Oct 29

The Characteristics of Success and How to Apply Them

The Characteristics of Success and How to Apply Them

One day, I walked into the library, and something quite unexpected happened..

By chance, my eyes fell upon a book, and it had a word on the cover that stood out to me. You could probably guess which one it was if you take just a moment to look up above.

I picked it up, read a little bit, and then it left the building with me.

On that particular day though, my intent had simply been to renew a few books that I wasn’t quite done with them. So it was quite the unexpected find.

Now I’ve read it, and I believe that there are some great lessons that can be taken from it and applied to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. That’s exactly what I’m going to do here.

The Premise of the Book

Similar to Outliers, Rebounders is a book that profiles successful individuals in order to identify and highlight common traits and patterns. The main difference between the two books lies in the level of focus that Rebounders places on internal factors of success.

In fact, the last chapter of the book focuses on common elements that define a rebounder. Oh, I should explain that term first.

  • Rebounders: These are individuals who have the developed an increased ability to navigate through obstacles and setbacks to achieve their goals.
  • Wallowers: These are individuals who break down in the face of adversity and blame their troubles on external factors.

One thing that is frequently reinforced in the book is that whether you are a rebounder or not right now, it’s never something that can’t be changed.

So here are 9 characteristics of a rebounder:

  1. They Accept Failure
  2. They Compartmentalize Emotions
  3. They Have A Bias Toward Action
  4. They Change Their Mind Sometimes
  5. They Prepare For Things To Go Wrong
  6. They’re Comfortable With Discomfort
  7. They’re Willing To Wait
  8. They Have Heroes
  9. They Have More Than Passion

One note about this before we go into the application is that none of the individuals identified as rebounders in the book had all of those traits. Instead, each of them had different combinations of the characteristics.

Look for the Silver Lining

Failure is always a possibility. That’s a fact.

It doesn’t matter if you compete or not. Every time, you step on the mat, there is that possibility that you will fail in some way. Perhaps, all  your favorite techniques just aren’t working or you’re getting submitted over and over again. Whatever it may be, there is something that you can gain from that experience.

You should know that though, right? It’s been a concept that has been reinforced in many forms and by many individuals, but I still see people who haven’t made the effort to ingrain the concept in their mind.

Just doing that small thing would massively help your rate of growth in this art.

Don’t Let Emotions Interfere with your Goals

There are emotions that can be helpful as well as those that can be harmful when it comes to success in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. We all understand that. The issue lies in controlling it all.

Make the effort, and always place your goals above all else.

Take Massive Action

There are so many ways to improve your jiu-jitsu. You could go to class and pay attention. That’s always a good option. You could watch tape and instructionals. You could visualize your performing technique in various situations. You could coordinate with teammates to drill outside of class.

Of course, there are far more options than that, but all of them are better than doing nothing.

Change Course if Necessary

I once read an article by Martin Rooney in Gracie Mag, where he said that one of the limitations to being great at anything is being good at something else. Ultimately, it comes down to being self-aware and knowing when to adapt.

In Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, your growth might require that you make significant changes. Examples would be learning a new position from scratch, changing your behavior, changing diet, a drastic change of training environment, among other things.

Prepare for the Worst

This is a little tricky. One concept to keep in mind is that attempting to avoid all risk is a risk in and of itself. Instead, the focus should be on identifying the risk and making efforts in advance to lessen the possible damage.

This idea is in play whenever you spend time learning defense.

 Weather the Storm

Embrace the grind. There are a lot of positions that just aren’t comfortable, but you can definitely increase your tolerance. It’s important because when you’re comfortable in really bad situations, it’s far easier to escape.

Are You in for the Long Haul

That’s the question that matters. If you put in time and focused effort, you can become great at this art.

There’s so much knowledge available out there. So “read everything, see everything, hear everything, try everything, observe everything, in order to retain in the end, just a little bit.”

Model Success

There’s a very common idea that success leaves clues. This book is built on that idea.

Obviously, there are many successful individuals in the world of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu that we can learn from. In fact, you can learn something from everyone, no matter the color of their belt.

When Passion Isn’t Enough

There is a difference between passion and desire. You can be passionate about the art and have no desire to achieve anything in it. You can also flip the coin and switch that around.

Of course having both would be great, but defining your goals is absolutely essential.


This was a series of quick associations between Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and the characteristics that Newman highlighted in Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. The purpose was just to give a quick overview, without depriving you of the opportunity of actually reading the great stories.

Each story shows you how these intuitive characteristics have been developed and used to achieve success through all the obstacles and setbacks that are common in life.

I’m sure that you can find many ways to apply the lessons to your training. I know that I am.

Find this book. Read it. You will not regret it.[

Oct 25

A Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Thought Experiment

A Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Thought Experiment

Recently, I read a biography about Einstein, and one interesting thing was his use of thought experiments to work out solutions to complex problems and highlight scientific concepts. What if you applied that method to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?

Let’s see what happens.

The Thought Experiment

Two twins develop an interest in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at the same time, but they live different states. This means that that even though they started on the same day, they are training at different academies.  Those academies also have very different systems for sharing the art. It can’t be said that all the instructors at both academies aren’t top-notch though.

The main difference in the teaching systems is that one focuses heavily on drilling and helping their students develop a core game from which they can expand from, while the other focuses on giving their students a wide base of knowledge.

Time passes, and by some miracle both twins have trained for exactly the same amount of hours after one year’s time. Which twin will have improved the most?

Things to Think About This

This thought experiment was left open-ended because I’m really curious about how opinions can differ on this.

One thing to keep in mind is that all variables were held constant except for the actual training that went into each hour.  We’re assuming that both twins were identical in all other significant factors.

Also this builds on the question of whether or not all hours spent training are of equal value. You can also consider it a test of the 10000 hour rule popularized by Outliers vs Anders Ericcson’s deliberate practice theory which was highlighted in Talent is Overrated.

The Possibilities

There are three possible outcomes that can occur in the thought experiment:

  • Both twins could have improved the same amount.
  • The twin who was exposed to more technique could have improved more.
  • The twin who spent more time drilling and refining specific tools could have improved more.

Take a moment, read the thought experiment again and think about the possibilities. Which outcome is more likely given the scenario? Why? Also if there is a difference between them, what are some ways that you would like to model your training in order to improve results?

Oct 23

Reverse Engineering Technique in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

We’re going to follow up on the principle of piecing it all together by looking at the technique equation from a different angle. So let’s start by restating that equation:

Technique = Concept + Movement

It’s a simple equation, and that’s why it’s useful as an intuitive framework for understanding how technique is learned and mastered. If you read the other post though, you’ll notice that I switched the equation around here.

The purpose was to highlight where the focus should be. So let’s begin.


What do you focus on when you feel that you can’t perform a technique the right way? Oh, that never happens? Psh, it happens to me all the time.

Look: Learning jiu-jitsu is filled with challenges that we all must overcome to improve. The first step is focusing your attention in the right place. So here’s a simple scenario for you to visualize and imagine.

One day, you step into the gym. It’s just like any other day. You bow in. You warm up. And then your instructor pulls out a technique that you’ve never seen before. It blows your mind. And you can’t wait to hit it in a roll, but when you try it, you run into a lot of trouble.

What makes it even worst is that your partner is performing it like it’s nothing. Man, he even started training later than you. How can this be!?

In that situation, there’s a reason that you’re having trouble. You may not know exactly what it is, but there’s a method that can be used to help with that. Let’s call it troubleshooting, just to play on computer repair concepts and terminology (because I used to live in that world).

When you troubleshoot, you isolate a problem by eliminating possibilities that can’t be the cause of the issue. By doing that, you start reveal the truth and eliminate wasted effort.

Use that process of elimination in combination with the framework of the technique equation. When you do that, you start from a really good position. With one move, you know that the problem lies in either your understanding of the concept or your current ability to do the movement.

For clarity sake, I’m going to clearly define these categories.

  • Concept: The concept is all about the question of why. Why does it work? Why do you have to do it that way? So when you have a conceptual issue with a technique it’s because you aren’t doing something like gripping in a certain place, moving in the right direction, etc. Basically, you aren’t doing the technique as you were taught.
  • Movement: The movement focuses on how. How do you make it work? So when you have an issue with movement it lies in the actual mechanics. For example, you’re trying to learn how to do an inverted guard triangle, but you just can’t do the granby roll. In your mind, you can see all the steps exactly right, but when you try something always goes wrong.

Now it’s quite possible that you may have more than one issue, and they may be in both categories. But the first thing you should focus on is isolating and addressing all issues in the concept.

Consider that to be the path of least resistance because conceptual issues are easier to address. It’s possible to address those issues immediately in some cases, so it’s always a good course to take.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to shift to movement issues if they exist. The thing with movement is that more often than not, issues there can’t be addressed immediately. It takes time and focused effort but it all starts with identifying the problem.

I’ll give you a quick example of this.

When I was a white belt, there were some inverted attacks that I wanted to learn. Every time I tried to granby (rolling around like a ball) though it was not pretty. I would try, try,try, and try yet again, but it never worked out right. The sticky point of the movement for me was that last portion of it.

At the time, I had access to a great instructional on the position and drills for developing it, so I focused on those drills. I spent time working on them outside of class, and I even created a drill of my own to focus on that sticky point.

The result was that within a period of a few weeks, I learned how to granby roll. With that, all those techniques became accessible. Then I was able to amaze people.

 The Creative Process

How do you create technique?

It all starts with understanding the idea that inspiration is built upon the foundation of previous experience. So the creative process is less about creation and more about association and combination.

Anyway, let’s go back to the technique equation.

Concepts and movements are two categories for the components of a technique. So the more time you spend identifying the unique concepts and movements of any particular technique, the easier it will be to take those components and apply them elsewhere and in new ways.

Personally, teaching has helped me a lot with this because when you have to explain things it really focuses your mind on details.

Oct 20

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Teaching Experiment I

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Teaching Experiment ILet’s set the stage.

I taught a class at Crazy 88 some time ago, and in that class, I implemented the thought process I’ve had on isolating movements in instruction. Today, we’re going to retrace the steps and clearly highlight the structure of that class.


The warmup was split into two phases. The first phase really fit the description of a warmup since the purpose was just to get the body warm so it had common elements like running, burpees, squats, etc. The focus on specific movements started in the second phase.

We spent a good amount of time working the shrimp and the shrimp in. The whole class was structured around those two movements to a significant degree.

From there, the progression started. The next drill was the triangle flow drill, which incorporates both shrimp movements. In fact, it should be said that the drill emphasizes those two movements.


The first technique we went over was a triangle entry that is quite close structurally to the triangle drill.  It just has some tweaks that make it applicable in live situations. That one technique was used as the base of operations, so to speak, for the rest of the class.

We used that entry over and over again, but at different intervals I would teach them alternative finishes.

In fact, we actually went over quite a bit of finishes since the goal was twofold. On one hand, I wanted them to get a lot of reps on the entry, and on the other hand, I wanted to expose them to all the many ways that you can attack from the triangle position.

The whole class was spent shrimping out and shrimping in, but we were also able to go over a good quantity of material at the same time.


I got some good compliments for this class, and it really emphasized how important class structure can be. The problem was that I played it all by ear.

It just worked out well.

Preparation matters though, and I think I could do even better. So in the near future, I’m going to map out a similar class and put it to the test.

Oh, even if you don’t teach, you should experiment. It’s what makes Brazilian Jiu-jitsu so fun and limitless. There is always some way that you can improve.

Oct 19

Piecing It All Together in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

Piecing It All Together in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu

For several years now, I’ve been reducing computer systems to many bits and pieces then putting them all back together again with new parts. It’s one of my jobs.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that process and how it relates to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Now, I’m going to share my thought process with you, and I’m sure that you will gain from the experience.

The Reduction Phase

I’m not going to get too technical here because it’s not necessary, but take a moment and look at your computer.

Now imagine that it was in pieces. If you didn’t include all the screws, you may end up with like 10-20 parts roughly. That number of course would increase quite significantly if you did include the screws.

Anyway, you have all these diverse parts, laying spread out on the table. They all have different functions, but you can group them into general categories.

For this little exercise, those categories will be based on how possible it is to use that particular part in a totally different system. A quick example is a hard drive. If you went out and bought one today, there would be a high degree of probability that it would work in your system.

Of course that’s assuming that you didn’t buy a laptop hard drive for your desktop…. But you wouldn’t do that.

So you have the hard drive on one side of the spectrum, and then on the other side would be the large plastics and metals.

In this situation, where there are two extremes. Which should you focus on in order to get the most bang for your buck?

The answer should be obvious.

If you focus on the large plastics and metals of a particular system, you may get really good in that area, but how much of that knowledge would be transferable to different systems? Obviously, it would be nowhere near as much as you could if you had focused on hard drives.

The same principle applies in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. There are different pieces of the puzzle that have greater overall value.

A real quick example is the shrimp movement. That basic movement is applicable in countless techniques. So if you master that one movement, your overall skill level will increase greater than if you had mastered a movement that had a far smaller area of effect.

This is a simple and intuitive concept, and I hope that this little break/fix exercise helped to remind you of it.

Starting the Process

Let’s go back to looking at all those computer parts flung out on the table.

We’ve had our fun and took it all apart, but now the time has come to put it all back together again. Psh, that’s not fun at all.

The thing is that in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, we are always in the process of putting it together. In scale, the many pieces of a disassembled computer pale in comparison to all the diverse pieces that exist in the art.

It’s amazing when you think about it since not only are there countless parts and pieces that can go into your own unique puzzle but the number is increasing every day.

Access to knowledge has also increased. It’s far easier now to be exposed to massive amounts of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu from the comfort of your home than it was years ago.

So you have to discern what’s useful and what’s not. Of course, that’s very subjective, so let’s see if we can help with that process.

Earlier, we talked about the idea of movements that can be applied to many techniques. That same idea also applies to concepts. Personally, I like to think of it as a simple equation:

Concept + Movement = Technique.

One thing that I’ve noticed in my own learning process is that it is far easier for me to retain knowledge when I already know at least one part of the equation. An example would be learning a new technique that utilizes the granby roll movement.

In that situation, it was easier for me to learn the whole technique because I had already learned a part of it beforehand. This is another illustration of why it helps to focus on learning concepts and movements that have large areas of effect.

The Sum of All Parts

Now let’s switch gears a little. We’re going to focus on the combination of diverse techniques now.

I find the methods used to teach Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to extremely interesting, and I’ve had the opportunity to see several different teaching methods. One thing that I’ve noticed is a disparity with how Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is generally taught and how it works.

Now, I understand the reason for that, and a part of it is based on the audience. The situation leaves primarily three possibilities though if you want to be truly good:

  • You have to learn combinations through the osmosis of rolling often.
  • You have to have the good fortune of having a instructor who helps you link diverse techniques together.
  • You have to take responsibility for your own training and think about ways to combine techniques.

All of those options are perfectly valid, and you don’t have to choose one. You can definitely take the all of the above approach. It’s essential though that you understand that you have to figure out how to use technique in combination rather than isolation.

Consider this simply a reminder.

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.

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