Experience and Rule Breaking

I have worked as a mental health therapist for twelve years and have been doing jiujitsu for almost ten years.  So, I have a decent amount of experience in both endeavors.  Both my profession and my passion require a lot of technique, and for beginners of either activity, the nuances of that technique might not be readily apparent.


From day one, I was taught to learn and drill technique for both.  Sound technique has saved me from getting choked unconscious by people countless times!  It’s also helped me while grappling people.  Developing proficiency in technique is how I improve; and is critical when I am confronted with some brute trying to hyper-extend my arm or getting through to a sullen teenager that was drug to my office by her parents because she won’t do her homework.

Recently, I’ve begun to discover it’s possible to break from technique and use “bad” form in certain situations.  It takes a lot of experience in a given activity to know when it’s okay to break from technique, as the consequences of doing so can be disastrous.  If I have my opponent’s back and while going for a rear naked choke I happen to break from good technique by crossing my feet in front of my opponent, I’m going to get ankle locked by anybody that’s been grappling for more than one month.  If I’m talking with a client that is processing their trauma and I take a break from good technique by having them talk about too much too soon, I run the risk of re-victimizing them right in my office.  Both those options suck.

The thing is, an experienced grappler will come across situations in which breaking from the use of “good technique” is correct, just as an experienced therapist will know when to push their client a little bit, even if it may appear to be a break from standard clinical practice.

I’m sure this concept has carry over to a lot of other domains as well.  Have you noticed this dynamic anywhere?

Motivation vs. Discipline

We are just over a month deep in to the New Year.  Have you already procrastinated your well intentioned resolutions until “next year,” or are you still going strong?  Your answer to that question likely tells the story as to whether you rely solely on motivation to achieve goals, or if you are also disciplined.


Understanding Motivation 

Motivation can be defined as the reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way, or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.  Motivation provides the source of energy and inspiration to change something in your life.  Source of motivation for a person can come from inside oneself or external environmental factors. Source of motivation can arise from both positive and negative emotions.  A person can be motivated by wanting to achieve a higher level of functioning in a given area because they believe a reward may come from achieving that higher level of functioning.  For example, a person may choose to enroll in welding courses at a trade school so as to boost their future earning potential. In this case, a person is motivated to change a behavior because they believe a payoff will be realized once they change.  Or a person can be motivated to change based on a negative emotion or experience.  If you put your jeans on one morning and find that your gut has expanded such that you no longer need a belt to hold your pants up, you will either be happy that, through excess calorie consumption, you have efficiently consolidated the need for clothing accessories, i.e., a belt, OR, the more likely outcome, is you’ll feel a bit ashamed for letting yourself go.  The consequence of feeling shame is not a desirable feeling, therefore, you may be motivated to purchase some running shoes and leafy greens rather than Baconators and Ben & Jerry’s.  In any case, motivation serves as the emotional impetus for initiating behavioral change.

Understanding Discipline

 Discipline, in the sense we are talking here, is from the verb form of the word, and can be defined here as the act of training oneself to do something in a controlled or habitual way.  Discipline is a critical component to achieving goals; and is perhaps more important for long term maintenance of a new behavior than motivation.  Discipline, in the context of goal achievement, is a system for starting and then maintaining the new behavior.  This system is comprised of consistent, structured scheduling of the new behavior in to one’s routine, and the accompanying mindset of being willing to consistently do the behavior even if the motivation to do it isn’t there.  Motivation can be fleeting.  Some days a person may feel like engaging in the behavior they set out to do.  Other days, they may not feel like it because their motivation is low for whatever reason.  That’s the problem with relying on motivation alone.  It is fleeting.  Discipline, however, is constant.  A disciplined person engages in the behaviors whether or not they feel motivated to do so.

Understanding How To Blend Motivation And Discipline

Consider the metaphor of an internal combustion engine.  Motivation can be thought of as the starter motor.  In order to get the engine going, the starter motor must initially engage the engine.  Once the engine is up and running, it becomes self sustaining and the starter motor is no longer needed.  Discipline, in this sense, is the engine.   Both motivation and discipline are needed to start and then maintain a new behavior, but discipline is much more important for long term success.  Once a person is disciplined in consistently repeating a new behavior, a self-sustaining effect is generated, rendering the need for motivation as much less important.


Source of inspiration for this blog entry: http://www.wisdomination.com/screw-motivation-what-you-need-is-discipline/

Safe Spaces: A Jiujitsu Based Critique

Safe Spaces are places where people who feel marginalized on account of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. can go and escape hate speech and rigid belief systems.  Sounds reasonable.  Everybody deserves to feel safe.  I believe the way Safe Spaces are being applied, however, actually serve to reinforce the dogmatic thinking they are seeking to avoid.

Let’s take a contemporary belief held by some groups of people that would send a gaggle of college freshmen running for a safe space: “Transgender people should use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.”  When a person articulates this belief out loud,  Safe Space folks go running, pausing only to look over their shoulder and yell, “Bigot!” before tuck and rolling in to their sanctuary.  Within the Safe Space, like-minded people reassure one another their belief holds the moral high ground, and any that oppose the belief within the Safe Space are denounced as regressive throwbacks.  The original person that stated their belief about transgender people’s bathroom usage maintains their belief, unchanged by the Safe Spacer’s tantrum.  The Safe Spacer’s belief is left unchanged; maintained and reinforced by his peers within the Safe Space.  The Safe Spacer’s belief, “Transgender people should use whatever bathroom they please (which I endorse, by the way)” becomes the Absolute Truth; especially when championed by University faculty.  This is dogma.  Beliefs unchecked due to being derived behind the shield of the Safe Space become dogma.  Now, bear with me as I talk about jiujitsu.  I’ll come back around to this Safe Space stuff in a minute.

Unless you have been living under a rock since 1993, you probably are aware that jiujitsu fundamentally changed the way we think about effective fighting.  A skinny Brazilian choked out bigger, badder dudes trained in movie-friendly martial arts like Kung Fu and Karate all the way to a tournament victory.  The Jiujitsu player did this by not adhering to the dogma inherent to many traditional martial arts.  Jiujitsu is one of the few martial arts that can be trained at 100% without a big risk of injury.  Due to this, jiujitsu practitioners are able to determine very quickly what techniques are bullshit, and what techniques have merit.  Bullshit techniques are flushed down the toilet quickly, as the application of said technique leads to the person applying it getting strangled.  Getting strangled has a funny way of discouraging a person from doing whatever it was that immediately preceded their opponent’s arms from cutting the blood flow to their brain.  On the flip side, when you successfully pull off a technique you have drilled, and then do it again and again, it reinforces you to add that effective technique to your arsenal.  When your opponent does everything they can to keep you from beating them, but you pull off the technique and beat them anyway, you have developed confidence in that technique through your own effort in learning, drilling, and applying it.

Traditional martial arts, however, have a different approach.  Many of those martial arts don’t spar at 100%.  Techniques, and the application of those techniques are drilled with non resisting opponents, focus mitts, heavy bags, and sometimes, the techniques are applied against no resistance at all (Kata).  Practitioners of these martial arts are taught how deadly effective their martial art techniques are, and that this is the reason they can’t try their technique on a live, resisting opponent.  After all, these Shaolin secrets are too deadly to use and you need to register your hands as deadly weapons with the local police department right?  Riiiight.  Look, if my martial arts instructor tells me that my Spinning Preying Mantis Inverted Kick Chop technique is unbeatable, and that I am unbeatable now that I am a triple stripe golden black belt, but I’m not allowed to test myself to see if the techniques I’ve learned are indeed, unbeatable, then I have bought in to the dogma of that martial art.  My belief in my technique is unchecked by resisting opponents, and further propped up and emboldened by my insulated crew of martial artists at my McDojo.  For a history lesson, check out UFC 1 and/or any of the Gracie Challenge videos.

Now, let me try to synchronize my critique of the Safe Space.  Without resistance, we learn nothing.  Without having our technique, physical or intellectual, challenged and checked by fully resisting opponents, then we don’t truly know why we believe what we believe.  We haven’t earned it.  We haven’t expended the necessary effort of analyzing why we believe what we believe.  We haven’t gone through the process of vigorously grappling an opponent that has different objectives in mind.  In the Safe Space of padded university rooms and phony bologna martial art dojos, beliefs are simply adopted and passed on.  These beliefs go unchecked by an opponent trying to break your arm, or a detractor providing a counterpoint (harsh as it may seem!) to the belief you hold that you are convinced is morally correct.

On a symbolic side note: Check out the images in this post.  The safe space triangle is balancing on its point.  The jiujitsu triangle is balancing on its base.  Which triangle is least likely to topple?

(source that inspired this post was found on Joe Rogan’s podcast)


Black Belt


A few weeks ago, a room full of ninjas beat me silly just before promoting me to black belt in jiujitsu.  It’s pretty surreal.  The concept of “Black Belt” has a mysterious, omnipotent connotation that has transcended martial arts, and is used in every day language to represent mastery over a given subject.  Some kid, somewhere, is a Pokemon GO black belt.  I don’t want to meet him, but he’s out there.

Since the day Corey promoted me, my thoughts have ping ponged between, “Hell yeah, I’m a Black Belt!” and “How the hell am I a Black Belt?” More often than not, the self critical side of me whispers in my ear, “You don’t deserve it.”  Occasionally, the more positive side of me will bleed through in to my conscious mind with, “The people you consider badasses apparently consider you one of their own, so just own it already, Killer J!”

My buddy Lucus posted something that has helped me keep a balanced perspective.  I’ll close out this post by sharing his thoughts:

A belt in Jiu Jitsu is not just a recognition of your skill level. As you advance it shows both your skill, and your knowledge. Not just the knowledge and skill you already possess, but the ability to obtain a higher level of understanding. An armlock is no longer just an arm lock, a guillotine is broken down into a dozen small moves that form together to give the appearance of one big move. A blue belt is a goal, brown and black belts are keys. The keys simply unlocked the ability that others around you already see you have. What belts don’t do, is give you some all power that you will no longer lose. It is still Okay to tap, necessary even. There is no weight on your shoulder, you have no expectations to live up to but your own. As long as you are continually setting the bar higher for yourself you deserve the belt you wear.

Courage In the Face of Complacency


(not my image)

Most people think of cowardice as being the opposite of courage.  Those people might share an example of the heroic fireman blasting past the trembling bystander in to a building engulfed in flames as a contrast between courage and cowardice.

This certainly still applies in my estimation, but Rickson Gracie said something on Rogan’s podcast that got my attention.  I’m paraphrasing, but Rickson said something to the effect of, “In modern society, the opposite of courage is not cowardice.  It’s complacency.”  While looking in to this topic, I found that Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”  Rickson and Mandela… good enough for Killer J.

In our somewhat civilized society, most people aren’t faced with fending off hordes of marauders, launching spears in to charging rhinos, or Tarzan’ing from a jungle vine and rescuing a baby from the clutches of a crocodile.  That stuff happens, just not all that often.

Most of us are faced with less imminently severe stressors, but in the long term, our modern day stress can be crippling and is kept in place by complacency.  Do you have a job you don’t like, but fear quitting and doing your own thing?  That’s complacency.  Are you trapped in a bad relationship, but you won’t leave because you fear being alone?  That’s complacency.  If you’re a jiujitsu player, do you find yourself not progressing because you stick to your “A” game at all times while sparring because you fear trying out a new technique and failing?  Complacency.

I know I have fallen in to the complacency trap multiple times in my life with various things, so don’t take this post as being preachy.  I’ve let fear best me plenty of times, and the comfort of the mundane and predictable has been alluring enough to freeze me up for periods of time.  I need to remember to have the courage to take that leap, and not let fear bind me anymore.  Neither should you!

Jiujitsu, Cops, and Schemas

cop car

I’ve written about the psychology concept of schemas before.  They’re basically shortcuts our mind creates to make life easier so we don’t have to think out every single action we do every single time we do them.  As we regularly complete a complex series of tasks over and over, our mind does us a huge favor  and simplifies the complex task in to a “prepackaged” simple action, i.e. a baby learning to walk.

I hadn’t considered the application of schemas to jiujitsu until a cop buddy of mine was prefacing a series of techniques with a schema-related concept prior to teaching how some techniques flow in to other techniques, e.g. the armlock from guard transitions to the triangle choke, and the triangle transitions to the omoplata, and back again.

To illustrate the concept, he began describing a situation in which an aggressive suspect made a move to attack.  He told me he instantaneously and instinctively drew his firearm and leveled it at the attacking suspect a half beat before his conscious mind realized he’d done so.  His swift action caused the suspect to stand down, and no lethal force was used.

Years of repetition had enabled John to instantaneously perceive a threat, perceive it as potentially deadly and in need of potentially lethal force, remove his pistol from his holster, properly aim the pistol at the threat, and then pause before squeezing off a round to reassess the threat.  If he had to think through each of those steps, his actions would have been significantly slower and his life and subsequently the suspect’s life could have gone very different paths.  His schema, based off countless training scenarios and real world application, worked well.

Well, it works the same in jiujitsu, but with obviously much less dire consequences.  The reason people get really good at jiujitsu has everything to do with schemas!  A lot of factors go in to making a jiujitsu technique work against a resisting opponent.  Awareness is huge, as two people grappling certainly can create a fairly tangled, confusing web of limbs.

nogi grappling

For instance, to pull off an arm lock against a resisting opponent, I have to consider what my left arm is doing, what my right arm is doing, where my left leg is, and where my right leg is.  I also have to consider where each of my opponent’s respective limbs are.  Furthermore, I have to consider where my opponent’s limbs are in respect to my own limbs at any given moment.  Body positioning, weight distribution, and body angles all have to be considered.  Timing of technique, knowing when to apply the technique, knowing when to not apply the technique, and knowing how to even get in the position to execute the technique are all factors.  Finally, doing all of these things instantaneously while simultaneously being aware of your opponent’s attempts at defending as well as possibly what your opponent is trying to do to you in return makes a seemingly simple technique infinitely complex to a beginner.

Through years of drilling, practice, and live application, the complex series of tasks necessary to arm lock somebody gets prepackaged in to a nice little schema.  It becomes automatic.  It is my “Arm Lock Schema.”  Put in a slightly different situation, I have a “Triangle Schema,” and then a slightly different situation from the previous, and my “Omoplata” schema activates.

John was just teaching us to loop those schemas together, ultimately leading to the real life ninja shit of the Arm Lock/Triangle/Omoplata Schema.