Beware the Gonna’s

“Often we are caught in a mental trap of seeing enormously successful people and thinking they are where they are because they have some special gift. Yet a closer look shows that the greatest gift that extraordinarily successful people have over the average person is their ability to get themselves to take action.”

-Anthony Robbins

We all have dreams and aspirations of who we’d like to be or where/how we’d like to live. We’re also fortunate enough to live in a time and place where the opportunity to actually achieve those dreams is available to anybody willing to put in the work. Yet there are those who spend their days trudging in mediocrity, waiting for their dreams to magically come to fruition. These poor souls get trapped by the bad habit of “I’m gonna.”

“When I’m older, I’m gonna be rich.”

“I’m gonna travel the world one of these days.”

“Once I’m not so busy, I’m gonna start working out.”

Days become weeks, weeks become years, and before they know it, they’re older but no richer, still financially unable to travel, and still too busy to start working out.

If we truly wish to turn our dreams into reality, it is vital that we take action.

“The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.”

Nolan Bushnell

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Why wait? Turn your dream into a goal, and make a plan on how to achieve it. Then get busy. Don’t think you have the time? Surely you can find ten minutes somewhere – any progress forward is more than none. Move!

Ready, Fire, Aim!

Too often we get stuck planning, trying to cover every contingency for the fear of failure. Not sure where to start? Start anyway; you can adjust as you go. Look around you for inspiration or a mentor.

Dream big – and then take action. You deserve it.

Know Your Enemy

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu

One of the reasons most of us train in the martial arts is self defense. We want to know what to do in the event someone tries to harm us. There are other threats to our well being besides so-called bad guys, and any serious look at self defense would be remiss if it didn’t address these very real threats. While we are taking steps to protect ourselves from being the victims of violence, we should also consider how to prevent becoming victims of poor lifestyle choices, and the chronic diseases that follow.

Of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. (this holds true world-wide) violent crime doesn’t even make the list. There were 13,455 homicides in the U.S. in 2015, the most recent year for which we have the statistics on chronic disease. The FBI just came out with the 2016 crime statistics, which sadly show another increase, with 15,070 homicides.To be fair, it should be noted that these numbers only represent the worst outcome of violence (death). More often than not, victims of violent crime survive. A more accurate number to compare, therefore, is total violent crimes, which in 2016 came to 1,248,185. In a country with a population of 323,127,513, that works out to about 386 incidents per 100,000 people.

Compare that to just five of the top ten killers in the U.S., namely, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and diabetes. Over 1.5 million United States citizens succumbed to these killers in 2015. This number only represents those who died. It’s estimated that nearly 1 out of 2 people are suffering with at least one chronic illness! That’s about 50,000 cases per 100,000 people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) further estimates that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as 40% of cancer could be prevented by eliminating the risk factors. Even if we were to take a much more conservative approach, say just 10%, that still works out to 144,963 lives saved in one year. Four of the major risk factors are things we have complete control over: lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Boil all these numbers down and we’re left with this realization. For every victim of a violent crime in the U.S., there are 130 people with a chronic illness, and up to 103 of those could be prevented simply by living a healthy lifestyle!

If we’re serious about protecting ourselves and our families, training in the martial arts is a big part of the picture. It can give us the physical skills, and the mental capacity to “take care of business.” Here’s a five point plan to help us build our bodies like a fortress, ready to defend against all adversaries, including the ravages of chronic disease.

  1. Train like a warrior every day.
  2. Eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean meats.
  3. Avoid highly processed, sugary foods with little nutritional value, smoking, and drinking alcohol in excess.
  4. Drink a lot of water.
  5. Get plenty of sleep.

By choosing to live an active, healthy lifestyle we are developing the most powerful self defense skills we can.

You’re Right

The human condition is fascinating; our capacity is unfathomable. Consider for a moment what we have accomplished over the past 1000 years. Science has given us a much better understanding of the world we live in, while technology has made our lives easier. We have 24/7 access to clean, safe drinking water, nearly an unlimited amount of food, and flush toilets. We have developed some of the most fair and equitable socio-economic systems ever witnessed in human history. Our understanding of health and medicine enables us to save lives formerly lost to accidents and disease. Every child in every modern society has access to a decent education. Athletes continue to break barriers and accomplish “the impossible.” For crying out loud, we put a man on the moon!

With all of this success, with all of the collective knowledge we have attained as a species, there is still great disparity in the human experience. There are people who own luxury homes and yachts, while others live in the streets. Entrepreneurs build multi-billion dollar businesses, and others can’t find a job. World-class athletes are breaking records and defying the possible, simultaneouly the U.S. is witnessing an epidemic of obesity and all of the health problems that come with it. Why can so many individuals living in the same time and place experience such varying levels of success?

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.”

– Henry Ford

While there are a multitude of factors leading to such diversity, (or disparity depending on your perspective) there are but a handful of traits common to those who are successful. One of the most powerful is recognizing our individual agency. Ford’s message isn’t just an over-simplified, positive affirmation; it’s acknowledging that what you focus on matters. You can either emphasize the things that stand in your way, or what you’re going to do about it.

Ask anybody in the fitness industry and they will confirm this observation: people can create a long list of well thought-out excuses as justification for avoiding the very thing they know they should be doing. All of the worldly expertise in nutrition and exercise can be neutralized with the simple declaration, “I can’t because <insert excuse du jour>.”

“God grant me the serenity 
To accept the things I cannot change; 
Courage to change the things I can; 
And wisdom to know the difference.”

-Reinhold Neibuhr

What are you going to do about it?

Take a moment to consider the monumental achievements of your human family. Realize that you, too, have the capacity for greatness. Identify your goals, and DON’T MAKE EXCUSES. Just get busy doing what you know you should.

See you on the mats!

Water

“Water its living strength first shows,
When obstacles its course oppose.”

– Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe; God, Soul, and World – Rhymed Distichs

Water is essential to life here on planet Earth. We humans can go weeks without food (contrary to popular belief), but only a few days without water. We use it to grow crops, and have harnessed it’s kinetic energy to produce electricity. We also use it for recreation, swimming in our pools, water skiing on lake Folsom, or surfing in Santa Cruz. Water can be therapeutic, whether we enjoy soaking in a hot bath, or being mesmerized by the rhythm of waves lapping on the beach.

Authors and poets wax eloquent on the many wonders of water, while philosophers utilize it in allegory and maxim. Often, such artistry is used to convey an important life-lesson. For example, the ancient Chinese text of the Tao Teh Ching tells us,

“Nothing in the world is weaker or gentler than water.
But nothing exceeds it at conquering the hard and strong.
That is because nothing displaces it.
That the weak overcomes the strong,
And the gentle overcomes the hard,
Is something that everyone knows
But no one can put into practice.

Tao Teh Ching, 78. Translated by A. S. Kline. (2003)

This passage provides us with some beautiful imagery. It is also a perfect example of a logical fallacy. Water may very well be “soft and yielding,” but it isn’t these characteristics which enable it to accomplish such a feat. Water renders seemingly indestructible mountains to mere grains of sand over an unfathomable amount of time by slowly, imperceptibly etching away at them. It would be more accurate to ascribe water the human characteristic of persistence or perseverance.

“A river cuts through rock
 not because of its power but because of its persistence.”

– Jim Watkins, Author

It is hard to imagine, but the reality is that even the mighty Sierra-Nevada mountains will eventually be reduced to rubble by the erosion of the water flowing down its streams and rivers.

The Grand Canyon, courtesy of the Colorado River, and 5-6 million years.

If we wish to be successful in great endeavors, whether it’s our career, our family, or our jiu jitsu, we must remind ourselves that our progress is often imperceptible; in this manner we are like water. While we might feel like we’re not getting it, or that we’ve plateaued, so long as we keep flowing along, we are indeed etching away at that granite.

See you on the mat.


Tzu, Lao. Tao Teh Ching. Translated by A. S. Kline, Poetry in Translation, 2003.

Don’t Quit!

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.

-Vince Lombardi

We are emotional beings. Indeed, we hold our emotions in such high regard that we’re advised to “follow our heart,” and to “pursue our passion.” While being happy, getting angry, and feeling sad are all part of a healthy human experience, it’s beneficial to remember their ephemeral nature; our feelings come and go, being strong one day, and diminished the next. Allowing these powerful, ever-changing forces to direct our daily actions can be a recipe for disaster, if we allow them to distract us from our chosen course.

Any great accomplishment in life requires a lot of time and effort. Sports provide the perfect example. To become a world-champion takes years of hard work, day-in, day-out, practicing the same moves again, and again, for hours every day. Such intense training means there will be injuries and set-backs. It also requires sacrificing time with family and friends. Such redundancy, difficulty, and sacrifice means that even the most dedicated athlete will experience days or even weeks when they just don’t feel like it. Yet, the victorious find a way to push through these periods.

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

-Vince Lombardi

This past weekend, Simone Biles won her sixth record-tying, all-around title at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. Not only did she win in resounding fashion, but she nailed two, never-before moves. She did a double-double (two flips & two twists) dismount off of the beam, and she pulled off a triple-double on her floor routine – both firsts for women’s gymnastics! Many are calling her the greatest of all time.

In the 2016 Olympics Ms. Biles and her fellow teammates Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and Aly Raisman made up the Final Five. This powerhouse of a team dominated the competition bringing home the Gold in the team event, while also medaling in each and every individual event as well. Their memoirs are the stuff of legend; each of them experienced difficulty, and dealt with the trials & tribulations so common in great endeavors, yet persevered to succeed.

The Final Five, Agência Brasil Fotografias [CC BY 2.0]

Gabby Douglas, for example, wanted to quit leading up to the 2012 London Games. She wrote to her mother,

“Gymnastics is not my passion anymore. I want to get famous off of running track, or I want to try dancing, or become a singer. I can get a job at Chick-Fil-A in Virgiia Beach and live off the 14 grand I just won at world Championships. I just want to be a normal teenage kid.”

– Gabby Douglas, Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith

Gabby, however, went on to compete in those Olympic Games. She and her teammates won Gold in the team event. She became the first woman of color to win the individual all-around, and the first american gymnast to win both the team event and individual in the same Olympics!

It’s o.k. to feel like quitting – just don’t quit!

It is normal to have moments of doubt, to feel like quitting – especially when the endeavor is a long, arduous one. Whether it’s gymnastics, working an a college degree, a job, or training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the key is recognizing this feeling for what it is, then re-focus on one’s goals, and stay the course! Greatness could be just around the corner.

See you on the mat.


Learn more about these amazing athletes in their own words….

Biles, Simone. Courage to soar: a body in motion, a life in balance. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016.

Douglas, Gabby. Grace, Gold, and Glory: my leap of faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2012.

Hernandez, Laurie. I Got This: to gold and beyond. New York, NY: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.

Raisman, Aly. Fierce: how competing for myself changed everything. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.

Strength through Adversity

“Sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail.”

– anonymous

Everybody who trains in Brazilian Jiujitsu gets it. There are those days when everything “clicks.” Our defense seems impenetrable, and our offense unstoppable. We are the hammer. Then there are those days when nothing seems to work. Our opponents pass our guard like the proverbial hot knife through butter, and we spend the day on the run, while fine-tuning our arsenal of various tap-outs. We are the nail.

This is the nature of Jiu Jitsu: we are continually pushing our limits, as we work to build a better, stronger self. In order to improve, we need to fine-tune our strengths and improve our weaknesses; we need strong partners to train with and put those skills to the test. Just as one needs both a hammer AND nails to build a house, we need to experience the full spectrum of training in order to build ourselves.

In this regard, BJJ is analogous to our daily lives, where we will experience both success and failure. We must learn to rejoice in our victories with a bit of gratitude and humility. We should enjoy the rewards of our successes, while being grateful for the people and circumstances that helped us get there.

On the flip side, it’s important to remember that we can survive those times when things don’t go as planned. , We should appreciate the learning opportunity our defeats provide. Indeed, even when it seems our life is in a total shambles, so long as we persevere, we will do more than merely survive; we will be stronger. Adversity provides the most empowering lessons of all. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder:

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Whether you’re the hammer or the nail, embrace the grind. You’ll be that much better because of it.

See you on the mat.

Like a Laser

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We go to work and we play. We go shopping, come home, and fix dinner. We rest. All the while, our families, friends, and neighbors are there, taking the time to make us part of their lives as well. Technology beckons, as the television, radio, computer, and smart phone also vie for our attention. There are books, blogs, and articles to be read, videos to watch, and games to play. The phone rings, pings, or vibrates to alert us to yet another call, text, or email to be answered. We become engulfed in the ebb and flow of traffic as we commute to work, and transport our children to school.

We are continually surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless barrage. It often seems as though everything is demanding your immediate attention. In this ongoing sea of activity, it can be easy to lose sight of where you are, or where you’re headed. Our ability to focus is a powerful tool that can help us effectively traverse such a multifaceted  landscape.

Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.

One of mantras we teach our younger martial artists is, “Focus your eyes, focus your mind, focus your body.” It’s a reminder of the importance of paying attention to the task at hand. When we spar at the studio, or compete at a tournament, we must have a singular focus. We need to keep our eyes focused on our training partner/opponent, our mind focused on our game plan, and our body properly prepared for the ensuing match. A break in any one of the three greatly decreases our chances of success.

While the intensity of competition demands it, this level of concentration is helpful in more common aspects of daily living as well. We really should strive to focus in such a manner on all endeavors throughout the day. Being continually distracted by extraneous factors, makes us less efficient at getting the job done. When writing this post, for example, I have to turn on the “do not disturb” on my iPhone. Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to respond to the five texts, 20+ emails, and three phone calls I’ll surely have waiting when I’m done.

“Wherever you are, be there!”

-Jim Rohn

Efficiency is one reason to be focused on the here and now. Safety is another. Being aware of one’s surroundings is the primary step in self-defense. For example, given the fact that automobile accidents are the #1 cause of accidental death in the U.S. with over 35,000 deaths annually, wouldn’t you think that it might be wise to pay attention while crossing a street, or while driving, for that matter? Yet, given the inherent risk, I am amazed at the number of people I see crossing the street with their gaze locked onto their smart-phone. (that makes “smart-phone” an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

– Dale Carnegie

Quality of life is yet another reason to practice focusing on the here and now. Often times we bemoan past events, or worry about the future. While it is good to learn from our past mistakes, dwelling on them does nothing other than to relive the negative feelings caused. It is also good to plan for the future, and thus be prepared for tomorrow. Worrying about it, however, is just adding more needless stress to our already stressful lives. Learn from past mistakes and move on. Plan for the future, and trust your plan. Learn to live today for today, and enjoy every moment.

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

See you on the mat.

Honor

Our school motto is Força e Honra, or Strength and honor. These are the first two of our Five Pillars of SuccessTM. For the month of May, we will be discussing the concept of honor in our Little Samurai and Junior Jujiteiros classes. Honor is a virtue that has been extolled throughout the ages, from ancient philosophers such as Homer and Confucius to the concept of Chivalry in medieval Europe and the Bushido Code of the Samurai. But what exactly is it? 

Honor is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “a showing of usually merited respectrecognition.” We honor our instructor, our school, and our teammates through our appreciation. We respect Professor Cassio for his accomplishments as a competitor, his guidance as an instructor, and his example as a family man. We support our school and our teammates as part of that honor, showing up to train, contributing our own “blood, sweat, and tears” to the process of helping make each individual better. We honor our teammates, for we share the common understanding of the trials and tribulations we all experience on the mat.

Merriam-Webster also defines honor as, “a keen sense of ethical conduct: integrity.” There have been various attempts to codify ethical conduct, none more apropos than those coming from the warrior communities of the U.S. Marine Corps and Jiu Jitsu’s own Bushido heritage.

As per the U.S. Marine Corps website,

“Honor <sic> is the bedrock of our character. It is the quality that empowers Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; to respect human dignity; and to have respect and concern for each other. It represents the maturity, dedication, trust, and dependability that commit Marines to act responsibly, be accountable for their actions, fulfill their obligations, and hold others accountable for their actions.”

The Bushido of the Samurai was a code of conduct which evolved over the centuries. Earlier versions include The Hagakura, and The Book of Five Rings. These codes were eventually  paraphrased, so to speak, as The Eight Virtues of Bushido by Nitobe Inazō in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan.

  • Righteousness (義 gi)
  • Heroic Courage (勇 )
  • Benevolence, Compassion (仁 jin)
  • Respect (礼 rei)
  • Integrity (誠 makoto)
  • Honour (名誉 meiyo)
  • Duty and Loyalty (忠義 chūgi)
  • Self-Control (自制 jisei)

As martial artists we train for the love of the art, to make ourselves stronger, for fun, and for the camaraderie. We pay homage to these ideals after every workout, with the intent of making them a part of our lives. They espouse something greater than ourselves; something to live up to. Just as warriors, both past and present, we too live by a code. Força e Honra.

See you on the mat!

The Warrior Within

Watching the Little Samurai and Junior Jujiteiros, I’m reminded of how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, like other sports, correlates to life in general; it reflects a microcosm of our human experience. Whether one’s sport of choice is running, soccer, baseball, or Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, we can identify the same truths within the confines of the sport and extend it into our world view.

Take cross country, for example. At the high-school level, a broad spectrum of humanity can be seen participating in cross country; from kids knocking off a hilly 5k with sub five minute miles, to others who have to walk part of their flat, two mile course. There are long, lean gazelles, and short, squat, bull-dogs; kids who are incredibly conditioned, and others who, let’s just say, are working on it. There are highly organized, well-trained teams, and there are other loosely knit teams, seemingly ad hoc in their approach.

While there are particular physical traits that lend themselves to the sport, there’s no denying the psychology of running. When you’re running your fastest, it doesn’t matter how fit you are, you’re going to reach a point where your body wants to quit, and you have to will yourself to continue. It’s fascinating to witness this in a race, as some of the runners fight to win, while others fade, seemingly accepting their fate.

In the end, the top of the field is made up of well-trained, fierce competitors who generally have the genetic gifts of a runner. However there are always a few up in the front who don’t fit the stereotypical mold, and plenty of naturally “gifted” folks in the back of the pack, people who look like they should be able to fly across the course, yet end up running with the masses. So while natural attributes are helpful, these alone are not enough. Proper preparation (training) and the will to succeed are the constants one always finds in the winners’ circle.

Here are my take-aways from cross country; these are the same “truths” in every sport/endeavor, including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

  1. You can’t change the past. We all start where/when we start; rich or poor, good genes or bad, great upbringing or not. None of us has the ability to travel back and get a do-over. Blaming your ancestors for the genes they passed down, or your parents for the way you were raised are both pointless. Don’t waste your time and energy worrying about what you can’t change.
  2. Surround yourself with a good team and/or mentor. There are plenty of people out there with similar interests and goals. These are the people you should be spending your time with. When your friends are saying, “take a day off, let’s go play,” your teammates are saying, “let’s go train, and play later.” They can give you the guidance, support, and motivation needed to stay the course and achieve your goals.
  3. Recognize your strengths, and build from there. Each of us is a unique combination of strengths, weaknesses, skills, and knowledge. Find your niche, and expand it. Look for opportunities to use your specific set of skills/traits to your advantage. (If you’re one of those fortunate enough to have great genes, be thankful, but don’t “rest on your laurels.”)
  4. Put in the work. There’s no escaping this one. No amount of natural talent can make up for a truck-load of  well-planned, hard work. All of that work conditions the body and mind like nothing else can.
  5. Break down large goals into smaller, more recognizable ones. If you find yourself in the middle of the pack way behind the lead runner, focus instead, on the runner in front of you. Pass them. Move on to the next. Keep mowing them down as you fight toward the front. Which brings us to the final point…
  6. Find the warrior within. For those who are competitive by nature, congratulations. For the rest, discover what makes you burn inside, what gives you passion, what inspires you to strive at “no matter the cost” levels. Because here’s the thing; at some point everybody gets tired. At some point legs turn to rubber, hearts want to explode, and lungs burn for more oxygen. At this point, the field fades, but the warriors forge on ahead.

See you all on the mats!

Warrior Mindset

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art which, by definition, translates to a method of war, or warlike skill. It is a form of combat, but most of those who train in BJJ are not soldiers; we are students, parents, doctors, laborers, and managers. Regardless our station in life, training in martial arts is beneficial for each of us, providing fun, fitness, self-defense, and camaraderie. Another of the many benefits of BJJ is the development of the Warrior Mindset.

Stop and consider a soldier in a combat setting in which lives are on the line. In such urgent moments, action is critical. There is no “maybe when I feel like it” option; there is no time to quibble about responsibility nor job descriptions. There is just the task at hand, and it needs to be taken care of immediately or people will die. When tasked with a job which needs to be done, a warrior doesn’t hesitate, they simply get the job done. They don’t make excuses, they just do whatever it takes to complete the mission.

This is a powerful lesson for each of us. Too often, we sell ourselves short of our true potential. We know what we should do, but we make excuses as to why we can’t, we put it off until later, or we allow our emotions to distract us. We want to get in shape, but always find an excuse to skip a workout. We know we should eat healthier, but when presented with our favorite dessert, decide we’ll start tomorrow. We’d love to have financial security, but whip out the plastic every time we’re tempted by that shiny, new whatever.

“Being a warrior is not about the act of fighting. It’s about the ability, courage, and commitment to win the war within oneself and not quit until the job is done.”

Richard J. Machowicz, 2008

As jujiteiros, (students of BJJ) we live this ideal every time we step onto the mat. Once there, it is time to train – nothing more, and nothing less. One cannot dodge the truth found on the mat by making excuses; you will train, you will be tested, and you will be the better for it when you are done. We need to develop this mentality in all aspects of our lives. Stop dodging that which you know needs doing. Just step on the mat and get it done.

See you on the mat.


Machowicz, Richard J.. Unleash the Warrior Within: Develop the Focus, Discipline, Confidence, and Courage You Need to Achieve Unlimited Goals. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2011.

Image by Samuele Schirò from Pixabay