Sep 04

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt III

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt III

Today, I’m going to talk about the lesson I learned the very first day I trained at Evolve Academy.

I drove over an hour to get to the gym and I got lost at the end, since it was located off the main road. By some miracle though, I will still early.

So I signed all the waiver forms and did my intro. It’s amusing to me now to think about that intro since I had some absolutely horrendous kicks then. That’s no longer the case.

Next, I went into the class. It was like nothing else I had ever experienced before. I was really out of shape at the time, and the workout was extremely physically demanding.

I didn’t quit though, and I made it through.

Afterwards, I went up to Master Mike, and I told him that I really wanted to do this but I didn’t know if I could. His response was straightforward; he just told me that if I wanted to perform better in the gym I had to do work outside.

That lesson has always stuck with me.

How I Have Applied it to

I learned that lesson a year before I started training , but I can point to several instances where the application of it has helped me to improve.

The most notable example when I was a white belt was when I taught myself the granby roll. I had seen people on youtube playing inverted guard and granby rolling, and I thought why can’t I do that. So I made a project for myself.

Using drills I found on Chuck Anzalone’s instructional set, I taught myself how to granby roll and wall walk. That little project has reaped so many benefits, but it required initiative on my part.

Since then, I have had many other projects, and they have all contributed to my growth. It all started though with the idea that I had to take responsibility for my own training.

Sep 04

Are All Hours Spent Training BJJ of Equal Value

Are All Hours Spent Training BJJ of Equal Value

This is a question that I’ve wondered about.

Intuitively, I’ve felt that the answer was a clear and emphatic no. The issue was that I only had my own experience to draw from.

Now from two different sources within a very small time frame, I’ve been introduced to a concept that has the potential of answering the question once and for all.

Deliberate Practice

I recently read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and The Unexpected Champion by Dan Fagella. Both books reference Anders Ericsson’s research on skill development.

He coined the term Deliberate Practice to describe the method that top performers utilize in order to become great. In order for practice to be deliberate though, there are four conditions:

  1. It is focused on improving performance in specific areas
  2. It is thoroughly challenging mentally
  3. It is repeatable over a long duration of time
  4. It isn’t always enjoyable.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? It’s definitely not easy though.

If you take a moment to think about it, there is an activity in BJJ that fulfills most of those conditions. It’s drilling.

Speaking personally, there comes a point when drilling just isn’t fun. It doesn’t take long to reach that point either. It’s one of the best methods of improving within specific areas in a short amount of time though.

One thing that is really interesting to me every time that I go down to TLI HQ in Camp Springs is how they incorporate drilling into the class structure. They actually have classes that are focused only on drilling.

I’ve never seen that anywhere else.

Does This Really Relate Directly to BJJ

I don’t think it is possible to become really good with just drilling alone.  It may be possible to do so in non-fighting sports like baseball or swimming but not BJJ.

Rolling is essential, and no roll is ever the same.

There is a way to practice deliberately even during rolls though. It’s also the main way that I’ve learned personally.

  • Go in with a plan
  • Be aware of everything that is going on during
  • Do a mental review afterward

I applied those methods recently. I had been thinking about  training experiences when I was a white belt, and I decided to try the ezekiel from more positions.

During a great training session a few days ago, I got the choke from side control, half guard, and closed guard. I don’t usually go for that choke in any of those positions, but I made the conscious decision to do so.

I already feel that I am better as a result.

Sep 01

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt II

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt IIBack when I was a white belt, I was consistently partnered up with three upper belts. Their names were Tyler, Sulaiman, and Coleman.

The things I learned from each of them had a formative impact on me.  So what I’m going is to go back and relive those experiences to some degree and highlight the lessons learned.


I probably rolled with Tyler most of all in the first year or two. He was good.  Imagine rolling with someone who is big and strong but also technical. That was Tyler.

Our rolls mainly consisted of me getting smashed in those early days. He used to play a kind of open closed guard.  It was strange. It was almost like he was initiating a scissor sweep but he didn’t often use it to sweep. Instead he caught me with some sneaky and fast armbars there.

Without question, the worst situations to be in were those times when he passed my guard.  I had some truly terrifying experiences when he would snap on americanas from mount or side control. The speed with which they went from possible threat to legit danger was lightning fast.

I was never hurt, but it was just so quick.

Dealing with that level of pressure forced me to develop half guard.  All the other positions were too difficult to get to consistently. So I started working half guard, and it started getting better and better and better til it started to work.


Every roll with Sulai was a sprint when I was a white belt. He was so explosive that he forced you to match that pace or be run over.

The one thing I remember most of all was the hellish experience that was known as his closed guard.  He was always so active and aggressive that it was a constant fight for survival. Armbars, cross chokes, and hip bump sweeps over and over again.

It was relentless.

I attribute to him my defense in the closed guard. I’ve spent some thinking about it, and I can count on one hand the times I’ve been submitted by cross chokes or armbars from closed guard within the last two years or more.


I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Coleman was a bully. He seemed to take some personal enjoyment from all the pressure he would bear down on you from positions like mount, half guard, and closed guard.

Within that pressure, like a snake, his hand would slide across your throat and lock in the ezekiel. He mastered that choke, and he could do it from almost every position. There have even been times when he has submitted people with the ezekiel from the bottom of mount.

I was on the wrong end of that choke many times, and those experiences taught me its effectiveness.

I learned that lesson well.

From All of Them

I took a lot of beatings in those early days as a white belt, but it was great for me. It significantly increased my threshold for discomfit, and it made matches with most other white belts seem effortless.

Those experiences are a major factor behind the success I had competing when I was a white belt.

Aug 28

How to Apply Think and Grow Rich Concepts to BJJ

How to Apply Think and Grow Rich Concepts to BJJ

Think and Grow Rich was highly recommended to me. So I read once, I read it twice, and then I read several chapters over again. Now I’m going to take those 13 concepts of success and apply them to BJJ.

First, let’s start off by listing the thirteen principles:

  1. Desire
  2. Faith
  3. Auto-Suggestion
  4. Specialized Knowledge
  5. Imagination
  6. Organized Planning
  7. Decision
  8. Persistence
  9. Power of The Master Mind
  10. The Mystery Of Sex Transmutation
  11. The Subconscious Mind
  12. The Brain
  13. The Sixth Sense

Fuel the Flame

Are you passionate about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu? Do you have definite goals that you want to achieve in the art?

It is time to stoke that flame into an inferno. Your passion and desire have a significant effect on what you can achieve. That black belt might seem so far away on your first day when you’re getting smashed by everyone, but if you’re enthusiastic about the process of learning, you’ll be surprised at how fast you improve.

The concept of desire is all about that passionate drive to achieve clearly defined goals.

Have An Unshakable Belief In Yourself


Now we’ve already talked about the desire to achieve definite goals. There is another side of that coin. It is the absolute belief that you can turn the dream into a reality.

Let’s stay with the goal of becoming a black belt.

It’s often said that black belts are just white belts who didn’t quit. I would amend that and say this: Black belts are white belts who had faith in their ability to master the art.

The reason for that amendment is simple. Faith and desire are the elements that fuel persistence.  If you don’t believe in yourself, or you don’t desire to achieve a certain outcome, the chances of you crossing that finish line are quite low.

Hammer It In Deep

Auto-suggestion can be summed up pretty easily. It is the transfer of conscious thoughts and actions to the subconscious through repetition.

In BJJ, we perform auto-suggestion without defining it that way. One of the best examples of this is when you drill a technique over and over again til you can just do it without any thought or hesitation.

That’s one reason why Helio said that “Learning jiu-jitsu is something for the subconscious, not for the consciousness.” 

You can also apply this by reminding yourself of concepts over and over again to instill them in your subconscious. An example is “I will control the head when I triangle, I will control the head when I triangle, I will control the head when I triangle.”

Area Mastery

It can be said that every day when you step on the mat and learn technique that you’re getting specialized knowledge. I mean you’re definitely not going to learn all these strange movements and submissions in a college classroom (that’s a shame though).

With that said, I prefer to add a nuance to the relationship between BJJ and specialized knowledge.

What you learn in class is general knowledge. You’re learning individual pieces of the puzzle, and depending on your instructor some of those pieces may get connected for you.

It becomes specialized when you focus on small circles or subsets of BJJ. You can also think of this as game development. It’s when you start developing deep knowledge about specific positions or submissions and then build out from that strong foundation.

Think Big and Let Your Imagination Run Wild

Imagination is something we all understand, but do you have faith in the idea that anything can be achieved, if you conceive it?

In a strict sense, it is possible to say that there are quite a few things that would be extremely difficult if not impossible to achieve. This is about a mindset shift though. The goal is to go from doubting yourself into inaction to taking massive action in order prove whether or not the dream can become reality.

So let’s move on to the application to BJJ.

No one should set limits on how far they can go in this art, but I’ve seen people do it. They say that they’re too old, so they can’t. They say that they don’t have time, so they can’t.  They say that they aren’t talented enough, so they can’t.

Those are all examples of self imposed limits.

There are many examples of individuals who started later in life but were still able to achieve a high level of skill and earn a black belt. Ed O’Neil is one of the more famous examples.

Also you don’t have to train full time in order to become good at BJJ. There are even ways to improve when you’re off the mat. You can use a little auto-suggestion and remind yourself of concepts. You can visualize techniques and matches in your mind. Or you can study matches and instructionals. If you’re passionate about improving every day, you can find ways to do so even in those small windows of time that you have available.

Talent is overrated. Hard work and consistent effort are far more influential than talent when it comes to success.

Set the Course and Stick by it

Organized planning is where you start acting upon achieving what you want to achieve.

Some things that would be included in your plan as it relates to BJJ are:

  • Training schedule
  • Training focus in the academy
  • Training focus outside the academy
  • Nutrition
  • Rest

Pretty simple, eh.

The idea is that when you establish definite plans and take immediate action, the chance of success increases.

Now You’ve Decided on the Course, It’s Time to Act

So let’s do a little mental check list.

You are absolutely committed to becoming highly skilled, check. You absolutely believe that it is possible, check. You’ve outlined your plan and discussed it with your coach and training partners you trust, check.

Now it’s time to act, immediately.

Oh, the Going Getting Tough, Time to Get Going

Unforeseen difficulties are a fact of life, but the individuals we admire are those who push through. The willingness to persist in the face of adversity is a wonderful trait, and it is something that can be learned and developed.

So when you get injured, or you lose a important tournament, you don’t have to let those things stop you. Most of the time, they are only temporary defeats.

By Our Powers Combined

Have you ever heard the phrase that two minds are better than one? This is that idea taken to a whole ‘nother level.

A lot of people apply this concept without defining it using the term. In BJJ, there are informal Mastermind groups every time some people stay after class to ask questions or work on technique.

Where ever a group of individuals share a focus and unite in order to brainstorm methods to achieve those goals, a Mastermind group is temporarily formed.

I Have to Talk About Sex, Noooooo

I am going to sum this up simply.

The desire for sex is one of the strongest stimulants known to mankind. The idea is that if all that drive and creativity could be redirected away from physical expression to the achievement of other desires, the possibilities would be simply amazing.

No further comment.

Instill the Knowledge You Want Through Repetition

There is a clear link between this concept and auto-suggestion. On one hand, you have the means to instill knowledge, and then on the other hand, you have the result.

In books like Training the Samurai Mind and the Book of Five Rings, it is emphasized that true skill only flows from the subconscious. So beyond just training more, it would be beneficial to spend time visualizing technique and reminding yourself of fundamental concepts. Your growth in BJJ will be sped up if you do so.

Start to Piece It All Together

What happens when you take desire, add a bit of imagination, with a side of auto-suggestion, and mix it in deep into the subconscious? Great things, no doubt.

Basically, this concept is about applying all the others in combination rather than in isolation.

Finish Bringing It All Together

Sudden inspiration or hunches are the domain of the sixth sense. You don’t have to believe that there is anything mystical about it.

Another possible explanation is that they are the result of unconscious associations between facts or knowledge in your mind. This has happened to me while I’ve been teaching. I’ll suddenly see new possibilities that exist in a given situation that I’ve never been shown.

Simply, I would pick up individual pieces of the puzzle all over the place then in certain moments, it would all come together.

Aug 22

Lessons Learned When I Was a White Belt I

A Match I Had as a White Belt

Recently, I’ve been thinking about some of my formative experiences when I was a white belt. So I decided to go back and try to highlight those experiences, and this will be my first attempt to do so here. The focus of this post will be on the lessons I learned competing as a white belt.

First White Belt Tournament

The first time I competed was not long after I started training . In fact, it was only about three or four months after the day that I signed on the dotted line, so to speak.

The tournament was Mission Submission, and it was located out in Frostburg, MD. Obviously, that is no short drive from where I live, but the scenery was great. Anyway, I made it there safely and didn’t somehow swerve into one of the mountains I passed along the way. A miracle, indeed.

One of the benefits of Mission Submission being my first tournament is that there was a large support group there from the team. So it definitely helped to have that coaching on the sidelines. It also reduced some of nervousness that I probably felt. I forget….

So I stepped onto the mats for that first match. I had my hands up like I was fighting in thai boxing, and yes I got some jokes about that from the team later. Anyway….

I lost.

It went down like this. I tripped him, he fell back so I rushed him and we scrambled. He ended up  in my closed guard on top.  He shut me down from that position and eventually passed. it ended with me gassed from trying to escape unsuccessfully.

It was obviously disappointing, but I had the opportunity to compete for third in that division. So I went back, and it was another tough match. It was a grind and ended up tied so it went into overtime. Now I don’t remember as much about that match as I do about the first, but I was able to take the win in OT.

Right away that was a confidence boost, and I vowed right then and there that I wasn’t losing again on that day. I took another win in the white belt gi absolute then closed it out with teammates. All that remained was one more division.

I won my first match then I had a rematch with the same guy who beat me in that first division. I was in a good state of mind because I had been repeating a certain word to myself over and over again in my mind. So I went into that match determined to win, and that’s exactly what I did.

It wasn’t even close. I have no idea what the point total was, but  I started off with a strong takedown, took his back and mounted him several times, swept him, and almost submitted him. The difference between the first and last match was like night and day.

Lessons Learned

What changed between that first and last match? Did I suddenly become more skillful? Or did I suddenly gain more hours of experience?

If you think about those questions then look at my experience when I was a white belt, the answer is clear. The only thing that changed was mindset. That’s the most important lesson that I took away from that tournament. It can be summed up in this sentence:

Mindset in some cases is more important than skillset.

A Little Bonus

Here’s a video of me competing as a white belt at another Mission Submission. It still amuses me every time I watch it. I could probably beat that guy in the blue gi without using my hands nowadays.


Aug 17

Small Circles: The Theory of Efficient Mastery


The Art of Learning - Small Circles

One of the recent books that I’ve read was Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning. In it, there was a section on small circles. It’s a simple theory. The focus is on mastering simple subsets of a discipline in order to make the rest less complex.

One example of how he applied that concept in his own life is found in the stories of his training sessions with his first coach. One thing that they used to focus on was the endgame of chess. They would play with only a minimal amount of pieces on the board in different configurations in order to reinforce the unique characteristics and advantages of each individual piece in Josh’s mind.

Now this concept was not new to me because I’ve heard it before in different forms, but it was great to hear again. Great concepts need to be reinforced so that they can be applied without hesitation.

Other Examples of the Small Circles Concept

The first time I learned about the concept of focusing on a subset of technique in order to aid in the process of mastery was when I bought Ryan Hall’s first instructional set on the Triangle. It came with a book that focuses on the concepts of the triangle and how Hall developed it while training at Team Lloyd Irvin.

One of the concepts that I remember from the book was area mastery, which is essentially the same as the small circles theory. The key difference is that the concept was being applied to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

Area mastery was all about focusing on the specific areas of BJJ in order to compete with individuals who had been training longer than you. The idea was that if you attained a high level of mastery in specific situations and were able to force a match into that situation, there would be a high probability of victory.

I was also exposed to the theory in the Book of Five Rings. There is a lesson in that book about how it is possible to learn by association. So in theory it is possible to speed up the process of mastering anything by mastering one thing first.

Another way to look at it is that once you master anything, whether it be a whole discipline or just subset, you can take the concepts you learned in that process and apply to other areas.

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