Weekly Blog

Don’t be a Zombie

One of the frequently stated reasons people get into martial arts is to learn self defense. As with other combat arts, there is a self defense component to BJJ, and each school varies in the emphasis they put on this aspect of training. It’s important to recognize, however, that the most vital and powerful self defense skill can be attained long before joining a reputable program.

Awareness is the foundation of all self-defense.

We must first be aware of what risks we face in order to properly prepare our defense. While the media would have you believe our world is becoming ever more violent, the statistical evidence does not support this world-view. Even with the recent slight upticks in violent crime from 2015-2018, and again in 2020, the U.S. is still on a downward trend from the early 1990”s. Furthermore, the recent increases we have witnessed are attributable in large part to specific areas in highly populated cities. While it’s obviously not a panacea, simply avoiding particular neighborhoods goes a long way in decreasing one’s risk of being a victim to violent crime.

We are much more likely to experience and/or die from accidents. According the CDC, in 2019 over 60,000 people died annually from unintentional injuries compared to a little over 14,000 homicides. The top unintentional injuries in the U.S. are poisoning (drug o.d.), automobile accidents, drowning, and falling. These are the wolves we truly need to be wary of.

The bottom line: the vast majority of viable threats to our well-being are easily avoidable, if we know what they are, and pay attention.

Zombies, Sheepdogs, and Wolves…

The problem is, too many of us are oblivious to the world around us. We get so caught up in our routine, our thoughts, or our phone, that we tune out the world around us. We become zombies, walking and driving around in what law enforcement and the military term “Condition White,” mindlessly unprepared for the unexpected. By developing the habit of paying attention whenever we are out and about, we can greatly decrease the odds of being a victim of wolves, whether they’re an assailant, a car crash, or stumbling off the curb. Each of us needs to be in “Condition Yellow” whenever we are driving, shopping, or walking down the sidewalk. We need to put the smartphone away and practice the habit of maintaining situational awareness.

Be a zombie in the safety of your own home.

Belts in BJJ

Who remembers this iconic scene from the movie Karate Kid (1984)? After the fight in which Miyagi saves Daniel San’s butt, demonstrating some old-school martial skills, Daniel (Ralph Macchio) inquires, “Hey, what kind of belt do you have?” Miyagi replies,

“Canvas. You like? JC Penney, $3.98. <laughs>. In Okinawa belt mean no need rope hold up pants! <laughs>”

Miyagi then goes on to clarify that karate (and by extension, martial arts in general) is about what’s in one’s head and heart, not about the belt somebody wears. I have yet to meet a long-time practitioner, whether in Aikido, Karate, Taekwondo, or Brazilian Jiujitsu, who wouldn’t agree with this sentiment. Training in the martial arts is just as much about who we are mentally and spiritually, as much as how capable we are physically. We want to develop the mind and spirit of a warrior, by conditioning them along with our bodies to be tough, resilient, and ever-improving.

While it isn’t about the belts,  all martial art schools have some sort of belt system, with any number of various color belts incrementally dividing up the years prior to black belt. As tools, these belts serve a few purposes. They provide a framework for instructors to work within, developing expectations and curriculum appropriate for the different levels, as well as helping track students’ progress. They can also be used to create more equitable divisions in competition. Finally, belts can help students’ motivation by providing shorter-term goals to work toward.

At Werneck Family Jiu Jitsu, we utilize the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation belt system.

BJJ belts 4-15

The above colors are further divided into approximately quarterly stripe tests. Stripes are awarded after a student has attended the required number of classes, maintained a respectful, hardworking attitude in class, and demonstrated the appropriate techniques at a satisfactory level. After enough stripes are attained the student can promote to the next belt.

At the age of 16, and at the instructors discretion, a student that holds a Grey, Yellow, or Orange belt would transition to a Blue belt, and those who have a Green belt would transition into Blue or Purple.

Adult belts

The biggest pitfall of belt systems, as Karate Kid’s Miyagi-San reminds us, is the tendency for students to focus on the belts as opposed to the learning. Students can get caught up in achieving the next belt rather than being a martial artist; they can worry too much about the destination, instead of enjoying the trip. When somebody tells me that “after getting their black belt they were ready to move on to the next thing,” I realize they missed the entire point of the martial arts. Getting a belt isn’t a box on a checklist. It signifies a step up in training; it represents increased responsibility to one’s self and their commitment to excellence.

At the end of the day it should truly be all about living the BJJ lifestyle.

See you on the mat.

Sticks and Stones

While teaching English in Daejeon, South Korea, I found myself out late one particular night with a number of students. We were sitting around a Pojangmacha (포장마차), enjoying whatever various Anju (안주) were being served, along with some cheap Soju (소주) and good conversation, when this rather intoxicated fellow sat down next to me, and started intensely telling me what it was he had to say. My Korean skills at that point consisted of asking directions, and ordering food, so his diatribe was all but lost on me. His tone and body language clued me into his intent, but it wasn’t until his friend had taken him away that the students would tell me what he’d been saying. He was trying to insult me, derisively commenting upon all the standard topics á la Junior High: my appearance, my heritage, my mom. His intent was to hurt my feelings and make me mad, but as ill-intentioned as he was, I remained unscathed.

Of course it was easy to dismiss what he was saying; I couldn’t understand a word. Even after I was told what he said, I still was simply amused by his antics. The things people say have zero impact on our well-being; it’s only what we hear that matters. How we receive the message and process it is really what dictates its effect on us.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

As adults most of us are pretty adept at filtering the things people say. We are confident enough to not worry that much in the first place, and smart enough to recognize that the source, the intent, and the setting all play a role in how we accept it. A close friend making a snarky comment about our hair is much different than an acquaintance at work saying the same thing. Still, we all know how hard it can be at times, to not take some people’s words personally.

It is even more challenging for younger people to navigate these waters. Even with the frequently heard, “just kidding,” or “it was only a joke,” often times children’s feelings get hurt. They simply haven’t had the time and experience to develop effective discernment, and thus struggle with the nuance of sarcasm, hypocrisy, humor, and teasing.

One of the greatest tools we can give our children to help them weather this learning period is self confidence.

Being confident in who we are is like being vaccinated against the terrible things that people say.

Training in Brazilian Jiujitsu is a sure-fire way to develop a strong sense of self. As students repeatedly drill their skills and continually put them to the test, the grind makes one physically, mentally, and emotionally tough. Successfully “tapping out,” or submitting training partners with an ever-refining, ever-increasing arsenal builds confidence. Simultaneously, getting tapped out teaches resilience; our ego can take a “loss,” and thrive. Additionally, people who train in this manner are in little need of validation from others, thus what they say carries less weight.

It’s important to note that the most serious forms of teasing are committed by those who wish to build themselves up by tearing others down. Whether they’re seeking attention, or trying to establish their superiority, the perpetrators are looking for a victim. Just like bullies and criminals, they look for easy marks – people who appear unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves. The body language of a jujiteiro/a says, “I am NOT a victim.” It is a subconscious deterrent to predation.

If you want to teach your child how to effectively deal with people teasing them, get them into a jiu jitsu class. They can train BJJ and learn to handle the trash talking with aplomb.

See you on the mat.

photo credit: kT LindSAy

To Those Who Gave All

In honor of those who gave all they had for the rest of us, we’re keeping it brief today. What better way to honor their sacrifice, than by enjoying our freedom of choice, including how we spend the holiday. Whether bar-b-queing with one’s family, rolling at an open mat, or attending a civic celebration, we hope everyone takes a moment to contemplate the magnitude of what the day means, and give thanks.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln

Attitude of Gratitude

As we head into week #10 of this state wide “stay at home,” many communities are slowly moving into Phase 2. This step in the right direction provides a welcome bit of relief, but we’re still a long way from any sense of normalcy. The indefinite nature of this entire affair only compounds the stress many are feeling in the midst of so many live lost and the horrendous economic impact. It can be difficult to keep a healthy perspective, but it’s times like this when we need to maintain an “attitude of gratitude.”

At the end of every Jiujitsu class, the students and instructors bow, and repeat the school motto, “Força e Honra,” or Strength and Honor. We then shake hands, and thank one another with an “Obrigado/a.” Obrigado is short for the more formal Eu sou obrigado, or “I am obliged.”

While this little ritual is part of the daily routine, with the tendency for participants to simply go through the motions, the hope is that this demonstration of gratitude helps remind us to be thankful for our time on the mat. Obviously we want to thank our teachers and training partners, for without them we wouldn’t be training in jiu-jitsu. We’re also quite fortunate to train in the facilities we have. (Ask Cassio some time about the canvas mats he used to train on in Brazil!)

As a parent, I’m keenly aware of how vital the idea of gratitude is. We are bringing our children up in a time and place of unbelievable wealth and prosperity. Living here in the burbs of NorCal means we have immediate access to food 24 hours a day. Today’s children have television, the internet, smart phones, and swimming pools, while living in houses with running water, flush toilets, and a/c. Needless to say, such a luxurious lifestyle is lost upon someone who knows no different, which makes it easy for people to be unappreciative. Honestly, which one of us doesn’t take these things for granted?

Consider the early immigrants to this country, or to what was at one time simply thirteen colonies. Those people left Europe with nothing, risked a months-long ship ride, starving conditions, exposure to new diseases, knowing there was little to no infrastructure awaiting them. They came with nothing, knowing it was all on them to make a new life for themselves. If they wanted a house, they had to build it. If they wanted to eat, they had to hunt or harvest it. There was no safety net, no agency for them to fall back on. Can you imagine how they would perceive the world we now live in, with the comforts we take for granted?

It seems like forever since we’ve been “on the mat,” and many have expressed the same frustration we’re all feeling, not being able to train. Maintaining an “attitude of gratitude” can help each of us weather this storm.

We look forward to seeing you all back on the mat!

Certainty in Uncertain Times

Unprecedented. Such hyperbole has become common recently; we’ve heard it in the news, read it in headlines and in the weekly updates from various government agencies. As we all do our best to keep abreast of the quickly changing landscape, it is natural to approach the unknown with a particular amount of skepticism, apprehension, or even fear. Our anxiety can get the best of us, and such hyperbolic language only exasperates that tendency.

It’s important to remember that while we may not remember anything quite like this pandemic and the quarantine conditions we find ourselves in, it is far from being unprecedented. Our understanding of infectious disease has come a long way since The Black Death. Not only have we been here before, but just as with all the other diseases we’ve dealt with over the past seven centuries we’ll get through this one too.

In his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling reminds us that “things can be both bad and better.” Here are a few fun charts to help maintain a little perspective; to remind us of how much we’ve already accomplished. (click on them to link to the interactive original)

Take a deep breath, and remain calm. People have been screaming, “THE END OF TIMES!” since forever. While we may have some work to do, we’ll get through this. Keep moving forward as best as you can. And don’t forget to wash your hands.

What Day is it?

Four weeks into this state mandated Stay-in-Place and many of us find ourselves a bit out of sorts. Without the framework of our regular lives we half-jokingly ask, “what day is it?” In case you’re feeling a bit lost, here’s an update. Last week was spring break for our local school district and Easter weekend. Before that, the Spring Equinox came and went, mostly unnoticed; nonetheless, the days are getting longer, the temperature is warming up, and everything is in bloom.

Spring is a time of renewal, and has been celebrated as such throughout history. Our ancestors rejoiced as they’d survived the harsh realities of yet another winter, recognizing that spring meant the opportunity to plant crops and harvest the food necessary to survive the coming year. Our modern lifestyles have all but removed the arduous difficulties of surviving winter, and thus the shift to spring isn’t nearly as vital to our existence; yet we still find the longer, warmer days lifting our spirits. We still celebrate spring with holidays such as Mayday, Easter, and Passover. We open our windows to air out our homes, we clean our closets, and we tidy up our yards.

Now that many of us find ourselves forced out of our regular routines, we are presented with the perfect opportunity to re-focus our sights. We can be creative in finding new ways to maintain our mental and physical fitness, since we can’t be on the mat, nor in the gym. Do some yoga. Rehab a nagging injury. Dig out some of those books that remain unread, or re-read some of the classics. Start working towards those goals left on the proverbial back-burner.

This idea of spring cleaning extends into our lives well beyond the back-yard or closet. Even within the context of this crazy Covid-19 remain in place, spring and the renewal occurring all around us, are reminders that there’s always another opportunity.

What are your dreams?

What are you waiting for?

Ready, Fire, Aim!

We find ourselves in unique circumstances. It appears we will be under the “remain in place” directive through April, and possibly even May, however, as martial artists, we won’t allow this to define us, but rather we will use it as an opportunity for growth. As the saying goes, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” In our case, we’re focused on developing a strong online curriculum; one that will help us all navigate these uncertain times and continue our pursuit of excellence in the art of Brazilian Jiujitsu.

This week we’re rolling out our Virtual Jiujitsu program.

We may not be able to replicate the training of a regular class, but we can help fill in the void when being on the mat isn’t an option. The program consists of three parts: video tutorials, online coursework (children’s programs), and live video conferences.

  1. The primary component is a series of online videos you can access at your convenience. They will cover topics such as fundamental movements, basic techniques, strategy, and conditioning. The material presented will take into account such impediments as the absence of proper equipment (mats), partners, and/or space. This one was made with the children’s programs in mind, but the workout at the end could benefit everybody.
  2. We’ve also put together some learning materials for both the Little Samurai and Junior Jujiteiros on Google Classroom. There will be a variety of age-appropriate activities that cover topics like martial art history, Jiujitsu terminology, as well as our Five-Pillars of Success™ Life Skills Program.
  3. Additionally, we’re looking to set up some live interactions on Zoom, a video-conferencing platform you may be familiar with. We’re still working out the details for the adult classes. The Children’s programs are going to start with one live workout a week in conjunction with the videos, and also have the opportunity to “Meet by the Water Cooler.” This will be a chance for them to simply socialize with their peers; we thought it would be a fun, beneficial outlet since we’re all isolated at home. It will be a guided format, with each week being a different set topic, for example, “introduce us to your pet,” or “tell us about your favorite sport?”

Finally, a number of families have reached out to us asking for their accounts to remain active through-out this closure and we’re eternally grateful for such graciousness during this time of uncertainty. This program is for you! All of our active members will have access to this program. We will send you the information to access the online videos and Google Classroom, and keep you apprised of upcoming live events.

We greatly appreciate everyone’s patience and continued support as we work through this transition. Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay tuned!

Virtual Jiujitsu

With an indefinite end-date on the Placer County directive to “stay in place,” we find ourselves in a quandry. We want to get together with our teammates, learn some new moves, and roll, but in the name of public safety, we are stuck at home honoring our civic duty for an unknown period of time.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

-Anon

The bottom line is, we can’t replicate the efficacy of direct instruction, nor the feedback of drilling with a partner, nor the intensity of rolling. However, we can keep our mind “in the game,” work on our fundamental movement, and maintain our fitness.

We’re taking this opportunity to put together a video library to help everyone continue their pursuit of excellence in BJJ. Whether you’re a student looking for some more drills, or a parent in need of something for their child to do, these short videos will provide you with the next best thing to an actual class: Virtual Jiujitsu!

Stay tuned….

Covid-19 School Closure

Dear WFJJ Family and Friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the temporary closure of Werneck Family Jiujitsu in Roseville. In response to the current status of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we will be closed from Monday, March 16th through Tuesday, March 31st.

We have spent many hours over the past few weeks discussing the best course of action to take for the well-being of our families, members, friends, and the community at large. We have stayed up-to-date on the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, as well as those from Placer county and the local school district.

Just as other organizations like Disneyland, the National Basketball Association, and the University of California are taking the recommended precautions, our local school district and all schools in Placer county have taken the step of closing through mid-April. We believe it is our civic responsibility to follow the same proactive course of action. If we can slow the Coronavirus’ spread through such “social distancing,” it greatly increases the odds our medical establishment will be able to adequately care for those who fall seriously ill.

We do not take this decision lightly. Cassio and I are passionate about providing the highest level of instruction and service, and personally dread the idea of not being on the mat with all of our friends and students. Naturally, we are apprehensive about the economic impact these policies will have, but most importantly we are concerned about the well-being of our community. We hope our actions help facilitate a quick return to normalcy for all the residents of California.

As things unfold here in Roseville, we will stay up-to-date with developments, and assess future actions as needed. We will keep you updated. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email us at administration@werneckfamilyjiujitsu.com, or call me at (916) 768-7461.

Stay healthy and happy.

Força E Honra,

Cassio Werneck and Darren Figgins