Choosing the right BJJ GI
Most BJJ academies will have an Intro BJJ gi for you to try on. Sometimes these only come in the major sizes A1, A2 - A6. The A in A1 stands for adult. While Children's gi sizes will start with 00 and go up to M3. Our academy also offers half sizes to help those who are tall/slim or husky. That is where a lot of people are left behind and feel like their Gi doesn't fit. If your academy doesn't offer half sizes, try to find someone who is around your or your child's size and ask them what size/brand and that should get you into your next gi.
In terms of fit, expect a little shrinkage, so if you put your arms out try to find one that goes a little past the wrist, almost to the first knuckle on your thumb and then expect it to shrink an inch or so over time.
The right Weight and Weave and Why it is pearl Weave
When you start searching for gi's you will have a choice of weave and weight of gi. I think most people should be in a pearl weave gi. The main choices are pearl, single, double, gold, and no weave. Gold weave used to be the hot item back when I started because it was a nice weight of gi in between single and double, unfortunately it is known for stretching out when wet (which is most training) and the extra long material from being stretched is a big hindrance. Single is usually a little too light for training and gives your opponent too solid of grips. Double is usually too heavy to be comfortable, but it is harder to grip which is an advantage. But in international competition (IBJJF) you have to weight in with your uniform, so you are either giving a size advantage to your opponent. No weave is not legal in international competition and usually more appropriate for kids uniforms where they don't have the strength to rip the material so I would stay away from this. So that leaves us with my favorite of a pearl weave. It is heavier than a single weave, lighter than a double, doesn't stretch out like a gold weave and is IBJJF legal unlike a no weave gi.
There are different weights of gi's measured in GSM (Grams per square meter) and as a beginner I would look towards something in the 450gsm range. Under 400 and you will get into the lighter weight gi's that can be useful if you need to weigh in, but don't last as long. A 800+ GSM gi is going to be super stout, hard for other people to grip but it is probably going to be a little bit of a crutch if you are just starting out. So I would go with a pearl weave 450 GSM gi as your first gi purchase and then decide to go up or down from there.
What Brand of Gi's do you recommend?
I have used a wide variety of gi's over the years and have seen a lot of teammates go through many gi's as well.
If you are looking for a deal on a new gi I would check out deals at BJJhq.com
You might have to wait a bit to find something you are after, but the prices are hard to beat.
93 Brand is a decent gi for the price
Century - Ok starter BJJ Gi, but for your next purchase I would recommend 93 brand over it
Sanabul - Some students use this, on amazon prime, but I would stay away from.
Inverted - This was my gi of choice for years. Half sizes long lasting.
Kingz - Have a wide variety, but I liked my gi's by Kingz
Lanky - A good gi for the tall skinny folk out there. Worn by many of my super tall students.
Fuji - a good quality gi, but doesn't come in half sizes and their A3 was a pretty broad shouldered folk. Had to give mine away.
Breakpoint - Ok, I would prefer Inverted and Kingz over it.
Tatami - I used this for years, but felt like they broke down more quickly than other gi's
Shoyoroll - the fanciest but I thought they break down fast for what you are paying for.
Hyperfly - I have had a hyperfly double weave for years, it is a tank.
What Color of Gi
I have pretty traditional tastes, so I think that most students should start in a white gi or a blue gi. If you want to go more out there, then black. I like reserving black gi's for competition days myself to have that special gi to bring out for a big day. Blue gi's probably stay cleaner looking for longer, but white gi's you don't have to worry about color fading as much (though today Gi's don't fade or bleed like they used to 10 years ago). So I don't really care much about color, but if you come in with a more canary yellow or something, then you should probably be focusing more on your jiu-jitsu technique then what you are wearing. I do think it is cool that some gi's some fancy inner liners that allow you to be more expressive.
On April 6th, I had the pleasure of Gavin Hason. Coach Gavin is a big part of our academy, runs our 7 AM class and helps coach fundamental and all level classes periodically as well. He is one of the smaller guys at Jubera Jiu-Jitsu and that probably has made him as technical as he is. When rolling he is known for his arm drag and x guard and usually finishes from the back or attacking a toe hold.
Gavin earned his black belt while raising two young kids and having a successful career. He started BJJ with his brother Garrett after his hockey career ended at university. Gavin overcame injuries and almost always being the smallest guy on the mat to make himself a technical monster and a tremendous coach. He is someone that is great at explaining things to new Jiu-Jitsu students and I often find myself borrowing terms and language to improve my teaching and the student experience. Gavin has been training just about 12 years at this point and I couldn't be prouder of my 6th black belt and friend.
"The days/weeks/months/years will all pass, just keep your head down, keep grinding and good things will come.Big shout out to my beautiful wife Laura Hanson for always supporting me through the injuries, learning how to drain cauliflower ear and anything else that came up as a result of my training. You have always been my biggest advocate and I am so lucky to have you by my side.
Huge thanks to my brother Garrett Hanson. Being able to share this journey with you has been amazing. Having a training partner who pushes me to constantly improve (or get smashed) and is also my brother is truly special.
Lastly, thanks to my Jubera Jiu Jitsu Family. I have never met a more amazing group of straight up savages. I look forward to the next part of my journey with all of you..." - Gavin
You can start repping your love of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu here at Jubera Jiu-Jitsu on your car, water bottle or your child's notebook.
I will start off by saying I consider myself very lucky to have such a great group of students and parents. As our program continues to expand it is important to educate new parents on how to become great parents when they take their kids to competition.
First off if you are a parent that has enrolled your kid in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu you are probably a way above average parent that cares enough not only to put your kid into martial arts, but did the research to figure out which martial art is right for them. Then if they are set to compete you have made sure that they are regularly showing up to practice and probably talked to the coach to make sure that they are ready for the stress of competition. Finally you are willing to spend hours of your Saturday showing up early and watching them compete. Already you have my respect and you are putting yourself in a very small percentage of parents. Now you are taking your time to read a blog about how to even do that correctly, give yourself a pat on the back!
Anyway on to the good stuff.
I think the main things to do is show up early. If your division is supposed to be start at 9:00 AM, then I would get there 45 minutes to an hour early. This will give yourself time to get them into their uniform, orientate yourself with the mat locations & bathrooms, find students and coaches and allow your child time to warm up. There are usually a lot of nerves at competition, so warming up is vital.
As they get closer to match time I think it is best to not have them watch a lot of matches at increase their nervousness, but instead play simple games with their friends to keep their mind clear. We use a simple hand slap game that I saw Rickson Gracie use with his son Kron Gracie.
During the match unless you are a blue belt or higher we expect the parents to be encouraging and cheering, but not giving technical or strategic advice. We have competed and coached so many matches and there are reasons that we are telling your child the advice we give them. Please trust us that we are doing everything possible to give your child the best chance of winning and staying safe.
After the match we expect your child to shake their opponent's hand and their opposing coach's hand and then to shake our hand last. If they won, they are probably very happy and will welcome your encouraging words. If they lost then it gets a little bit more tricky. Younger children seem to like a bit more encouragement and a couple hugs while older kids usually need a minute to cool down and time to process. I expect our students to show amazing sportsmanship, but if our kids need some alone time to themselves to work through some emotions, to be angry or sad that is perfectly acceptable and should be a private matter. Then if I think they will improve from technical advice or changes of strategy I will give it, but many times trying to change too much the day of is asking too much. Usually advice between matches will just be a thought or two.
It is not uncommon for our students to do better after a loss happens in their next match because the pressure is off, the worst thing that could have happened, did and then they can move on to the next match with less pressure. So I encourage a lot of our kids to do both no-gi and gi matches to break the tension a bit even if they are unfamiliar with no-gi.
As a final note, I would bring food such as sandwiches, fruit, water, Gatorade. A little secret is I like to bring fruity snacks such as skittles or fruit rollup type snacks. Cliff kids makes some tasty ones that I stock up on before my matches. This little bit of candy and sugar made me happy and less nervous.
Competing well is a skill in and of itself. How to prepare mentally and physically. How to deal with pre match jitters and nerves. As an individual sport you will see your kids go through incredible highs and lows that just can't be found in team sports. You will see your kid grow up before your eyes as they deal with adversity and find new strength throughout the day.
There are 3 main reasons why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is the best self defense martial art for kids for three reasons. The first reason is that most fights end up on the ground. If you look at police statistics or military studies most hand to hand combat situations end up on the ground. This is where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specializes. Where other martial arts focus on punches or kicks that look great, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focuses most of its time on where fights actually take place. It makes sense to spend more time devoted to where a fight would be won or lost. While we go over ways to take out opponents to the ground, it is important to know that even untrained combatants will end up on the ground or a grappling situation, so by having even a little bit of training they can give themselves a a huge advantage in this area.
The second reason is that a grappling situation is often something that your child can not retreat from. If someone is trying to punch, kick or hit your child with an object children can often flee these situations unless heavily cornered. Children play chase and tag games as part of their development and find these games fun to help with their flight responses just as other animals do. But if someone grabs your child, shoves or tackles them to the ground, that will be a situation that they can not easily escape and will be in a grappling encounter whether they want to be or not. So Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gives them the opportunity to chose whether to tie up an attacker and possibly submit them or limit damage or to escape from a situation that they would otherwise be forced to be involved in.
The third reason is that sparring or rolling takes place so that kids can train in a live situation and get a feel for what grappling with a resisting opponent is like. Kids martial arts often focus on katas or forms where the kids are punching or kicking the air, but never getting comfortable for the resistance of a real situation. Where there is sparring it has to be limited so there aren't injuries. Plus if you look at the knockout rates of professional fighters weighing less than 145 lbs, you will see it is quite small compared to heavy weights. Children just don't have the physical mass or strength to defend themselves with punching or kicking. So you could place your kid in a Tae Kwon Do school like I did when I was 9 years old, but the chance of injury is higher and the usefulness is lower. Some martial arts that do grappling focus on wrist locks and other small joint manipulation that is difficult to accomplish in an intense situation. Where as even a small child has the strength to apply an armlock or a choke hold which will use the largest muscles of their body against their opponents smallest. This live rolling inspires real confidence that they can handle themselves if a situation were to arise. Real confidence changes their body language and will minimize the chance that they actually have to use their skills in a self defense situation.
Coach Dave Zabreskie has took over as the Elevation Fight Team wrestling coach for over a year now and has been a huge component to their success. As a national champion wrestler for ISU and as someone who chased an olympic spot as well, his level of knowledge and technical expertise is astounding. He is giving a seminar at my academy this week, but I wanted to give some of the big takeaways that I have had this year from his coaching.
1. Running on your knees
In wrestling you are taught a duck walk from day one, but maybe a more important skill is to be able to run on your knees. I think I first saw wrestlers doing this in a video of warm ups at the olympic training center and thought "that is weird". But basically when you get stopped on a shot and you go to your knees, just the idea of running towards your opponent on your knees to try to build back up on your shot and get your chest back to their leg has been a game changer for me. This works for both single legs and double legs. The first time Dave demonstrated this on me, I had a solid sprawl and he built back up to a good shot like I was a little kid. Watching some of the best american and international guys this seems to be a huge component to success on shots. NCAA Champion David Taylor seems to be making a huge change to his game with this as he was known for his ankle picks in college, but as he moves up in weight class, he uses more double legs, get stopped on a lot of them, but builds back up and manages to score. Here is David Taylor showing this at a wrestling camp:
2. Swinging the leg like a baby
On a standing single leg there are lots of ways to finish, but what has helped me the most is this drill where you get your single leg, start driving the guy back, head up and once you get some momentum start swinging his leg inside to outside with long arms. At first this drill was super awkward for me to do and I didn't like having the leg to the outside as much because my best finish was a foot hook when the leg was between my legs. But now that I have done this drill so much, it gets easier and easier to drive the opponent backward and the more you are driving them backward and keeping your head looking at the far shoulder, the more difficult it is for them to sprawl and push your head down. So before I would get to my standing shot and if I could trip, or hook the foot a lot of times I would drop down to get into my low single finishes, now I can run through my opponents getting a bigger takedown with more efficiency.
3. Flat hips on head to stop a shot
The sprawl I always learned growing up and had served me well was one where you cut your hips toward your opponent's head while they shooting and keep that pressure. While that always served me well, Coach Dave has put an emphasis on stuffing the head between the legs and getting your hips flat on top of him. This traps the opponents head between your legs and frees your hands to push on the thighs to break the grip. Before I always thought I had a punishing sprawl, but this has taken it to new heights. It also made it easier to teach the kids and adults where you want your opponent's head and people weren't getting knocked off balance as much. You can see Olympic Champion Kyle Snyder doing this and teaching this in his seminars.
One thing that BJJ does better than a lot of grappling arts is come up with unique names for moves. In Judo, most variations just get boiled down to one of the original moves and then it is just a variation of that move, even though the mechanics might be completely different (like a Koga Seio Nage). But sometimes in BJJ different people end up inventing the same move and name it different things. Then it becomes a little bit of a popularity contest to see which name wins out in the end.
There were a couple matches in 2005 that brought popularity to this guard and position. The biggest upset at the time was Demian Maia vs Jacare Souza. Jacare now more popular for his UFC career was the open weight world jiu jitsu champion at the time. Demian was a talented competitor, but was a clear underdog at the time. Demian with his new guard and offside attacks got the better of Jacare at the World Cup in 2005. He came out with a video series and named the position anaconda guard, so that was how I was introduced to the name and I stuck with it ever since.
The same year that Demian beat Jacare, Marcelo Garcia was continuing his tear in the ADCC no gi grappling world. A very fun match that I believe Marcelo credits to creating the single leg x guard was his match with Diego Sanchez in ADCC 2005. Marcelo had been setting up his famous x guard from the butterfly guard, but against standing opponents it was harder for him to enter. This is the first time I believe he used it in competition. He didn't popularize it as single leg x guard until his technique website MGinAction.com came out in 2010.
Also in ADCC 2005 Xande beat ultra heavyweight world champion and future UFC heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga. Xande used the same guard to sweep Gonzaga and finish the match in under a minute. We used to just call the position footlock guard because you can get to the anklelock and other footlocks from the position.
In the end, Single Leg X (often abbreviated as SLX) won the popularity contest probably because of the growth of Marcelo Garcia's popularity (and known as all around nicest guy in BJJ). I was slow to adapt it as the name because I had heard about it as anaconda guard for years. The benefits for calling it Single Leg X over anaconda guard are I think people gain a familiarity with the X guard position and it links itself to the x guard and in practice you are going to bounce back and forth between x guard and single leg x guard all the time. I think a new practioner benefits from seeing this relationship in the name of the guards. Also there is a mental boost from that if you good good at single leg x, you will probably see it as not a big of jump to learn x-guard. Plus the famous arm-in chokehold the anaconda choke doesn't have any relationship with the anaconda guard so having the same name to the choke is a bit of a disservice.
In terms that I hate to use, because of EBI there is a rise in the popularity of heel hooks and one of the innovators is John Danaher from Renzo Gracie academy. Unfortunately he uses the Japanese terms for the position such as ashi garami. Which doesn't help the american practitioner learn the move an easier because most don't speak that language. You could argue that the foot position of the inside leg is different than single leg x because it is on the far side, but that is the usual position that it falls into during the sweep anyway.
I had a conversation this weekend with a parent over whether or not he should put his child into wrestling. I think my thoughts are evolving over time on the subject so I thought to write them down. If you had asked me 8 years ago when I first started teaching full-time whether a teenager who does BJJ should do wrestling I almost always answered yes. Now I get parents who ask me this question not just about their high schooler, but also about their kids who are 8 years old and sometimes even younger
Wrestling for me was a big part of my high school experience. It taught me a ton about work ethic, toughness, competition, success as both a team and an individual. I found wrestling in 8th grade after our Tae Kwon Do school started showing us some judo and submissions. I was sparring with the adults which was a getting a little frustrating as a 12 year old due to the power difference and with the UFC coming out I was a bit disillusioned by Tae Kwon Do so when my mom enrolled me in a wrestling summer camp I was excited. I went to the summer camp for a number of weeks and did pretty well, the only issue was that the summer camp was at the rival high school and not my own. They were bummed that I would be joining the "other team". Luckily for me the other team was the vastly better high school for wrestling so I quickly learned the difference betwen good coaching and bad coaching for wrestling. My high school had two great coaches, the first was a Michigan Wrestling Hall of Fame coach, made a lot of state champs and was pretty old school. When he retired he was replaced by an Olympic alternate, Junior World Champion and 2x NCAA runner up for the University of Michigan. He taught more about how to succeed as an individual.
I bring this up because looking back, I had great wrestling coaches. This allowed me to probably value the amazing instructors I had in Saulo and Xande. I guess I am finding it frustrating as a coach to recommend to parents that they send their kids off to wrestle because of all the value and experience that I got out of it and then they send them to the nearest school (usually the only option) and they get subpar coaching for 4 months out of the year. So I am becoming more and more reluctant to send my athletes to wrestling programs because I am not seeing a high level of high school coaches in this area. Wrestling is a lot more popular and competitive in the midwest and even in Michigan there are just such wide gaps in wrestling coaching. So I am getting to the opinion that would I rather have your kid learn Jiu-Jitsu from a highly decorated competitor and full-time coach or to take time away from that to learn from a part-time coach who probably didn't go very far in the sport (especially when you are talking about younger kids).
The other thing I always caution with wrestling is burn out. I saw it a lot in high school wrestling from kids who started wrestling when they were in elementary school. They have been competing for so long and cutting weight for so long that they are done with it by the time high school ends. There is so much focus on success in high school, which would give them a chance at a university team that the kids don't love the sport anymore. The sad thing is it takes so long to get good at wrestling and grappling in general that aren't giving our kids a chance to succeed at an international level. We put so much focus on high school success, that college success seems unbelieveable, but really the college wrestlers are just kids to the adults who are trying for the olympics usually. Watch some of the matches that flowrestling puts on between Daniel Cormier and current NCAA champions or Ben Askren facing Quinten Wright (Penn State champ). The older former olympians who have been focusing solely on MMA for years can toy with the college kids. The Russian wrestling team is so much older than the USA team because it takes so long to get good at this stuff. That is something that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu allows for and USA wrestling doesn't really.
So in general I won't say that kids should or shouldn't stop wrestling for BJJ because the level of the coaches vary dramatically in each. There are coaches in Colorado that I would love to eventually work with my son. But I would also hesitate to take him out of program with world class instruction for one with less than that. Please don't think that I dislike wrestling, I still get on the mat as a wrestler at least once a week, but I am learning from world class guys and I highly value that experience.
If you do decide to put your kid into a wrestling club:
This year marked the first IBJJF Denver Open. I was very happy with the results of the tournament with Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu taking 3rd place. It is nice looking back to when I moved here in the summer of 2007 and I was the first representative of Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu in the state of Colorado. So after having the Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu - Denver academy open for just over 3 years along with my black belts academy in Windsor and several affiliates of Rafael Lovato Jr we were able to capture 3rd place as a team is just amazing.
At a lot of IBJJF tournaments they will host a rules seminar. I had done my first rules seminar last year at the Masters Worlds and I credit that rules seminar with part of my ability to win that tournament. I remember the rules that stood out to me were the fact that there is no stalling from the top of mount and from the back with hooks position. These rules enabled me to relax once I achieved these positions and put the pressure on my opponent to escape. When they tried to escape I submitted them. But if I didn't know the rules, I would have kept busy attacking and they would probably just clam up and be harder to submit. So the knowledge of the rules gave me the most efficient way to the submission.
When I found out there was a rules seminar in Denver I decided to do it again. It isn't free and there are better ways to spend a Friday night, but a couple of friends were going to go in order to get their belts certified with the IBJJF so I decided to do the seminar again. I also contacted the IBJJF about reffing and they let me know that if I did 2 rules seminars and talked to the head referee Anjinho, that I could do ref training that weekend. So I did that. The rules seminars are also nice because you can ask questions about certain moves and positions that aren't fully covered in the rule book. So I was able to get clarity on toe holds from the honey hole and some other toe hold variations. Once again I passed the test with a 100% score so I did the go ahead to do the referee training.
The training took place Sunday after most of my competitors had already competed and most of the day was no gi. They mic'd us up so we had a head referee in our ear mentoring us through any mistakes. Sometimes the quality of the microphone was a bit of a nuisance, but it was comforting to know that I wasn't going to call a match wrong because they would fix the score if I did.
The first two matches were interesting because the first involved a pass when the bottom player was playing lasso guard. When the top player passed they bottom person maintained the grip on the lasso. This is a pass under IBJJF rules when the person on bottom accepts the pass. I knew the rule, but was a little slow on the call so I got told to give the points. The second match was a classic heavyweight match with a lot of standing and pushing out of bounds. I wanted to call the penalty for passivity earlier and more often, but I was only allowed to give it after the person who was pushed out of bounds accepted it and walked backwards. In the past I remember the rules were different where the aggressor would get penalized something which I saw Dillon Dannis use frequently.
I felt I got into the swing of things for the rest of that 40 minutes of coaching, having to step out periodically when a Ribeiro athlete would step on the mat. I messed up a call in one match where one athlete swept from de la riva and landed in single-x/anaconda with a reap. The reap was only across the body, so I stopped the match to fix the foot position and give a penalty, but was getting talked to by the head ref. Because of the mic difficulties it took a while to get sorted out and when I gave the penalty and called a restart to the action the bottom player swept back immediately. I thought the initial sweep hadn't been held long enough to give the points so I gave an advantage, but the head ref thought it should have been a sweep each so I waived off the advantage. It was a tough call because of the break in the action for the penalty and to reset the foot position.
I think another thing I learned that day was about how quick the referees are told to stop the fight once they leave the safety area (the yellow marking). It really is if a foot or a hand touches outside the yellow safety area they are quick to call a stop to the match which results in a lot of good takedown attempts being called an advantage because the athlete couldn't secure the position inside the match area.
Later in the day I would referee the no gi absolute division. The interesting calls that happened were one athlete had another in a standing d'arce choke. The defending athlete backpedaled hard towards the out of bounds. If they would have continued past the safety area I would have had to DQ them for fleeing a submission. At the last second the aggressor threw the opponent out of bounds. Because there are no resets in a submission under IBJJF rules this resulted in 2 points for the aggressor and a restart from the feet.
Not surprisingly, quite a few of the local competitors didn't know the rules about talking to a ref. You are only allowed to talk to the referee when you need medical attention (and not in a submission) or if your uniform needs attention like your pants are falling down. Otherwise a penalty is given. One of the competitors was complaining that I didn't give points on a takedown attempt and I really wanted to give him points, but once they went out of the safety area the most I could give was an advantage. When he started talking to me, I ignored him, but after the match I went out off the mat to tell him that talking to me would be a penalty.
The final weird thing happened on the match next to mine where an athlete was getting medical attention. If you are injured during the course of the match you can get injury time as long as you aren't in a submission. You should note that a stopping because of a cramp is an automatic loss so if you are massaging a cramp you should never let the referee see you do it. But the match next to mine stopped for a medical timeout and the trainer came over to help. But then it was obvious that the reason the trainer was coming over was because of a cramp, so the athlete helped, but then given the loss and that was a sequence of events I wasn't sure would lead to the loss, but it did happen.
Overall I am happy that I reffed and went through the training. It gave me a better knowledge of the rules for my athletes and gave me more insight into the day of the referees. I don't think it is by chance that one of the best teams in Jiu-Jitsu GFT is led by a referee Julio Ceasar and many of his students are referees as well.
My newest black belt (3rd that I have promoted) wrote an awesome post about his journey at black belt over on reddit. It is a great read and I super proud of Neil!
I started BJJ in my mid-30s as a way to address my sedentary computer-geek life and expanding girth. Started a family late and I wanted to make sure I was there for my son when he needed me later on, but I was an uncoordinated couch potato who’d never done anything remotely athletic and I really didn’t know where to start. I tried to enjoy running for a year or so, but it didn’t sustain my interest. On a whim, I went to Amal Easton’s academy in nearby Boulder for an intro in 2004 and it took me two years to work up the courage to sign up in early 2006.
When I started training I couldn’t make it through the warm up. Mid-30s and out of shape, I was usually one of the older, rounder students in class. I think I could maybe do 5 pushups in a row. The first thing I learned was to suck it up and just keep showing up. I could see that I was probably going to suck at this for a really long time. Perspective wasn’t hard to come by at Easton’s; there was never any shortage of awe-inspiring instructors and world-class athletes hanging around. The MMA/UFC was really taking off in Colorado at the time and some of my instructors were moving that direction; some like Eliot Marshal went from teaching my evening classes to doing regional MMA bouts and eventually to starring on The Ultimate Fighter and fighting in the UFC right before my eyes. I loved seeing the big names come in and train with us. I rolled with guys like Duane Ludwig and Shane Carwin as a blue belt and met loads of famous Brazilians who came to do seminars. More importantly for me, I met friends back then that are still good friends today and I learned that you either win or you learn. Nobody ever really loses in jiu-jitsu class.
I met Professor Matt Jubera right after he moved to Colorado. He had this otherworldly passing and pressure that nobody at my area had really ever seen before and for a number of years he basically just took over the local BJJ competition scene. A long time student of Xande and Saulo Ribeiro, I really didn’t understand his game, but I knew the style really resonated with me and I wanted to learn it. When he told me he was starting his own academy near my house (I was a blue belt at the time), I told him I wanted to be his student before he’d even opened the doors and I have been ever since!
Setbacks, I’ve had a few. Tore my ACL on the mat as a blue belt and ended up being sidelined completely for about 7 months while I healed up. Tore my MCL badly and my -other- ACL as a purple belt. Turned out my second ACL injury wasn’t as bad as the first and didn’t end up requiring reconstruction, but the MCL took several months to heal before I could find that out. When I got back after my MCL injury, I realized I needed to make some changes and focus on prevention, so I started working on my diet and powerlifting (Stronglifts 5x5 stuff) on the side every other day. I started slow, spent a lot of time learning, and tracked my progress; in the first year I back squatted over a quarter-million pounds total volume. People started saying things like “you’re so strong”, which is certainly better than “you’re so fat”, but it gradually inspires a weird sort of ‘big guy angst’: you still understand your failures are a byproduct of needing better technique, but now you constantly wonder if your successes are only because you’re so strong. Still, I highly recommend working on strength for jiu-jitsu players. Especially those getting older like me. I know if you want to get better and jiu-jitsu, you should just do more jiu-jitsu, but that’s easier to say as a 25 year old than it is when you’re staring into the abyss of your 40s and wondering why you keep getting hurt. I really don’t worry about my knees any more at all and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. Deadlifts have done more to alleviate my finger pain than all the miles of athletic tape I’ve ever bought.
Today at 45, I’m the epitome of the hobbyist grinder jiu-jitsu guy. Somewhere along the way I earned me the nickname “Badger” and even today there are a ton of people I train with who I’m not 100% sure know my real name. I do comps from time to time, though it isn’t a major focus for me, and I’ve earned a couple of local medals to hang up. I’ve done Masters Worlds the last couple of years as brown (no medals there unfortunately, but loads of great experience). One of my favorite competition memories was a marathon 15 minute blue belt match at a local tournament where my opponent and I ended up exhausted with an even score at the end of the finals and ended up doing 5 different 2 minute resets after the match before I was able to hit a sweep and score for the gold.
What have I learned along the way? I think the most important realization for me was that anyone can be good at something if they put in the time. Growth mindset is at the core of what BJJ teaches people and how it changes lives. When you stop thinking of your failures as reflective of your intrinsic abilities and instead reframe them as learning opportunities, you learn a skill that is maybe the most powerful mental tool you can put in your toolbox. This lesson that jiu-jitsu teaches you every day cascades out to every corner of your life and it makes you a better husband, father, friend, and person. I love watching people discover this lesson; you can watch the transformation and it’s amazing. The other part of BJJ that is powerful for me is the family you make along the way; somehow constantly trying to choke each other senseless brings people together in a way you really can’t get anywhere else.
That’s the gist of my black belt journey. Last Wednesday after a guest seminar with Professor Lovato I just about fell over when my name was called out at the end of the class. I think "gobsmacked" is a good description. I was asked to say some words and I think I did, but to be honest it took about 3 days for the smoke to clear in my head.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.