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Awkward is never how I like to feel.  I can remember 15 years ago when I interviewed for my first position with my current employer.  I was feeling confident when I pulled up to the building.  As I entered the building, I was not prepared for the feeling of awkwardness.  I did not know where the receptionist desk was located, and no one would make eye contact with me.  Finally, after what felt like an eternity (mostly likely was 5 seconds) a smiling face greeted me and asked if I was here for the interview.  She walked me to the elevator and even pulled some lint off my suit coat.  She was a big reason I got hired a few days later.  She made me feel comfortable and confident going into my interview.  If she was not working that day, I may have never received the job offer.  I would have gone into my interview feeling awkward and it would have showed during my interview.

This reminds me of what I have seen in Jiu Jitsu.  A prospective student enters a school and would like some information about the classes.  I have seen instances where no one will even acknowledge the prospective student.  This person will feel unwelcome, will not join the school and may never join the Jiu Jitsu revolution.  I have talked to people about this situation and the one thing I hear is the owner or instructor did not do a good job of welcoming the new student.

I would pose the question is it only the instructor or owners job to welcome new students and grow your gym?  I do not think so.  I feel that students of the gym should also be taking a proactive approach to welcome everyone into the gym.  Jiu Jitsu is a team sport and to grow our gym requires a team effort.  Notice how I said “our” gym.  When we join a Jiu Jitsu gym, we should be joining a team, a family, a collective group of individuals that all are striving for the same ends results.  We want to learn and get better at Jiu Jitsu. By having a growing and progressive gym, we will have more opportunities to learn in terms of number of classes and training partners.

So next time you see a new student walk into the gym, why not be the first person to extend a handshake, offer a smile and say welcome to the gym, my name is Gary, what is yours?

Gary

Never Underestimate the Value of The Comfort Zone

It’s often said, “growth takes place outside of your comfort zone”. While that is true, the implication is often that outside your comfort zone is the only place growth happens, and that’s not true at all.

Studies indicate that children do better in school when they come from a stable home, grow up primarily in the same community (as opposed to moving around), have an extended family network, live in a community with a low crime rate, etc. In other words, they flourish where they feel comfortable or safe, e.g. their comfort zones. People who work for companies that are stable and well managed with decent compensation that show appreciation to their employees and offer opportunity for advancement are generally happy and productive at work. Why? In part, because they are working from their comfort zone. Do children and adults also experience growth when the step out of their comfort zones? I think the answer certainly is yes, but in order to step out of their comfort zones, they must have a comfort zone to begin with.

I am proposing that jiu jitsu is probably not unlike other areas in life and that we benefit from having a comfort zone and operating a good deal of the time from there. Finding a home gym where you are comfortable and cultivating a good relationship with your teammates, then developing your “A” game, are a few crucial components to creating your comfort zone. A comfort zone in jiu jitsu would be one where you feel comfortable trying new things and failing. In your comfort zone you can expose your weaknesses and work on solving problems.

Even when you challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone you can do it from within your comfort zone or take your comfort zone with you. Whoa…. Let me try to make sense of that. If you’ve been doing jiu jitsu for a while and have decided, it’s time to step outside your comfort zone and enter a competition you could just sign up for the next competition whether anyone from your team was going or not. It would make more sense though, to sign up for a competition that your school was going to as a team. You would be exposing your self to the rigors of competition intensity training while training with your teammates, you would be going through the weigh in process and finding your brackets and the correct mat with your teammates, you would have your coach or another teammate in your corner, you would have your team with you to support you if you lose and celebrate with you if you win, etc. etc. If you’re going to re-invent your game and try some things that are completely new, wouldn’t it be easier to do that with your favorite teammates in an environment where there was no pressure to be “winning” rounds?

In closing, I wouldn’t suggest that you take the one or the other approach, but that you would seek a healthy balance of both. Cultivate a great training environment that would be your comfort zone and then stretch the limits as needed and as appropriate.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

Joe

The Brotherhood Extends Beyond the Mats

Much is made of the comradery between teammates and the relationships developed on the mats. Have you ever wondered why relationships run deep and the level of trust between training partners is so high?

I would suggest that there are two main reasons:

1) As it relates to jiu jitsu, the truth is always revealed on the mats. If you talk a big game and exaggerate your skill level, you will be exposed as a fraud very quickly. Being completely honest and transparent in one aspect of your life leads to being honest and transparent in other areas so teammates get to know the real you fairly quickly.

2) You are literally putting your physical well-being in the hands of your teammates and they are doing the same with you. When you’ve trusted someone not to break your arm when they’ve had the chance it’s pretty easy to trust them with less crucial things.

I recently was able to benefit from this brotherhood when I needed the old siding on my house removed and replaced with new. One of my training partners Javier San Miguel runs a roofing/home repair company, San Miguel Roofing. San Miguel Roofing is located in Clute Texas which is due south of Houston. I just got done doing some interior work and had a horrible experience with the contractor so for the exterior work I was definitely looking for someone I could trust. My wife cautioned me about hiring a friend out of concern that if things went sideways the friendship would be ruined. I told her I felt I knew Javier pretty well and had good reason to trust him (see paragraph A)

We couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Either Javier, or his father Jose who helps manage the business, was at the job site every day to ensure the work was being done correctly and getting completed on time. I would summarize the outcome this way: Quality work done by professional craftsmen.

Not only has this relationship benefited me, but it has benefited Javier as well in that it was additional work for his business. If you have a teammate who owns, operates, or manages a local business consider giving them your business before you hire someone else. Jiu Jitsu is a community both on and off the mats, and as such, when we have the opportunity to support and/or help one another we should do so.

If you are a BJJ Brick listener and happen to be in the Houston or Brazoria County area and know someone who may be looking for home roofing or home remodel services Javier can be contacted here — San Miguel Roofing or Facebook – San Miguel Roofing

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

Joe

Value this time on the mats kids

The following is a monologue by Billy Crystal from the movie City Slickers and was sent to me from my friend and 60+ year old grappler Andy Dicky. In the movie Mitch (played by Billy Crystal), Phil, and Ed are all experiencing their own mid-life crises and take a two-week vacation at a dude ranch to figure things out. The scene that this monologue is from features Mitch speaking to his son’s middle school class on career day prior to leaving for the dude ranch.

Value this time in your life kids… Because this is the time in your life when you still have choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you’re a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, “what happened to my twenties?”. Your forties, you grow a little pot belly, you grow another chin… the music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery…you’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still too loud, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, and breakfast the night before. You spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering “how come the kids don’t call?”. By your eighties, you’ve had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand, but you call mamma. Any questions?

What’s the point of sharing this with you? Is it to make sure we understand that this is as good as it’s going to get? To warn you that from here on your life will get progressively worse with the passage of time? Not at all. But things will definitely be different, and not all those differences will be “good”. Our knees, our backs, our shoulders, our central nervous systems and reflexes, etc. are examples of things that deteriorate with age. This means our experiences on the mats at 45 will not be the same as they were in our 30’s…in our 50’s our experiences on the mats won’t be the same as they were at 45. Our experiences won’t be the same over the years, but they can still be great.

Don’t waste time looking back with regret because you did not start sooner or did not pursue jiu jitsu with the passion that you now wish you would have. Don’t waste time looking down the road and worrying about your physical attributes fading and your body breaking down and the things that you may no longer be able to do. Instead, live in the moment. Enjoy your time on the mats today. Make the most out of each class, each round that you roll, each tournament you enter, each seminar you attend, etc. This moment is the only one that is guaranteed. Value this time on the mats.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

Joe

Here is the clip!

Never Miss an Opportunity to Learn

You can learn something from everyone. That’s a common sentiment on the mats. In theory, it’s great. In practice….sometimes not so much. Even the mellowest colored belt can sometimes struggle when the 4-stripe white belt starts handing out advice or the more advanced student takes them to school on the mats. Let’s look at two distinctly different ways we can learn from our training partners — tactile feedback and verbal feedback or advice.

If you want to be able to learn from anyone via tactile feedback i.e. through rolling, you need to roll with everyone and you will want to experience all aspects of their jiu jitsu including their A-game. If every time you roll with better students you do everything you can to avoid being drawn into their best positions you will miss the opportunity to study up close and personal what it is that makes that particular position part of their A-game. If every time you roll with less experienced training partners you simply crush them you will also miss what they have to offer. In an ideal world you will spend some time being the hammer and some time being the nail. When you are the hammer, you are letting your training partner feel and learn from your A game. When you are the nail, you are learning from theirs.

If you want to learn something from everyone via verbal feedback or advice you must be humble and approachable. If every time someone gives you feedback you allow your ego to interfere and become dismissive or confrontational people will not be likely to continue to try and help you. Sometimes it is helpful to encourage others to give you feedback. This can be asking directly or you can be a little more subtle like just comment on something you were trying to do during the roll i.e. “I was having a heck of a time passing your guard” or “that was a great triangle”. Feedback is often revealed in casual conversations if you’re looking for it.

There are many ways of learning jiu jitsu: In class instruction, seminars, video study, drilling with your favorite training partners, as well as tactile and verbal feedback from your classmates and training partners. Take advantage of them all.

Train hard, train smart, get better.

Joe Thomas

Training Muay Thai for Better BJJ

After a few years of training, gaining a better understanding of jiujitsu has become a main priority in my life. And if you’re like me, you probably incorporate other physical activities or movements in the context of jiujitsu. We run, bike, practice wrestling & judo, or take a yoga class not necessarily to get good at that activity but to improve our jiujitsu: better cardio, improved takedowns, more flexibility. Well heck, some of us even shrimp out of bed or perform a technical stand-up to get up from the ground. The benefits of running, yoga, judo, or wrestling to improve our jiujitsu are obvious. However, it has taken me a few years and a few conversations to realize that Muay Thai is one of the better, if not the best physical activity to compliment jiujitsu.

Joseph Marquez

The most obvious benefits that Muay Thai provides are the physical ones. The strength, conditioning, and flexibility benefits are great, but more importantly is the loose and ballistic movements that balance out grappling’s emphasis on having a tight squeeze. Focusing on the upper body: when we have somebody’s back (literally) we are tightening up and squeezing to prevent escapes in the hopes of eventually submitting the other person. When focusing on the lower body: a good closed guard, triangle, or tight armbar. However, in Muay Thai (or any striking discipline) we want the opposite of tight and constricted muscles. Loose and relaxed muscles allow for quicker, more ballistic and less telegraphed strikes. Focusing on the upper body, the effectiveness of being loose is most evident during a set of burners in which you throw straight jabs and crosses as fast as possible for a minute or so. You have to “let your hands go” because if you tighten up you will struggle to throw quick punches. The same principle applies when focusing on the lower body. Hitting the Thai pads with fluid and powerful kicks require one to loosen hips and legs. After an hour of Muay Thai, I definitely feel the burn, but I also feel great. My muscles and joints from my ankles all the way to my wrists feel loose and relaxed afterwards. The warmups and drills in Muay Thai have effectively “shaken it out” the tightness from grappling. (In a Tim Ferris podcast with Pavel Tsatsouline, Pavel goes into better detail on “shaking it out” as an effective way to help muscles recover.)

There are other benefits that may be subtle at first, but comparing the similarities between grappling and striking in terms of range will help clarify these concepts. Three fundamental concepts learned in the first lessons of striking are range management, footwork, and creating angles of attack. If they are not in range to kick or punch you, they are not in range to trip, grab, take you down, or pull guard. Knowing what will not work in a certain range is just as important as knowing what will work. The distance from your opponent will help determine whether shooting double, single, low single, or not shooting at all is the best option. The footwork fundamentals (proper weight distribution, pivoting, or not crossing your feet)  used to enter and exit striking range are similar and can be applied to enter and exit shooting range. The same can be said about creating and attacking not straight on, but from an angle. A wrestler confirmed this to me by showing me how takedowns from the side are harder and more awkward to defend than takedowns you see coming head on. The concepts  of range, footwork, and angles are heavily emphasized in striking but they are also applicable to BJJ, especially since these fundamentals fluidly combine.

As we move closer into striking range, we also move into hand-fighting/grip-fighting range. As stated above, and because I think it is worth repeating: if you are in range to punch, you are in range to grab. A training partner demonstrated how he was able to repeatedly and easily grab my lapels in order to take me down or trip me from a standing position. He used the concept of boxing combos as way to get grips. In this specific case it was simple two-punch combo a straight jab to rear uppercut combo. He simply replaced the strikes in the combo with a collar grab. The main purpose of initial “jab” (high collar-grab) was to find range and distract. If it was not defended, the grip is taken. Most of the time this was defended and the “uppercut” was thrown to get my collar on the other side. Drilling combos and shadow boxing can be incorporated into BJJ simply by replacing punches with grabs and leg kicks & knees with trips.

There are many other ways that Muay Thai, and other striking arts or activities for that matter, can help improve our jiujitsu. I hope this helps us in our journey and that even more connections between BJJ and other activities will be investigated and shared.

Namaste

Joe Marquez

Too Much Knowledge Can Slow the Learning Process in BJJ

This may seem counterintuitive but stick with me for a bit.

Let’s step off the mats for just a second and look at learning a golf swing. The golf swing can be broken down into many parts. Let’s just look at the setup as outlined here 50 Best Swing Keys. You need to have your legs properly positioned with your feet outside your hips, and your toes pointed outward at a 25 degree angle. Now you need to have your upper left arm on the top of your chest, and your right arm needs to be slightly bent at the elbow. Then you need to have your right shoulder slightly lower than your left, and you need to be holding the shaft perpendicular to the ground.

That is a lot of stuff to do and you have not even started to move yet. The article goes into much more detail about how to properly smack the life out of the ball.

Even if I did have some knowledge of golf (I don’t) taking in a long list of different aspects all at once is a lot to ask of someone wanting a better swing.

The same thing can happen in BJJ if you are coaching to correct every little detail, the learning process can actually slow down. Instead fix one or two main things, and acknowledge one or two things that are done well. When the corrections have been made, build on that by fixing one or two more things.

Teaching too much can make students overwhelmed. Frustrated students are not in the state of mind to learn.

You might think that this coaching advice is mostly geared toward helping new students. I would argue that novice or expert will struggle to make more than one or two corrections at a time.

We can all improve, gaining knowledge needs to be at a rate that is conducive to learning.

Ideas for this article were inspired from the books Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better and Peak secrets for the new science of expertise 

Byron

Back to the Basics

My youngest kids are girls that are less than two years apart in age. The
older one was not too interested in driving so delayed taking drivers education
and getting her permit. By the time she did start the process her younger sister
was almost ready as well. This resulted in me doing a lot of driving and teaching
for almost a year straight. Whether they were driving, or I was behind the wheel,
every time we were on the road it was a lesson. I would say “we’re a few blocks
from the Jr. High and it’s 3:00 we should be keeping an eye out for kids, right?” or
“this is the first rain in a few weeks, be aware the roads could be slick” or “can
you see the mirrors on that 18-wheeler in front of us? If not, we’re following too
close” etc. etc. etc. These are all just basic safe driving practices that experienced
drivers follow without thinking about. But after a years’ worth of conscienceless
thinking about and actively discussing these issues I felt like a safer driver.

I’ve been driving for over 30 years with 2 tickets and zero accidents in the
last 20. After all that time of safe driving, if spending some time consciously
focusing on the basic principles of safe driving can make me a better driver, I’m
willing to bet the same logic applies to jiu jitsu? If you spend some time focusing
on the basic principles of good jiu jitsu your techniques will get tighter, you will
become more efficient, your defense will improve….in short, your grappling will
get better.

It’s tempting to make a list of “5 basic principles and concepts…..”, but the
reality is every person will be different. If your top game is weak or not
progressing the fundamentals you choose to focus on will be different than they
would be if your go-to guard game needed some improvement.
Focusing on the basics in general will help your jiu jitsu. Focusing on specific
basics that are directly relevant to your game will help you even more. In my
mind, this is an example of a time that paying your instructor for a private lesson,
will be worth every penny you spend. Tell your instructor you would like to
improve upon the foundation of your game – that you would like to make sure
your jiu jitsu is fundamentally sound and ask him for a private lesson, so you can
roll, and he can assess your game and make suggestions.

In conclusion, no matter how long you have been training jiu jitsu, there is
always value in getting back to the basics. No amount of slick moves and fancy
techniques will ever make up for a game that is not fundamentally sound. It’s
never too late to get back to the basics.

Train hard. Train smart. Get better.

Joe

Properly Responding to Feedback to Get Better At BJJ

It happens all the time on the mats. One person gives the other person a bit of feedback, some information that they can use to help develop their game. If the person receiving the feedback is you I have a couple of things you should consider.

In my example the feedback is coming from a person who is qualified to give you help.

Let’s step on the mat for some nogi. I am working to pass your guard and you have one hand on my neck to help control posture. I tell you this bit of feedback “try moving your hand up a little bit closer to my head”. This grip sounds odd to you. When playing gi you control the posture with a collar grip. Your hand naturally slides a bit further back and to control the neck. In addition you are satisfied with your collar grip conversion to nogi and you do a pretty good job of controlling the posture. This feedback is probably ignored, and you keep on doing what you are doing.

When you get feedback apply it first, then consider if it is good advice. If it was intuitive for you to play your grip on the lower part of the head you would have already been doing it. Often times good feedback will seem counterintuitive. You might find that gripping on the back of the head gives you much more leverage. You are not just pulling the person down from their neck. Your energy is first pulling the head down, then the neck therefore the posture is broken much easier.

The point of this article is not to help you break your opponent’s posture more effectively. I want you to try the feedback you get and then judge its effectiveness.

Thank the person that took the time to give you the feedback. Your development on the mat will be more efficient if you continue to get more feedback and you should do all you can to encourage more. Using the feedback and thanking the person go a long way to helping you be a joy to coach.

Ideas for this article were inspired from the book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

Coaching Tip- Critique vs Correct In BJJ

These two things may seem to be the same, but they are actually significantly different. In this short article you will find out the difference and learn why I am such a fan of one over the other.

Let’s say we are rolling, and I have side control. You are doing a pretty good job to build a frame and you try to escape. Then your arm relaxes a bit and I isolate it and take the armbar. My critique would be that your should keep your arms in a safe position. That is good advice, and I hope you can put it to use next time someone has you in side control and tries to put your arm in danger.

Let’s look at the same scenario and use correction instead of critique. Now where were we? Oh yeah. Your arm relaxes a bit and I isolate it and start to take the armbar. I know you feel something bad is headed your way. Then I say “pause for a second, can you feel your arm is out of position?” You agree. “Let’s rewind and see what happened, to get you to this spot.” It turns out that as you attempting to get your legs in to recover guard your arm became a bit too loose “Let’s do it again but this time as you are working your legs in also pay attention to your arm, especially your left one.”

With the correction you get to try to fix the problem in the moment. You get to feel it working and make adjustments to your game in a more live setting.

If you tell me what mistakes I made after I tap, thanks for the critique. If you have me pause and rewind a few steps to show me my mistakes, thanks for the correction. They are both good learning tools but the correction allows me to practice what you are telling me. The correction allows both my body and mind to experience the practice together, and this greatly helps with long term retention.

Think of giving someone a critique as giving them a tip, and giving someone a correction as giving them a short pertinent lesson.

The words “pause” and “rewind” are becoming some the my best coaching words while I roll.

Ideas for this article were inspired from the book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better

Byron