Weekly Blog

Food For Thought

This BJJ lifestyle is intense. Each class is an exhilarating mixture of illumination, and frustration, as we enjoy those occasional ah-ha moments in between surviving bone-crushing defeats. We grind out each and every workout, as frequently as our other obligations will allow, knowing we’re the better for it. Such training takes it’s toll, and it doesn’t take long to realize that appropriate rest and a healthy diet are mandatory components of a successful journey.

What constitutes a healthy diet? The answer to this question isn’t that complicated, but with the number of fad diets that are in constant circulation, it’s easy to see why people think it’s rocket science. Of course, there is an entire industry looking to cash in on everybody’s desire to lose weight/look great with a quick fix, but again, it’s not that complicated.

Here’s the simple version we’re promoting in the children’s program.

We eat to live, not the other way around. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone state, “I deserve this,” “life’s too short,”  or some other equivalent. If one’s consumption is justified by some sense of entitlement, perhaps it’s time for a re-evaluation of priorities. Food is about sustenance, not entertainment. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t enjoy the food we eat, or that we can’t ever go out for an over-the-top meal with friends. Our happiness simply shouldn’t be the main deciding factor in our daily consumption choices.

The healthiest foods are recognizable. A healthy diet consists of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meats, and nuts. Some whole grains are o.k. The more processed, or hidden in sauces and breading it is, the less it’s got to offer, at least in terms of nutrition. The rule I’ve taught my girls is easy to remember. If you have to read a label to know what it is, it’s probably not very good for you. Highly processed foods should be treated with a bit of skepticism, eaten as an exception to a healthy diet, and not as a staple.

Water is life. Our bodies are composed of over 60% water, so drink a lot of it. The harder you train, the more you need. Avoid surgery drinks like soda; these are a source of water, but also provide a lot of empty calories that can cause more harm than good.

Dinner before dessert. If one’s diet is made up predominately of fresh, healthful, whole foods, an occasional “splurge” isn’t going to matter much. The folks who run into trouble are those who get it backwards, constantly consuming foods high in salt, sugar, and fat, but low in everything else of nutritional value.

Train hard, eat smart, and drink lots of water. Your body, and your jiu jitsu will thank you.

See you on the mat!

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.

Winners and Losers

Through the month of January we focused on Stephen Covey’s first three Habits:

  1. Be Proactive.®
  2. Begin With the End in Mind.®
  3. First Things First.®

Developing this personal skill set, helps us recognize our purpose and makes us more effective at achieving our goals. If we want to increase our capacity exponentially, however, we must recognize the power of teamwork. The Fourth Habit from Stephen Covey’s treatise The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is “Think Win-Win.” Simply put, it’s recognizing that the most effective relationships are those in which all parties come out ahead. Here, Jiujitsu is the perfect allegory.

In Jiujitsu we simply cannot develop effective technique without a partner, and it requires a bit of skill to be a good one. Borrowing terminology from Japanese budo, the Uke (receiver) is the person tasked with getting thrown around. The act of being thrown, Ukemi (receiving), is an art in and of itself; it takes skill and understanding to be repeatedly thrown without injury, and to do so in a manner that helps the nage (thrower) learn the technique. While drilling a technique, a good uke doesn’t just flop on the floor like a limp noodle, nor do they resist the technique by countering. They have to provide the appropriate response in order for the nage to practice their technique. This is dictated by many factors including how experienced their partner is, and whether the technique is new. This cooperation is vital; if we don’t work with our partners to help them develop strong technique, they won’t be able to help us improve ours. We must strive for a win/win, in which all parties are benefiting.

Sometimes losing is winning.

People who are afraid of “losing” when drilling, who’s egos prohibit them from finding this cooperative balance, will struggle to learn the nuance of technique. They are also frustrating to the partner who’s trying to learn, only to be thwarted every time they try. This isn’t a win/win; it isn’t even a win/lose – it’s a lose/lose. Nobody is able to improve much under these conditions. Allowing ones partner to practice a move, thereby developing better technique, makes them a better partner for us.

Stay focused on the Big Picture

Additionally, if one’s ego is too big to “lose” and tap out when necessary, they will eventually be injured. The severity of the injury will dictate the amount of healing time, but this win/lose mindset will once again become a lose/lose, as their injuries affect their ability to train. This is a good example of when losing is winning. Tapping out (short-term loss) means more training longevity (long-term win).

Steel sharpens Steel.

There is time and place in Jiujitsu where each student should be striving to win. Whenever two individuals are engaged in competition, whether during the rolling portion of a class, or at a tournament, somebody is eventually going to win and their “opponent” will lose. While nobody likes to lose in these moments, there is still a win/win silver lining. Oftentimes, we learn much more from our losses than we do our wins. It’s important to remember the adage, “you’re either winning or you’re learning.”

“I never lose. I either win or I learn.”

Nelson Mandela

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.

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.”


– Pink Floyd, 1973.

Where does the time go? I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one. My oldest daughter, the apple of my eye, cutie pie side kick who went everywhere with me, is graduating from High School. We used to be attached at the hip; she rode in the stroller on my early morning runs, flew co-pilot while running errands, and often sat on my hip as I carried her around while teaching others to kick and punch. Now she’s busy wrapping up her senior year, applying to college, and hanging out with her friends.

The clock is ticking people, and whether we like it or not, it just keeps on going. When we’re young, we have a false sense of forever, of having all the time in the world, and it’s not until we get a bit more experience under our belts that we start to understand how little time we have. The older we get the more we realize how important it is to make the most of the time you’ve got.

Time Management 101

I’d love to tell you I’m a master at time management, but it would be a lie. I’m often scrambling to keep up with all the things daily life throws at me. I rejoice when I near a 80% success rate in completing the week’s to-do list.

I’d love to blame the plethora of mundane tasks I do daily like washing dishes, vacuuming, mopping, and scrubbing toilets. I could point to all the time spent on even more pressing matters like keeping the lawn mowed and hedges trimmed to the satisfaction of the god-forsaken HOA. Let’s not forget the hours of schlepping the girls to-and-from school and all of their extra-curriculers – like an Uber driver – but for free. Finally, I could top off the list of excuses with all the truly exciting events that come with raising three daughters: attending all of the plays, ballet performances, open houses, and track meets.

I could self diagnose myself as having attention deficit disorder, bouncing from thing to thing, ala David Spathaky, the world record holder in plate spinning, but this wouldn’t be true either. An honest, proactive evaluation leaves me with one undeniable, yet simple answer: I need to work on my self-discipline.

First Things First

I need to do a better job of staying in Quadrant II, by avoiding Quadrants III and IV. This will enable me to spend less time in Quadrant I, thereby being more efficient with the time that I have. See? It’s simple.

If you know exactly what that last paragraph was about, you’ve already learned about, or even read, Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In my opinion this is a must-read for anybody interested in being better. His time-management system of four quadrants is a great way to break down activities, and best organize one’s time.

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix

Some of the time we spend in the first Quadrant is unavoidable. Important things come up which need our immediate attention. If we find ourselves constantly stuck in Quadrant I, however, there’s a good chance that we’re not spending enough time prepping and planning in advance. (Quadrant II) Proper planning and preparing should minimize the number of things we need to do last minute, freeing up time for the unforeseen emergencies that do arise.  

I am guilty of the simple pleasures that come from participating in quadrant four. This is where our whimsical wants of the moment drag us down, fill up our precious time, and keep us from accomplishing what is truly important. I love to read, and while it’s easy to justify it in the name of self improvement, the real issue is whether that reading is more important than the other things that I’ve made a priority. As Covey so succinctly states in his third habit, “Put first things, first.”

We need to quantify the importance of any given activity based on our priorities and goals. This is where that life plan, or roadmap becomes critical. It is important if it’s part of our plan. Otherwise it needs to be moved down the list of priorities.

I already know what I need to work on – I’ve read the book – and you should, too.

I hope to see you on the mat.


Pink Floyd. “Time.” Dark Side of The Moon, TRO Hampshire House Publishing Corp. 1973.

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

Covey, Stephen R. “Habit 3: Put First Things First.” Franklin Covey.com, Franklin Covey Co., 2018, https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html.

Where Are You Going?

Back in college, my friends and I took a few weekend road trips on nothing more than a whim and a shoestring budget. We didn’t know where we were headed other than “west until we hit the Pacific,” or “somewhere north of the Canadian border.” The haphazard nature of those come-what-may adventures was a lot of fun, and made for some fond memories. They were a great way of blowing off a little juvenile steam, while simultaneously celebrating the freedom of our youth.

Fast forward to our family’s recent month-long trip to Europe. Traveling with three children is no simple task in and of itself, but for an entire month throughout France, Germany, and the Czech Republic? This journey took months of meticulous planning and advanced reservations – but it was well worth it. We were able to cover over 3000 km (1865 miles) without feeling harried. We took in the iconic sights of Paris, ferried up the Rhein river and hiked in the Bavarian Alps. We stood in Roman ruins in Trier and toured the medieval town of Rothenburg. We explored the castle in Prague, and stood with one foot on each side of the line where a wall once separated East- from West-Berlin.

It should be apparent that the first model, while exciting in it’s spontaneous and unrestricted nature, is a pretty ineffective method of living out our daily lives. Accomplishing great endeavors requires some forethought and planning. (Anybody that has traveled with kids knows exactly what I mean.) Yet there are folks who have never sat down and made a life plan; they’ve never invested the time and effort to think about what they really want and what they must do to make it a reality!

Begin with the end in mind.

We’re always asking children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” We need to sit down and ask ourselves the same question. Seriously. The first step in getting anywhere is knowing where we’re headed, both in the short term and for the long haul.

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

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

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

Stephen R. Covey, (1989)

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

Accomplishing tremendous undertakings is really just a number of smaller more manageable tasks chained together over time. Our life simply becomes a matter of making a good plan or detailed map of how we’re going to get to where we’re headed. We just have to decide where it is we wish to go. We must begin with the end in mind.

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

Missing Persons, 1982.

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.

It’s 2019 – What Are You Going to do About it?

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

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

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

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

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

Are you committed yet?