Black Belt

Blackbelt

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

goldfish-leaping-to-new-tank

(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. 

 

“You are strong.” Insult or Compliment?

Twenty years.  That’s how long I’ve been lifting weights.  It’s important to me.  Strength training has shaped my life; my mind and my body.  As a result, I shamelessly admit I like when people tell me, “You are strong!”

Damn straight.

Typically, I’ll politely accept the compliment.  On occasion, I’ll kindly shrug it off by pointing out I’m unfathomably weak compared to the world’s strongest.  The point is, I interpret the statement, “You are strong” as a compliment.

(not my image)

(not my image)

The funny thing is, when it comes to jiu jitsu, I can’t help but take that statement as an insult. “You are strong” gets scrambled by my mental filter, and the interpretation that sticks is: “The only reason you beat me is you are an ox.  Your technique sucks!”

I know that I’m not the only grappler that shares this belief, so I made a point to tell one of my strong, gigantic training partners, Jared, that he will probably hear that insult veiled as a compliment quite a bit, as he is getting pretty damn good. He weighs upwards of 250, so I believe his technique will often be misconstrued as him winning simply due to his size. My buddy, Seth, overheard me and disagreed. He acknowledged that he, too, thought like me at one point.  Seth went on to point out that in the majority of circumstances, the statement “You are strong” is meant as a compliment, even in jiu jitsu.      That got me thinking, and I realized I was very likely projecting my own fears of not being very technical on to other people when they might be meaning well! From now on, I’ll just assume people mean it as a compliment in all aspects.

Note to self: If I set up and execute a smooth, technical arm bar on somebody and they promptly tell me I’m strong, I can always reply, “Thanks!  The way to get out of that arm bar I just put you in is to work on your triceps kickbacks.  Good luck, bud.”

Catfish: Love and Looks (Poll)

Have you ever watched MTV’s Catfish? Basically, the synopsis of every episode is some poor fool ends up finding out the person they have had an internet relationship with for a long time is not who they say they are. In an episode my wife and I recently watched, some dude fell in love with a beautiful woman online without ever having met her. The Catfish Crew ended up finding this purported vixen, hoping to unite the two star-crossed lovers. Turns out, she was, in fact, ratchet. (Am I using that right, kids?)

(not my image)

(not my image)

I have some questions for you, dear reader:
If you fell in love with somebody, but they ended up looking very different from what you’d thought, would you stay in love? If everything else about the person was the same, i.e., personality, voice, occupation, life story, would looks matter? Even if you could get past this, it’d be a pretty big breach of trust for somebody you fell in love with to lie like that, right?

Let’s set the obvious trust issues aside for a moment.

Humor me, and consider the following unrealistic, hypothetical. Think of the person you love most. Husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever… If that person went through a dramatic surgery, “Face Off” style, and completely altered their appearance, while retaining every thing else that makes them the person you love, would your feelings for the person change or remain the same?

By the way, spare me the “That’s superficial!” hyperbole. I’m not talking about the same person maybe gaining a little weight or going bald after previously having a full head of hair… I mean, a dramatic change in their appearance! What if they didn’t remotely resemble their former appearance? What if they stayed within the same range of “attractiveness” but looked completely and utterly different?

(not my image)

(not my image)

My theory is that in most cases, a dramatic change in looks would be a game changer for a relationship even if the person was similarly attractive but looked completely different (Nicolas Cage to John Travolta). I think physical appearance and facial features are closely tied with identity. We bond to that image. When we fall in love or attach to a person, we obviously fall in love with all the wonderful things that make up a person’s personality. It just seems all of that love for a person’s personality and characteristics are encompassed within the “snap shot” image we have of that person in our own heads.

Thoughts?