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.

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.

Achieve the Unachievable

I find events such as World Championships and the Olympic Games awe inspiring. Especially engaging are the individual sports like Gymnastics, Boxing, Track & Field, Wrestling, MMA, and of course, Brazilian Jiujitsu. Seeing the best of the best experience “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat” is a thrilling, emotional roller-coaster, and every time somebody wins the gold, or breaks another record, I rejoice in our human capacity for growth. We just keep getting better.

“Citius, Altius, Fortius.”

-Henri Didon, 1891

What really makes these spectacles so amazing to me is the knowledge that these glorious moments in time are the culmination of long, arduous journeys. Leading up to every victory, every loss, and every broken record are years of grueling, hard work; world-class athletes put in thousands of hours of disciplined, repetitive practice, suffer through dozens of injuries, and sacrifice leisure time away from family and friends. Spectators want to believe these folks have super human physical gifts, when in reality, their greatest “gifts” are an indomitable spirit and the willingness to endure what others won’t.

Ever heard of Alex Honnold? Neither had I, until I came across his video on TED.com. last week. In it, he talks about free solo climbing Yosemite Park’s El Capitan. Yes, that’s right – he climbed the 3000′ granite face of that monolith by himself, with no more equipment than “shoes and a chalk bag!”

Trust me, you need to watch this video.

I remember reading the headlines about this back in 2017 and thinking that it was pretty amazing. I also jumped to a conclusion similar to that of sports fans witnessing greatness; I assumed that some gifted, albeit crazy, climber had just up and decided to go make history. I couldn’t have been more wrong (except, perhaps, the crazy part). My assumption completely discounted all of the time and effort that Mr. Honnold put into preparing for the event – the decades of climbing experience leading up to the decision to do it, and then another two years training specifically for this one event. Imagine 100’s if not 1000’s of repetitions, and rehearsing the same moves over and over; eventually memorizing every crack, crevice and ledge in sequence up a 3000′ cliff.

Alex Honnold’s astounding accomplishments in climbing stand as a testament to what is possible. Whether you want to be a better parent, be more effective at work, win a World Championship in BJJ, or free solo El Capitan, the steps to success are the same.

  1. Dream Big. You’ve got to have a vision of where you’re headed, and believe in your ability to get there.
  2. Plan Well. You must develop a well thought-out plan of action.
  3. Work Hard. You need to put in the time & effort necessary to be prepared.
  4. Execute with Confidence. The first three steps fine-tune your ability and reinforce your belief to make your dream a reality – GO FOR IT!

What are you waiting for?

See you on the mat.