Oct 08

Mindset is Often More Important than Skillset

Mindset is Often More Important than Skillset

I spend a lot of time thinking about the connection between mindset and performance. There is no doubt that such a connection exists, and it’s significant.

I’ll give you a quick example.

Last Spring, I competed at the IBJJF Pan Ams in California. I was a purple belt at the time, and I had competed at the same tournament the year before and brought home silver.

This time, the division was smaller and it had several new purple belts in it. So it would seem that it would be “easy” to win it all, but I don’t think that I went into that tournament with the right mindset.

I’ve spent a good amount of time analyzing it, but I have no doubt that the outcome of the match I lost would have been different if my mind was in the right place. One thing that really highlighted that to me is the open mat training I did at a local gym the day after.

I went in there just to get some training in, and I rolled with many different individuals of various skill levels. Every roll I moved extremely well and everything just flowed.

The contrast between my performance there and the performance at the tournament was like night and day.

Now what changed in a day? I mean, I know I didn’t suddenly gain amazing amounts of new skill. Of course not, there had to be some other reason.

The only answer lies on the mental side of things.

 You Can Influence Your Mindset

Let me clarify something first.

When I talk about mindset, there are two different aspects that we will focus on. First, there’s your outlook on life and how you respond to situations, and then there’s your psychological state.

Both aspects are interconnected, but your psychological state plays a larger role in your performance on the mat. It’s also a very difficult animal to tame since it’s influenced by so many factors.

I’m still trying to figure it out.

I’ve read some great books that delve into the topic. I also had the good fortune to read an interesting article in Gracie Mag right before I competed at the Atlanta Open. It was an interview of Jimmy Pedro, and the focus was on his coaching methods and how he built up Kayla Harrison to become an Olympic Champion after her trauma.

In that article, he shared one of the methods he uses to help his athletes get into a peak psychological state. It went something like this: “Today is our day. Today nobody is going to beat us! Nobody! Today we are going to become Olympic champion!!”

Those words would be reinforced to his athletes over and over again throughout the day before they step out onto the mat. It’s a nice little mantra, isn’t it?

It’s also an example of auto-suggestion, which is a useful tactic in influencing mindset. Another tactic is to focus on all the preparation you’ve done. You know, those long and hard hours of training and brainstorming that went into developing your skill up until this point.

Oh, did you notice?

Both tactics are trying to accomplish the same thing. The intent is to strengthen situational confidence, and there’s a clear link between confidence and peak psychological state.

Mindset Influences Your Progress

So now we’re going to focus on the other aspect of mindset.

You can think of this as the prism through which you view the world. One thing about that though is that you can change your perspective, and sometimes you have to if you want to achieve your goals.

Right now, I’m not going to give any advice on if you should or how you should change. Instead, I want to point you to an example of differing mindsets on training and competition.

A few months ago, I got into a discussion on Jiujitsu Forums about one of the posts I wrote. There were some objections to the method I used to reinforce the idea that how you think can dramatically affect your progress in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

Anyway, I recently read that thread again, and it’s really interesting because of the clear differences in mindset.

So feel free to check it out. There are lessons there to be found.

Oct 06

The Game of Inches in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Competition

The Game of Inches in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Competition

I have a little story to tell you.

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to be present when Tom Brands gave a talk on the Iowa mindset. There were many gems of wisdom in that speech, and I’m going to focus on one of them today.

It’s the idea that the distance between 1st and 2nd can be very small but it’s also very large.

Another way to say that is that it’s quite possible to win or lose by the barest of margins but the fact remains that you either won or lost. In a sense, the final outcome is all that matters.

There is no decrease in legitimacy when your margin of victory happens to be slim. Nor is there any comfort in focusing on the slim margin when you lose.

Winning the Close Ones in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Few things are worst than knowing that you could have changed the outcome of a match if only you had done things just a little differently. I’ve felt that way many times, and the most recent example was at the no-gi pan.

I’ve also experienced the other side where I’ve won very close matches. Sometimes they came down to the wire, and I was able to just barely snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Obviously, we all know which one we rather do. If the match is close, we want to win. Hell, we want to win all the time.

How do you win? You prepare.

That’s obvious, right? You have to suffer the pain of discipline if you want to avoid suffering the pain of regret.

Let’s get a little more specific though. I’m going to share with you a training method that I’ve often seen used at Camp Springs to ingrain a focus on pushing as hard as possible in those last moments when a match can be won or lost.

It’s a simple situational match but it has one important twist. Conditions are set to simulate the last few minutes of a close match.

An example would be if you were told that it was the last minute in the finals at Worlds. In the match, points are tied and you are down by one advantage. You then have one minute to snatch victory.

It’s a great mindset exercise, and I’m planning to start incorporating it more when I teach.

Oct 05

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt IV

Lessons Learned when I was White Belt IV

Let’s take a little trip.

Through the Wormhole

A few years ago, Evolve Academy decided to create a fight team for the WKA Nationals. The tryouts were set at a certain date and a certain time, and it was expected to be a really difficult and demanding test.

At the time, I had been training on the striking side of things for over a year and I had just begun to train Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Also at that point, I was still really heavy. I would say that I was probably hovering between 290 and 300.

That didn’t matter because I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see if I could handle that level of training, and I had no doubt that it would be beyond anything that I had ever done before.

Actually, I remember that we had to sign a special waiver beforehand. So that just increased the perception of how truly difficult it would all be.

The tryout was hard…

There’s no doubt of that, so it definitely can’t be said that it didn’t live up to expectation. I made it through though, and that’s what matters.

Getting through that trial marked the beginning of a period of marathon training sessions. Almost every time I was at the gym, I was there from between 3 and 5 hours, training the whole time.

I would do the regular classes like Thai Boxing and BJJ and then there would be fighter training. Also most nights, fighter training was a hard strength and conditioning workout.

It was a grind.

There were quite a few things that helped me stay in the process. I’m just going to focus on one right now because it’s something that could be considered a disadvantage.

It takes me an hour to get to my gym, and I’ve tried many different routes in order to shorten that time. None have worked out. This means that going to Evolve is a significant time and gas investment for me.

Now what do you think is a better return on my investment? An hour spent training or three? The answer is obvious.

Lessons Learned

Routine is a powerful thing.

The level of training I was doing back then was possible because it became routine. I raised the standard of training that I expected of myself, and over time it became natural.

Even now, I know that if I do anything consistently, I can make it routine. No matter how small the change, anything can become a daily ritual.

Also even though I didn’t fight, the benefits I got coming out of that camp were massive. One of the best examples is the first tournament I did afterward.

I think it was about two months after the WKA Nationals. It was also the first Copa Nova tournament that I’ve competed at.

I went there alone, and I was a white belt at the time. The goal was simply to get experience, and I definitely got that.

I did all the divisions possible, and I crushed everyone. One of the matches was like 30+ to 0, and it was a absolute blur to me afterward.

I don’t remember one detail from that match at all. My mind must have completely checked out and my body was just operating at autopilot. It’s a shame that I haven’t been able to get to that state more often.

Anyway, I look at that whole tournament experience and credit it to the fighting camp I went through.

Oct 03

Why Thinking about the Critical Point Can Help You

Find the Critical Points in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Recently, I was introduced to the concept of critical points in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Josh Vogel wrote an article where he discussed his thought process on the concept.

It made me think.

You should check out his article as well because I am going to approach the concept from a slightly different angle.

When is the Best Time to Switch Gears

I started thinking about critical points a few days ago, and not soon after that a situation arose where I was able to make a logical connection to application.

I was teaching a semi-private, and I was asked about what to do when you get hit with a bump sweep and mounted. The focus of the question was on escaping mount after the control had been established.

Of course, that is one of the worst times to start escaping mount. It is far easier to start the escape in the transition.

Now if we use the framework of critical points and look at the situation of being swept into mount, there are two points where the outcome can be changed.

The first is during the sweep. You can either stop it or you can be swept. Then if you are swept, there is a window where mount can be prevented.

To me, the most interesting critical point is found between the sweep and the mount. In that moment, the sweep has been lost. You’ve past the point where you can stop it, but there is an opportunity to prevent the secondary position.

It requires two things:

  • You have to recognize when you’ve past the critical point where you can stop the sweep.
  • You have to switch gears to escaping the mount in the transition

Let’s Merge Concepts

As I was thinking about this, I realized there are a lot of similarities between the concepts of critical points and triggers.

In their most fundamental forms, they are simply events that offer critical advantages if recognized and acted upon.

A quick example would be if someone allowed their elbow to cross the center line of your hip in closed guard. Right there, that’s a trigger to armbar them.

In that same example, there is a critical point where the defense of the arm is decided. Once one leg clamps down on the back, the other leg slides over the head, all space between the knees vanishes, and the hip raises, it’s often too late.

Both the trigger and the critical point were events where actions can be taken. In those two examples, the only difference was that the trigger was looked at from the offensive perspective while the critical point was defensive.

How Does Thinking about Critical Points Help You

This is the question you want answered. I know, I know. It’s completely understandable.

It’s really simple though.

If you put effort to recognizing events where the outcome of situations can be significantly altered, you will be better prepared to take advantage when those events occur.

Also, you start to develop a better sense of how to make those events to happen. That’s definitely what happened to me when I started thinking about triggers. Now I have critical points to think about as well, and so do you.

Take the time to identify the critical points and triggers. Once you make a conscious effort to look, they will start popping up everywhere.

Sep 25

Expanding the Popularity of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Expanding the Popularity of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu isn’t popular. Deny it not.

It’s the reason why all the big names in the sport as well as the martial art as a whole are barely known outside the small community of dedicated individuals who train.

Now that’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity.

The Great Challenge

For those who are truly passionate about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, it’s hard to understand how others seem either unwilling or unable to understand the appeal.

The primary reason for that is a lack of understanding about what the art is and how it can be useful. So in essence, it’s all about perception.

Also there are different degrees of that with the most common being absolutely no knowledge at all.

Yes, yes there have been many times when I have told people that train Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and they have looked at me with a blank look. Then I’ve had to give them a reference point for conceptual association, and the most common example used is wrestling.

You tell them that it’s like a wrestling, and in their mind they start moving in the right direction. There are large differences between wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu though, so the analogy isn’t perfect. At least it can’t be denied that some progress was made.

Why I Started Training

I started training at Evolve Academy a year before I started Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.  During most of that time, training BJJ was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t see how it could be personally useful for me.

Also I’ll admit the whole close contact thing wasn’t particularly appealing.

Being in the environment and seeing the passion that others had for art slowly started to shift my perception. I still didn’t want to train, but there were the beginnings of a shift.

I also had training partners who were recommending it to me here and there, but the turning point was when I volunteered to help at a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu tournament for the school.

It was there that I really got deeply exposed to some of the high levels of passion and skill that can be found in the art. It made want to give it a try myself, and I’m really glad that I did.

It has changed my life in so many ways.

One thing is clear though. All that changed in that period of time was perception.

Don’t Accept the Way Things Are

So let’s go back to the opportunity that exists in this situation.

We’ve already established that in order to increase the popularity of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, we have to change perception. Both the challenge and the opportunity lie in how that can be done.

First, let’s start off with some bullet points on the benefits of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that I wrote somewhere else:

  • You will get in the best shape of your life as a result of having to generate force and leverage from so many different angles.
  • You will gain skills that will be helpful in self defense situations.
  • You will be able to expand your social network by meeting new people in the gym or in the community.
  • You will have a vehicle to express your own unique sense of creativity
  • You will gain a better understanding of what the human body can and cannot do.
  • You will begin a lifelong journey in pursuit of mastering one of the most diverse and multifaceted martial arts on the face of the earth.

Now you’ll notice in those benefits, there was a clear attempt to highlight associative links between Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and things that have intrinsic appeal to larger groups of people.

If you broke it down, you’ll notice the topics of weight loss and fitness, self defense, networking, personal expression, knowledge of the human body, and continuous improvement.

Obviously, I think that Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is one of the most enjoyable methods of achieving those benefits, but it’s all about the presentation.

Let’s shift gears a bit.

Over the last few decades, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s clearly more popular now than it was twenty years ago, but it’s still barely scratching the surface when compared against some other sports and martial arts.

There is so much more room for growth. How far it can go depends on individuals who are passionate about the art.

We all should be shouting its benefits from the rooftops.

Do it now. Don’t wait.

Sep 07

Are You Consumed With the Question of Why

Are You Consumed With the Question of Why

I know I am.

I realized early that understanding why a technique works makes it easier to figure out how to make it work for me. So I became a conceptual learner.

Another factor in that choice of focus came as a result of a method that my coach, Mike Moses, used to use often when he taught. When he wanted to focus your attention on the concept of the technique, he would say if you take nothing else away from this class remember this.

It worked.

I would always remember the concept when he did that, and I noticed that once I had the concept down the method wasn’t that far behind. It was an incredible thing.

At some point, I can’t tell you when, I also realized that it made intuitive sense to split technique up into two separate components. Obviously, one of them had to be the concept, and then on the other side there was the movement.

The next logical step was to think about those two components in the larger framework of Jiu-jitsu as a whole. It made sense to believe that there was a one-to-many relationship between those two components and technique.

The reason is simple.

One concept can be applied to be many techniques. The same is true of movement. So these individual building blocks have a wider range of effect than individual techniques. Why not focus on them?

Of the two, concepts are easier to learn. That has been my experience. More than that though, the question of why is so interesting. Why does it work? Why are you using that grip? Why do you move that way?

There’s endless avenues of inquiry, and I recently pursued one myself.

I was in the advanced class at Evolve and Master Mike was teaching. He went over a series of attacks from the underhook half guard. One of the techniques was the knee tap. I’m familiar with that. I’ve been doing it since I was a white belt, but his setup was different from any of the ones I use.

I drilled it, and it didn’t feel right to me. So I started asking questions because I wanted to know why. That process helped me identify possible uses for the variations, and that’s far better than just discarding it.

That example illustrates why you will benefit if you explore why things work.

The next time that you’re in class, speak up and starting asking questions. If your goal is to improve, focus on understanding the concept behind things. Why does this work? Why do you grip there? What if I did this, what would happen? Ask away. Your instructor will probably love it and you will benefit.

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