outside your instructor's lineage or money has to change hands for it to happen.

Giving out and receiving a promotion should be part of an instructor-student relationship. Within that, as long as promotions are being done for honest reasons then it should be all good.

Friday, 27 December 2013

It's been a while...

It's been two weeks since I last blogged due to preparation for Christmas and the big day itself (which is awesome with a three year old!) but I'm back teaching and training full-time following on from my surgery. Recovery has been great and since rolling I've had no problems whatsover... except seriously bad cardio haha

So that's what I want to talk about, returning from injury. I know a lot of people do this badly. Most important thing is, you have to rest and rehab some injuries, you CANNOT train. It could be due to severity or injury but there are plenty of things which are best given total rest. The more you train the more you'll understand what injuries you can train with, but if in doubt speak to your instructor.

I had a fairly minor op on my knee so the main thing blocking me from training after it was swelling in and around the knee. I could straighten it immediately after the op, but I had nowhere near full range of motion bending it. This meant that sitting in posture or doing butterfly guard would have put a lot of pressure on the joint and put it at risk of getting reinjured. So I waited until I could touch my heel to my ass (should I say bum? Too much American TV haha) before I started training... and that took about 3 weeks.

I know a lot of people have quite a lot of trepidation about restarting after injury, but I think if you are sensible about it there is no need for this. Think about what movements/positions the injured body part will have to deal with and what sort of range of movement and/or weight bearing you're able to do. How much can you protect the injury and the type of injury matters a lot too... you can usually train with ankle and wrist injuries without too much trouble, but anything in or around upper leg/hips/abs is difficult to avoid worsening. Muscle tears and really easy to make worse whereas tendon and ligament damage can be protected by training smart.

Training smart with an injury means you are going to have an ego check... there are a few ways you can lose to it here; one, you've just had time off and you're not 100%... that means some people might have improved enough to tap you and plenty will definitely be able to give you a tougher fight than before. Cardio is also going to be an issue, so tough sparring sessions are going to be really hard, especially the last few rounds. Make sure you don't sit out or avoid people because of this, yes you might get tapped more, or by people who couldn't before, but if you avoid any sparring for fear of losing you've lost to ego. The second way to lose is by using the injury as an excuse... you only got tapped because of the injury, you keep having to stop in the middle of a round because you're sore. Maybe you tell other people these things, or just tell it to yourself, it doesn't matter... just don't do it. Then probably the least common but most dangerous issue is not being prepared to tap due to an awkward position or when you feel damage to the injury. This is just silly... if you need to tap, tap.

Finally, when rolling after or with an injury I think you also have to be fair to your partners. I don't like it when people tell their sparring partner stuff like "Don't grab my arm cos..." or "Take it easy because...", if you want to roll you just roll, if you need to tap then tap. If something is bad enough to need to avoid someone touching it at all then you shouldn't be rolling and if you do choose to roll it's your problem, you shouldn't expect your sparring partners to have to avoid doing things which will be natural reactions. All I ever tell people before I roll is that I may have to tap unexpectedly so they should be ready to stop if I do.

As for me... I've done about 6 or 7 sessions of rolling since I started back and my knee feels great. I'm able to roll fairly hard without any issue, although I'm still avoiding any big pressure on the knee and it does feel slightly sore after training (but the soreness is decreasing). Absolutely chuffed with how the surgery and rehab have gone, I reckon I'll be back to a full schedule of training in the first two weeks of the new year... going to start seeing how triangles feel on the knee then.

I've had a big change to my teaching situation over the holidays and want to have a look back at what's happened this year, so the next few posts should be much more frequent!

Friday, 13 December 2013


This is probably the part of jiu-jitsu which people concern themselves with way too much. People want to know when they're going to be promoted, why they haven't been promoted, what they need to do to be promoted, why other people have or haven't been promoted etc...

Most importantly here is that you shouldn't be concerned about any of these things. The only person who needs to think about these issues is your instructor, all you should concentrate on is training and improving. If you keep training you will eventually get promoted, whether it takes 6 months or 6 years doesn't matter.

But what does a belt represent? It's certainly no guarantee of anything, it's totally subjective and individual to your own instructor. So that's what it really means... it's a sign of your instructor's faith in your jiu-jitsu ability and most likely a judgement of your character. Each instructor will have their own reasons and requirements for promotion to each belt (training ability and attitude, competition record, personality etc); so just keep training and be happy whenever they do choose to promote you. Although one thing that will probably slow down your promotions, universal to all instructors, is asking about when you're going to get promoted.

I know that a lot of people get disappointed when they attend a seminar and don't get promoted, or when they see others get promoted who they feel they are equal to... maybe they have 4 stripes on their current belt, or they've just dominated at a competition or two, perhaps they've just been at their current belt level for a long time, or they have tapped a few people the belt above them in training. Whatever the reason, it's silly to be disappointed about not getting promoted because there are going to be many more times when you don't get promoted than when you do over the entire course of your jiu-jitsu training. It's not a criticism or negative judgement of your ability, it just means your instructor doesn't think it's the right time for you. Another step on from being disappointed is people who quit because they don't get promoted... now that is crazy. Someone doesn't get promoted so they quit, ensuring they will never get promoted!

So, what happens when you do get promoted? Why are some people so obsessed with it?

For the first question, pretty much nothing major! The only changes are... competition gets harder and under certain rulesets (IBJJF being the main one) you can do some different submissions. Really, that's it. Maybe some people in training will roll a bit harder with you, but really, in the grand scheme of things, nothing changes. You will still tap the people you tapped the day before, the people who tapped you the day before still will and the people who were tough, fairly even rolls still will be. So don't feel pressure to perform, if your instructor didn't believe you to be the level you've been promoted to, they wouldn't have promoted you (ignoring those instructors who promote for money!).

Now why do people obsessed with it? I guess it's a common human trait to like to be rewarded/congratulated, and there is nothing bad about this. I am sure some people enjoy a feeling of power or elevated status and this certainly is bad. Everyone should be equal in training, apart from the fact that the level of jiu-jitsu ability will vary. I do not believe any other sort of hierarchy is conducive to a good training environment... don't think that your belt means anything more than an indication of your jiu-jitsu ability.

Finally, if you do place a lot of importance on your belt colour, be prepared to be brought down to earth whenever you speak to people who don't know about jiu-jitsu. You will have conversations like these...

"So what belt are you now?"
"Is that a high grade?"
"No, one after white"
"So how long have you been training?"
"3 years"
"Oh"... cue awkwardness as they don't know how to ask you whether you suck.


"So are you still doing that jiu-jitsu thing?" (possibly accompanied by a karate chop motion)
"Yeah, I'm a black belt now"
"Oh cool, my 8 year old cousin has a black belt in Taekwondo"

My advice, just enjoy training and don't worry about your belt. I've never asked my instructor about my belt, chances of promotion, how long until the next belt or anything like that. I've just trained and always tried to improve, whenever I've been promoted I've been proud that my instructor feels confident enough for me to represent him at that level.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Things that make you go "grrrrr"

As an instructor, there are plenty of things which students do which really annoy me. So try to avoid this stuff...

Not drilling...
This is a common one. Sometimes, it's not so bad; drilling for a bit but then stopping to talk, but some people don't even really start drilling, or just drill a technique once. Either they think they just need to see a technique and then they "know" it or a few times people have told me they don't want to drill something because they'll never use it! Simple fact is, you should drill as much as possible; every technique, every class.

Talking about who you tap or what you think of other people's skill...
Your instructor already knows who you can tap, they watch you roll all the time. They are also much better placed than you to judge the ability of others, so I guarantee they aren't going to be impressed overhearing you saying "I'm surprised so-and-so got promoted" etc.

Looking at your instructor during rolling...
This is something which really bugs me, mainly because I feel like laughing when I notice it. Is your main goal in training to impress your instructor, or do you only feel like you've accomplished something if your instructor is watching? Trust me, your instructor has seen a white belt mounting or tapping a white belt a million times... and yes, they've seen white belts tapping blue belts to, it's nothing special. Just get on with rolling, your instructor will be watching you anyway.

White belts teaching...
If I had a pound for every time I'd seen a white belt showing a really bad version of an americana from mount to someone on their first lesson I'd have somewhere in the region of £50, maybe even more. I can understand the desire to help someone less experienced but when you're a novice yourself you are more than likely to be showing poor technique and also have no real judgement as to what someone needs to learn (new students certainly don't need to know submissions straight away). Leave the teaching to the instructors and the higher grades.

Always picking weak sparring partners...
You get better by challenging yourself and sparring with high level students, not by always picking the smallest and lowest ranked students. Jiu-jitsu is about fighting and toughness, not about only picking fights you can win.

Ignoring advice...
If your instructor gives you advice, it's based on their years and years of experience; going through training as a student and training their own students. I guarantee you don't know best, you're not a special case which they don't understand. When your instructor gives you advice take it onboard and act on it.

Second-guessing your instructor...
This ties into the last point, but when your instructor is trying to give you advice don't interrupt them and guess what they're trying to tell you. You're probably wrong, and best option it's just rude.

Acting like you know more than you do...
Another similar point again. There is nothing wrong with being inexperienced, everyone starts out not knowing anything. The people who learn quickly are those who accept their position of not knowing anything and strive to take in as much knowledge from their instructor as possible.

There are no doubt other things which could go on this list, but they're the most common things which happen that I really dislike. Anyone doing them is just putting themselves in a position where I don't want to bother helping them out and certainly won't go out of my way to do so. They're also going to make me much less inclined to promote them.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!

I'm mega excited as I'm taking my son to try his first jiu-jitsu class tonight. He's only three but I'm gonna give him a go and see how he handles it. Hopefully he'll enjoy because I'd love him to be involved in jiu-jitsu with me.