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Finding the Sublime in the Simple

Recently, I decided to re-read All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. It’s a fun, touching book of life lessons which I read way back in college, when I first started teaching children’s martial arts classes. (not quite so far back as the paleolithic period I mentioned last week, but pretty close.) His “credo” is a list of the basic rules we are taught as children. The beauty is, these work just as well for us as adults as they did when we were young.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put thngs back where you found them.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Each chapter is a little anecdote that simply and eloquently demonstrates an ideal. Through engaging, often humorous, stories of  puddles, vacuums, mermaids, raccoons, and hide & seek, he shows us the powerful relevance of lessons learned in every-day experiences; the sublime within the simple.

One such story is about spiders. Actually, it’s about a specific, traumatic, “life-changing” encounter between the author’s neighbor and a spider; from both his neighbor’s perspective, and that of the spider. (after it’s all said and done, both experiences are really quite the same.) Here’s a much less eloquent synopsis. The two are busily going about their daily routine. All hell breaks loose as their world’s collide.  They re-collect themselves, and go back to getting on with their day. (Mr. Fulghum’s version is much better – you really should read the book)

Remember the itsy, bitsy spider and that rainspout? No matter how many times one sings that nursery rhyme, no matter how many times the rain washes that spider out, the sun always comes out, dries the spider off, and the spider gives it another shot. It’s a cute little rhyme that we use as parents and teachers to pass on one of the most valuable lessons in life: Never give up.

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.     

-Victor Hugo

For martial artists, and anybody else interested in achieving great things, Perseverance is a vital key to success. Big accomplishments take a long time, require much effort, and the path along the way is marked by many obstacles. There will be times when we’re too tired. There will be shiny, new distractions that divert our attention. There will be set-backs. None-the-less, just as the spider dries off, and heads back up that rainspout, we too must dust ourselves off, re-adjust our sites, and get busy working toward our goals.

This week we’re talking to our Lil’ Samurai and Jr. Jujiteiros about “Four Steps to success.” It is a simple recipe, but it’s not easy. It takes a lot of effort to stay on task and put in the work.

  1. Show up.
  2. Work hard.
  3. Rest.
  4. Repeat.

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.


We humans are survivors. Just like spiders, we’ve been around for a long time. (well, they’ve been around for a few hundred million more years than we have, but who’s counting?) We’ve survived disasters and disease, experienced devastating wars and debilitating famine, and yet we persist. When we find our spirits low, or feel we are unable to continue on our chosen path, it’s important to remember – just like those who came before us, we can push on. Get up, dust yourself off, and get to it. Put the setbacks of yesterday behind, and make the most of today.

See you on the mat.


One of the ways we humans distinguish ourselves from the rest of the species on the planet, is our cognitive ability. Our capacity to reason, to use logical and abstract thought, is what has enabled us to go from being nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic “stone age” to  the modern era, from flint knives and tools made of bone to walking on the moon!  We reflect on the past, recognize patterns, correlate cause and effect, and calculate the odds of future events. We have dreams, imagine abstract concepts, and experience emotions like love, fear, and anger.

Our brain does more than just store data and contemplate the meaning of the universe. It contains our body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls all of our unconscious, “automatic” activities, such as heart rate, digestion, and respiratory. It also is the driver behind our so-called fight or flight response. This instinctual response is powerful and fast, and for good reasons. When suddenly faced with a life or death level threat, the immediacy and intensity of the response is paramount.

This whole system works pretty well, as witnessed by how far humanity has come over the millennia. We have our minds to thank for all of the advancements we are surrounded by in our daily lives. However, there are some kinks in the program, and these can result in a full spectrum of negative consequences.

In the presence of imminent danger, fear is the result of a healthy, natural, and powerful response. It is an autonomic response in which the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain, quickly responds and prepares us for survival. The ensuing dump of hormones increases your heart rate, shortens your breathing, and  prepares your muscles to explode into action. Your mind and vision become more focused on the task at hand. In this state, you are primed to fight, or to take flight.

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Fear is also an emotion elicited in response to things we perceive to be threatening. We might be afraid of heights, speaking in front of an audience, or flying in a plane. To feel a bit anxious in any of these situations would be considered normal. If the fear is debilitating to the point of negatively effecting one’s life, however, then taking the time to assess the actual risk could be helpful. This is where things get a bit tricky, because we are terrible at assessing risk.

Our modern world is much more complex than that of our ancient ancestors. We now live predominately in densely populated, urban settings surrounded by fast moving technology. Our access to information via television, radio, and the internet is exploding exponentially. All of this information provides the opportunity for us to become more well-informed, and thereby to be better at risk analysis. However, there are some barriers that hinder that ability.

Our mind constantly handles so much information, that we’ve developed various psychological mechanisms to help sort through it all and speed up the process of decision making. These heuristics provide shortcuts to help streamline our thought process. We often refer to them as “a rule of thumb,” “stereotyping,” or “intuition.” Heuristics often lead to a variety of cognitive biases, and while heuristics and biases help us come to quicker conclusions, they can also lead to grave errors in judgement. This is especially true when it comes to assessing risk.

It’s also important to note that all of that information we have access to is filtered in a number of ways, such that we are generally working with just a portion of the “facts.” If your source for information is the news, it’s important to remember this: that which is newsworthy is the outlier, the anomalous. Reporting the norm, sadly, is rather boring. “Today, just like yesterday, and the day before that, 150,000,000 Americans went to work.” “50.7 million children attended over 98,000 public schools today, and will be all week long.” That’s not what the headlines look like though, is it? Instead, it’s, “Earthquake Destroys Village, Death Toll 300 and Rising,” “Train Wreck in Countryside Leaves 120 Dead, 300 Injured!”

False Expectations Appearing Real

The availability heuristic is the tendency to judge the frequency, the probability, of something based on how easily you can bring it to mind. This worked great for our great-great-great-great (you get the idea) ancestors. When they saw their buddy get mauled by a saber-tooth tiger, that threat became paramount: “saber-tooth tiger – BAD.” In our modern society, we don’t have to worry too much about being mauled by a tiger. In fact, when one looks at the actual statistics, we find that for the past 25 years our lives have continually gotten safer. Violent crime in the U.S. has been on an overall decline since their peak in the early ’90’s (and that includes the slight uptick for the past two years).


Traffic safety has also been steadily improving. This is good news, as automobiles are one of the top causes of accidental death in the U.S. (37,757 in 2015, or 11.7 per 100,000)

traffic deaths graph
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

So why is it that a majority of Americans feel less safe than ever, when the reality is the opposite? In large part, we can thank our availability heuristic. Every time we see a heinous crime on television, or on the internet, that visceral image becomes dominant in our mind. A singular event portrayed over and over again becomes larger than life. We give it undue influence on our assessment of it’s frequency, and how likely it is to happen again. In this manner, our fear grows beyond reason, as a False Expectation Appearing Real.

What can we, as martial artists, do to remain calm in the face of the proverbial storm? How can we keep our head, and make sound decisions for our future, without allowing our emotions, our fear, to cloud our judgement? The first step is in acknowledging that such biases as our availability heuristic have an impact on our perspective. Second, when it comes to risk assessment, people really should study actual statistics, which can help clear up misconceptions. Here are a few resources:

Third, in my opinion, is to stop watching the news. These organizations do a poor job of presenting material in a manner that isn’t intentionally inflammatory, over-sensationalized, and down-right misleading. They want you ticked off, and/or scared. It sells.

Turn off the television, get on the mat and train.


Over the past few years my daughters and I have really enjoyed watching the movie versions of Marvel’s Avengers. We can’t wait for the hubbub at the box office to die down, so that we can go to the latest installment, Black Panther. I think that part of the popularity in this series is the diversity presented in all of the various characters. Each has her/his own superpower, as well as their own personality. As they evolve under the stress of the various adversities they encounter, both individually and collectively, we see them struggle with their own character, both strengths and flaws.

While we are intrigued by their superpowers, I think the most engaging aspects of the storyline involve their struggles with their own, very real, and very human weaknesses. At different times, it’s reigning in their ego, or coping with self-doubt. Sometimes they must resist the temptation of power. There’s always the weight of doing what’s right for the greater good, versus what’s best for them. In the end, they always find their way through the turmoil, and make the hard choices that lead to success.

Which superhero is your favorite? Which traits do you appreciate the most? Obviously, while we can’t have their superpowers, we can rise to the occasion where it truly matters. While we train to develop our physical skills as martial artists, we can also work toward developing in ourselves the character traits we admire in our heroes, both real and imaginary.

See you on the mats!


Steel Sharpens Steel

The age-old maxim “steel sharpens steel,” or “iron sharpens iron” embodies the simple premise that we grow stronger when we surround ourselves with others who are strong. More modern sages tell us to associate with like-minded people, at least in regards to goals, and people who have already succeeded in achieving those goals.

“…avoid the negative influences of other people and surround yourself with successful people who will encourage you to pursue your dreams.” -Zig Ziglar, Born to Win: Find Your Success Code

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins puts it succinctly, “Who you spend time with is who you become.”

In the martial arts this is paramount. As a BJJ practitioner one pursues not only strength, conditioning, mental acuity, and emotional toughness, but more effective methods of combat. While one could conceivably build the first four traits on their own, having a partner and/or coach will greatly facilitate their growth. Developing effective combat techniques, however, simply cannot be accomplished without great training partners.

It is important for each of us to remember that while we’re putting in our time on the mat, working our butts off to achieve our own personal victories, that we’re also there for our training partners. We need one another in order to get where we’re headed. The more like-minded, goal-oriented people we can surround ourselves with, the better.

“Proximity is power… Who you spend time with is who you become.” – Tony Robbins

See you on the mats.


As a youth I had little appreciation for tennis. The whole system made no sense; sets, games, matches, advantages and tiebreaks. Why does the score go from 15 to 30 and then to 40? What does love have to do with it? What a silly sport for the polo-shirt class.

Over the years my perspective has changed. Understanding the scoring system, and how the match is broken down into sets of games helped me begin to realize the beauty of the game. The precision with which they can place the ball is amazing, but for me, the real beauty lies in the psychology of the game. No matter how far behind one player may fall, each successive game and set provides yet another opportunity for the comeback. The epic matches between Borg and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, and Federer and Nadal were extraordinary demonstrations of perseverance. To see those guys lose a set, only to come back and win the next, or to battle back-and-forth in extended tie-breaks, neither one willing to give up or concede the match, right up to the end was truly inspiring.

The ability to maintain “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success,” is a powerful tool in the pursuit of one’s goals. It’s easy to work towards something that requires little time or effort. However, most of the things we desire require both. A college degree, a world championship, a beautiful home, an exciting vacation, or a comfortable retirement all take a concerted effort over a long time to achieve. Over such an extended time there is ample opportunity for distractions and hurdles that can make one falter. We need to develop perseverance in order to assure success.

“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. Jeremy P Tarcher/Putnam, 1979

Training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provides the perfect “proving ground” to help us develop the ability to remain poised under pressure, both figuratively and literally. There are times in training when we find ourselves in inferior positions, trapped under larger, stronger opponents. For the uninitiated, this can be pretty intense, as one feels the pressure of being stuck, claustrophobic, and unable to do much other than wait it out, or submit. The beauty of BJJ, however, is that at some point in such situations, if a person can remain calm, and position themselves well, there will be opportunity to make an escape and change one’s fortune.

By developing our perseverance, we can weather whatever proverbial storm may come our way. Life is full of distractions and hardships, but by staying committed to our goals, regardless how difficult, we can succeed where others fail.

See you on the mats!

“I Have A Dream”

As we celebrate the man this week, it’s important to remember his message. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy should stand as a reminder to us all that regardless of race, or for that matter, any other arbitrary external measure, we all are equal in our humanity. Individuals should “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (follow this link to read, or better yet, listen to MLK’s historic address)

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

In the Korean martial art tradition, the uniform symbolized this equality. The idea was that, regardless of ones belt rank, all were students of the art and thus wore the same uniform. While a student of higher rank might be further along “the path,” and therefore have more knowledge in the art, they were reminded to appreciate the lower ranks for having the courage to start, and the tenacity to continue on the path.

While we don’t have a specific color code to our uniforms in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the moral code is the same. As practitioners, we have mutual respect for everybody willing to pursue the path we have chosen.

Training in BJJ is difficult, and anybody who’s put in an extended time on the mat knows this as undeniable fact. It is physically and emotionally demanding, requiring not only extraordinary physical output, but taxing your psyche as well. Learning to cope with winning & losing, fighting from uncomfortable positions, and retaining your composure under duress, all add up to a psychological workout like no other.

It is also a challenge to make the time to train. Most of us have lives off the mat and must work our training schedule into our lives, working around school, our jobs, and our families. To train regularly and consistently, while still maintaining our other obligations as family members and citizens is a task of herculean proportions.

It is important to note that, while we train to develop skills which can destroy, we train in a manner that strengthens both ourselves and our partners. In order for each of us to pursue excellence, we need excellent training partners. If we injured or “beat down” every soul who chose to train, we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goals. This necessity further reinforces the supportive culture we have on the mat.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Anybody is welcome to join our ranks. Regardless one’s color, creed, or station in life, if you have the courage to try, the willingness to commit, and the strength to continue, you are always welcome.

Happy New Year!

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 are you committed to for 2018?

Holiday Schedule

We wish you and yours Happy Holidays! We will have a limited schedule at our Roseville location during the Holiday season. For any adult members who just can’t wait until the 29th, we will have some “open mat” style workouts at the following times:

  • Thursday (12/21) @ 6:30 – 7:45
  • Friday (12/22) @ 6:00 – 7:15
  • Tuesday (12/26) @ 6:30 – 7:45
  • Wednesday (12/27) @ 6:00 – 7:15

Holiday Schedule 2017

If you need to get a little more mat time, you are welcome to attend classes at the Sacramento location. (4837 Auburn Blvd, Sacramento, CA 95841) Here’s a link to their schedule. They will be closed 12/24 – 12/25 and 12/31 – 1/1 for regular classes, but will hold an open mat from 10:00-12:00 on 12/24 and 12/31.

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



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!