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

Self Control

We humans are emotional; we can run the gamut from happy, sad, angry, frustrated, and scared. Our emotions are powerful responses to stimuli which helped our ancestors survive the trials and tribulations of a more harsh, unforgiving environment. Emotions can can still help us survive unexpected danger, but they can also lead us to make terrible decisions. We must learn to use our emotions to our advantage and not allow them to control us.

Anger is a momentary madness, so control your passion or it will control you.

– Horace

We should embrace the beauty that joy and happiness bring to our lives, just as we should acknowledge our anger or sorrow. All of our emotions are part of being a healthy, whole individual. However, it is important to also recognize that when left unchecked, our emotions can lead to poor judgement and bad decisions. We must develop self control – the ability to control our reaction to our emotions.

One of the tools we can use is tactical breathing, or combat breathing. Breathing is a powerful tool for moderating our emotional response. Whether in a heated argument with a friend, being overcome with grief, or preparing for a jiujitsu match, it can help us calm our current emotional state, allowing us to keep a clear head and respond more appropriately. As you practice and develop this skill, you’ll find a count that works best for you. In the meantime, just remember “4 X 4:

  1. Inhale for a count of four.
  2. Hold it for a count of four.
  3. Exhale for a count of four.
  4. Hold it for a count of four.

<Repeat four times.>

The best plan is to reject straightway the first incentives to anger, to resist its very beginnings, and to take care not to be betrayed into it: for if once it begins to carry us away, it is hard to get back again into a healthy condition, because reason goes for nothing when once passion has been admitted to the mind, and has by our own free will been given a certain authority, it will for the future do as much as it chooses, not only as much as you will allow it. The enemy, I repeat, must be met and driven back at the outermost frontier-line: for when he has once entered the city and passed its gates, he will not allow his prisoners to set bounds to his victory.

– Seneca

See you on the mat!

Focus

What a wonderful, crazy world in which we live. We 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.

Be Proactive

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)

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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

Too often people point to outside forces as the source of their lot in life. These poor souls blame their ancestors (genetics), their parents (psychology), or their circumstances (environment). As an extreme example, consider little children when something bad happens – they are experts at externalizing. 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 it’s, “they hit me.” 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
Covey, 1989.

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’re 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.

Be Like a Child

Young children crack me up. They are curious, joyful, exuberant, and playful; their youthful vigor provides them the spirit and energy to conquer the world. All of that is combined with inexperience, and zero impulse control, rendering them irrational, foolhardy, and short-sighted. Add to this the ability to externalize pretty much everything, and you’re left with a boat-load of random, all day long. For adults accustomed to a more organized, methodical approach to their day, this kid energy can be disconcerting. I find it refreshing, and quite amusing.

All of that curiosity and vigor are advantageous to their ever-growing understanding of the world around them. The more they experience, the more they learn. As they learn to recognize cause and effect, the less irrational and short-sighted they become. Provided their random actions don’t lead to great bodily harm or death, they are surely making progress. As parents and teachers, we need to allow them the space to make mistakes and learn, while guiding them to avoid those which would be catastrophic.

Come to think of it, this is also a pretty accurate description of new white belts, regardless the age. They come in with the enthusiasm of trying something new, but their unfamiliarity with the art leads them to make mistakes. As instructors and upper belts, it is our responsibility to provide them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, while guiding them to avoid those that are detrimental to their training. (Being sidelined because of injury doesn’t help anybody) Of course, as their mat time increases, their experiences will be the most powerful teacher of all.

This is part of the beauty of life on the mat: it is a direct reflection of life in general. The lessons we learn in the finite sphere of our dojo, or training hall, correlate to the bigger world of our daily lives. These ultimate “truths,” if you will, cut across all boundaries, whether one is an athlete, CEO, or parent.

“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. 1979.

We’ll cover a number of these truths over the next few weeks.

See you on the mat.

On The Shoulders of Giants

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

-John Adams, 1780

As a parent, I’ve come to a greater appreciation for the sentiment in John Adams’ letter to his wife.  We do what we must to provide a good life for our children, and we try to give them more than we had, just as our parents did for us, our grandparents did for them, and so on back through the ages. With a little historical perspective we see that humans have been highly successful. Historical perspective also helps us not lose sight of the traits that led to that success.

Since the 18th century, life has gotten better. The global life expectancy has more than doubled – from around 30 years to nearly 70. Literacy rates exploded from under 20% to almost 100%! A little closer to home, consider the early pioneers of this country. Our trials and tribulations pale in comparison to the hardships they faced as a matter of course. Imagine what the Donner Party would think of Interstate 80 today; 30,000+ vehicles cross over the Sierra-Nevadas without incident almost every single day. Through scientific understanding, technological advancement, democratic institutions, and free-market economics we have transformed our world into a much more hospitable one.

Surely we have achieved what John Adams aspired to. Current generations now have the luxury to study “Painting, Poetry, and Musick.” We also have immediate access 24/7 to safe drinking water, flush toilets, medicine, and just about every food imaginable. Indeed, most of us are so far removed from any real struggle, that it’s easy to take what we have for granted.

The conveniences of our modern life allow us to become soft and weak. This is why training in a martial art like Brazilian Jiujitsu is so important. BJJ is the perfect activity for helping develop and nurture strength and resilience of mind, body, and spirit. On the mat we learn to push our limits, to remain calm under pressure, and to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We learn to accept defeat as an opportunity for growth, and to be gracious in victory. BJJ conditions us to be hard and strong.

“We [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants.”

attributed to Bernard of Chartres by John of Salisbury

As we enjoy the benefits of the world past generations helped create, it’s important that we do not lose sight of their accomplishments, and the hardships endured to get to where we are. We must be diligent in passing onto our children an appreciation of what it means to live in this era, to have gratitude for all that they have, and to value the traits that enabled our ancestors to get us here. That past should stand as testament to the strength and resilience that lies within each of us. Indeed, our children have the right to study the arts, but not at the expense of mathematics, science, or philosophy. They must also study history, politics, and war, in order to continue the tradition of passing on a better world to the next generation.

See you on the mat.

You Are Not Just a Rock

“Like a rock, I was strong as I could be,
like a rock, nothing ever got to me,
like a rock, I was something to see.
Like a rock.
Like a rock, standing arrow straight,
like a rock, charging from the gate,
like a rock, carrying the weight.
Like a rock.”

-Bob Seger (1986)

We admire rock. We use it as simile and metaphor throughout literature, from the old testament, “Ascribe ye greatness unto our God. He is the Rock, his work is perfect,” (Deut 32:3-4), to a cheesy ad in a fitness magazine for “rock-hard abs,” to Bob Segers’ pop hit, “Like a Rock.” Rock symbolizes strength, steadfastness, and honor. To be like a rock is to be reliable, consistent, and resolute in conviction.

Of course, there is a downside to being a rock. Nobody aspires to be as “dumb as a box of rocks.” Rocks are inflexible and extremely slow to change or adapt. Such rigidity is the antithesis of one of our most powerful human traits – our amazing capacity for growth.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

-Winston Churchill

Nowhere is the capacity to grow more apparent than in the world of sports. World-class athletes, regardless their area of expertise, are shining examples of this. It is a common misconception that world-class athletes are simply gifted – the fortunate recipients of gifts endowed upon them by fate, or more scientifically speaking, good genes. Such “gifts” can only take one so far, however. In the final analysis, the commonality among world-champions is not having won the genetic lottery, but having the ability to improve.

Basketball’s Michael Jordan is a perfect example. Considered by many to be the NBA’S GOAT, anybody old enough to remember knows of his accomplishments on the court. What many are not aware of, is all the work he put in off the court. As a sophomore in high school he was initially deemed too short to play varsity. Rather than quit, he used that to motivate himself. “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan would explain. “That usually got me going again.” (Newsweek 2015) Regarding Jordan’s work ethic, Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson wrote,

The thing about Michael is, he takes nothing about his game for granted. When he first came to the NBA back in 1984, he was primarily a penetrator. His outside shooting wasn’t up to pro standards. So he put in his gym time during the off-season, shooting hundreds of shots each day. Eventually, he became a deadly three-point shooter.

Playing outstanding defense didn’t come automatically to him, either. He had to study his opponents, learn their favorite moves and then dedicate himself to learning the techniques necessary to stop them. He’s worked extremely hard to perfect his footwork and his balance.

Nowadays, so many kids come into the league with arrogant attitudes, thinking that their talent is all they need to succeed. By contrast, there’s a certain humility in Michael’s willingness to take on the difficult work of making himself a more complete player. For me, one of the signs of Michael’s greatness is that he turned his weaknesses into strengths.”

Through proper training, we can become faster, stronger, and more agile; we can continually develop an ever increasing level of skill, and become more in-tune to the nuances of the game, whether it’s basketball, Brazilian jiujitsu, or life.

This capacity for growth isn’t restricted just to our physical selves. It’s important to remember that we have just as much ability to improve ourselves mentally and emotionally. We need to nurture what Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck calls a growth mindset, and reject the fixed mindset – the belief that ability is static(Dweck, 2016)

With a growth mindset we acknowledge our potential. We don’t fear challenges, but see them for the opportunity they represent. Through the proper effort, we can deal with what life throws at us, and continually grow in the process. We can build our bodies and our minds. In this manner, we are not so much like a rock, but more similar to a plant. We continually grow stronger, adapting to the conditions of the world around us.

See you on the mat.

Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books

Jackson, Phil (June/July 1998) Michael and Me. Retrieved from http://www.nba.com/jordan/is_philonmj.html

Attitude of Gratitude

November is here and we find ourselves gearing up for the upcoming holiday season. Thanksgiving is only a week 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

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 his family by sharing his 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.