Thursday, November 13, 2014

Comparisons ...

We often look at others through a set of eyes that only sees the ‘highlight reel’. In fact, a good friend of mine said this the other day ‘We tend to compare our ‘lows’ with other peoples ‘high’s’. Nicely put! I think this is true - both on an off the mat. Personally, I think that constantly comparing ourselves to others is not a very healthy way to live our lives. We each occupy the universe in our own way, often to the best of our abilities, often also at the mercy of a certain amount of luck (both good and bad). Some of us, create our own luck to an extent, and break free from the shackles of our environments or circumstances - most though, do not! But still, we all live - and strive to be happy and fulfilled as we try to improve our circumstances. We can learn from others - for sure - of course - (necessary perhaps) … but comparing ourselves to others in a way that highlights our struggle can only lead to unhappiness (envy even). Remember, everyone (in some way) struggles. We tend to judge others by their victories and successes and ourselves by our shortcomings. To quote fro the poem Desiderata … ‘If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” 

- JBW 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

It takes two to tango ...

When we first begin our BJJ adventure - it seems quite natural to try our best to inflict our will on our opponent. What we lack in technique and strategy, we try to make up for with strength and athleticism. As we progress through the ranks and gain understanding, we begin to ‘swap out’ some of that reliance on strength and athleticism for technique and strategy. This comes with the realisation that although we might have our own ‘agenda’ - so too, does our opponent; and we need to respect and understand that! Of course, we all want to apply our technique and ultimately, attack our opponent - but it is very important to understand that he/she has exactly the same thing in mind. We need to be of two minds - one part of us attends to what our opponent is trying to do to us - and the other part is constantly on the lookout for the opportunity to do do what we want to do to them. Defence and Attack go hand in hand - as one student of mine puts it ‘Rolling is a conversation … not an argument’. It takes two to tango! JBW

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Concerning Rank ...

Martial arts rank can be a funny thing. It is a thing that some stow much importance on - whilst others - give it little weight at all. Although it can be seen as recognition of ‘time served’ - there is so much variance between styles and what ‘time served’ actually means - that it is really difficult, if not impossible, for people to agree on any kind of standardisation. From my own perspective (holding black belt ranks in several styles) - some hold little to no meaning for me - whilst others, I do place significant value on. At the end of the day, it really comes down to how I conduct myself on the martial arts landscape and in the wider world in which I live - that actually matters. One of my favourite latin sayings ‘Acta - non verba’ cuts to the very heart of it … what we do is what counts, rather than what we say. BJJ is not an art that gives up rank easily - a BJJ black belt is something earned only by those prepared to undertake an extraordinary effort. A BJJ athlete is tested in each and every session - the lessons to be learned are countless in number - the black belt isn’t something one can hide behind (it offers little, if any, sanctuary) … but it is worthwhile, in the extreme. This year, being awarded my fifth degree BJJ Black Belt by professor Rigan Machado, was a bit of a shock. I find myself in sparse company, there being only a couple of other non-Brazilian nationals to have been awarded that rank (Bob Bass and Chris Haueter being two others in the USA). What I do recognise is this, Bob, Chris and I do all share a commonality - apart from the obvious quarter of century or more in the study and practise of the art we all love - and it is this: we are all ‘students’ at heart. We all remain intensely curious about and invested in, the un-ending evolution of BJJ - whilst still being capable of extracting great satisfaction from mining ever-deeper into the fundamental principles and underlying concepts which support the art at it’s very foundation; we all love to solve problems; we love to find connections between aspects of the art that previously seemed unconnected; we love to train, to explore and above all else - we love to learn. We got together earlier this year and although we hadn’t seen each other for quite a few years - it was as if we had sweated on the mat together only yesterday. So no matter where you find yourself on the BJJ/Ranking ladder - know this - we are all undertaking the same journey - we all share the same frustrations, the same trial, tribulations and the same sense of wonder. Rank, in most instances, just indicates how long we have journeyed to date … respect to those ahead of us … respect top those behind! JBW

Thursday, October 30, 2014

professor ... not master!

In BJJ - the Black Belt is commonly referred to as a professor; the original and still most common interpretation of which, simply means ‘teacher’. I don’t mind that. Certainly, when people refer to me as ‘master’ - I reel back in abject horror. No master am I.

Actually, I consider myself a student, first and foremost. A student with more experience than many others, perhaps - and therefore I try to ‘teach’ - to help and advise others who are partaking of the same journey. But ‘master’? No! Emphatically - no! I leave that title to others. Some deserving - some very, very much undeserving! JBW

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

updating the software ...

The advent of MMA has had several large effects on the martial arts landscape.
Some of these effects are good, whilst others (in my opinion) are bad!

I have long been a fan of trying to ‘connect’ up the various elements of the combative arts to produce something more holistic and well-rounded; this has been my inclination from as early as the late 70’s. In short, I do like the MMA approach, from a technical/strategic perspective … what I do not like is the fact that many schools seem to have lost something in the process. Whilst the more traditional martial arts styles might not be as practical and effective, they did instil very important values along the way; values like, respect for each other, good manners, consideration for others, etc. I very much like those aspects of the martial arts. So the problem, as I see it is this, some schools have thrown the computer out, in an effort to update … rather than just updating the software. Throwing the baby out with the bath-water is classic mistake - one that, if we are not careful, is very easy to make. JBW

Monday, October 27, 2014

The recipe of 'us' ...

Some of our direction comes from looking outward … we see others who embody aspects of what we wish to embody ourselves - and we emulate. There are others though, who serve as examples of the kinds of people we do not wish to emulate - such people motivate us to be ‘unlike’ them. And then lastly, there is something we can find within ourselves, something unique, something that we can’t find easily in the external world - that drives us in a certain direction. That perhaps, may be the most important ingredient of all. 

So we can look around, find role models that we wish to emulate - identify others that serve as examples of the kind of person we do not want to emulate - and finally we look within and listen to our own inner-voice. All three approaches bring something to the recipe … the recipe of us. JBW

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Being vs having

Having a black belt and becoming a black belt are two different things. You can always buy one - and you have it! But having a Black Belt doesn’t necessarily mean someone IS a Black Belt. Same goes for life way away from the mat - we can strive to HAVE, HAVE, HAVE … I know people like this … but in the end, their HAVING doesn’t in any way guarantee them happiness. I think we should strive to BE!
BEING … is real; it springs from within … it simply IS! 

BEING …  doesn’t shout, wave or cry ‘look at me’ … is is a state, rather than an affectation. We are not apart from nature - our place is within nature … and when we look at everything else in nature … it just IS. The need to HAVE is a trick of the ego … it offers a lot but delivers so little. JBW

Friday, October 24, 2014

Winning ...

Winning can be rewarding. People like winning. People also very often misunderstand what so-called ‘losing’ is really about. Situations in which we lose are just trial runs - and this is where the real learning is done. And here’s a question worth pondering … what does winning really mean?

I like winning at life. That’s the real game. How is the whole thing travelling? How do we put all the parts together to create a picture worth having. I know many so-called ‘champions’ - who may have won gold medals, world titles, etc … but whose lives are pretty much dysfunctional. I have seen such people living in a crumby one-bedroom apartment, with their broken down car sitting in the driveway, no worthwhile relationships to speak of, unhappy with their lot while complaining how others have been more lucky, etc … all the time staring at their belt and medals collection in a cabinet beside their TV. Yikes! In fact, triple yikes! Win at life - that is the only game that counts. And there are many faces of the game … learn to have balance, learn to understand and shore up weaknesses … the strengths will take care of themselves. JBW

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Rollercoaster ...

In our training - both on and off the mat - the journey unfolds like a roller-coaster ride. We have our up’s and we have our downs … of most of us, this is just the reality. But again, for most of us (anyone reading this at least) - even the ‘downs’ are representations of a far better situation than that which most of the worlds population is experiencing. Our ‘downs’ would be countless other people’s ‘peaks’. Perspective is sometimes a difficult thing to behold.

If you are going through a ‘low’ period in your training, use that time to square away some fundamentals - get your ‘ducks in a row’ - then when things improve you will be better prepared to make the most of it. There are ‘seasons’ for all things … winter is inevitably followed by spring. The only question usually is this: can you go the distance? Perspective will help you do so. JBW

Monday, October 20, 2014

The spotlight of attention ...

Our attention is like a spotlight. Unfortunately though, it is often drawn to things that make us feel bad/stressful, etc … the trick is in understanding that ultimately, we are in charge of pointing that spotlight anywhere we like. Here’s something that has helped me on more than one occasion… when you feel bad/upset/hurt … force the spotlight of your attention onto something else other than the thing that is causing you to be unhappy. Expend the energy doing something that will move your life forward and improve things in some other area … this way you will heal more quickly; and the bonus is that you get some gain/benefit that otherwise might well have missed out on. JBW

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fuzzy Goals ...

The concept of fuzzy goals has always come naturally to me. I have never been one for fixating upon a clearly defined goal. Rather, I tend to begin with a rough - fuzzy - idea of what I want or where I want to be and I begin taking small steps in that direction. By keeping my goal ‘fuzzy’ - I am forced to keep my attention on the step I am taking right now - rather than on something that doesn’t exist yet. Also, the fuzziness of my goals allows for a lot of flexibility and adaptation to circumstance. As I have made my way toward my fuzzy goals - I have very often come across an even better goal … in itself, fuzzy. I have always been about the ‘process’ - and that is where I keep my attention. When I first started bushwalking/hiking some thirty years ago - my tendency was to take a straight-ish line toward my eventual destination; and this more often than not, proved to be impractical. There were lakes, swamps, rocky ground, cliffs, etc … that stood in my way. Eventually I learned to  follow the contours, use the little animal tracks, and circumvent the obstacles. The route might have been a little longer but I would arrive where I wanted to go, much more easily and often quicker than I otherwise would have. And again, quite often, I would find something even better along the way … keep the goals fuzzy; work the process. JBW

Monday, October 13, 2014

Authenticity ...

To strive toward authenticity is an admirable pursuit!

Being authentic will mean different things to different people; but to me it is largely about being congruent. What we do, what we say, how we behave, how we live - all beginning to align. We can never please everyone - this is an impossibility. There are those who will love us for our congruence - there are those who will despise us for it. But in being congruent - in being authentic - we carve for ourselves a much clearer course into the future. Being congruent - being authentic - requires effort, attention, discipline and a willingness to admit to our faults - and a desire to make ongoing course corrections so that the various aspects of our being begin to more closely align. So on the mat - and so too in life. JBW

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Some ways to look at BJJ ...

There are many ways to look at things. From the wider perspective - as if from above, taking in the big picture. From a narrow-deep-focussed perspective - scrutinising and analysing details and nuances that normally go unnoticed. From an inter-connectedness perspective - seeing how they interact or intersect with other things. From a personal perspective - looking at how how they interact on our own lives and the lives of others. These are just a few examples …

We can look at BJJ … in one, some or all of these ways (and others) to enjoy some level of understanding of it. 

Let’s look at it using the lens (as suggested) in my first example: from the wider perspective …

It may help to think of BJJ as a kind of a tree or bush. We can visualise any particular element of it (say ‘omaplata’) for example - as if it started out as a seed. That is, there was a singular idea (or application) of omaplata that first ‘took hold’. More than likely, that first seed or idea/application was a fairly robust one, as it had to ‘take root’ and grow/develop/evolve into the myriad of forms/applications/set-ups/variations that we see expressed at this present time.
So to put it simply - there was a ‘first omaplata’ - a first ‘spider guard’ application - a first ‘closed guard technique’, etc. 

Any such ‘seeds’ - if sufficiently robust - and planted in a sufficiently rich environment, can grow, develop and eventually blossom into a ‘tree’ in their own right. This is how BJJ was developed. (and cooking, and architecture for that matter)

And so, if we back away and look from afar (and through time) we see BJJ as a large and highly complex tree - with many branches, sub-branches, sub-sub-branches and so on …. sprouting new buds (and potentially new branches) at many points throughout it’s complex structure.

Prune it back if you like (a good exercise) - or graft some new ideas onto an existing branch - taste some of the fruit or just climb around and through it’s branches … there are satisfying pursuits aplenty - for all of us. JBW

Saturday, October 04, 2014

With a little help from my friends ...

The Beatles were right … with a little help from our friends - we can TRY - we can GET BY!

Jiu Jitsu cannot be practised alone - we need each other to make progress. And so it is in life. We are social animals; we may test ourselves against each other, compete with one another but ultimately it is the dance between each other that allows us to learn, grow, improve and develop. When we have an authentic respect for our training partners, and the vital role they play in our own development - we will not only be happier in our practice - but they will be too! JBW

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Glass half full ....

Imagine … easy for most of us - that we are stuck under side control. We feel the pressure of our opponent - we feel restricted, controlled, trapped. Automatically, our mind snaps to focus on the problems - the bits that we cannot move - the drama! This is the natural tendency for most people - i.e: to focus on the problem. I suggest trying to cultivate the polar-opposite response. Instead of focussing on the problem - ask yourself this question: what part of us is ‘free’ - what CAN we move? Focussing on our remaining resources, rather than those that have been taken from us, is a real key to becoming better at escapes. Not that I am advocating this - BUT - imagine grabbing a cat by one leg - it doesn’t sit there bemoaning the fact that one of it’s legs is restricted - no hesitation at all, it’s remaining resources go into action. This is an effective strategy both on and off the mat. It is easy to become overly focussed on the dramas that life throws at us, rather than shifting our attention to all the great things we have going on in our lives. Shifting our attention from the negative to the positive, from what we cannot do to what we can do, from the annoyances to the delights - is simply, a better way to live. JBW

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wherever you are ...

Wherever you ARE is exactly where you need to be. 
I learned this on the mat - where I have learned much of the tenets and concepts on which I have based my life. 

There was a time when I only enjoyed being in dominant positions when I ‘rolled’. If I had mount position, knee ride, side control, north south, etc - I was happy - when I was the one being controlled in those positions, I was unhappy. This was definitely an unhealthy outlook. The truth is this: very situation provides us with a learning opportunity. We become adept at solving problems by being presented with them. This is true both on and off the mat. Wherever you are is exactly where you need to be. JBW

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The harsh light of day ...

My approach to martial arts training has always been tempered by a need to marry it with some level of functionality. When I was younger, I was only interested in functionality. If it wasn’t relevant to the street application, I wasn’t interested. This, I now understand, is a very narrow view. There are many aspects of my current practise that are not relevant to the street. For one, the technical problems one encounters at high level BJJ, are rarely encountered in the street - but are nonetheless, interesting problems to try to solve; and in doing so, I improve my ‘problem solving’ abilities. Secondly, there are many benefits to be enjoyed in technical martial arts training apart from the ‘self defence’ benefits. There are the aforementioned ‘problem solving benefits’; but there are also health benefits, social benefits, etc. Simply put, we may begin martial arts training for one reason, but continue martial arts training for many, many other reasons. As I have said before, the simplicity got me there - but the complexity kept me there!
Having said all of that though, my personal bias is toward that approach to training that remains closely connected to ‘real world’ scenarios/applications. I enjoy all aspects of BJJ training; I enjoy the various nuances of the X-Guard, I am intrigued by the new Worm Guard, I find the complexities of the Berimbolo variants to be both intricate and stimulating; but … my personal bias is toward fundamental (yet technical) Jiu Jitsu concepts. I guess I find sufficient beauty and depth in the more fundamental elements of this art we love. I do not feel a need to ‘go out on a limb’ to find the fruit that keeps me interested.

I have experienced the harsh light of day when it comes to applying learned martial arts skills under the pressures of real street encounters. I learned quickly that practise on the mat or in the gym was somewhat removed from the realities of actual fighting; and so my predilection for the functional. Being exposed to the harsh light of day can be a tough experience; but it can be an enlightening one (pun intended). All practise can be rewarding; it just comes down to personal bias. JBW

Monday, September 15, 2014

Interpreting BJJ

Elaborating my last post …
I like to teach in a way that is not open to mis-interpretation. A part of this stems from my dislike of ‘vague advice’. An example that springs to mind is the roadside sign AVOID WINDSCREEN DAMAGE …. I can’t stand this. Vague! It is a statement of the bloody obvious but doesn’t tell me HOW to go about achieving the desired outcome. Stupid in the extreme! (in my opinion)
I like to tell people EXACTLY how to achieve something - not ‘kind of’ how to achieve something. This is kind of arrogant in a way I guess … but it’s my thing; driven largely by my need to see measurable results!
On the flip side of things - you can see what I call Impressionistic Teaching. This is where the ‘feeling’ or direction and shape’ of a technique is described - and the step-by-step execution is left wide open for interpretation. It isn’t how I like to teach - but it is, nevertheless, a valid way to teach. The downside is that the more unskilled and less experienced can be left scratching their heads without ever having left the starting blocks - but the upside is that you are forced to think (and interpret) for yourself. 
In my view - the best idea is start with a forensic approach (as is my won’t) and once experience is gained - re-look at the idea or technique through an impressionistic lens. 
Just my two cents …

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Impressionism in BJJ coaching

My own teaching style is based on a very forensic-style approach - I like to examine all the components of a move, understand the purpose and ‘firing order’ of each part of the process - and then find the best choice of words that will successfully drive others toward the same level of understanding. My approach is very forensic and detail oriented. 
On the other end of the spectrum is what I would call an impressionistic approach. My coach Rigan Machado’s coaching style is like this. 
Think of what Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh were trying to do through their impressionist works. There is something about their creations that an explicit photograph failed to convey - with less detail than a photograph, they in some ways conveyed more. 

Personally, I love both impressionism and high-detail … they both bring something different to bear on the subject matter. It is the perspective we get from both approaches that ultimately gives us true insight. JBW

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Our 'Crumby' BJJ Game ...

Imagine this: there is a theoretical spectrum of BJJ proficiency - at one end (the bad end) we are all untalented, untrained, feeble babies being crushed and manhandled by the Mighty Hulk. At the other end of the spectrum, we are all super-humans, with magical understanding of strategy, leverage, bio-mechanics and technique and can effortlessly thwart all attacks and in turn dominate and direct the course of any battle as if in a dream. With these two ends of the spectrum established - we can ask where we (each of us) sits along it’s length? We exist, obviously, as neither ‘babies’ nor ‘super-humans’ - but each of us, in a reality that is unique to ourselves - somewhere in-between. We exist not in the unimaginably horrible ‘reality’ nor in the unbeleivably good ‘reality’ ….. we are in the kind of ‘crumby’ reality - somewhere in the middle. But this is a great thing! In my view, the best thing! For it is in this ‘crumby’ space, that we can learn and grow and have fun.

If we were all ‘feeble babies’ - there would be no point in trying. We would exist is a hopeless place. If we were all super-humans, there would be no point - no reason, no challenge - no-where to rise to. We are exactly where the growth can be experienced, where the joy is to be found, where the lessons are to be learned. We are in the crumby part …. awesome! JBW

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Unnoticed Heroes ...

An instructor’s attention is always naturally drawn towards those talented individuals who sit at the far right hand side of the bell-curve - but this should never be to the exclusion of those who sit to the left.
As with all things - the closer we look, the more we see; I always feel a great sense of admiration for those who do not find learning easy yet persist in spite of this; inching their way forward - very often going unnoticed by their fellow-classmates. 

Effort by those who have talent is admirable; but effort by those who find it all a struggle, is somehow more admirable. Most of us are doing our best; given the circumstances we are in and where we are in our lives - it’s all about ‘moving’ - both on and off the mat. Whether a snail or a cheetah - life moves. JBW

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Prime Movers

Our gaze is often drawn to that certain group of people who have ‘celebrity status’ … to those who have risen to prominence through one means or another. There are those who actively seek out fame and notoriety for it’s own sake … perhaps this is an innate ‘survival imperative’ that harks back to tribal society - the bigger your reputation the more ‘power’ you had within the tribe - and the greater chance of survival. Note here; that I am not judging - more power to the ‘seekers of fame’ I say - although I do make a distinction between that kind of person that seeks notoriety for it’s own sake - and those who become well-known for what they have achieved or contributed to society; such people, I call Prime Movers.
Prime Movers make things happen; sometimes for altruistic reasons, sometimes for personal reasons - and very often for mix of both. The Australian martial arts landscape has been shaped to a large degree by prime movers like Richard Norton, Tino Ceberano, Stan Longinidis, Elvis Sinosic, Sam Greco, Ziggy Kelovicz, William Cheung, Rick Spain, Bob Jones, Jack Rozinsky, Frank Nowak, John Taylor and many other greats that I no doubt will have omitted. Although it's not considered good ettitquette to 'judge' - I do - as I am also fully prepared top be judged myself. And I judge a persons notoriety as worthwhile or unworth-while by how they have contributed to the landscape. There are those 'out there' who are notorious but have contributed nothing - there are those who have not sought notoriety yet have become well known becasue they have made great and lasting contributions - to those excellent men - and women - I say 'kudos' - and thank you! JBW

Monday, August 25, 2014

A hyena is not a dog!

The first time we see a Hyena we see it as some kind of dog. That is, we see it through the bias of our world view. Having done so, it is very difficult to move away from that idea … and therein lies one of the main reasons most people fail to make critical distinctions. Being able to see the differences between things that seem similar (if not identical) is one of the things that makes and expert … an expert! In simplistic terms, the more ways you can tell me how a Hyena is NOT like a dog - the greater an expert you become on the subject. if the only thing you can say is that Hyena is kind of like a dog - then you remain inexpert on the subject of Hyena's. We look at a thing - we cannot help but put it into a box that already exists in our mind ... when we train ourselves to look 'afresh' and see a thing for what it is ... we open ourselves to deeper understanding. JBW

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Simplicity - to complexity - to Simplicity

BJJ is addictive because the simplest of strategies can prove to be highly effective. But over time  it’s complexity becomes increasingly obvious - and things can become more than a little confusing. But keep this in mind - as time continues to pass - and you settle into the higher ranks, you will come to understand and appreciate the simple things once again.
For example, you might be exposed to 20 Spider-guard techniques in class over a given part of the training year - but it’s worth paring this down at some point, and distilling all that info down into a two, three or four technique ‘spider guard game’ - one that is easily digestible and ‘connects’ seamlessly with other aspects of your overall BJJ game. Hence - we make a transition from complexity, back to simplicity. JBW

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Gold ...

There are many who will read this post and will be simply unable to relate. I am going to talk about a time when there was no such thing called the internet (yep youngsters - it’s true! Such a time did exist - and it wasn’t all that long ago). It wasn’t a better time or a worse time - it was just a different time.

In the 80’s, there was no internet - in fact, there were no DVD’s! A small collection of martial arts books and a handful of magazines were the only sources of information to those wanting to explore the larger landscaper of the martial arts world. Back then, you had to work for six months to save enough money to leave our shores and train overseas; it wasn’t easy. Travel was harder, money was more scarce; and information about where to train, was practically unavailable. it was a different time; a time of trial and error.

I started my own magazine back in the 80’s - if you live in Australasia, you will know it as Blitz Magazine. The very first copy was written on a commodore 64, the pictures were taken with with actual film, and the bromides (copies of those pics) were glued into position, ready for printing with a gel called ‘Clag’. Travelling to Indonesia, Thailand, India, Japan and Brazil was a difficult task that cost all of my savings and left me penniless after each and every training trip. 

But here is the point I want to make - because it was so difficult, I placed great value on those things that I learned. My first training trip overseas to learn BJJ in 1986 saw me return home with less than a dozen techniques - but I prized those techniques and drilled them endlessly. They were valuable to me because they cost so much to obtain - in time, effort and money. 

Nowadays, any of us can just leap online, scour Youtube and extract techniques and ideas at virtually zero expense. That is absolutely fantastic - what a great world we live in! But remember this - it is very, very easy to scour endlessly and leap from technique to technique without very really mastering much or any of them. More does not always equate to better. So choose wisely, and drill down. Recognize the ‘gold’ when you see it. You don’t have to look too far! JBW