I move therefore I am

I move
therefore
I am

*

Our bodies were made to move. Made to jump, to flop, to strain — to roll, to fall, to wander — but here we are, locked in and made to wonder, “When will it be safe again,” “When will we be safe again,” of each other, with each other, again.

*

I move there
‘fore
I am

*

Each breath was a chance to move, each step a chance to attack, each move a breath, an attack, a chance. When in doubt, where there was doubt, before there is doubt, move. To move was me and to me, to move was when I could truly be.

*

Each of us carry our thoughts upon our shoulders, heavy as we walk wall to wall within our living spaces, hardly space enough for living, and now, needing to house and bathe and clothe and face, every fear, doubt, and worry that visits unannounced, unsure when they will, when we will, if we will, leave.

*

It was easier before. That before when we could leave those thoughts at the door of the gym, the edge of the mat, the start of a roll. In that before, we could choose whether or not we would carry those thoughts once more. Before this, before now.

*

I move there
for I
am

*

I move, sometimes. I blink, I yawn, I stretch — I bend down to find a fallen pen, a piece of bread. I move minimally, only when it is necessary. Before, that was the goal. Efficient movement, saving energy, timing, timing, timing. Now, we have all the time in the world. But most of the time, we’re not moving. And so time moves without us.

*

I move
they’re for I
am

*

Where does one’s edge go when it is lost? Does it get washed up on the shore, found damp alongside one’s lost fire? Or is it like lost memories, never to be found? Locked in the before.

*

I move
their “for”
I am

*

My body is mine to move. I may not jump as wildly or as often as I used to, perhaps I flop only onto bed, and I strain only when cleaning underneath the far corners of the sofa. I am locked in but not locked out of the strength that has carried me through every roll, every break, every fall.

The being I was before still is — being, before. Before this, before now.

The body I am moving, the being I am becoming, is here, now. Moving the weight from my shoulders to my hands, my legs, to lift, to curl, to press, to pull. This is how I move, now.

When we leave, I will be me, a me I will only meet then, there.

I must move, forward, towards that day, that me, for me.

*

I move
therefore
I am

I move there
‘fore
I am

I move there
for I
am

I move
they’re for I
am

I move
their “for”
I am

When we say goodbye (An ode to my gym)

The mats were blue. They were long enough to fit at least seven forward rolls during warmups, wide enough to fit five pairs for footsweep drills, though someone always ended up swerving last minute, either to avoid the pair next to them or the soft spots between the mats.

On Saturdays, sometimes six pairs could fit for rolling, with a corner coned off for drilling, and a rope laid down to mark the space for those practicing Muay Thai. “Don’t get too close to Muay Thai land,” was the caution if you didn’t want an errant knee to your head.

The mats were chilly in the winter, slippery in the summer. Enough give for us to dive recklessly, enough resistance to make us think twice, but still try again.

(When we say goodbye, the mat is damp, clean, shining in the sunlight.)

*

March 14, 2020.

That morning, I had been planning the lesson for womens class the next day and was eager to run some ideas by my professor. There were also new techniques I wanted to try, drills I needed to practice, questions to ask, details to work out.

We didn’t know how long the closure would last. I remember leaving class that Saturday unsure of when but hopeful that we all would be coming back, sometime, someday.

*

The timer was a mystery. It always seemed to do what it wanted, whenever it wanted. Pressing the start button didn’t always mean begin, the buzzer didn’t always mean stop – until it did. But by then, it was already too far into the next round.

Above the timer hung the clock, a simple two-handed circle that we had to change when time leapt forward and fell back. On some days, it felt like the timer was using us to compete against time itself. One more rep, one more roll, next person, don’t stop, keep going.

(When we say goodbye, the timer is silent, the numbers round, red, waiting.)

*

December 6, 2017.

It’s faded now but the entry in my notebook is still legible. “Trial @ Elements” the heading says, with two columns underneath. The pro side is longer by several lines, with the last being just one word: “Welcoming.”

*

They weren’t benches per se but we used them as such. Inside was gear for visitors, for those who didn’t have or had never worn a gi before. We’d sit atop them and exchange names, exchange greetings – “Hi, first class?” “Oh hey, how’ve you been? Long time no see.”

It was on those benches that weren’t benches that we watched from when we were injured, where we rested when class was done. We did our best to keep our voices low as we talked about our rolls, about life outside our rolls, then inevitably circled back and somehow ending up on the floor in tile jiu-jitsu and even more ideas for next time. “Remember to write at least one good thing,” was the reminder when the benches were converted into desks for our notebooks.

(When we say goodbye, it’s at the benches first, sitting atop closed lids and bumping closed fists.)

*

May 1, 2020.

The pictures come slowly. The mats gone, the timer unplugged. The benches that had been used for storage with nothing left to store. The space is bare and I swear I can hear the emptiness echo through the screen.

*

There is no easy way to say goodbye. Yes, there is text and emojis and pictures and videos. There is memory and hope and promises and plans. And yes, when we say goodbye, it does not mean the end.

Tomorrow will come as it always does, and we will greet it when it comes.

Today, though, today is to say goodbye to what was.

Fear of forgetting (When we return to BJJ)

‘Will I remember,’ I wondered in the middle of a butterfly sweep, legs lifting an invisible partner, ‘Will I remember what to do when we’re all back on the mat?’

*

2020 was supposed to be a big year. I had gotten promoted near the end of 2019 and the tug of competition had grown more insistent at the turn of the decade.

Injury kept me from the first competition of 2020. Part of me regrets not participating in spite of it.

Who knows when the next one will be now.

*

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Training without a gym: How to study BJJ videos

The main way BJJ practitioners learn BJJ is through live training with an instructor leading the class.  Video can be a powerful supplement to live training if utilized effectively. Unlocking the potential of studying BJJ through video lies in how you go about choosing what, who, and when to study videos.  

 

Note: At the time of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing, causing many BJJ practitioners to completely halt their training.  While videos do have power, using videos to learn brand new positions are best when coupled with live training (see Choosing what to do after studying). 

Since we don’t yet have a way to download abilities a la The Matrix, a general recommendation during this time is to study videos to supplement positions you already know.  

 

Choosing what to study  

Video resources can be roughly separated into two types: Tutorials and rolling footage.

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Training without a gym: 6 degrees

While the Feynman technique is helpful in testing the depth of your knowledge of a certain technique, position, etc., the below exercise can help find the connections between these seemingly disparate pieces.

6 degrees

From Wikipedia:

Six degrees of separation is the idea that all people are six, or fewer, social connections away from each other.

We can apply this idea to BJJ by trying to find the connections within – and between –  these three broad categories:

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Training without a gym: Feynman technique for BJJ

How you train off the mats can be just as important as how you train on the mats. In addition to my note taking routine, I also do the following exercise when doing a monthly review or just looking to add new things to my game.

The Feynman technique

Named after Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, this technique has four simple steps:

  1. Get a sheet of paper and write the concept you’re trying to understand at the top.
  2. Explain the concept as if you were trying to teach it to someone who has never heard it before.
  3. When you get stuck, or find that your answers are lacking detail, go back to your source material for the answer.

(Credit: Ultralearning by Scott Young)

I’ve found that the Feynman technique can be easily applied to BJJ. For example, here is how I’ve used it when learning a new guard.

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Training without a gym: Introduction and contents

As I write this, Covid-19 has brought the world to all but a standstill. For those in the BJJ community, it has brought fear and frustration as gyms have closed and training as we used to know it has ceased for what will be an uncertain amount of time.

What can you do if you can’t train? If you can’t go to the gym, or if you don’t have a partner? This series of posts proposes some alternatives and supplements to popular advice circulating on the internet.

While this series has stemmed from the current situation, there will be more added with the intent that all of these posts may be found useful whenever you find yourself unable to go the gym to train.

Training without a gym contents:

    • Feynman technique for BJJ – An overview of how to adapt a learning technique developed by Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman to deepen your BJJ understanding and focus your study
    • 6 degrees – An application of the six degrees of separation idea to BJJ
    • How to study BJJ videos – An in-depth article that provides a framework for deliberate study of BJJ video resources

 

The best part of your gym (The Importance of You, Again)

“We want this place to be the best part of your day.” It was the smile on my professor’s face that made me believe he was speaking from his heart.

*

Last week, the world lost one of my coworkers: a hard-working, pup-loving young man whose life had been cut short just when we started to know the best of him.

It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had at my job.

We were allowed to leave early and I eventually did late in the afternoon, bright-eyed and dazed. At home, the only thing I could do was sit on the couch and stare at the wall.

A notification on my phone broke through the darkness. It was my reminder for BJJ class.

My body moved on autopilot. Somehow, I had made it to the gym. But it wasn’t until I was walking back home that I realized I’d been able to do normal things for a while – and not think about his passing.

I remember pausing in the middle of the sidewalk, overwhelmed with gratitude.

‘How lucky am I,’ I had thought to myself while staring up at the moon with watery eyes, ‘To have a place to go to in a time like this.’

*
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Picking a BJJ gym: A step-by-step guide to choosing a new (or your first) BJJ school

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

(This is a long post! Feel free to use the contents below to navigate to the bits most relevant to you.)

Method
Step 1: Identify parameters and grading criteria
Steps 2 & 3: Attend class and Compare against ideal
Steps 4 & 5: Trial Period and Final Decision
Worksheet

Choosing a new BJJ gym is one of the most daunting tasks in a person’s BJJ career. Some are lucky to start BJJ with a gym that was either recommended to them or in their area, and basically never leave.  Others have to go through this song and dance multiple times, either because of things outside of the gym (ex. moving to another city) or unfortunate incidents at that gym (ex. scandal, drama).

In any case, this post is intended to help you choose a BJJ gym that’s right for you, whether it be your first one ever or switching to a new one.  Note that this is not intended to tell you which gym to choose – but rather, to share a framework that you can adapt to your own needs to make what can be a very stressful decision into a more logical process.

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Promotion

Been a while!  I’m thinking of changing the format for this into shorter “thought posts,” hopefully to be published every week or so.  Feel free to give feedback in the comments!

Promotion is a curious word.  I wonder if it was a conscious choice to use the word in regards to going up in the ranks.

A quick Google search gives two definitions.  The second definition is the raising to a higher position, but it’s the first definition that makes me curious.

Google definitions

Google definitions “promotion”

BJJ is a community, and I’ve always been of the mindset that you can’t roll alone. So if we take this first definition of “promotion,” it’s not just for the sake of the person being promoted – it’s also for the sake of others not getting promoted (giving them encouragement and goals), for the community within the school (to bring people together in recognizing each other’s efforts), and the community outside the school as well (giving others a glimpse into life within the school and even encourage others to join).  

Regardless of whether or not “promotion” was a conscious or unconscious choice of words, I think its continued use speaks volumes about the intricacies of the art…