Monday, November 21, 2016

How to be a Better Loser

Image result for loser

No one likes to lose. And if you train jiu jitsu, you’re probably pretty competitive and like losing about as much as you like finding your face buried in your training partner’s sweaty armpit. But if you are a true competitor, losing is par for the course. In my opinion, unless you are of Rodger Gracie caliber, never losing means either a) you don’t compete enough or b) you don’t compete at a high enough level.

My instructor has a saying: "Winning is affirmation and losing is information." If you win, that's awesome. But when you lose, that's when you most have the opportunity to learn and get better. If we are so paralyzed by the fear of losing that we are afraid to take a match, we are stunting our own growth. And that can hurt us, because short grapplers don’t land as many triangles.

So what to do when the inevitable happens? I’m not trying to brag here, but I’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice my losing skills, so I’ve given the issue a good deal of thought. Here is my guide for losing as graciously and productively as possible:

Give credit where credit is due
First and foremost, congratulate your opponent and give her props for her victory. Thank your coaches and training partners for helping you get ready for the match as well.

No podium stink face
This is my competition pet peeve. No fleeing the mat before your opponent gets his hand raised, no storming off the mat period, and no stink face on the podium. If you do any of these things, you will look like a giant baby. You are also robbing your opponent of his time to enjoy the moment.  It’s ok to get emotional – I sometimes do - but try to do so in a private place. 

Assess your preparation

Once you've survived the photos and awards, it's time to learn from your mistakes. Examine your mental state and nutrition leading up to the match. What worked and what didn't? What about your training? Were you as prepared as you should have been? What would you do differently next time?

Take video of your match and review it later with your coach
This is your chance to really learn from your match. You can see exactly where things went wrong and you can rewind and re-watch as often as necessary. Ask yourself: What did you do well? What mistakes did you make? How could you achieve a better outcome next time?

Make “I” statements
Whether in training or in competition, you can make a million excuses for why someone got the better of you. I'll admit, I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I hear excuses creep into my self-talk all the time and it takes mental work to turn these statements around. It's not that these excuses are wrong - they may be perfectly legitimate. Within a skill level, physical attributes play a huge role in determining rolling outcomes. Yet, I think it's unproductive to cite these attributes as reasons for losing. When I take responsibility for my own rolls I feel less discouraged, because instead of blaming a loss on external factors, it gives me the power to change my jiu jitsu. Here’s what I mean:

Instead of saying:
He beat me because he is so strong
My jiu jitsu was not good enough to overcome his strength advantage
Her guard was just too flexible to pass
My pressure passing was not tight enough to pin her flexible hips
He was just too explosive to hold down
 I wasn’t able to stabilize my top positions
She only submitted me because she knew a fancy, new move that I had never seen
My fundamentals weren’t strong enough to shut down her unpredictable move

Get back to the gym
It’s easy to feel discouraged after a loss. You might even be tempted to lay off the mats for a bit. But instead, why not use the sting of defeat to fire up your training? Get mad! Now’s the time to train more and train harder. Take what you learned from watching your match and work on your mistakes. No one likes to lose, but, when it happens, defeat can be one of the best things to push your jiu jitsu to a new level. You just have to keep training.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

When a roll turns agro - dealing with newbie, psycho-spazzes

We've all been there - rolling with a newbie, psycho-spaz (NPS, for short) who believes this training roll is a matter of life or death. He (or she) kicks, scratches, slams, jerks, and rips out of every grip and hold. You get the sense that, for the NPS, injury to either of you would be preferable to tapping. Tapping is THE ABSOLUTE WORST THING! If you tap, you lose. And above all else, the NPS hates to lose.

But by definition, the NPS is new. Eventually he gets caught. He taps. And from there his aggression escalates.

It is fair to say that no one likes rolling with the NPS. It may be productive under the right circumstances, but it is neither safe nor pleasant.

So how is the NPS dealt with? Very often, we simply match his aggression and lack of regard for his training partners. We think - Oh, THAT'S how he wants to roll? Ok, let's do this. Our goal for the roll changes. We set out not to hone our skills and work new technique but simply to destroy the NPS.

But lately, I've realized something. When we match poor rolling behavior, we reinforce it. The NPS does not necessarily make the connection: I don't like how this person is rolling with me. Hey, maybe folks don't like how I roll, since I do some of these things. I should probably change my rolling style.

It's more likely that the NPS says: See, I'm doing nothing wrong. This is how EVERYONE rolls, even the upper belts. I'm just like everyone else.

Recently, I was trapped in an escalating roll with an NPS. I was partnered with an agro, wrestler guy whose clear goal was to not tap at all costs. My body was paying the price. After wading through ripped fingers and elbows to the face, I was relieved to find myself taking mount and snatching an armbar. Maybe if I showed this NPS his place, he would calm down.

Only, he didn't tap. Instead, the NPS grunted "I'm not submitting!" and proceeded to bicep curl my body and escape from my imperfect armbar. So I moved on to choke him instead. He finally did tap - but from there the roll further degenerated. His behavior increased in intensity but now so did mine. I was pissed. I had watched this NPS roll with plenty of dudes and never once did he respond to their attacks with the defiant grumble "I'm not submitting." This guy was not just an NPS - he was a sexist douche. And now I was the one turning agro. The NPS-SD was rolling like he wanted to kill me, but now I was about to roll that same way.

The final time that I tapped this NPS, I dove on an americana and cranked it hard - far from the slow, controlled way I would normally submit a new white belt. I realized something: The way this guy was rolling was not ok. And because I matched his style, the way I was rolling was not ok. Matching his intensity was neither smart nor effective. We were both in danger of getting hurt and it had done nothing to change his behavior.

I decided I needed to speak up. I explained to the NPS why this roll was unsafe and described to him what I believed to be a more effective way to roll. In part, I did this to make the rest of the round safer for both of us. But I also did it for him and the sake of his future rolling partners. Smashing him was not teaching him a lesson but seemed to be escalating his behavior.

Because you know what? I was once new. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that in my first few weeks, I was an NPS. I learned quickly but I did so because my more experienced training partners took the time to talk to me about how to roll. I distinctly remember upper belts telling me that if I slowed down, I would learn faster. I got treated better than most new dudes who start training, even though my behavior was similar.

So what do you do when you see an NPS on your mats? My advice is this:
  • duck them if you can
  • roll with them if you must
  • smash them if you are able
  • but then take the time to talk to them. To turn the NPS into a productive training partner, your words may be more effective than your chokes

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Contest time! Share your story and win a free entry to the Spartan obstacle race


Lately, I've been noticing something. It's not always the most talented athletes who stick with jiu jitsu for the long run. Of course, sometimes these guys do stick around and when they do they become jiu jitsu monsters. But more often than not, it's not the most athletic, genetically gifted student who survives the mats for the long haul.

For every phenom who smashes through the ranks, there are at least a dozen others who grind their way through. People who get smashed a lot, but just keep on rolling. People with physical, family, and time limitations, but keep their heads down and train when they can. People who make up for average talent with exceptional grit. People who may face plant into obstacles but decide to train through them.

My friends at Spartan Race salute this commitment. To celebrate the release of Joe DeSena's new book, Spartan Fit, they have offered to give one of my readers a code for a free Spartan obstacle race entry, good for anywhere in the US.

Want a chance to win it? Share your story in the comment section below. Write a brief post about what obstacles you overcome in order to train. One lucky reader will be picked at random to win the free entry.

PS: If you don't win, don't worry! You can still get a 10% discount on the race by entering the code SPARTANBLOGGER

PPS: You can pre-order the book here!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A recap of the Abu Dhabi World Pro Jiu Jitsu Championships

Last week, I had the honor to attend the World Professional Jiu Jitsu championships in Abu Dhabi. There are 2 ways to attend this tournament:

a) You can win one of the qualifier tournaments held around the world and earn an all expense paid trip to the tournament

b) You can just enter the tournament and pay for the trip yourself

Until now, I actually didn't know option B existed, but in a tournament of over 5,000 competitors, that's how most people get there. I tried to win the qualifier 3 times, on 3 different years, and finally won the New York qualifier this year to win the free trip. But I probably spent as much to attend the 3 qualifiers as it would have cost to directly book the Abu Dhabi trip, so I am not knocking option B.

Me, after winning the NY qualifier

Persistence pays!

Overall, this was the most international tournament that I have ever attended, attracting competitors from all over the world and a much higher percentage of non-Americans than the Mundials. (I was actually the only person from the US in my bracket. The rest were from Europe, Brazil, Australia, and the Middle East).

I can see why such a wide net of competitors is drawn to this tournament. Abu Dhabi itself is a beautiful and diverse city. There are some cultural differences in dress and social contact, but foreign visitors are welcomed with warm hospitality. Trial winners are taken care of in every way, from representatives meeting us to escort us through the airport, to a 24 hr training room in the host hotel, to laundry services to clean our dirty gis. But the biggest drawing point is that this tournament is a rare opportunity for jiu jitsu athletes to win serious prize money.

Overall, the trip was an amazing experience and I can't wait to go back one day. My only complaint is how far behind schedule both the NY trials and the World Pro ran. In tournaments where brackets are released days ahead of time, it is possible to produce a fairly accurate tournament schedule. In both tournaments, I had to be in the waiting area 1 hour before I was scheduled to compete but didn't actually go until almost 3 hours AFTER scheduled. That means I had to be on deck (mentally psyched up and ready to compete when called) for a total of 4 hours. That is mentally a very tough thing to do. (I also felt bad for my friends at home who woke up at 4:00 am to watch me compete, but didn't see me go until almost 3 hours later).

I ended up taking a silver medal in the 70+ kilos purple belt division. I did some things well and some things not so well. I learned a lot from my matches and hope to come back stronger next time!