Attitude of Gratitude

As we head into week #10 of this state wide “stay at home,” many communities are slowly moving into Phase 2. This step in the right direction provides a welcome bit of relief, but we’re still a long way from any sense of normalcy. The indefinite nature of this entire affair only compounds the stress many are feeling in the midst of so many live lost and the horrendous economic impact. It can be difficult to keep a healthy perspective, but it’s times like this when we need to maintain an “attitude of gratitude.”

At the end of every Jiujitsu class, the students and instructors bow, and repeat the school motto, “Força e Honra,” or Strength and Honor. We then shake hands, and thank one another with an “Obrigado/a.” Obrigado is short for the more formal Eu sou obrigado, or “I am obliged.”

While this little ritual is part of the daily routine, with the tendency for participants to simply go through the motions, the hope is that this demonstration of gratitude helps remind us to be thankful for our time on the mat. Obviously we want to thank our teachers and training partners, for without them we wouldn’t be training in jiu-jitsu. We’re also quite fortunate to train in the facilities we have. (Ask Cassio some time about the canvas mats he used to train on in Brazil!)

As a parent, I’m keenly aware of how vital the idea of gratitude is. We are bringing our children up in a time and place of unbelievable wealth and prosperity. Living here in the burbs of NorCal means we have immediate access to food 24 hours a day. Today’s children have television, the internet, smart phones, and swimming pools, while living in houses with running water, flush toilets, and a/c. Needless to say, such a luxurious lifestyle is lost upon someone who knows no different, which makes it easy for people to be unappreciative. Honestly, which one of us doesn’t take these things for granted?

Consider the early immigrants to this country, or to what was at one time simply thirteen colonies. Those people left Europe with nothing, risked a months-long ship ride, starving conditions, exposure to new diseases, knowing there was little to no infrastructure awaiting them. They came with nothing, knowing it was all on them to make a new life for themselves. If they wanted a house, they had to build it. If they wanted to eat, they had to hunt or harvest it. There was no safety net, no agency for them to fall back on. Can you imagine how they would perceive the world we now live in, with the comforts we take for granted?

It seems like forever since we’ve been “on the mat,” and many have expressed the same frustration we’re all feeling, not being able to train. Maintaining an “attitude of gratitude” can help each of us weather this storm.

We look forward to seeing you all back on the mat!

Certainty in Uncertain Times

Unprecedented. Such hyperbole has become common recently; we’ve heard it in the news, read it in headlines and in the weekly updates from various government agencies. As we all do our best to keep abreast of the quickly changing landscape, it is natural to approach the unknown with a particular amount of skepticism, apprehension, or even fear. Our anxiety can get the best of us, and such hyperbolic language only exasperates that tendency.

It’s important to remember that while we may not remember anything quite like this pandemic and the quarantine conditions we find ourselves in, it is far from being unprecedented. Our understanding of infectious disease has come a long way since The Black Death. Not only have we been here before, but just as with all the other diseases we’ve dealt with over the past seven centuries we’ll get through this one too.

In his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling reminds us that “things can be both bad and better.” Here are a few fun charts to help maintain a little perspective; to remind us of how much we’ve already accomplished. (click on them to link to the interactive original)

Take a deep breath, and remain calm. People have been screaming, “THE END OF TIMES!” since forever. While we may have some work to do, we’ll get through this. Keep moving forward as best as you can. And don’t forget to wash your hands.

What Day is it?

Four weeks into this state mandated Stay-in-Place and many of us find ourselves a bit out of sorts. Without the framework of our regular lives we half-jokingly ask, “what day is it?” In case you’re feeling a bit lost, here’s an update. Last week was spring break for our local school district and Easter weekend. Before that, the Spring Equinox came and went, mostly unnoticed; nonetheless, the days are getting longer, the temperature is warming up, and everything is in bloom.

Spring is a time of renewal, and has been celebrated as such throughout history. Our ancestors rejoiced as they’d survived the harsh realities of yet another winter, recognizing that spring meant the opportunity to plant crops and harvest the food necessary to survive the coming year. Our modern lifestyles have all but removed the arduous difficulties of surviving winter, and thus the shift to spring isn’t nearly as vital to our existence; yet we still find the longer, warmer days lifting our spirits. We still celebrate spring with holidays such as Mayday, Easter, and Passover. We open our windows to air out our homes, we clean our closets, and we tidy up our yards.

Now that many of us find ourselves forced out of our regular routines, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to re-focus our sights. We can be creative in finding new ways to maintain our mental and physical fitness, since we can’t be on the mat, nor in the gym. Do some yoga. Rehab a nagging injury. Dig out some of those books that remain unread, or re-read some of the classics. Start working towards those goals left on the proverbial back-burner.

This idea of spring cleaning extends into our lives well beyond the back-yard or closet. Even within the context of this crazy Covid-19 remain in place, spring and the renewal occurring all around us, are reminders that there’s always another opportunity.

What are your dreams?

What are you waiting for?

F.E.A.R. Redux

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The availability heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency, or probability, of something based on how easily you can bring it to mind. This was a vital tool for our great-great-great-great (you get the idea) ancestors. Upon seeing their buddy get mauled by a saber-tooth tiger, that threat became paramount: “saber-tooth tiger – BAD.” In our modern society, we don’t have to worry too much about being mauled by a tiger. In fact, when one looks at the actual statistics, we find that for the past 25 years our lives have continually gotten safer. Violent crime in the U.S. has been on an overall decline since their peak in the early ’90’s (and that includes the slight uptick for the past two years).

vcrimechart

Traffic safety has also been steadily improving. This is good news, as automobiles are one of the top causes of accidental death in the U.S. (37,757 in 2015, or 11.7 per 100,000)

traffic deaths graph
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

So why is it that a majority of Americans feel less safe than ever, when the reality is the opposite? In large part, we can thank our availability heuristic. Every time we see a heinous crime on television or the internet, that visceral image becomes dominant in our mind. A singular event portrayed over and over again becomes larger than life. We give it undue influence on our assessment of it’s frequency, and how likely it is to happen again. In this manner, our fear grows beyond reason, as a False Expectation Appearing Real.

What can we do to remain calm in the face of the proverbial storm? How can we keep our head, and make sound decisions for our future, without allowing our emotions, our fear, to cloud our judgement? The first step is in acknowledging that such biases as our availability heuristic have an impact on our perspective. Second, when it comes to risk assessment, people really should study actual statistics, which can help clear up misconceptions. Here are a few resources:

Third, in my opinion, is to stop watching the news. These organizations do a poor job of presenting material in a manner that isn’t intentionally inflammatory, over-sensationalized, and down-right misleading. They want you ticked off, and/or scared. It sells.

Turn off the television, get on the mat and train.

image credit: Alexander Sidorov

Where Are You Going?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The perennial question continues to be passed down through the generations. (Perhaps I’ll figure it out when I grow up.) Joking aside, each of us should take the time to ask ourselves this legitimate, and vital, query. The first step in getting anywhere is deciding where we’re headed.

Begin with the end in mind.

In his seminal work, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey asks us to consider our own funeral. If there were to be four speakers from different spheres of your life, i.e. family, friends, professional, and community, what would you like them to say about you?

“Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

What Character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”

– Stephen R. Covey, (1989)

This exercise can help us recognize the root of our character, and what is truly important to us. Ultimately, this is our life’s work – our destination. All of our other goals, whether related to family, fame, or fortune, should align with this conceptualization of who we want to be.

We can apply this to our BJJ training as well. The body of knowledge within the grappling arts is dauntingly broad, and can leave one feeling lost or inadequate to the task. However, taking the time to apply the same questions that Covey suggests to our life on the mat can help give us direction in how to proceed in our training. What kind of student/training partner/teacher/competitor would you like people to remember you as?

Where are you going?

Success becomes a matter of making a good plan and putting in the work necessary to get where we’re headed. We just have to decide where it is we wish to go. We must begin with the end in mind.

“Life is so strange, when you don’t know your destination.”

Missing Persons, 1982.

See you on the mat.


Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. Simon and Schuster, 1989.

Own It

Training in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ) can be a life-altering experience. It’s a great workout in which we develop some powerful skills, for both self-defense and sport. It’s mentally stimulating to learn the moves and counter-moves, while developing one’s own “game,” or style. The training develops an intense esprit de corps, as teammates push one another to be their best. It is a powerful platform, providing us the opportunity to learn/re-learn the lessons that make us better at life – as sons & daughters, mothers & fathers, students, workers, and as citizens.

Being Proactive rather than reactive is one such lesson; Proactivity is vital for success on the mat, and in life.

Stephen Covey says being proactive means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives.” It requires taking the initiative to decide for ourselves how we will respond to the world around us and recognize that, ultimately, it is these choices which matter most. Furthermore, we must distinguish between things we have no influence over, and the things we do. Instead of reacting to events/people outside this “circle of influence,” we should focus on what we are doing about the things within. In this manner, we can actually expand our influence over time, and become more effective in the process. (Covey, 1989)

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.”

-Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr

Listen to children, who are experts at externalizing when something bad happens. If a child knocks a glass off the table, they say, “it broke.” After hurting another, a child claims, “they made me mad,” but when the roles are reversed then, “they hit me.” In school it’s “I got an A,” while “the teacher gave me an F.” Too often, grown adults persist in this mindset; these poor souls blame their ancestors (genetics), their parents (psychology), or their circumstances (environment) for everything. This immature way of seeing the world denies our individual agency, making us helpless victims to external things deemed beyond our control.

“When you point your finger ’cause your plans fell through, you’ve got three more fingers pointing back at you.”

-Dire Straits, 1980

BJJ hammers the importance of proactivity home in the most matter-of-fact manner. We all start our training at different times in our lives, and come to the table with varied backgrounds, fitness levels, and limitations. We “roll” with training partners who have more knowledge & skill, who are bigger, faster, stronger, and/or <insert trait of your choice>. When you’re in the heat of the battle, none of that matters. You just have to figure out what you’re going to do about it. You have to try and solve the puzzle.

It is vital that we recognize and accept our individual agency. We can’t do anything about the past, and there are many things that affect our world which we have no control over, but we always have the ability to choose how we respond. We can always decide what we are going to do about it.

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

-George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession

See you on the mat.


Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. Simon and Schuster, 1989.

It’s 2020!

With the New Year, there comes a sense of a new beginning; a clean page on which to write the story we want. People start out with the best of intentions, making a list of their New Year’s Resolutions, and taking the first steps in realizing their aspirations. Yet, while many aspire to achieve their goals, many will quit, and find themselves making the same goals the following year. This is so common that the entire concept has become a well-known punch-line.

One of the reasons some are successful while others aren’t lies in the difference between being interested, as opposed to being committed, to doing something.

Those who are simply interested in doing something plan on getting to it when it’s convenient. Whatever the goal, whether losing weight, finding a better job, or  finishing a college degree, the interested plan on doing it when they find the time, when everything lines up, or when they “feel like it.” So people interested in getting fit for the new year hit the gym, diligently putting in their time, for a few weeks. Soon, they start finding excuses as to why they can’t make it in as often. It becomes more and more inconvenient, until soon they’re not going at all.

The committed, on the other hand, do whatever they need to do in order to accomplish their goals. They learn everything they can about the pursuit, create a plan, and prioritize their time in order to assure they dedicate enough to the effort. They don’t allow anything to stand in their way. The committed don’t wait until they find the time, they make it. They don’t wait for everything to line up, they line everything up. They don’t wait until “they feel like it.” The committed follow through on the plan knowing the long-term goal will far outweigh any short-term feeling that may come and go along the way.

What were you interested in accomplishing last year, but never got around to?

Are you committed yet?

Attitude of Gratitude

This time of year, we find ourselves gearing up for the upcoming holiday season. Thanksgiving is just days away, and the kids are already getting a bit giddy with excitement. In the spirit of the season, we’re focusing on having what Zig Ziglar termed an “attitude of gratitude.” We’re considering the full extent of our good fortune, living as we do here in the burbs of NorCal in the 21st Century. (the image above is a list the Little Samurai made in class of all the things they’re thankful for!)

We humans are problem-solvers. This is advantageous for obvious reasons, and the evidence of our success is all around us. World-wide, child mortality rates continue to drop, while we are also living longer, healthier lives. Over the last century, the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved, and now the majority of the world lives in the middle class. (Rosling, 2018) While we’re surrounded by the fruits of our labors, we still see the many problems that need to be fixed, and the tendency to focus on them often leads us to believe things are worse than they are. Thus, it’s healthy to remind ourselves from time to time of all that we have to be thankful for.

On a personal note, we are thankful for the opportunity to participate in this Brazilian Jiujitsu experience. We are grateful to be living in a time and place where it’s possible for a person to provide for their family by sharing their passion for the sport of Jiujitsu. We are grateful for the wonderful families who have become a part of our extended BJJ family, and for the amazing friendships we’ve developed along the way. We are thankful for all of our training partners who help push us on the mat, fine-tuning our BJJ game, and becoming better versions of ourselves. We appreciate each and every one of you who chooses to join us on this adventure, and we will continue to do everything we can to give back to the community in kind.

Obrigado. Thank you for becoming a part of our family, and for your continued support.

See you on the mat.

Rosling, H. (2018). Factufulness: Ten reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things are better Than You ThinkNew York, NY: Flatiron Books.

Helicopters and Snowplows

I’m often struck by the stark differences between life here in the burbs of NorCal and my childhood back in Montana. We live in a day and age in which we’re able to invest so much into raising our children. We are fortunate to get to participate so much in our children’s lives – to volunteer in the classroom, to watch them play sports, or to simply walk them home from school. I can’t help but ponder, however, if too much parenting may be detrimental to our children’s development.

I have vivid memories of biking to school with my friend, Steve. As fifth/sixth graders, we covered the entire two miles completely unsupervised. On summer break, my siblings and I left the house after breakfast with the admonishment, “be home before dark,” and spent our days out and about with friends, riding bikes & horses, shooting tin cans with b.b. guns, exploring “the woods,” or abandoned lumber mill, with nary a parent in sight. We crashed our bikes, fell off the horse, and got into arguments & fights. Occasionally, we came home with cuts, scrapes, bumps & bruises, and hurt feelings.

Growing up this way taught us to be independent, to think for ourselves, and to be proactive. We learned that we weren’t immortal, but that our wounds would heal. We also learned that our feelings were temporary. We could stomp off in anger, but be back playing the next day. We learned how to settle disagreements without a referee, to compromise, to apologize, and how to forgive – not because we were told to, but as a matter of course.

Fast forward to the here and now. Very rarely do I see children walking or bike riding, to/from school, or playing at the park unsupervised. At the park, the parents are ever-vigilant. They warn their children of imminent danger with a “be careful,” when the child tries to climb the rubberized, sanitized, age-appropriate play structure, and intercede like a referee anytime there is an interaction with another that isn’t completely joyous and cooperative. Indeed, it is becoming so rare for children to be unsupervised, that people are calling the police, and families are being reported to C.P.S., simply because their children went to the neighborhood park alone!

As parents and teachers, we play a vital part in our children’s development, however the largest part of learning comes not from being told or shown, but from the experience of doing. We can give our children information, tell them right from wrong, and explain cause and effect. We can teach by the example we set, and we can offer counsel when needed. We must also allow them the opportunity to do things on their own up to, and including, failing. We must restrict our natural desire to protect our children to when it is absolutely necessary. They need to fall down, make mistakes, feel the sting of failure, and savor the pride in getting it right.

See you on the mat.

Self Discipline

We’ve all been there. The alarm goes off, we reach for the snooze button, and the debate begins.

“I am so tired, I just wanna sleep in.”

“Is it my day off?”

“Perhaps I overtrained yesterday. Do I need a bonus day of recovery?”

“Is that a hint of a cough? Should I call in sick?”

I’ve been waking up at 5:30 am to workout for almost 30 years, and I still catch myself having this internal dialogue nearly every morning. The fact is, I am tired –  I am stiff & sore. I probably could take a few more days off than I do. I really enjoy the one day a week when I get up, take a leisurely walk with the dog, and then relax with a hot cup o’ joe and read a book. Why not do that every day?

The answers to that question are what motivate me to drag my carcass out of bed six days a week.   As a younger man, I wanted to be a bad-ass. I had to get up earlier, and work harder than everybody else. As a member of the over-50 crowd with three young daughters, my purpose has evolved. Now I train to be the best father I can be. I need to be able to protect my family to the best of my ability. I want to be able to play with my kids. We run, we ski, we hike, we ride bikes, and of course, we do martial arts. Staying in shape increases the odds that I will be around to share in their milestones; graduations, first jobs, weddings, and all the other setbacks and victories that await them.

Anybody who’s ever worked in the fitness industry can confirm – it is stupefying the lengths to which people will go, in order to talk themselves out of doing the very thing that will help them achieve their desired goals, or make their life better in the long-run. One can easily come up with an entire litany of reasons not to do something. The people who cave to this list are the poor, miserable souls who continually find themselves short of where they’d like to be. As time goes on, the goals seem further out of reach, the bad habits become more ingrained, more comfortable, and the vicious cycle perpetuates itself.

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.” – Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States

Simply stated, self discipline is the ability to do that which needs doing, even though it’s difficult, inconvenient, or uncomfortable. It’s doing what you know you should, even though you don’t feel like it at the time. It’s putting off the temptations of immediate gratification for greater reward at a later date.

As adults, we demonstrate self-discipline by going to work every day, even on the days we don’t feel like it, in order to put food on the table, provide a home, and save for the future. By being self-disciplined, we can avoid the financial pitfall of never-ending debt, by postponing those purchases of the shiny, new whatever, until such time as we can afford to pay without borrowing.  By being self-disciplined, we can manage our time more effectively, focusing on what’s important, and leaving for later, that which isn’t. By being self-disciplined, we can improve our diet, work out more, and be more fit.

I tell my girls, self-discipline means, “Dinner before dessert.” Do what you know is the best for you, then you can afford to splurge a bit. Work hard in school, and the knowledge will make life a bit easier later. Train hard at track practice, and you’ll have greater success at the meet. Drill those pirouettes as much as you can, and your ballet performance will be amazing. Get your homework done and keep your room clean, and you’ll have more free time to play with your friends.

Self-discipline leads to more freedom. In the end, you will have more time, more money, and better health to spend on the things you want.

See you on the mats!