Monthly Archives: May 2011

Knowledge vs Skill

I want to touch upon something I wrote about yesterday. It was about having technique and the ability to perform it on demand. In simplier terms: knowledge and skill in jiu-jitsu.

Absolute knowledge in jiu-jitsu is showing up to class, watching lots of instructionals, learning tons of techniques by heart and drilling them but never sparring much. Basically being a walking jiu-jitsu encyclopedia.

Absolute skill in jiu-jitsu is the other side of the coin; sparring at every chance, focusing only on improving/heavily relying on strength and conditioning. Basically Big-Man jiu-jitsu.

This is an extreme example but one way of looking at this would be comparing an online-awarded Gracie Combatives blue belt to a competition gained BJJ blue belt. One side sees the benefit of knowledge (techniques that are “street” ready) as superior, while the other side sees skill (being able to perform in an “alive” setting like a tournament) as a clear advantage.

Let me make it clear, I have nothing against either side because I know exactly what each side is addressing. I’m a Relson Gracie blue belt and my current instructor, Tomari-sensei, gives promotions on a competition-you-enter-you-win basis. So, it concerns me when people are more than capable of sparring and choose not to, and it concerns me when someone is a terror on the ground but can’t even breakfall properly.

Other forms of this arguement show up as watered-down jiu-jitsu vs “real” jiu-jitsu, belt testing vs tournament wins, and gi vs no-gi.

The way I see it, there has to be an escalation of both aspects in order to be really, really good in jiu-jitsu.

You can’t be dependant on knowledge if you lack the strength and conditioning to apply it. And you shouldn’t be dependant on skill alone because it lulls you into a false sense of ability.

I write this because this is my current predicament. I’m in absolute knowledge. I’m not sparring, I’m untested. I have zero skill. I can mention with certainty that if I sparred against a white belt with even a couple of months of training under them, I’d lose.

It’s not that it bothers me. I’m fine with tapping out and all that good stuff. It’s more so to illustrate my point.

Balance between knowledge and skill is key.


Jiujitsu Training – May 29th

Yup, I’m being busy.

So How’d Class Go?
After the usual one-try-belt-tie (yes! can check that off the list) and warm-up, Tomari-sensei decided to confuse the white belts and have us blue belts brush up on our side-control submissions with; the americana, 2 versions of the kimura (called reverse ude-garami here in Japan, though Tomari-sensei also pointed out the BJJ term for the submission as well), AND 2 follow up submissions for the americana and 4 follow up submissions for the kimura if bottom tries to defend or fight or escape either submission.

It was pretty cool to see them all linked together and they were more practical than a lock-flow, because when it counts bottom side-control isn’t just gonna stay there on the mat trying to defend. They’re looking to escape too. The follow up submissions were great because when you’re first taking up jiu-jitsu most of the submissions you learn will have an escape. Once that escape happens, well, you give up on the submission and move on.

Not the case with the extra follow up techniques we learned. It was a glimpse into the thought process of rolling at a higher level. I’m gunning for this one submission, an escape looks like it’s happening, I’ll just cut ’em off with this, wait, still fighting it? Okay try escaping out of this. And if that fails I got one more for ya. It’s like a Marcelo Garcia mindset. Give ’em constant pressure. Attack, attack, attack. I liked it. A lot.

Hopefully, if I have the time and get someone to be a grappling dumming and get someone else to take pictures, I can do a proper write up and post them. If not I’ll just have to settle for posting my notes.

As an aside, my drilling partner was a single stripe white belt. I felt sorry for him. I’m really flexible on my left side so any americana and/or kimura attempt has got to be spot on. If not, I’ll look like I should be in pain but I’m actually okay and won’t even tap. Any attempt on my right arm and it’s tap-city. But, yeah, dude decided to try out my left side and he’d get frustrated and try multiple times to finish the submission. And to make matters worst I stepped on his hair and ripped out a good chunk of it on accident. I didn’t mean it but he went to the far end of the mat at the end of drilling. Sorry.

Finishing Thoughts
Paraestra Hakata is a scrappy school. I was reminded about it when I sat out for sparring, yet again, and watched from the sidelines.

For the first sparring match, I watched a tall lanky two stripe blue rolled with a purple belt. Obviously, a blue belt is going to step things up a notch when rolling with a purple. This guy went all out. I mean, homeboy was standing up, trying to do flying attacks on a kneeling opponent. When the purple stood up, the blue jumped guard and would start rocking himself to disrupt the balance of the purple belt while trying to slap on an ezekiel choke. Everything the blue belt did was crazy and 110%. It didn’t even end with the purple belt. When he rolled with a white belt, that two stripe blue still did flying attacks (mostly triangles) and cartwheels to pass guard.

And you know what. His technique sucked. For all his flash-in-the-pan moves, he was too dependant on his physical ability (if I rolled with him, I probably would have gotten submitted easily) that someone of the same size and strength (the white belt) was pretty much a match for him.

It made me realize how important technique and the physical attributes to apply those techniques on demand are in making progress in jiu-jitsu. Right now, I need more of both.

Weight Training – May 28th

Had a very light session at Accion gym with Sam this past Saturday.

When I got there Sam had been riding a stationary bike for over 7 minutes. He was ready to go.

Just Tell Me ‘Bout Them Lifts, Bro
I switched things up and altered my routine. I decided to do front squats instead of regular squats because both the squat and the deadlift place stress on the lower back. And, because of that, progress in one exercise will mean the other stagnates if done on the same day. Unless you’ve been hitting the squats and the deadlift on separate days building enough strength in both areas until you’re capable to do both exercises on a single workout day, but usually that ain’t happening and we’ll either lack enough time to dedicate both exercises separately. Such is my case.

Front squats focus more on the quads and don’t require as much of the hips as the squat or the deadlift do. I need to boost my leg strength, 60 bodyweight squats are great for endurance, however if I’m going to be sparring at a high intensity – and everyone in my jiu-jitsu school does – I’ll need stronger legs, not just to benefit my jiu-jitsu, but mostly to prevent future knee injuries.

So, front squats 3×5, snatch grip deadlifts 3×5, reverse lunges 3×5. I felt good at the end of that so I “finished” with 13 pull-ups, 5 chin-ups and 16 dips. And I did my hip exercises too.

If you’ve never done front squats before, the hardest thing about them is the grip. Form’s easy. No flexion of the back as you would the squat or deadlift. Straight as an arrow. The grip on the other hand… jeez, to put it in jiu-jitsu terms, it’s like placing yourself in a pain compliance wristlock. Just the bar alone made me want to stop. So it was just 20 kilos for me, thank you very much. Until I get comfortable with the grip, I’m sticking to 20 kilos for now.

By the way, if you noticed I also switched my deadlifts. The snatch grip deadlift works more of the upper back muscles, I wasn’t sure of how knackered I’d be from switching exercises, so I went light. Today my DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness for you non-lifters) were non-existent. DOMS usually come after a hard session or with unfamiliar exercises. Since I nothing is as sore as it could be, I’m pushing my snatch grip deadlifts limits for next time.

Gimmie a Finisher, Bro
Sam on the other hand did a whole assortment of exercises. Since he can only make it to the gym once a week, his routine is a bit haphazard, targeting everything that gets worked out in jiu-jitsu. If he had the time I’d tell him to split his routine. He is making gains, he is getting stronger, but his progress would obviously be faster if he had an extra day in the week. He doesn’t though and he doesn’t let that get in the way of his workouts. I’m proud of him for putting in the effort he does now.

Oh, switching out my exercises weren’t the only thing I switched. As Sam was doing bench I asked him for some British slang that I could use when he completes a set so I don’t have to say “awesome” or “right on” everytime. So after he taught me a few, I settled on “wicked” and “safe” and did a horrible job of saying them in a London accent.

Sam wanted to give the sauna a try as we finished early, but as we mentioned that we saw a group of loud high schoolers fresh from the swimming pool head into the locker room. Sure enough we heard them in the showers and in the sauna. No one likes a noisy sauna so we passed – I didn’t have a towel as well – for next time. Safe.

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now

Cue the song of the same title as this post, where jiu-jitsu is represented as a dashing young man on a motorcycle and I’m.. er… Celine Dion. Yeah…

In the past 24 hours since my last post I’ve dug up all my jiu-jitsu instructionals, pulled them out of various cardboard boxes, freed them from storage and eagerly devoured the knowledge contained therein. I went from absolutely no jiu-jitsu for two years to hey, I don’t remember buying this, it’s so full of jiu-jitsu goodness, want MOAR.

I’ve re-watched both Roy Dean’s Art of the Wristlock and Purple Belt Requirements DVDs, reviewed my old jiu-jitsu notebook, re-read some pretty nifty jiu-jitsu magazines and books, and, after all that, I went online to watch multiple clips of side-control escapes on youtube. That was lots of fun! Of course putting them all together in practice is something completely different, but in terms of getting the gears going it’s a start.

What good are notes if there isn't a confusing diagram and a Sun Tzu quote?

Another thing I should point out is that I’ve also started linking techniques, putting them in Tekken-like chain combos – only in my brain though. I’m seeing where one technique can lead to another and if one fails how I can use another technique as a plan-B backup. It’s all coming back to me and I’m getting giddy and super excited to train.

Not sure how that’ll help as it’s all theory and, well, theory that doesn’t work on the mats gets me bend out of shape and makes me go tap-tap. I guess that’s what drills are for!

Jiu-jitsu Training – May 26th

My second day back at jiu-jitsu finally proved without a shadow of a doubt just how far behind I am.

While I mentioned in my first post about coming back to training that my self-awareness is at an all time high and that my eye for detail is still intact, it’s the actual process of performing the techniques on demand that is going to need a ton of work.

Like a frozen screen reboot, start from scratch, there is now a level zero ton of work. Basically, I’m a blue belt stuck in the body of a white belt.

So How’d Class Go?
Brent was there and in my mind’s eye I envisioned doing drillwork with him non-stop and it felt like super-progress was going to be made that night. I was going to write it in my blog and I would be proud.

That didn’t happen. Wait, getting ahead of myself.

I managed to tie my belt once – yay, me – went through warm-ups easily, kinda got tired doing push-ups cause I was going through the full range of motion instead of half-assing like a few of the other guys in the warm-up circle. Tomari-sensei had us do a drill that was new to me. For six minutes we’d pair up and perform sweeps, reset, switch and repeat. Brent and I teamed up. He focused on two sweeps. I foolishly tried to recall as many different sweeps as possible. I would pause to think about what sweep I wanted to try and as the time ran out, my pause-to-think periods grew longer and longer. Not a good sign.

I should have picked two sweeps and worked them for the full six minutes, just like Brent. I will keep that in mind for next time. Strive for quality, not quantity.

The instructional session of class saw three variations of a moguri (diving) sweep from butterfly guard. The first was a simple sweep. The next one, a sweep to the back. The third, a switch over to x-guard sweep. I wasn’t sure how well my right leg would be carrying weight much like a leg extention. I wasn’t uncomfortable, but I wasn’t exactly at ease.

Finally, after sitting out from sparring, I asked Brent if we could do a few drills. He was more than happy to help me out and suggested that I should work on my mobility before even thinking about sparring. I agreed and when I tried to mention that we should do something similiar to the warm-up sweep drill we did earlier except to continueously flow from closed guard, sweep, side-control, escape side-control to BAM! It hit me.

In mid-thought, as I was saying the phrase, I couldn’t come up with anything. I couldn’t recall any escape from side-control. I told Brent and he said that we should just go slow. When we got into side-control to recap some escapes, Brent posed a few scenerios to me and while I finally remembered a couple of escapes, my body and brain weren’t to communicate to each other.

I went “huh”, my brain went “blah”, and my body went “meh”.

I believe I spent the rest of the evening gazing out of the window into the night sky lit by stars and the Fukuoka city lights thinking deep carefree thoughts until I found my way home. That didn’t happen, but that’s what it felt like though.

Finishing Thoughts
I’m definitely rusty. I know what to do, but my body feels like it’s second guessing itself. Really? Is this leg supposed to bending awkwardly like that? How do you get from guard to top position if you’ve got grips, hooks on the farside leg and a deep underhook on the nearside leg? Wha? The sweep’s like that?

It feels like the time when I was a white belt/newly minted blue and I’d be giving too much thought to the process and not letting things connect naturally, not letting muscle memory take over and just move all by itself. Although this time it’s worst because there is no muscle memory and I’m overthinking things constantly.

Hmm. Time to brush up on everything.

No Limits

I was doing some research for a future exercise post when I came across a fairly old article written by Eric Cressey. It basically spoke of those drawing inspiration from a set number and how shallow that was even if the set number was 315 pounds.

Anyone with a goal of lifting 315 pounds just doesn’t see the big picture.

A few hours later I ran across a thread on the UG about Marcelo Garcia’s belief that even any one of his students are capable of becoming better than him. The OP obviously knows better, says how he’ll never really be as good as Marcelo, but applauds the sincerity of the belief.

Anyone who doesn’t think they’re championship material just doesn’t see the big picture.

And just what is the big picture?

“There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
Bruce Lee

If you make lifting 315 pounds the be-all goal and inspiration for working out, then that’s all you’re going to amount to and be able to lift. If you believe you’re not a champion, then you’ll never be one.

But if you believe it, put in the time and the effort, you’ll be surprised of where you’ll be able to go if you strive to soar and reach for the stars.