Why My Daughters Train in BJJ

I am a father trying to do right by my children.

As parents, we want what’s best for our children. We do everything we can to make sure they’re loved, well fed, and have a roof over their head. We’re preparing them to be successful adults. We sign them up for gymnastics, music lessons, soccer, martial arts, little league, science camp, ballet, cheer, and swimming. We try to support and nurture their individuality when it’s in their best interest, but as the adult in the room, we’re left in the driver’s seat, and have to decide when it’s not.

Trying to sort through all these options and pick the best can be challenging. In addition to simple recreation, we look for the benefits; will this help my child be more fit, develop greater self esteem, or learn the value of teamwork? Part of our decision is based on the logistics of somehow getting to and from, in between school, work, and family time. Part of it is financial. While we’d love to give our progeny everything, the bottom line is, we are inevitably limited; there are only so many hours in a week, and only so many dollars in our wallets.

I am a martial artist biased by 35 years training, studying, and teaching.

I believe that martial arts is a “package deal,” providing a one-stop shopping experience for parents. When taught effectively, it is powerfully transformative, developing strength, flexibility, and cardio-vascular fitness, while also promoting valuable life lessons like integrity, self discipline, respect, focus, tenacity, and self esteem. A good martial art program can also provide it’s students with something other activities most definitely do not: self-defense. This full-package should make martial arts especially appealing to parents struggling with the decision of where to enroll their children.

There is one caveat, however: not all martial arts are taught effectively, and thus do not live up to the promise. Self-defense is one area in particular, where many programs fall short. It is a messy affair, and has much more to do with a state of mind than fancy techniques. An individual must be able to function under duress, and have an effective arsenal that will work consistently. To develop this a student needs to train in combat conditions regularly and consistently. It is simply not feasible for the general public to engage in full-contact sparring on a regular basis. Given the current awareness of the detrimental, long-term effects of repeated head trauma, the problem with children regularly punching and kicking one another in the head should be apparent.

However, in Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ), we can safely “roll” (spar) in every class. We learn a multitude of techniques, and have the regular opportunity to apply them against  opponents of varied shapes, sizes, and skill. This hones the fundamentals of BJJ, as well as our own individual “game.” These fundamentals work, regardless the circumstances. A smaller, weaker individual really can learn to control a larger, stronger aggressor. The intensity of this phase of training develops the mental fortitude that enables us to remain “calm” under pressure, to be able to fight through and survive often uncomfortable, seemingly untenable conditions. In this manner, our skills and our mental tenacity are forged in the fires of combat.

I am a biased father who’s daughters will be well-prepared for all of life’s challenges.

My oldest daughters have discovered their passions. (the jury’s still out for the third) Between school and pursuing these, there is little time left for martial arts. It’s currently my job to protect them, but that responsibility is quickly becoming their own. Brazilian Jiujitsu provides them the training they need, in the limited amount of time they have, to become sufficiently well-prepared for the unlikely specter of violence.

For most of us, the odds of being the victim of violence are small. (here’s some perspective) Indeed we’re much more likely to die in an automobile accident, or of heart disease, than to die from a violent crime. Just like those examples, we can improve our odds by being smart about the risks, and developing good habits – prevention truly is the best medicine. As discussed last week, while avoiding violence altogether is our best bet, given it’s critical nature, it only makes sense to be prepared for it none-the-less. The question we must ask ourselves is one of resource allocation. That is, how much time and energy should we devote towards preparing ourselves and our children?

See you on the mat.

What? I can’t hear you…

The Yin and the Yang – we’ve all seen the image; two interlocking circles appear to flow into one another, and at the same time are part of a larger circle. The Chinese Taijitu (太极图) dates back over a thousand years to the Song Dynasty.Yin yang

In the 1880’s what Koreans call Taegeuk (태극) was adopted into the South Korean National Flag.Flag of South Korea

Even as a little kid growing up in the far reaches of small-town Montana I had seen this symbol. It was on the box cars and cabooses of the Northern Pacific Railroad which ran near my house.Northern_Pacific_Railway_Logo,_November,_1952

One doesn’t have to be a Daoist to appreciate the meaning of the symbol. What a simple, yet powerful image of integrity – of “being whole and undivided,” or “being unified or sound in construction.” (Oxford Dictionary) The two opposing colors flow from, and into, one another, thereby creating the whole. Take away either part and you’re left with an incomplete, dysfunctional package. Imagine it as a tire on your car and you get the idea.1:2 yin:yang As Brazilian Jiujitsu practitioners, we’re continually working to refine our skill set. We learn offensive (yang) and defensive (yin) techniques. We also have to continually modify our “game” as we train with a diverse group of teammates. One can’t use the same strategy against a smaller, faster opponent that might be effective against a larger, stronger opponent. We must develop multiple “sides” to our game if we wish to be the best we can be.

“Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Just as we work to round out our BJJ game, we should work to have integrity as a human being as well. Just as the Yin/Yang symbol is a combination of all it’s parts, we too are a product of all our parts. Our words should be consistent with what we think, otherwise, we’re simply lying. Our actions should match our words, or else we’re hypocritical. Our thoughts should be reflected in everything we say and do. In this manner, we strive to maintain our integrity.integrityvenndiagram

Ol’ Ralph W. Emerson got it right.

See you on the mat.

The Golden Rule

We’ve all heard it, or some derivation, before. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The Golden Rule has been handed down through antiquity, from the ancient civilizations of Egypt, India, and Persia. It can be found, in some form or fashion, in every major religion or philosophy. People often adhere to it in the hopes of reciprocity, that is, “If I’m nice to you, you’ll be nice in return.” Parents and teachers use it to teach children empathy. I don’t know how many times I’ve caught myself asking my own daughters, “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”

It can also be a powerful tool in leadership.

Back in December, I blogged about Leading by Example, and mentioned the difference between being a boss and being a leader. It’s a common misconception that the two are synonymous. A boss is someone who’s position or title in an organization allows them to tell people what to do. They often have the power to reward and punish in order to enforce compliance. Being a leader, on the other hand, is much more than simply ordering folks around.

“The True Measure of Leadership is Influence – Nothing More, Nothing Less”

While there is no single trait that makes successful leaders, there are plenty of lists out there trying to boil it down to a manageable few. In his highly regarded bookJohn C. Maxwell discusses The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. One such law, The Law of Influence states, “The true measure of Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” An effective leader doesn’t need a title, nor leverage. They influence those around them to success. They inspire through word and through deed.

Which brings us back to The Golden Rule. If you truly wish to lead others, you must first lead the way. Telling them what to do just doesn’t have the impact that showing them does.

If you want others to treat you with respect, treat people respectfully.

If you want others to work hard, then work hard.

If you want others to be honest, then always tell the truth.

If you want others to be patient, then be patient.

Whether as a teacher, or as a parent, it’s important to remember that this leading by example thing can go both ways. I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed one of my daughters do something, only to realize exactly where it came from. Be prepared for your students/children to reflect both your best and worst traits.

If you’re impatient, don’t be surprised when your student/child is impatient.

If you’re inconsiderate of others, expect your student/child to be inconsiderate of you.

If you lose your temper, get ready for your child’s tantrum.

If you have unhealthy eating/exercise habits…

As martial artists, we have the power to better our lives, and the lives of those around us. We can inspire one another to greater success on and off the mat. Consider all of the people we get to train with. Who is the most enjoyable to train with? Who is the most helpful or inspiring, and why? What kind of a training partner are you?

See you on the mats!

Potluck

Everybody loves a good potluck; the chance to get together with friends and family, and chow down on a smorgasbord of food. Inevitably, there’s the full spectrum of socializing and gastronomy. You’ve got the comfort of your immediate family, and friends that might as well be, to the joy in catching up with those you haven’t seen in ages, and the intrigue in getting to know new acquaintances. The food ends up being just as diverse, with all sorts of appetizers, meats, casseroles, salads, desserts, etc., from wanna-be chefs bringing in their house specialties, to the store-bought vegetable tray, to the bag of potato chips.

Brazilian Jiujitsu is kind of like a potluck.

When we go to class, there are going to be those who we see every time we go. There’s a comfortable camaraderie within this group, as we become like brothers and sisters over time. We know what everybody’s signature dish is. We know one another’s strengths and weaknesses and are prepared to avoid or to counter each other’s favorite submissions and strongest positions. Each consecutive roll builds off of the last, almost as though we’d never parted.

Of course, there are those who we don’t see as often, like distant cousins with whom we’ve got some “catching up” to do. The conversation might start off a bit tentative, but it doesn’t take long to get into the thick of it. These rolls can provide some fresh surprises, as surely we’ve both grown since our last “get-together.”

Finally, there are the new-comers. The folks we’ve not met before, or know very little about. It is up to us to welcome these people into our tribe, and nurture these relationships. We all remember what it was like when we first started; how steep that initial learning curve was. Get to know them. Show them the ropes. We want them to become like part of the family.

The thing that makes a potluck truly successful is the combined effort of everybody involved. We need the amazing specialty dishes, the vegetable trays, and the bags of chips; otherwise, it’s going to be a pretty boring meal. If too many folks show up empty-handed, or don’t show up at all, somebody is going to go hungry. When each individual brings his or her contribution to the event, however, everybody wins. There’s plenty of good stuff to go around, and each of us gets what we need.

What are you bringing to the potluck?

See you on the mats.

 

Are You Comfortable?

I recently came across a blog written by another student of Brazilian Jiujitsu. Grips & Growls chronicles his journey. Anybody already living the BJJ lifestyle will be able to relate. For those considering trying Brazilian Jiujitsu for the first time, his is a fresh perspective from one who has just recently begun. One particular post entitled “Sweaty Floor Karate,” hit upon a key concept of our art.

When you’re comfortable being uncomfortable for a hobby, everything else gets easier.

Let’s face it. We all enjoy the good things in life. We glory in the opportunity to sleep in, look forward to the chance to just sit on the couch and “veg,” and spend our weekdays anticipating a weekend at the lake, or a night out on the town. Daily, we are tempted to just hang out at the local coffee shop. While we’re at it, we can snack on a Snickers® bar, have a soda with lunch, and a little cheesecake for dessert.

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying any of these from time to time, too much of a good thing is, simply stated, too much.

Consider as well all of the technology we’re surrounded by, and for the most part, take for granted. It was all designed with the intent to make life easier. There are planes, trains, and automobiles that get us where we’re going. Flip a switch and we have lights. Push a button and we have air conditioning. Push another and we change the channel. Turn a dial and we’re mixing, juicing, and cooking our food. We can open and close the garage door without ever leaving our car. Indeed, with a few thumb clicks and swipes on our smartphone, we can do just about anything, without ever leaving our home!

Remember the people aboard the spaceship Axiom in the movie WALL-E?

Our modern, suburban lifestyle provides us with ready access to every luxury imaginable, and an environment nearly free from discomfort. However, all of this easy living has a downside: it makes us weak. Just like the poor folks abroad the fictional ship Axiom, such a lifestyle can leave us ill-prepared to deal with adversity.

There are moments in our lives that can be less than pleasant. Taking an exam in school, applying for a job, and speaking in front of a large audience are some common examples. Avoiding them isn’t always an option, and oftentimes it isn’t in our best interest to do so. A successful test score, job interview, or presentation could lead to a vast improvement in our lives in the form of college placement, employment, or a promotion. These are times when being able to remain confident, calm, and clear-headed can enable us to effectively deal with the circumstances. (Let’s call these the three C’s of being comfortable.)

Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable is fundamental to the transformational power of Brazilian Jiujitsu.

There’s nothing quite like having a larger, stronger training partner who has gained a superior position to help us understand the importance of the three C’s. In this circumstance, it is guaranteed you are going to be uncomfortable. As the pressure they apply smashes you into the mat, it gradually becomes harder to breath, with each consecutive breath a bit more shallow than the last.

The beauty of Brazilian Jiujitsu is that there’s a way out. If you can stay calm and clear-headed enough to remember your technique, and then execute confidently, you can escape. Not only that, but it can become a total reversal of fortune. It is an exhilarating experience to escape, improve your position, and then submit the person who was smashing you moments before.

Brazilian Jiujitsu is physically and mentally taxing. It pushes us to our limits. This is what makes it so powerful. The confidence gained radiates into every aspect of our being. After training with our teammates, everything else appears less intimidating. Any anxiety regarding an upcoming exam, job interview, or public speaking engagement is more manageable. We can look life’s challenges in the eye and say, “is that all you’ve got?” Our training enables us be confident, calm, and clear-headed when facing adversity.

We can be comfortable being uncomfortable.

See you on the mats.

Focus

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 I teach 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.

Finding the Sublime in the Simple

Recently, I decided to re-read All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. It’s a fun, touching book of life lessons which I read way back in college, when I first started teaching children’s martial arts classes. (not quite so far back as the paleolithic period I mentioned last week, but pretty close.) His “credo” is a list of the basic rules we are taught as children. The beauty is, these work just as well for us as adults as they did when we were young.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put thngs back where you found them.
  • CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Each chapter is a little anecdote that simply and eloquently demonstrates an ideal. Through engaging, often humorous, stories of  puddles, vacuums, mermaids, raccoons, and hide & seek, he shows us the powerful relevance of lessons learned in every-day experiences; the sublime within the simple.

One such story is about spiders. Actually, it’s about a specific, traumatic, “life-changing” encounter between the author’s neighbor and a spider; from both his neighbor’s perspective, and that of the spider. (after it’s all said and done, both experiences are really quite the same.) Here’s a much less eloquent synopsis. The two are busily going about their daily routine. All hell breaks loose as their world’s collide.  They re-collect themselves, and go back to getting on with their day. (Mr. Fulghum’s version is much better – you really should read the book)

Remember the itsy, bitsy spider and that rainspout? No matter how many times one sings that nursery rhyme, no matter how many times the rain washes that spider out, the sun always comes out, dries the spider off, and the spider gives it another shot. It’s a cute little rhyme that we use as parents and teachers to pass on one of the most valuable lessons in life: Never give up.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.     

-Victor Hugo

For martial artists, and anybody else interested in achieving great things, Perseverance is a vital key to success. Big accomplishments take a long time, require much effort, and the path along the way is marked by many obstacles. There will be times when we’re too tired. There will be shiny, new distractions that divert our attention. There will be set-backs. None-the-less, just as the spider dries off, and heads back up that rainspout, we too must dust ourselves off, re-adjust our sites, and get busy working toward our goals.

This week we’re talking to our Lil’ Samurai and Jr. Jujiteiros about “Four Steps to success.” It is a simple recipe, but it’s not easy. It takes a lot of effort to stay on task and put in the work.

  1. Show up.
  2. Work hard.
  3. Rest.
  4. Repeat.

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.

-Buddha

We humans are survivors. Just like spiders, we’ve been around for a long time. (well, they’ve been around for a few hundred million more years than we have, but who’s counting?) We’ve survived disasters and disease, experienced devastating wars and debilitating famine, and yet we persist. When we find our spirits low, or feel we are unable to continue on our chosen path, it’s important to remember – just like those who came before us, we can push on. Get up, dust yourself off, and get to it. Put the setbacks of yesterday behind, and make the most of today.

See you on the mat.

Character

Over the past few years my daughters and I have really enjoyed watching the movie versions of Marvel’s Avengers. We can’t wait for the hubbub at the box office to die down, so that we can go to the latest installment, Black Panther. I think that part of the popularity in this series is the diversity presented in all of the various characters. Each has her/his own superpower, as well as their own personality. As they evolve under the stress of the various adversities they encounter, both individually and collectively, we see them struggle with their own character, both strengths and flaws.

While we are intrigued by their superpowers, I think the most engaging aspects of the storyline involve their struggles with their own, very real, and very human weaknesses. At different times, it’s reigning in their ego, or coping with self-doubt. Sometimes they must resist the temptation of power. There’s always the weight of doing what’s right for the greater good, versus what’s best for them. In the end, they always find their way through the turmoil, and make the hard choices that lead to success.

Which superhero is your favorite? Which traits do you appreciate the most? Obviously, while we can’t have their superpowers, we can rise to the occasion where it truly matters. While we train to develop our physical skills as martial artists, we can also work toward developing in ourselves the character traits we admire in our heroes, both real and imaginary.

See you on the mats!

 

Steel Sharpens Steel

The age-old maxim “steel sharpens steel,” or “iron sharpens iron” embodies the simple premise that we grow stronger when we surround ourselves with others who are strong. More modern sages tell us to associate with like-minded people, at least in regards to goals, and people who have already succeeded in achieving those goals.

“…avoid the negative influences of other people and surround yourself with successful people who will encourage you to pursue your dreams.” -Zig Ziglar, Born to Win: Find Your Success Code

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins puts it succinctly, “Who you spend time with is who you become.”

In the martial arts this is paramount. As a BJJ practitioner one pursues not only strength, conditioning, mental acuity, and emotional toughness, but more effective methods of combat. While one could conceivably build the first four traits on their own, having a partner and/or coach will greatly facilitate their growth. Developing effective combat techniques, however, simply cannot be accomplished without great training partners.

It is important for each of us to remember that while we’re putting in our time on the mat, working our butts off to achieve our own personal victories, that we’re also there for our training partners. We need one another in order to get where we’re headed. The more like-minded, goal-oriented people we can surround ourselves with, the better.

“Proximity is power… Who you spend time with is who you become.” – Tony Robbins

See you on the mats.

Perseverance

As a youth I had little appreciation for tennis. The whole system made no sense; sets, games, matches, advantages and tiebreaks. Why does the score go from 15 to 30 and then to 40? What does love have to do with it? What a silly sport for the polo-shirt class.

Over the years my perspective has changed. Understanding the scoring system, and how the match is broken down into sets of games helped me begin to realize the beauty of the game. The precision with which they can place the ball is amazing, but for me, the real beauty lies in the psychology of the game. No matter how far behind one player may fall, each successive game and set provides yet another opportunity for the comeback. The epic matches between Borg and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, and Federer and Nadal were extraordinary demonstrations of perseverance. To see those guys lose a set, only to come back and win the next, or to battle back-and-forth in extended tie-breaks, neither one willing to give up or concede the match, right up to the end was truly inspiring.

The ability to maintain “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success,” is a powerful tool in the pursuit of one’s goals. It’s easy to work towards something that requires little time or effort. However, most of the things we desire require both. A college degree, a world championship, a beautiful home, an exciting vacation, or a comfortable retirement all take a concerted effort over a long time to achieve. Over such an extended time there is ample opportunity for distractions and hurdles that can make one falter. We need to develop perseverance in order to assure success.

“A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves – our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside.”

– Joe Hyams, Zen In The Martial Arts. Jeremy P Tarcher/Putnam, 1979

Training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provides the perfect “proving ground” to help us develop the ability to remain poised under pressure, both figuratively and literally. There are times in training when we find ourselves in inferior positions, trapped under larger, stronger opponents. For the uninitiated, this can be pretty intense, as one feels the pressure of being stuck, claustrophobic, and unable to do much other than wait it out, or submit. The beauty of BJJ, however, is that at some point in such situations, if a person can remain calm, and position themselves well, there will be opportunity to make an escape and change one’s fortune.

By developing our perseverance, we can weather whatever proverbial storm may come our way. Life is full of distractions and hardships, but by staying committed to our goals, regardless how difficult, we can succeed where others fail.

See you on the mats!