Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Latest and Greatest ...

There are some out there who may remember when the highly entertaining and very talented boxer, Prince Naseem, became world champion. Naseem was a cocky fighter, to say the least, and used to fight much of the time with his hands down next to his hips, or even, behind his back. His style was based on his immense (Ali-like) skill at slipping, bobbing, weaving and using unusual angles to avoid punches. Entertaining? Yes. Fundamental boxing? Hardly. 

And here is where the problem lies … not for Naseem; but for those who were starting out in boxing and were trying to emulate his methods.

Today, we have more information at our fingertips than at any other time in history. With all that Youtube and other forms of media can offer, it is difficult for the novice to keep everything in perspective. Once upon a time, when we wanted to learn Boxing, Karate, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, TKD or Kung Fu … we had to seek out an instructor who (hopefully) would instill in us a good grounding of the fundamentals, before moving on to more advanced techniques and concepts. Now though, we can see a world champion using his favorite technique on Youtube, and make the mistake of thinking ‘well … it’s good enough for him – and he’s world champion – so it must be just what I need to do myself’. Clearly, this kind of thinking is very flawed!

The latest and greatest technique that this or that ‘champion’ has used in competition, may be the result of decades of training; it may be exactly what that champion needs to do, to counter his highly skilled opponent’s strategy – in other words – it has it’s place; but that place should in no way be confused with what is needed to create a good, workable set of basic skills.

We do have a tendency, to want to ‘get there’; a desire to ‘arrive’, to ‘achieve’ our goals. This is why it’s easy to look at those we wish to emulate and ‘do’ what they are doing; thinking that this will get us ‘there’ sooner. 

The actuality is this – we also need to walk the path; we need to walk the same path that our ‘heroes’ have walked, if we want to achieve the things they have achieved. And yes, we should be able, with the right guidance, avoid some of the pitfalls that our heroes had to deal with, after all, we sometimes have the luxury of being forewarned – but we still need to ‘do the work’. 

The owner of Red Corner Gym in Coventry (UK) once remarked to me, after Prince Naseem won the world title, kids were coming in to the gym fighting with their hands down by their sides. He told me more kids were getting knocked out then, that at any other time in recent history. I am sure it was a surprise to many of them; after all, their hero was fighting that way – and winning world titles no less.

What they failed to understand (those unfortunate who found themselves lying on the canvas) was that Prince Naseem has trained classic boxing for many years (with his hands held up and protecting his face) before mastering his ‘hands down’, slipping and awkward angle oriented style.

We can liken the idea to playing music perhaps, or painting, or cooking. We need to start out with a solid grounding in the fundamentals before we can legitimately and effectively let go of ‘the rules’ and take a more creative approach. There is a large difference between a monkey dabbing random strokes on a canvas and someone who has had decades of fine art experience making the transition into the abstract. 

So before embarking on a mission to copy the ‘latest and greatest’ thing; perhaps we should ask, have we done enough work on the mainstream fundamentals yet. Everything has it’s place – and remember this; the race is long’. 

Final thought ... Don't try to model the end result ... model the behaviour that led to that result.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

A mind stretched ...

Someone once said ‘A mind stretched by a new idea never gains it’s original shape’. 

I love diving into a new training idea. Over the past thirty years of BJJ training, I have had the pleasure of doing so, many, many times. 

I recall with fondness, being guided down many a rabbit-hole …Crucifix, Half-guard, Spider-guard, Omoplata, ect, etc. Quite often, it was my second or third excursion that ultimately revealed just how far a particular rabbit-hole went. 

My first introduction to the world of leg locks was through my coach Rigan Machado, who back in 1993, was preparing to compete in both the National and World Sambo Championships. We spent a couple of months working on various entries, transitions and combinations of leg-bars, foot-locks and heel-hooks. It was early on in my BJJ training; I was a purple belt at the time.

Recently I have taken another excursion down that particular rabbit-hole; this time with the help of Reilly Bodycomb, a Sambo and BJJ instructor who specialises in the ‘leg’ game. And again, the trip was both fun and enlightening.

As a young martial artist, I was never satisfied with ‘status quo’ that traditional martial arts offered. I always craved more; I always wondered what was over the next rise, what was just around the corner, what others were doing in strange and foreign lands. 

I think that we are explorers at heart. Almost every one of us, at least when we were kids, couldn’t help but wonder what was over that hill, around that corner, etc. Sadly though, for many, life gets in the way and our old explorer hat get’s lost amidst a pile of bills, and the stresses of day-to-day work. 

Training, at least for me, takes me once again into that magical world of uncertainty and discovery. What’s not to love about that?

  • JBW

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

We evolve ...

As life unfolds - we all change. 
Out reasons for doing the things we do, also change.

When I began my martial arts training, I trained in the hope I would develop magical powers that would see me prevail over the bullies that were making my life a living hell.

My training continued because I liked the feeling of confidence that came with my gradual development as a martial artist. I enjoyed feeling of being more sure of myself; I wanted to walk upright in the world.

Later on I wanted to be emulate some of my martial arts heroes; I saw them for more than what they actually were, and felt if I could be like them, that I would live an extraordinary life.

Later still, I continued training for the pure challenge of it. If it wasn’t easy, I was drawn to it. The puzzle of it all fascinated me. The more deeply I delved, the more I discovered; and quite abruptly, I realised that it was the intellectual challenge that really fascinated me.

Nowadays I train for a set of reasons that differ greatly from those that initially drove me. 

I love the puzzles. I love drawing analogies between the complexity of martial arts training/learning/study and the living of life. I love creating order out of chaos. I love designing structured training models. I love leading others to learning and to an understanding of things. I love seeing things; noticing details, and revelling in the process of discovery. I love achieving outcomes through the art of teaching. I love the opportunity of being able to effect positive changes in how people view and live their lives through the sharing some of my own more meaningful discoveries. 

As we go through life we all change, grow and evolve; and although many of us may be fortunate enough to maintain a passionate pursuit throughout the course of our lifetime, our reasons for entertaining those pursuits will also change and evolve over time. There is wonderful joy in change. 


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Stress ... the way forward!

Stress is not good - it’s the stress-response that is good!

When we place stress on our musculature, we are uncomfortable - it doesn’t feel good. But then the brain/body does it’s adaptation-thing and our musculature changes (e.g.: gets stronger) in order to cope with that stress when it comes again. 

The same goes for all kinds of biological (also read: neurological) stimuli … we get a small dose of that vaccine (disease) and it triggers a response that builds/improves our immune system (immune response). When people talk crap about you on the internet, over time you develop an immune response, and become more emotionally robust. 

On the mat, we get squashed, arm-barred, choked - but over time, develop the ability to stave off these things and survive - even prevail. What was once extraordinarily ‘uncomfortable’ becomes ‘palatable’. We develop ‘toughness’. 

In short, you need a dose of the ‘bad stuff’ in order to get the ‘good stuff’. So next time, you experience discomfort/stress, remember, that you are essentially an ‘adaptive’ machine - and the ‘good’ stuff will soon follow.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Choice follows on the heels of knowledge

The more information we have the more choice we have. Knowledge is ‘potential power’; having specific knowledge about a thing does not, in an of itself, guarantee that we make progress or improve our lot; we still need to take action and do something; but having knowledge gives us a larger pool of resources from which to draw; in short, it gives us more choice.

Choice is wonderful things; something that many of us take for granted. Most of us have a choice in where we live, what clothes we wear and what food we want to eat … all choices that are not available to many other people on this planet. 

Most of us are born into circumstances that allow for a plentitude of choice. But, so much more is available (again, largely due tot he circumstances of where and when we were born) to us; we can learn more about almost any topic we wish to become more expert in; and very often, that opportunity to learn comes at virtually zero cost.

Learning is exciting - it can be a lot of fun - it is something that comes naturally to children and is often seen as a chore to adults. The trick is to see it for what it really is - an opportunity for self-improvement. And it’s right there - every day; right on front of us. 

  • JBW

Monday, May 09, 2016

What made all the difference ...

On the mat: Realising the importance of ‘process’ and ‘paying attention to detail’. To realise any goal, we need to work a ‘process’ and each step in any process is vital to achieving the next. Keeping our attention focussed on the end-game or goal is a sure-fire way to miss the step-by-step detail of the process we need to follow, to get there. The steps of a process are like pixels in a photo - the more steps, the higher the resolution.
The dark arts (money stuff): Understanding the importance of delaying gratification.The main difference between rich and poor is the ability to delay gratification in anticipation of greater rewards down the road. As the old saying goes - “Don’t eat your seed-corn”. And if you insist on having it all right now - remember this - Debt is just delayed poverty. it’s not about how much you earn - it’s about how you utilise what you earn in a smart way.
Relationships: Without doubt the single most important decision you can make in life is in deciding/choosing who to spend it with. The right person should be a ‘partner’ - in that they bring things to the table that you cannot - and vice versa. The right person should be your best friend. You should feel that when you are with the right person you are a better version of yourself than you otherwise would be.
Perspective: We have one life to live. it is amazing that we are even here. Consider this: every single one of your ancestors (running back to the beginning of life on this planet) succeeded in staying alive, long enough to procreate. Wow! And so, he we stand; the result of a mathematical miracle ... and time continues to pass; the sand runs through the hourglass as I write this, and as you read it. What we exchange those precious grains of sand for, is a very, very important decision. You cannot get even one grain of sand back, once it has fallen. Spent each and every one wisely.
Who we hang with: In deciding who we spend time with, we shape our lives and the way they are likely to unfold. Be discerning; choose wisely. - JBW

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Acta non Verba ..

Changing the opinion and belief of others via the use of reason and evidence (or violence for that matter) is a surprisingly ineffective strategy. One would think that reason and evidence were an obvious way to get our point across … after all, w;re all open (even hopeful) of having our minds changed, right? Wrong!
People will fight tooth and nail for their beliefs and ideologies. Reason and evidence are like jabs and fakes; they set the scene but are rarely responsible for the coup de grace.
I think we change opinion through actions - not words. And I don’t think this is any way a new idea … consider the old latin saying ‘Acta non Verba’ - actions not words.
We set example though our behaviours; by how we live. Are we congruent in the way we live; do our actions match our words?
This is one of life’s worthy goals - to bring our actions and the way we live into complete harmony with the words that come out of or mouths (keyboards).
If we are spouting words like integrity and honour, while we are undermining others - we are living a lie. If we are talking about generosity and respect, while we are tight-fisted and bad-mouthing others - we are living a lie. If we talk about excellence, whilst we are sloppy and unmindful in our day-to-day living - we are living a lie.
The goal is simple … more congruence equals better living. Work toward a life where words and actions are in full accord.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Change Can Suck ...

I have found that creating change in other people can be difficult. Reasoned argument rarely works when discussing politics, religion or even philosophy. People are mostly, very wedded to their ideologies and will becoming very creative or even violent, in defence of those ideologies. This should come as no real surprise however, when we stop to think how difficult it is to create change for our very selves. Most of us are loathe to change.

I am theorising that change is difficult because for most of our ancestors, trying new things would have come at a significant cost. Eating that new food was risky, meeting that new tribe was risky, moving to that new environment was risky. So we have a little voice inside us, that for a very, very long time has been whispering - stay where you are, don’t try anything new - stick with what worked for you yesterday. 

In short, there is often a heavy price-tag for taking risks. 

On the mat, this can also be true. Try a new technique; have it fail, get smashed in return. Go back to what we were doing before (old routines)

But let’s stop for a moment and consider this question … what is the ‘actual’ price-tag of trying something new? Well, nowadays, you can pretty much bet that if you try a new food you buy in the supermarket - you will not die a horrible death as a consequence. So the price tag is small. 

On the mat, you try a new move, it goes badly and your opponent taps you out .. hey, not heavy bad price-tag; cheap in fact. A little ego bruising is all - if that; if you care enough. So next time, you think about creating a new direction, trying something new … consider the price tag - consider how small it might actually be. And go for it! - JBW

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

In … over our head

When I was in my 7th year of school - I underwent a very extensive IQ testing program, the end result of which, saw me installed in a special class. My dad was all excited about this - and so was I - for a bit. We were exposed to Astronomy, High level math, English, French, Italian and Latin … all compulsory languages we needed to learn; etc. 

Most of it I found easy - except for the math. I struggled badly at math - I would have to say, I sucked. I just didn’t ‘get it’. I resorted to ‘memory tricks’ to fumble my way through - but I was ‘miserable’! I began to think they had stuffed up the IQ test - and I shouldn’t have been in that class at all. 

But here’s the main point - if we don’t like the subject matter, or have no interest in it, then a high IQ may not help much at all. In fact, it could be argued that a higher IQ gives us a greater potential for regretting under-achievement; or for being able to rationalise why that particular subject is of no use to us … that was at least, my own experience. I still struggle with math - partly because I don’t seem to have any gift for it and also because I find no ‘joy’ in it. I run from math problems. On a side note - I cannot ‘draw’ to save my life either … completely useless. But I do run toward certain other challenges. 

Let’s look at a corollary the mat; one that plays out in so many BJJ academy’s …

Someone with little to no skill, is thrown in the deep-end on the day of their first class. If they have a natural kinaesthetic bent, great spatial awareness, co-ordination, ect … they will probably thrive. On the other hand, if these are not abilities they posses, they may struggle - they may even be ‘miserable’ … and ultimately quit.

Many schools do not offer a ‘start-up’ , Introductory or Novice class - and this may be due to logistical constraints. If they do cater for beginners though, then it’s a wonderful situation for the students, they can all dip their toes in the water, without fear of drowning, and slowly build the foundation needed to experience success in the more challenging environments/classes. 

We are all different - we are all unique - each of us will ultimately walk their own individual path. Some are 'naturals' at this thing, but struggle at that other thing. In recognising this ... perhaps we can move away from being so hard on ourselves - so self-critical, that we start buying into the idea that we cannot achieve. Walk easily ... the road is long ... and full of possibility. - JBW

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Entitlement ... nope.

I rail against those who live with a sense of entitlement. We are entitled to very little - if anything. Living in hope that the state or the government will look after us, is the way of the mindless lemming. We need to create our own lives, think for ourselves, come to our own conclusions visa the use of reason and evidence.
We each have the opportunity to carve our own niche in the world. 'Just keep plowing that filed and giving us your money and God will look after you' said the medieval priest - and the largest part of the population bought right into it. And now - it's the government - 'Just keep plowing that field, and give us your money, and we'll look after you' the state says - and people are buying right into it again.
Fat priests, fat politicians ... same old same old. We all have potential and opportunity; and when coupled with a will to do something, we can live extraordinary lives - better lives than have been ever possible in human history. We cannot afford to sit back with our hands out waiting to be given stuff we think we deserve. We need to move, think, create and strive ... that's how good living is done. - JBW
"Deserve's got nothin to do with it" - Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven
"The only thing you deserve, is what you earn" - JBW

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Planning ...

The deferral of gratification is one of the hallmarks of intelligence. Probably stemming from an evolutionary imperative experienced by early migrations of humans into colder climes ... they had to 'save' some of their food for winter, plan, work co-operatively for future outcomes, etc.

So I wince when I look around and realise i am surrounded by the 'I want it now' ethos (as beautifully illustrated by the obnoxious Veruca Salt - in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory).

Planning - whether for a time that lies only a few seconds in to the future (as on the mat) - for a time that may lie a year or two into the future (saving for something we want) - or a time twenty years into the future (retirement strategies) ... is very important. It is one of the things that separates us from the 'less intelligent'.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Behind the curtain ...

We choose. We decide. We look around us, at others, we select those that are successful and we might well make the decision to emulate them. We pick 'role models'.
Great care should be taken however - in who we select as 'role models'. On the surface, some people people may look like the type we might wish to emulate - but when we look deeper - when we lift the curtain - we find ourselves disappointed.
Consider how we worship 'celebrities' - we lap up their lives, in an effort to feed our souls and dream that we may be like them - yet when we look more closely and apply critical thinking ... we see that more often than not, it's a nightmare we are leaning toward, rather than a dream.
Aspire to 'lifting the curtain', I say ... look beyond the glitter, the salesmanship, the 'production' ... become more discerning about who we want to 'model'. - JBW

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Starting Out - The Jiu Jitsu ocean

When people begin their journey in the BJJ world, they often feel a sense of frustration and helplessness – it’s my guess that most of the ones who keep going are the ones who recognise that others are feeling the same way – and besides, they look around and see proof that others have acquired real and demonstrable skills and therefore it might only be a matter of time before they too will acquire these skills.

I have had a lot of students over the years, ask for advice and direction on how they should proceed in the formative years of their training … and although everyone develops slightly differently (there is no specific cookie-cutter approach), there is a way to look at it that makes sense and seems to help a little …

How do we start – the answer is easy: one position at a time. We choose a position that we think is attainable (it may be the guard, sider control, mount … whatever) and we focus on getting there from as many situations as we can. We focus first on getting there – and then we focus on being able to maintain that position. Once we can get there, and keep it – we begin to build attack skills from there.

A simple analogy I sometimes use is to liken the start to being dropped onto a world that is entirely covered by water – you start treading water, learning to float until off on the horizon and island emerges. You make your way to the island – and once there, you are much, much better off – after a while, the island becomes familiar ground.

Eventually, other islands appear, some bigger than others, each offering unique opportunities. as we become more familiar with other islands, and we begin to develop the skill to get from one to the next, the world becomes a much more inhabitable place. Eventually, much of the water becomes replaced by familiar ground – although we may find ourselves in deep water from time to time, we are never that far from dry land.

BJJ is just like this – it takes time, it takes effort but eventually you mostly find yourself inhabiting familiar ground. So for those starting out on their BJJ journey – although you might be treading water right now – it won’t be long before you spot your very first island on the horizon. Everyone starts this way - you are not alone.


Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Seeing the Invisible ...

I have long since developed a habit of looking at what instructors are doing rather than just listening to what they were saying. This is for a number of reasons but one of the main ones is that more often than not, many of my instructors spoke little or no English. So I learned to look. But that’s not the interesting thing!

Here’s what I have come to notice over three decades of martial arts LEARNING:

Virtuoso’s (the people we often try to emulate) DO NOT start out being Virtuoso’s. They start out with basic skill-sets like everyone else. 

They come up with simple – non Virtuostic (is that even a word?) descriptions for how they do their thing – before they become the Virtuoso’s that we admire. Then they evolve, the improve, they reach their Virtuoso status – and then – AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM – they continue to describe how they do their thing with their OLD AND AND PERHAPS EVEN OUTDATED DESCRIPTION. Yikes! How inconsiderate of them.

It has been my observation, that very, very few people EVOLVE their description (their: ‘HOW TO’) of what they do at the same pace as their actual technique. In fact, if I listen to their INSTRUCTION – I see that it oftens bears little resemblance to what they are ACTUALLY doing. This can be frustrating for many people. 

One of the most skills we can acquire is to get better at unravelling what the Virtuoso’s do; pry it apart to gain understanding - and help others better understand it also.

it’s so great to see others - dare I say … ordinary people achieve above-ordinary skills. I derive immense joy from having people shift from ordinary and cursory practice – to extraordinary and insightful practice.


Monday, April 04, 2016

Leverage ...

Many martial arts systems, BJJ in particular, are built on an understanding and application of the principles of leverage. What does this mean though?

For years I thought I could answer that question – but the more I knew, the more aware I became that I didn’t really know. So let me take you through a sped-up version of how I came to understand what I currently know about leverage …

Firstly, I knew the word. I could use the word ‘Leverage’ in a sentence that made sense. At this point, I had absolutely no idea of what it really mean’t. I had some vague picture in my head of a guy trying to move the earth with a giant lever – who knows what he was using as a fulcrum, or where he was standing at the time???

Then, at some point, I realised that leverage had to do with ‘levers’. Slowly, ever so slowly, it dawned on me that the art of applying leverage was about achieving a lot with a little, about moving a larger object with a smaller object through some arcane use of these things called levers.

After quite a long time (in BJJ practice) I began to understand that the levers we are using (in that art) are in actual fact – the bones. I began to understand that in trying to move an elbow, I was pulling or pushing on the end of a lever known as the ‘humerus’. I also began to realise that if we wanted to move a lever, we had to apply the force to the ‘end’ of it – and not the middle of it. Basic stuff I know – but still, I admit this took me a long time to truly understand.

Slowly I began to understand how to more effectively apply force to, and move, the levers that were the opponents ‘bones’ – on the mat. My Jiu Jitsu life became easier.

Now, if we get that leverage is ultimately about getting a maximal result from a minimal effort – then it becomes easier to look at the broader aspects of our lives ‘off the mat’ and seek out opportunities to apply leverage there – in our relationships, with our finances, in fly-fishing for trout, etc. Are we getting the best result for the effort we are putting in?

I hope so – because this is a natural application of one of the skills we learn on the mat – at work in the larger part of our life. Leverage …. so much more, than just a word.


Black Mice & Happy Accidents

How do new techniques evolve? I see techniques evolving two different ways; firstly, they can be designed through the process of intellect; that is, we can deliberately build them, correcting and modifying as we go – or they can be stumbled upon and evolve through what I call the process of ‘happy accident’.
To understand the happy accident concept – we need to understand how the evolutionary process works in nature. To explain this process (and perhaps highlight how quickly it can happen) I’ll use the example of how a mouse population might change/evolve from white to black in only a few short generations.
This example goes like this: we have a population of light colored mice living happily on the grass covered plains – a local volcano erupts, and spills large areas of black lava rock over their habitat. Now, one out of every 1000 mice, by genetic ‘accident’, is born darker colored.
This happens purely by accident, as a result of genetic mutation … but then what happens, why does the entire population of mice turn black over a few generations. The answer is provided by natural selection … in short, it goes like this: we have tens of thousands of light colored mice and a few dozen dark ones.
Because the environment changed and the landscape was now darker in color due to the volcanic lava flows, the birds who eat the mice can more easily hunt the lighter colored mice; in short time, the light population is decimated, leaving the few darker mice to breed and eventually populate the landscape.
The point of this story is to illustrate how a random accident can have a real and lasting effect on how things evolve. I believe the same sort of process is occurring on the mat all the time.
Sometimes, by pure accident, we turn left instead of right, we pull instead of pushing and something positive happens. Provided this happens with enough frequency that we take notice of it, we may decide to repeat it – and suddenly, we develop new habits and new techniques.
Sometimes, these happy accidents can have a very significant impact on how our game evolves … another reason to approach grappling practice (or anything else for that matter) with a playful mindset.
The more we ‘play’, the more ‘happy accidents’ we are likely to have … - JBW

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The BJJ Black Belt ...

I was once asked ‘what’s in a belt?’ – I flippantly answered ‘mostly cotton’. It is though, a question worth answering with a little more consideration, as it can represent so very much, or so very little depending on the school, style, mat culture, etc. So here is my take on what it means from my particular perspective.
A Black Belt represents a certain level of excellence; a departure from mediocrity, if you like. In some ways it really only denotes a commitment to a longer and deeper journey – in other ways and for many people, it serves as a final goal-post; a marker of a journey done-and-dusted; a conclusion.
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the Black Belt is referred to as Professor. The term Professor (literally: one who professes) refers to someone who openly professes a deep knowledge of his or her given subject. I don’t mind such a definition, as it goes directly to the heart of the matter – and that is, a Professor (Black Belt) should know his or her subject matter.
Knowing the subject matter, really understanding it – is the first step in being able to teach or instruct others. I doubt you could ever find a history professor who didn’t know the basic facts surrounding ‘the battle of Hastings’ or ‘the fall of the roman empire’, etc- and so we should apply the same set of standards (in my view) to the martial arts.
A BJJ professor should have some basic knowledge of a wide range of subjects, positions, guard-styles, defenses/escapes, Armbars, Kimura’s, Omoplata’s, leg attacks, takedowns, etc; if he or she doesn’t, they fall below a long-established standard.
A seventy year-old Black Belt might not have the physical dexterity, reflexes or fitness of a thirty year old, but he or she should most definitely make up for that deficit in terms of knowledge and understanding. And this again, goes to the heart of the matter – and that is ‘knowledge and understanding’.
Knowing our subject matter, as Black Belts, is something that should never be compromised; and nor is there any excuse for that to be the case. We live in a world that is replete with information; travel is easier than ever before; there are more schools to train and learn at, than ever before; the available excuses for not knowing our subject matter are fewer and fewer than ever before.
The primary task of a fledgling Black Belt is to know, deeply and fluently, his or her chosen subject matter. I call this process of learning and understanding ‘taking ownership’. A Professor (teacher) should ‘own’ their subject matter – and by this I mean they have moved through the process of ‘casual exposure’ to an idea, to ‘understanding’ it and then to finally ‘owning’ it.
A Professor should have an opinion on almost every facet of his or her chosen field – but at the same time should be open to new and ever-evolving possibilities and ideas.
I like the fact that the average journey from white belt to Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu takes around a decade. That is just enough time, in my humble opinion, to get the ‘big picture’ of what is going on and to acquire enough understanding of the many facets of the art to be able make claim to ownership and some limited expertise.
A solid Black Belt should be have a reasonable working knowledge of many areas, and not just those areas that appeal to them personally. Learning to teach is about acquiring the ability to help others make progress and develop skills and understanding and should not be limited to just good knowledge of those areas of the game that we prefer ourselves.
A history professor may have a deep personal interest in say, the European Middle Ages – but would also have some reasonable knowledge (at least I hope this would be the case) of history in general. This is also an important part of what it means to be a Black Belt (again, in my opinion).
Naturally, (perhaps sadly), there is a natural decline in standards as time goes on. Many, many instructors are motivated largely by financial rewards and as such might find themselves handing out ranks more quickly than they would if money was not involved. My friend David Meyer (USA BJJ Black Belt) calls this ‘Belt Inflation’ – meaning that as time goes on, you get less and less for your Black Belt (dollar) than once we did.
In some ways, there are some benefits to Belt Inflation; if it keeps people training longer than they otherwise would, then it could be viewed as a good thing. At the end of the day, it is all very subjective; for myself, I shall still wake up each day and swim against the prevailing trends – I am all for ‘raising the bar’ – and building a better generation than the one that I myself emerged from. This, to me, is what real teaching is all about.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My train is heading that way …

This is a topic that I have had numerous conversations about over the years; albeit mostly with instructors, rather than students. But here it is …

When I was a younger (financially desperate and less mature) martial arts instructor, I tried to be all things to all people. The more students the better right? Nope; not right!

I would like to offer this analogy to help clarify how I think now … hopefully, it might help some of you in your BJJ relationships; after all, those relationships really matter, and it often hurts when people go their separate ways.

I am very clear on who I am now. I know what is important, and what is not. I have learned a lot from a varied and interesting  life and have experienced many lessons, in many countries, at many different times of my life. Here’s how I now see the situation, in terms of instructor-student relationships …

I know exactly where my train is headed. My train is going to Denver. I know why I am going there, and how and I am going there. If there are others who also want to go that way; then they are on the train they need to be on. 

If however, they want to go to Tucson; then they need to be on a different train. My train doesn’t go to Tuscon; and it serves neither of us (student or teacher) to pretend that somehow, my train will suit their purposes.

The clearer we all are on what we want; the type of culture we want to train in; the focus we want to put on our training; the type of people we want to spend time with … then the clearer our choice will be as to which school we should be training at. 

This goes for both teacher and student alike. There are all kinds of trains, heading in all kinds of directions. And so it should be.

  • JBW

Monday, March 28, 2016

Talent ...

It is a part of my personal mission to instil people with talent. In fact, I’ll go one step further; my personal mission is to imbue ordinary people with extra-ordinary talent. Almost anyone can acquire extraordinary talent by simply putting in an extraordinary amount of time. Hit ten thousand golf balls off the tee and you’ll be able to hit a golf ball a long way; go fly-fishing 300 days a year and you’ll catch plenty of trout, guaranteed; roll on the mat for 30 hours a week and in a year or two, having done more training than most people will do in their lifetime it would be no surprise to find yourself standing on the podium.

It’s easy; time spent, equates to talent acquired. The good thing about this is that pretty much anyone can do it; anyone can achieve (within reason) most things they want; if they want it badly enough and are prepared to make Talent
The bad thing is that this precludes most people from experiencing the extraordinary. But I say, there is a middle road.

I think that extraordinary talent can be earned and achieved by being smarter in our approach to those things we want. For example; there is no need to be a fit ness fanatic and live in the gym to achieve ‘well above-average’ fitness. By doing the right kind of training, in conjunction with the right kind of diet, great results can be enjoyed without needing to give up our day-job and set up camp in the gym.

Most of us have talent at one thing or another; but developing the ability to learn effectively, I rate as one of the best talents I ever acquired. Learning ‘how to learn’ affords us the opportunity to make the most out of those opportunities that life throws our way.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Toes Together ...

The way we think influences the way we act … everyone knows this. But what is interesting to me is that the opposite also often proves to be the case … the way we act, can change and shape the way we think.

I have personally experienced this in my own life. If we act and behave a certain way - and do so consistently and over time - then our thinking can change to match that behaviour. I am sure there is some wonderful explanation for why this is the case - probably something to do with neuro-plasticity or some such thing … but it is definitely worth paying attention to.

As a BJJ instructor, I have woven this idea into my teaching methodology for a long time now. For example: when I ask my students to perform simple tasks (say during the warm-up phase of the class) I have them perform those tasks with exacting attention to detail … ‘toes together’ means ‘toes exactly together/lined up perfectly’ - rather than kind of/sort of together. 

While the alignment of our toes in this hypothetical task, is physically irrelevant; after only a short while of being asked to work in this fashion, students begin to think in ‘detail’ … they are more receptive to the concept of paying close attention to detail … they become detail ‘oriented’. 

You get the idea. 

On the mat - and so too off the mat. Leveraging into life.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Pursuit and Effects …

When we are ‘on mission’ - that is, moving with purpose toward a goal - there are many, many side effects (sometime referred to as ‘Precessional Effects’. My favourite example (from Buckminster Fuller) is the Honeybee example: the bee, in it’s pursuit of pollen, is the cause (probably unknowingly) of a hugely important side-effect that benefits the world - that is, cross-pollination of flowers - which in turn, creates more flowers - which in turn, allows the bee to collect more pollen … and so it goes.

The bottom line is this: the cross-pollination effect is not the reason the bee does it’s thing - it is just a ‘side benefit’ - even though it’s importance may seem almost immeasurable. 

Warren Buffet (great investor) probably doesn’t give much of a hoot about the silo’s of money he could spend if he chose to do so - that money is almost certainly, just a side-effect of him doing what he loves to do - playing the investment game. The playing of that game is what gets him up in the morning - not the money - for sure! Ignorant people can easily misunderstand what is really going on here - and point derisively at Buffet and ask ‘what’s an 80 year old guy doing obsessing about making even more money?’ That would be like asking the bee why it is obsessed with cross-pollinating flowers. The bee, if it could speak - would probably ask - flowers? What flowers? And what is this cross-pollination thing you speak of?’.

As students of the martial arts or any other endeavour really, we are driven to practise, train and test ourselves; but in doing so, we leave a trail of effects that ultimately, may change our lives much more than we realise.

To get better performance from our bodies, we re-structure our diet, we re-structure our social lives, we re-structure our thinking; this in turn, changes many things about how our lives will unfold as time goes by. The choices we make, not only carve a path for ourselves but they effect other people’s lives along the way. often depending on who we spend our time with - those other lives benefit from our choices and actions.


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Interesting ...

Interesting things are, well, interesting …

I like interesting people, interesting things, interesting problems and puzzles. I like the way my thinking is forced down unfamiliar pathways when I stumble across an ‘interesting’ object, an interesting situation or an interesting person. And that in itself, is interesting.

Being drawn to the interesting isn’t always the best pathway forward in a survival situation; what is that scaly, hissing thing you ask? I wonder what it feels like - you think; just seconds before it bites you on the hand. Playing with interesting things can often lead to an early death. Not a good survival trait; being intensely curious. I guess that might explain why the dull and uninterested generally lived long enough to procreate and make more uninterested and dull people. The world sure has it’s fair share of those.

But … although being intensely curious about the ‘interesting’ might have been a liability for the early-survivor (our ancient ancestors) - nowadays, this is rarely the case. 

Most of us sought out interesting things as kids - then we went to school. A bit harsh perhaps, but I remember numerous occasions where I was punished for being overly curious about what teachers said/taught? Other times I was punished for not finding things interesting enough … again, that to me is interesting in itself. I didn’t like school much - but I did love learning. The two things often seemed incompatible to me. So I made my own way instead. 

Certainly BJJ provides enough complexity and depth to be extraordinarily interesting. A never-ending supply of puzzles to solve … perhaps this is why it is so very addictive - to the right kind of people; those people who thrive on discovery, problem-solving, and who are inexorably drawn to the interesting.


Monday, March 07, 2016

The face we present to the world ...

The face we present to the world …

I cannot help but admire those people whose confidence-needle is permanently stuck on the red-line and who are bursting at the seams with self-belief and positivity. Such people, usually get stuff done; they fail big, but they win big … wringing the juice out of life is their natural state of being.

There is a fine line though, between the kind of person I have just described and the full-blown narcissist who delights in trash-talking, putting others down and who can never seem to keep their ego under wraps even when the situation calls for just that.

I am even more impressed though, by people with a beautifully honed skill or deep knowledge of a given subject, yet who walk the world wrapped in a blanket of humility. Such people respect the talents and opinions of others, are usually at peace with themselves and ultimately, (I am fairly certain) find themselves living happier and more contented lives than most.

This rare breed of human being serves as an excellent role model for others who also want to succeed, prevail and find their place in the world. I have met people like this - and when I think of them, I cannot help but be humbled.


Saturday, March 05, 2016

My crystal ball …

Over the past thirty years, I have been credited with having a pretty good crystal ball, when it came to making predictions about the martial arts landscape.

I don’t think this is actually true. My actions, make it look like I had a crystal ball; but in all honesty, even though my own choices were clear and very easy to make, I always had serious reservations as to whether others would feel the same way.

In 1984, I felt that Australia needed a martial arts magazine that, without bias, inspired and explored … I was surprised that others agreed and bought enough copies to keep me fed for three years. I

In 1985, I felt that a ‘mixture’ of stand-up, striking, takedowns and submissions were the way to go … but very surprised that others agreed and took up the cross-training/MMA approach.

In 1986, I felt that BJJ provided a piece of the fight puzzle that the majority of martial artists were happy to ignore …. but very surprised when many others  began training in the art in the latter half of the 90’s. 

In 1992, as a purple belt, I watched the first UFC and thought, this is definitely a milestone in martial arts development … but again, surprised that over the decade to follow, that so many would enthusiastically embrace the holistic approach that MMA offered.

In 1997, when I was awarded my BJJ black belt, I knew with certainty that I would teach this art, not as an adjunct to what I was already doing, but as an art in it’s own right … but was surprised again, the over the next two decades, it arguably evolved into the fastest growing martial arts style on the planet.

I was, it seems in retrospect, happy to follow my own instinct when it came to my crystal-ball gazing - but uncertain as to whether others would see and feel about things the same way as I did. 


Thursday, March 03, 2016

Inch by Inch

Inch by inch is how progress is done. Hanging our hopes on a lottery ticket - wanting to hit the goal without working the 'steps' - reading 'the secret' and hoping the 'universe will manifest your dreams for you' ... these are the hopes of the desperate. Recognising that we make our most meaningful gains an inch at a time, is a very, very big deal. Here's an old shot of me doing some rock-climbing (way back when) - that particular wall is most definitely 'solved' an inch at a time. Progress is progress - no matter what measuring stick we use. JBW