Category Archives: Thoughts

Why parents should know Brazilian JiuJitsu

Been a while since I last wrote anything here. Been super busy all autumn, but decided to write something for xmas. These are things I’ve learned lately in dealing with my almost 9 month old daughter. Sometimes a parent can benefit from BJJ…

It teaches you patience

You can’t leap forward with anything, you will get frustrated a lot and you just have to churn the same thing over and over again.

You sometimes have to do things you don’t really like

Whether it’s tapping to the same same damn submission for the 100th time or washing poo away from a kids behind you just have do things you might not really like.

It teaches you how to handle people who are trying to squirm their way out of your grips

Yeah, kids squirm when you try to clean them or make them sleep. Or feed them. Or change their clothes. Once they get moving you can’t hold them in place.

The closed guard is a super fun way to play with a little kid

Put a kid in you closed guard and swoop away around the floor. At least my kid laughs at this fun. Also open guard passing is a fun tickling game.

Repetition is crucial

Changed the diaper two hours ago? Well, repeat that. Oh, done it already four times? Well, do it again. Always do every game twice, at least.

The body triangle is an essential tool when dressing a kid

Nothing holds a kid in place better than a body triangle when you’re trying to put on clothes and the kid doesn’t want to participate in that thing.

Merry Xmas everyone!


As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been slacking with writing to this blog. For this I apologize. The simple reason has been that I haven’t had the energy to really concentrate on writing, I have simply been too busy.

What has kept me busy is a project called Epic North. I spent many hours of my free time (the same time I use for BJJ) composing, mixing and mastering on the three albums we have produced in the last 9 months. And the new double album is keeping me busy.

But don’t worry, I still go to the gym and fail. I have just been too tired to write about it. ūüôā

Have a peaceful Xmas

This one is going start with a lenghty qoute from a story by CNN. I recommend you read the whole original article before you go on. It recounts the actions of a German fighter pilot in World War II:

“As Stigler’s fighter rose to meet the bomber, he decided to attack it from behind. He climbed behind the sputtering bomber, squinted into his gun sight and placed his hand on the trigger. He was about to fire when he hesitated. Stigler was baffled. No one in the bomber fired at him.

He looked closer at the tail gunner. He was still, his white fleece collar soaked with blood. Stigler craned his neck to examine the rest of the bomber. Its skin had been peeled away by shells, its guns knocked out. He could see men huddled inside the plane tending the wounds of other crewmen.

Then he nudged his plane alongside the bomber’s wings and locked eyes with the pilot whose eyes were wide with shock and horror.

Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. He eased his index finger off the trigger. He couldn’t shoot. It would be murder.

Stigler wasn’t just motivated by vengeance that day. He also lived by a code. He could trace his family’s ancestry to knights in 16th century Europe. He had once studied to be a priest.

A German pilot who spared the enemy, though, risked death in Nazi Germany. If someone reported him, he would be executed.

Yet Stigler could also hear the voice of his commanding officer, who once told him:

You follow the rules of war for you — not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity.

With those words in mind I want to wish everyone a very peaceful Christmas. Take care of your humanity.

To getting better

Now as the new season is starting go really go, I think it might be time to write about the helpful little things that I do to help me get better at BJJ.

#1. Have fun.

For me this has always been one the biggest things what ever you’re doing. If I take something too seriously I usually try too hard and I gain nothing. Sparring is a good example. You need to try new things in sparring or you won’t learn them. But if you’re just trying not to lose then you’re not having much fun. For me the sparrings that I get the most out of are the one’s where I’m actually laughing and talking with my partner. I may (and frequently do) make mistakes but as long as I’m not too serious about it then I’m learning.

#2. Make mistakes.

Yeah, making mistakes is probably one of the best ways to learn. If you just always do the techniques you know will work, then you never broaden your game and you never learn new things.

#3. Keep a journal.

When I started doing BJJ I used to write every technique I learned up in a journal. I tried to write all the steps the technique had. But I didn’t do it right after the training. I did it right before going to sleep so I would have to rattle my brain into remembering what the technique was really about.

#4. Ask questions.

Every time you ask something you get extra bits of information. So why not ask? Some people don’t ask questions because they don’t want to look foolish in a room full of pyjama clad men (and women) who roll on a padded floor…

#5. Stay and talk with the others.

Seriously. I understand that you can’t always stay at the gym because you have a life (please tell us what that’s like), but I’ve gotten some of the best tips and bits of knowledge after classes while talking with others. I’ve found it really useful to hear and see how people work around their “disablities” (for example I’m not very strecthy and my both thumbs have rolled over more than once).

Also staying and chatting helps you get more into the group and help others to relax and have fun with you.

What’s your game plan

A game plan. This is something all of us need. Without it we’re just groping in the dark hoping to find something that will help us on the mat. I usually end the season teaching something I’ve called routing and that I have been doing this season also.

It’s just a string.

So, a route is the way you are going to get from A to B. It’s also a sequence of techniques. Once you have a route you are not just doing a technique, then another technique, then another but you’re stringing them together. First I start by asking someone what’s their best submission. Then where it comes from. That give you the point B. Then point A is what ever position you happen to be in.

For example, for a long time my game plan was to go for an armbar from the knee on stomach. That was my point B. That was (and still is) my favorite target to go for.

So if your best submission comes from the mount then that is where you’re going. And how do you usually get to the mount? Maybe with a sweep from the closed guard? Or maybe from the side mount? How’d you get there? See where this is going? I personally like to back track every route first. There’s no particular reason, but I think it’s easier to comprehend when you start from your goal and work your way backwards. You don’t get that caught up with the different possibilities and loose sight of the you point B.

My game plan?

Here’s my current game plan.

Plan A, starting from stand up: get the grips for a hip throw and throw. Take the side mount, which is natural after the throw. Go for the back mount (yes I’m currently working to better my back mount). RNC or armbar.

Plan B, if I can’t get the hip throw, then a sacrifice throw. Roll it to the mount. Basic lapel choke or armbar.

Plan C, oh you get the picture…

A game plan isn’t that hard to create. You just need to know what you’re good at. If you’re competing then it becomes a wee bit more tricky as you have to take into account what the other guy is good at. But it’s still the same principle. Those game plans I’ve shown up there are the ideal versions. It’s the versions where I’m doing it with a dummy. The amount of the steps I need to take before reaching my goal varies, but my goal doesn’t. If we end up in something different then I just work towards my point B. It’s not rocket science.

So, what’s your game plan?


I had a chat with one of our white belts. He’s a big, strong guy. He has gone through our basic class set (20 classes) a few times and just of late has come to train in the advanced classes. After a class he feeling totally beat. ¬†So I had a little chat with him. I had noticed that he spent a lot of time doing static grips and holds and that he kept spending his strength and energy on those. So this followed.

Me: Why do use so much strength?

The White Belt: If the guy has better technique I need to use strength.

Me: Why do you need to use strength?

TWB: So I can keep up.

Me: Why do you need to keep up?

TWB: So I wouldn’t be dominated.

Me: Why are you afraid of being dominated?

TWB: I don’t want to loose.

Me: Are you here to loose?

A pause.

Me: Aren’t you here to learn?

Did you guess where the conversation was heading? I knew the answers he gave before hand, because this was not the first I’ve had a conversation like that. And probably won’t be the last time.

Why do we feel the need to stall?

Personally, I’ve always hated just stopping and trying to prevent my partner from doing anything. For me that’s never been a thing. If the guy (or gal) does good technique and gets to submit me then that’s good. It means I’m learning right? And I’ve never really been a competitive guy. Well, I was when I was younger, but once you play 15+ years of soccer mostly in teams that spend their time loosing, you kinda get rid of that.

But most us have a built in desire not to loose. We want to win, some of us more badly than others. It’s just a natural thing for us. There used to be a time when loosing meant dying. Survival of the fittest used to be the thing. Evolution has granted us many things to keep us alive.

So it’s understandable why we don’t want to loose.

But by not “loosing” are we holding ourselves back?

Now, I understand that we want to “fight” and that we don’t want to tap. God knows there are a couple of my long time friends at the same gym with whom it always comes down to not letting them get a submission so no one could get a chance go “oh I tapped your ass out” which, let’s face it, is a thing that friends do. And I’m not suggesting that you give people a chance to submit you. ¬†But there’s a difference in defending and blocking.

I think the main difference is that when you’re defending, you’re actively trying to work your position. When you’re blocking you’re just preventing your partner from doing things. Which I find quite counter productive. Because if we go to the gym to learn play BJJ then we need to get into those situation that we suck at and learn from them. And if we just prevent others from doing anything, are we really learning to defend? If you’re strong you can hold out longer but eventually your strength is going to run out and then you’re f**ked.

This is one of the reasons I’ve found that smaller guys tend to learn faster and better technique. They can’t stop you with strength and they’re more likely to be put into bad positions because of that. And because of that they need to get their technique right and when they do, they will probably walk all over you.

So blocking in my mind is a big no-no.

Being active.

Being active doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re all out attacking all the time. For me the biggest difference between activity and passivity is this: When you’re active you’re working your position, when you’re passive you’re reacting to what your partner is doing. And when you’re reacting you’re already a step behind. When you’re active you’re a step ahead even if you’re defending. Plus you’re learning all the time, I can’t stress that enough.

For example I have this rule about defending from the bottom: If my partner is behind my legs then it’s good for me. If he’s in front of my legs then that’s bad. So to defend my position on the bottom I try to keep my legs between me and my partner. I’m not trying to lock them down with my legs, but I want to actively control the position with my legs. And that keeps him reacting to my activity.

So by being active in what I do I can “prevent” my partner from playing his game and at the same time play my game and lead the situation and not just stop him. And I’m giving him a chance to learn to work around my technique and improve his passing.

Did I mention that when you’re in class you’re not just learning, but you’re also teaching?

Oh yes, you are. So think about it. By stalling you’re not just preventing yourself from learning, but you’re also preventing your partner from learning. So every time we’re stalling just so we wouldn’t loose we’re giving away a chance to learn something. Of course people have different ways of learning, but I find the best way to learn is to push yourself somewhere where you haven’t been (aka going out of your comfort zone). And then doing it again and again and again.

The art of the slow roll

When I was starting BJJ I was usually rolling with a long time friend of mine. At first we were fighting, but quite soon we got into mode where we used less and less force with each other and tried to do more technique. The more we did technique, the more me moved. Eventually we got into a mode where we were constantly moving. When we got used to being constantly on the move we learned to control the pace so that we would get tired.

Now, I like this mode of training very much as it gives you the possibility to try new things without the fear of loosing. Because the idea is not to make the other guy submit but to learn to be active.

And for me, every time I’m active in sparring I get places to do submissions because I’m a head of the game and not in survival mode.

Is it a way of life?

There’s a lot of talk about BJJ being a way of life. It’s even featured on the Drinking with Rener¬†video. I think most of the time it’s a mantra that people who have just found the excitement of doing a lot of BJJ recite or then it’s a sales pitch to give your audience to make the thing your selling seem more prestigious. So yeah, I wouldn’t call myself a “true believer”.

BJJ is a way of life. For a long time I considered this to mean that your life basically revolves around BJJ. You basically live in the gym and everything you do supports your BJJ. You live only for BJJ and nothing else. It is also something I personally will never be able to do.

But I started thinking about things a while back and I began to ask myself questions.

  • Do you accept your failures and try to learn from them?
  • Do you always try to do things better?
  • Do you try to help others be better?
  • Do you help others when they fail?
  • Do you get up after you get knocked down?
  • Do you believe everyone is equal?

So is BJJ a way of life?

Use the force, dude

I don’t consider myself to being a zen kind of a dude. Not by a long shot. I’ve always though that I’m just one of the guys that go to the gym and train. That’s it. But sometimes I get into conversations where I feel like the zen grand daddy of them all. One subject in such conversations is, well, force. This might turn into rambling so I do apologize before hand.

Use your senses.

How many senses do you have? Humans have at least 5 traditional senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Of these we use our sight the most. As predators we our eyes face forward and we rely heavily on what we see. We’ve come to rely on our eyes for pretty much everything. What sense are you using right now as you read this?¬†A lot of us spend our days in front of the computer. A perfect eye sight helps us in a the world we have built.

Taste is another sense we use quite a lot. We eat some many different kinds of foods, drink different kinds of beverages and in general tasting things is pleasure to us. Using our taste kind of serves us.

But what about the other senses? Are you using them? Are you really using your hearing? Really? Can you do echolocation?

What kind of sorcery is this?

The last time a got into a conversation about the subject of force was when I free rolled with one of our blue belts. We were talking about pressure and somehow that turned into talking about using force. ¬†Force is something we as grapplers can really benefit from. I’m not talking brute strength here nor what your body is capable of. I’m talking about using your sense of force.

As we talked I asked the blue belt to stand up, grab my gi sleeve and close his eyes. I wanted him to tell me what I was doing. First I did the starting moves of a technical stand up and he got it right. Then I went for his leg with my leg and he got that one right as well. And I wasn’t doing big drastic moves, but I was trying to them as nice and easy as possible. Still my body gave out signals he could interpret. Then his mind combined those signals with his knowledge of grappling and gave him the answers to what I was doing. After he opened his eyes he actually said “What kind of sorcery is this?”.

Feel the force, man.

It’s not sorcery. Our bodies and minds can detect more than we usually notice. We rely on our eyes to give us information and it overpowers the rest of our sensory capacities. We all can feel where force is going and where it’s coming from. And that is knowledge that a grappler can use.

I first ran into contact with these ideas when I practiced Wing Tsun. There’s a thing they do called Chi Sao which trains you to find the shortest path past your opponents strikes to deliver your own. Here’s what it looks like:

The idea is to learn to feel where your opponents power is going and using that information to direct it away from you and going forward around it. And that’s why learning to feel the force and use it is beneficial to grapplers. Once you learn to identify where the strength is coming and where it’s going you also learn to sense where it’s not going. And that is where you will find your opponents weak spot and the opening for your attack.

Use the force, dude

So why should you learn it? For once it will save you strength because you’re not going to be fighting against power but you will be working around it. Nothing is stupider than head butting which of you has the bigger bicep when you could just let the guy show you his strength and then waltz right past it and leave him wondering how the hell did you do that.

It can help you see “in the dark”. Well, not really, but you can find safe passage in places your eyes can’t see. Ever played Jenga? It’s a game where you really can’t trust your eyes because all the sticks seem to be on even footing. But try them with your fingers and you’ll notice which ones give in and which ones won’t budge. Try wrestling with your eyes closed. Then you will see, pun intended, how much your eyes lead you astray.

Acrobatics – that confusing stuff

There’s a lot of talk about flexibility and strength and how they help you in doing grappling. But I’ve always felt the need for basic acrobatics training since acrobatics has helped me, a nonflexible regular 30-something guy, to be better at rolling. Usually people do the stuff that are natural to the sport (like shrimping) which is a good thing, but I like to do more. And here’s why.

If you’re like me, you aren’t a world class athlete to start with.

A lot of guys who come to the gym do so for the first time in a long while. Or even if they’ve done other sports their body only knows the movement paths of that sport. They start a new hobby and learn the basics. After some time their body starts to learn new movement paths and they actually learn them. But then you throw them something new and they’re at a loss. And that’s perfectly normal since most of us don’t train our body to work in different kinds of situations. Hence the acrobatics.

Know your own frigging body.

For me, doing acrobatics is one the most important things. It’s one of the best ways to teach yourself how your body works. It puts you into positions where you actually have to think about what the heck your muscles are doing (they’re probably blaming your for their conundrum to the muscles of the guy you just fell on while trying to cartwheel). When it comes to movement paths versatility is¬† must. Take a look at gymnasts and parkour runners. You can basically throw anything at them and they will know how to move.

Wow, how’d that get in there…

But seriously, a few examples:

So what’s this got to do with BJJ, SW, MMA?

Think about it; how many times you’ve come across positions or techniques that leave you scratching your head? I can say I’ve run into a lot of them. Usually the reason they left me baffled was the fact that I couldn’t get my body to go in the direction it needed to go. Meaning, I didn’t know how my muscles should work.

You can teach your body and muscles to do what you want it to do. I use acrobatics for this. I have three different kinds of ways to train acrobatics; basic moves, sequences and balance exercises.

Training single moves.

This is your basic kind of training; you do one type of move at a time, usually several times while moving across the gym. My basic routine consists of rolls (on the ground, front and back), dive rolls (classic and rolling over the shoulder version), log rolls, cartwheels and jumping (from standing still, both feet on the ground and single foot on the ground). I also like to do the S-mount walk.

My routine usually has some type of animal movement as well. My preferred animals are monkey, bear¬†(need to start making people do this¬†version as well), rabbit¬†(Yes, that’s right. It’s a bunny. Do we have a problem here?)¬†and seal.¬†I also do single moves in place. Handstands (usually against the wall), forward steps in push up position, 180 degree triangle choke rolls.

All these I found to really help me with basic movement. With them I feel I can control my body better.

Sequence that stuff.

Once I got really familiar with the moves I mentioned previously I started to sequence them. Do cartwheels so that you change your side between one. Combine different rolls. Combine them with cartwheel. And the animals. And with whatever you can think of.

I like sequences because they also really rack your brain as well as your muscles. The weirder the combination the better. The more you really have to think about how the heck are you going to get into the starting position of the next move, the more you learn. Because you’re trying to go for the smoothest way to transition between two awkward positions. Which is pretty much what you do in BJJ all the time.

Balancing  it out.

Balance is an essential thing for basically any sportsman. For this I’ve always preferred training like the kids. You know, where ever you are with what you have there. Are you walking on a sidewalk? Don’t. Walk on the stones between the sidewalk and the road. Go to the woods. Skip from rock to rock, walk on tree roots, try not to touch the ground. I like to train my balance while moving and not static postures (which are good as well, don’t get me wrong). Playgrounds are good as well. They usually have a bunch of contraptions that adults can also use. Which you can totally use to train your balance. Don’t worry about looking weird, you totally will but who cares.

And lastly, a (im)practical application of acrobatics:

Yeah, definitely going to have to learn that last one.