What’s going on at Werneck Family Jiujitsu?

Leading By Example

Professor Cassio stepped into the ring yet again this past Friday, putting his skills on display for the world to see. Just as with his previous match in Chicago, he submitted his opponent with the same techniques he’d been teaching the week before! If that isn’t impressive enough, he proceeded to board a plane the very next day with his wife and four children and survived three days of cancelled flights, and lay-overs, to finally arrive in Brazil for the holidays. Anybody who’s ever flown with children understands the magnitude of this herculean task.

Cassio Werneck is a leader, not a boss. He doesn’t lead by telling people what to do, or what they should do.  He shows them what is possible, and he shows them a way. His is the jiujitsu lifestyle, and he leads by example. He leads when he teaches, when he trains, and when competing. He leads as a friend, and he leads as a family man.

We would all benefit from following his lead.

See you on the mats!


Holiday Schedule 2017

 

Honor

The group of warriors, locked in the throes of battle, are focused on the task at hand, oblivious to the world around them. Each individual is fighting his or her own battles, pushing the limits of their strength, their endurance, and their spirit. Simultaneously they are playing the ultimate game of chess, as they try to outwit their opponent, and develop their own strategic game on the mat. The solitude of the room is broken only by the occasional “tap, tap, tap,” and the eventual ring of the timer. At the end of class, they circle up, and with a bow, recite their motto, “Força e Honra,” Strength and Honor before shaking hands with, and thanking, their training partners.

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

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

As per the U.S. Marine Corps website,

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

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

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

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

See you on the mat!

Giving Thanks

It has been a whirlwind the past six months since Cassio and I started this adventure, and now we find ourselves already wrapping up November, with the holiday season swinging into full-gear. The pieces are falling into place, classes are rocking, and everybody has been “putting in the mat time,” helping to create the energy, the vibe, of an amazing jiu-jitsu school.

This Thanksgiving we are indeed counting our “blessings.” We are eternally thankful for the opportunity to do what we love, to surround ourselves with hard-working, like-minded people, and thereby provide for our families. The magnitude of this does not go unnoticed, nor unappreciated. What an amazing time and place we live in, where people can achieve such a feat!

Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without all of you, the members of our community. We thank you all for your continued support as we strive on into the future, and provide the “BJJ lifestyle” to the families of the Sacramento area. We hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving weekend with family and friends, and look forward to seeing you back on the mats!

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!

Constant and Never-Ending Improvement

With fall here, I am once again engaged in all of the projects that come with the change of seasons: fall pruning, garden winterizing, gutter cleaning, and halloween decorating. Such manual labor provides plenty of time to think, and I find myself, as I do with every transformation of the seasons, ruminating on the change that is constant in our lives – spring to summer, summer to fall, and so on, cycling back around to start all over again.  This circular perspective of such repetitive labor can feed into the misconception that we, too, are just running in circles.

It’s really more of a spiral, isn’t it?

 

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A little girl with a dog, in the back yard in October, and yet…

As we cycle through the annum, circling back around in the all-too-familiar pattern, we also become older, having experienced yet one more year that we will never see again. In this fashion, the circle of the seasons becomes the spiral of our lives. So I ask myself, “as we’re spiraling through life, are we spiraling upward or down, forward or back?”

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Same little girl, same dog, in the same back yard in October.

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) lifestyle offers many “tools” that can help us direct our own personal spiral in the direction we choose. The martial arts have long recognized the ideals of courtesy and respect, self-discipline and humility, patience and commitment as being vital to a healthy, successful, and ultimately happy life. We find these ideals espoused in the ancient Budo Code of the Samurai and the concept of Chivalry from Europe’s knights in the Middle Ages. Read any self-help book today, and one will find a re-hashing of the same, time-tested truths.

Perhaps the most important concept, and the one I believe binds all of the other ideals together is embodied in C.A.N.I., a term coined by Tony RobbinsConstant And Never-ending Improvement should be ingrained in our lifestyle. We should be taking every opportunity to improve physically, spiritually, and intellectually. Just as we train daily to hone our martial art skills, so too, should we be fine-tuning the other areas of our lives.

We should be furthering our understanding of the world around us in every way possible. Being a voracious reader should be near the top of our to-do list. Podcasts can be a great source of thought provoking ideas. Taking classes at the local university/college, or participating in work-related seminars & conferences can also be sources of growth. Take every opportunity to learn and grow, to be motivated or inspired. These sources, together with a healthy peer group (see last weeks post) can help us stay motivated and on course to achieve our goals, and enjoy the good life.

It is a mistake to think that at some point in our lives we get to coast. Only if we are continually striving to be the best person we can, will we ever experience our true potential. We should be striving to be the best version of ourselves possible; as a parent, as a spouse, as an employee, as a neighbor, and as a citizen.

See you on the mats!

 

Surround Yourself with Like-Minded People

One of humanity’s greatest strengths is our diversity. Through our diversity in thought and action, we continue to grow as a species. In the vast ocean of human understanding, we are continually looking at new ideas, re-evaluating the old, all the while striving to find the best answers to our questions. This environment has fostered an ever-increasing understanding of the world around us, bringing us from the stone-age, through the rise and fall of many societies and political empires, through the dark ages and industrial revolution, and eventually, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

While we acknowledge, with perhaps a bit of awe, the full breadth of the human tapestry, we can also identify those few we would wish to emulate. With a cursory look on any given day, one can witness highly successful people, and people struggling to make ends meet. We see folks seemingly without a care in the world, while others appear to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. There are those who flourish in social circles, and outliers panhandling on street corners.

The success of others isn’t something to be jealous of, but rather, it should provide us an opportunity to recognize the traits and skills that lead to success, and then make those same habits our own. Whatever one’s goals may be, surely there is another out there who has accomplished some similar type of success. Seek them out and follow their lead.   In fact, surround yourself with like-minded people, individuals who have the same goals, the same passion, the same drive. Such a group nourishes each individual, feeding their passion, and helping remain focused on the task at hand.

Surrounding yourself with like-minded peers is a really vital tool to success, for there are plenty of people who will try to dissuade you from pursuing you dreams. People will try to convince you it’s not possible, that you’re crazy for trying, or will simply question why you would work so hard, and sacrifice so much. Listen to these voices long enough, and you might start questioning yourself. Other like-minded, goal-oriented peers provide a safe-haven from all of the nay-sayers.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in this regard, is a perfect corollary for life. The folks who train come from all walks; every creed, race, and sex – however, none of that matters. The common bond is a passion for being the best we can be in our chosen art, regardless how difficult. And it is really difficult. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. We sacrifice time away from our families, suffer injuries, and struggle through the occasional plateaus. People who see our bruises, rashes, and taped fingers question our sanity when we try to explain what it is we do.

Let them ask. Try to inspire them to join the quest, and become part of our like-minded group, our team. Smile and nod your head when they imply you’re crazy. Then get back to the mat – come back home. We’ll all be there, and we know what you’re after. We’ll help you get it, just as we know you’ll help us.

See you all on the mat.

p.s. Congratulations to all the competitors from this past weekend’s Submission Pro Tour tournament in Sacramento. Win, lose, or draw, you all represented our schools well, and we are proud of your efforts. Pictured above is Mitchell Torres claiming the Gold!

Know Your Enemy

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

The past few weeks we’ve been discussing the ABC’s of Self Defense. We looked at some of the statistics regarding violence in the United States. There are, however, other threats to our well being, and any serious look at self defense would be remiss if it didn’t address these very real epidemics facing our country. While we are taking steps to protect ourselves from being the victims of violence, we should also consider how to prevent becoming victims of poor lifestyle choices, and the chronic diseases that follow.

Of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. (this holds true world-wide) violent crime doesn’t even make the list. There were 13,455 homicides in the U.S. in 2015, the most recent year for which we have the statistics on chronic disease. The FBI just came out with the 2016 crime statistics, which sadly show another increase, with 15,070 homicides. Compare these numbers to those in the chart below.

To be fair, it should be noted that these numbers only represent the worst outcome of violence (death). More often than not, victims of violent crime survive. A more accurate number to compare, therefore, is total violent crimes, which in 2016 came to 1,248,185. (In a country with a population of 323,127,513, that works out to about 386 incidents per 100,000 people.)

Five of the top ten killers in the U.S., namely, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and diabetes, killed over 1.5 million United States citizens in 2015. This number only represents those who died. It’s estimated that nearly 1 out of 2 people are suffering with at least one chronic illness! (for comparison, that works out to be about 50,000 cases per 100,000 people.)

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

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

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

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

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

See you on the mats.

next week…

 

Because sometimes things don’t go as planned.

This week brings us to the fourth part of Self Defense 101. Previously we looked at the importance of awareness, knowing the risks, and avoiding potentially dangerous situations. We discussed how we can further reduce our risk by communicating to predators (bullies, muggers, etc.) that we’re not to be trifled with. Additionally we covered how to use our breathing to help deal with the stress of confrontation. When our efforts to avoid confrontation have failed, we’ve reached a juncture where it’s time to take action.

The action we take will vary as the circumstances of each incident are unique. The level of threat plays a large role in what that response should/must be, while on the other side of the equation, our individual circumstances dictate the tools at our disposal. For example, a child dealing with a bully on the playground has a slightly different set of rules to play by, as well as other available resources, then does a woman being accosted in a shopping mall parking lot.

If the opportunity exists, the best option is always the same: LEAVE! Run if you have to. Unless you’re trapped, or have others to defend, it is always better to leave the scene on your own terms. For children, find someone of authority; a teacher, yard duty, police officer, store clerk, etc. In all situations, remember that well-lit areas with lots of people mean plenty of unwanted witnesses for the predator.

Finally, when the aforementioned forms of physical and verbal communication have failed, and escape isn’t an option, the tone has to shift from trying to avoid and defuse the situation to stopping it. The more calming requests must change to definitive demands. A strong stance, with hands up and palms open,  communicates that a person doesn’t want trouble, but will defend themselves. A loud “NO,” or “BACK OFF,” has the added benefit of potentially drawing the attention of others who can assist. (It’s been suggested to yell “FIRE,” as this tends to be a real attention getter)

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In the end, it all comes down to preparation. Have you thought about your game plan? Have you rehearsed/practiced it? What about the actual physical skills of defense? If one has done everything correctly, the odds of ever experiencing a violent encounter can be greatly reduced. Just like a fire extinguisher collecting dust in the kitchen cupboard, with diligence and proper preparation, it will likely never be used.

In the off-chance there’s a grease fire, however, you’ll be glad it’s there.

See you on the mats!

Predator or Prey?

In this third installment on the “ABC’s of Self Defense,” we’re going to look at communication.  Communication plays a critical role in prevention. It can also be used strategically to de-escalate a situation, or provide an opportunity to improve one’s position.

Being the social creatures we are, we communicate constantly. While we are generally aware of what we say when we speak, we oftentimes overlook what we’re communicating non-verbally. Our posture, our gaze, how we dress, walk, and talk, all tell a story. The story can be one of awareness, strength, and confidence. It can also be a tale of distraction, weakness, or fear.

Predators pick up on these subtle nuances. In this regard, they are avid readers. They are looking for victims; people who’s story, or profile, says, “pick me, I’ll panic, and submit to your terms without much trouble.” If they suspect a person is going to resist, they are more than likely going to look elsewhere. They are looking for the easy prey.

Just as we need to practice our tactical breathing, so too should we take the time to consider how we present ourselves. What habits and/or characteristics do we need to develop, or change, in order to not fit the victim profile? Standing tall, walking with a purpose, being aware of those around you, and paying attention to one’s surroundings are the traits of a strong, confident individual. Slumped shoulders, and a downward gaze signal a lack of confidence. The distant, glazed look of someone lost in thought, or being glued to a smartphone both represent a person who could be caught off guard, and shocked into submission.

Our verbal response to confrontation must communicate the same message. The words we use, and the tone we speak with, should convey strength and assertiveness, but not aggression. This requires speaking in a deliberate, but not angry/fearful tone, and using very clear, direct words. Here are some guidelines for verbally communicating in the early stages of a confrontation.

  • Make statements in a strong, confident voice. This helps control one’s emotions as well as the tone of the engagement.
  • Don’t scream, call names, or use foul/abusive language. Not only does this increase our autonomic response (remember why breathing is so important?), but will likely escalate the situation.
  • Speak in the first person. This helps avoid blaming, judging, or attacking the other person, which can again increase tensions. For example,  “I don’t want you coming any closer.”
  • Name the specific behavior that is offensive. For example, “I don’t want you to speak to me like that, it makes me feel bad.”

Developing all of these tools through thoughtful study and practice can help us be more safe. The knowledge that we have properly prepared ourselves, in turn, leads to more confidence. This decreases the odds of ever being accosted in the first place, and gives us a greater ability to de-escalate the situation in the event we ever are.

Are you training to be a Lion, or a lamb?

Be Calm and Breathe

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

-Frank Herbert, Dune 

(It’s a work of fiction, I know, but this mantra has stuck with me since I read it in my youth, so here it is.)

Last week we started our discussion of the “ABC’s of Self Defense” in which we talked about Awareness. Awareness, of course, is the tool we use to avoid danger, minimize the risk of encountering it, or enable ourselves to see it coming when unavoidable. This week we’re going to begin looking at strategies for dealing with the complexities of confrontation.

Fear is a natural reaction to any given set of stimuli perceived as dangerous or potentially so. We’ve all experienced it to one degree or another; standing on the edge of a high precipice, being in an automobile accident, preparing to ride a roller-coaster, or the seemingly universal fear of speaking in front of a large number of our peers. Don’t feel bad. The increased heart rate, sweaty palms, shaky hands, and pit in your stomach are all results of your autonomic nervous system doing it’s job.

Fear is a healthy tool for survival. It reminds us to avoid danger, or to proceed with caution when in doubt. It can stimulate us to action in order to protect ourselves; whether to fight or to flee. The adrenaline leads to an increased heart-rate, and heavier breathing, making us stronger and faster. It focuses our vision and hearing, blocking out extraneous distractions. Fear can also render us incapable of rational thought, intelligible communication, or fine-motor skills. It can distort our vision and our erase our memory.  It can incapacitate us, leaving us frozen in our tracks, unable to decide what to do or which way to go. Therefore it is vital we learn to control our fear, and make it work for us, as it should. The key to this control lies in something as simple as our breathing.

Tactical breathing, or combat breathing, refers to a technique used in the military and law-enforcement to reign in our fear, so to speak. It is not unique to these agencies, however, as it is also taught in martial arts, yoga, and even the Lamaze technique. It is a way we can moderate our autonomic nervous system’s response, keeping it in a range that benefits us the most for the circumstances at hand. By controlling our respiratory response, we can stay “in the zone” of optimal performance.

As with all self-defense skills, this is one we should practice at every opportunity, in order to assure we have access to it under the most dire of circumstances. When you feel yourself getting “stressed out” before an exam – breathe. When you sense your anger rising during a discussion/argument – breathe. When you’re warming up before a competition – breathe. When you’re fixing your belt between rounds in a jiu-jitsu class – breathe

While breathing itself isn’t rocket science, here’s a basic method for reigning in your autonomic nervous system, and thereby your fear. 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.

See you on the mat!

(**For a more thorough understanding of stress in combat, check out Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s On Combat. Every serious martial artist should put this book on top of their must-read list.)