You’re rolling. It’s pretty controlled and whatever. You’re going to resist if there’s a sub attempt, but when it’s locked in you tap. You find yourself defending a straight ankle lock by posturing up and he’s switching to the heel hook. You’re still safe with your foot on the ground so you keep the pressure. He sweeps you and immediately cranks on the heel. Before your hand can reach his leg to tap there’s a loud popping noise. He keeps going past the pop until you successfully tap. You look at him and just say “never crank on those.”

The next day you’re in your doctor’s office. An avulsion fracture seems ruled out by the xrays, but based on where the pain is there’s definitely some kind of injury on the ligament. You’ll follow up in four weeks if it’s not progressively improving. You should do some rehab after it heals – draw the alphabet with your foot, use the band you have from last time. You don’t need crutches or a brace, but only because you already have them at home. You can’t walk without external support.

That was my last night and this morning.

If you’re following along at home you know this is the second time in less than a year someone has decided to not just sink in the heel hook, but finish it. Last time my doctor really wanted me to consider quitting jiu-jitsu if these kinds of injuries were a common occurrence. I dismissed it back then. Most of my injuries came from competition and at some point I just stopped competing. Now it’s looking like quitting BJJ is a reality I might have to face. If I’m getting serious injuries in regular practice I really need to consider if I can continue with jiu-jitsu.

I have at least the next six weeks to think about it.

EDIT: After I posted this I realized there’s an important distinction I want to make. This doesn’t reflect on my opinion of FightPrime. Both incidents of injury were with guys I do not normally see and do not normally roll with. FightPrime has been great about addressing these incidences when they arise. This isn’t about FightPrime not being safe – it is. In my time there I have one ever seen two individuals get hurt, and one was me. Matt and Thales do a great job trying to prevent injuries and following up when they happen.

What this is about is me getting too old to continue to risk injuries. It’s not okay to be a 25-year-old with arthritic changes in most of your joints. It’s not okay to have debilitating phantom pains that shoot up your hand and forearm. It’s not okay to have to miss work to have an ankle or finger or wrist looked at because stuff got a little cray-cray with someone who isn’t one of my regular half-dozen training partners who after years of rolling with I know I can trust completely.

It’s also about me not wanting to be the guy who only rolls with the same 5 or 6 people because I can’t trust others. Trusting people with delicate parts of your anatomy is part of jiu-jitsu. When you feel like you can’t trust people with your anatomy, can you really still do jiu-jitsu?

The Decline

Even though I do classes twice per week I’m out of shape. I’ve gotten into the habit of slow-rolling which means I’m rarely, if ever, pushing myself the way I need to. Tuesday I went with Brian, a great guy and a solid jiujitsero, and I’m still sore from it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not unhealthily obese yet or anything, but there’s pudge where there used to be abs and pull-ups are exhausting when they used to be easy mode.

So I’ve decided to do something about the decline that I’ve been experiencing pretty much since I stopped training for tournaments: outside of class exercise. Starting this weekend I’m going to be trying to do tabata style workouts with sets of burpees. Real burpees. The kind where you jump and do push-ups. Not the kind where you just sprawl and stand back up.

Anyway, I’ll try to document if it helps. Since wedding season is upon us and I have work trips I’m out of class almost entirely for the next couple weeks so here’s to hoping this at least keeps me from falling further out of shape.

Purple Belt Test Details

The first two semesters that I did Waboku ryu jujitsu (Fall 2007-Spring 2008) I had pretty much no idea what Brazilian jiu-jitsu was. What I did know is that every Wednesday I would roll with Alex and Evan. One whose guard I could not pass, the other who I could not keep from passing my guard. I asked Mark how I could fix that problem; his advice pretty much summed up to “work on sweeps and passes”. Looking back, it was solid advice. So I tried to find somewhere I could work the guard during the summer when I was back home. I found this BJJ gym about 30 miles away from home (8 miles from work) so I started making the drive after work. July 2008 is when I officially started training BJJ.

Almost six years later and I’m finally a purple belt. That makes me pretty close to average (per Aesopian). I felt like it took forever to get the blue belt, so I’m pretty happy that I’m more or less back to par for the course. I don’t know why that matters to me, but it does. Maybe it’s the recognition that I’m finally “advanced”, maybe it’s because it gives me serious hope that I can get the black belt before I’m 30, maybe it’s just ego. I don’t know. I do think it’s really cool though, and it gives me a lot of hope and motivation to train hard for the next couple years to try to get to brown.

Before the test I kept wavering between super confident and super nervous. I wrestled the night before just to make sure I could do the takedowns that I’ve been doing for almost seven years; the takedowns I’ve had work in competition and class, and have never worried about before. As I phrased it to Thales – “I [wasn't] worried about knowing the techniques. I don’t even need to think to pick out four armbars from guard. What I [was] worried about is knowing enough details for each of those techniques.”

I have this paradigm around the purple belt. Since the test is what amounts to the basics, but purple feels “advanced” it was super important to me that I be able to show the kind of details that you’d expect out of an advanced player showing armbar from closed guard. The difference between a blue belt and a purple belt to me isn’t that one can do a triangle from back mount where the other would only know the bow and arrow choke; it’s that the purple belt should know details about the bow and arrow choke – setup, finishing, breathing. Yes, you can make your chokes from the back better by breathing correctly. That’s the kind of details I was worried about remembering – get deep enough on the collar, bottom hand placement, remembering to stop and exhale, then take a big breath while finishing the choke. When you’re worried, panicked, whatever, you miss those. You just grab and choke and it works, but should it?

My prior experience with tests has been the X technique style tests. Testing with Wade I want to say there was around 76 techniques to know for your white belt stripes and then blue belt; 81 more techniques for blue belt stripes and then purple belt. At any point in your test you could be expected to know any technique from any previous curriculum. That means that for purple belt you could reasonably be expected to know over 150 techniques. To be honest, it’s not a bad way to learn. When picking my techniques to do, I looked at Wade’s curriculum and found those things which I knew a lot of details about. The only downside is looking at them and going “what is the Giant Killer from the back? I don’t remember what that means.”

Thales’ curriculum is far more open. Rather than seven very specific arm locks from guard, it’s four arm locks of your choice from closed guard. You pick which techniques you’re most comfortable doing. It’s a lot more about developing your own style instead of learning the style of your instructor.

Overall the test went well. There was only one point where I crapped out and couldn’t think of a technique because my fourth guard sweep was going to be a star sweep, but I forgot to ask my partner to stand up to break the guard so I just went with a scissor sweep instead. There was also a point when doing mount escapes where I couldn’t remember if I already did a certain escape. It turns out I had done unique escapes each time so it was fine, but I just stopped there in butterfly guard asking “did I already do this one?”. Time management was tricky – you need to go slow enough to make sure Thales can see the details of what you’re doing, but quickly enough to get all the techniques in before the next class starts.

There was no rolling component. I guess I was expecting it even though it wasn’t on the curriculum. Maybe it from the more sport-oriented background of the MCMBJJA schools that I was in before, but for a belt there was always rolling. Could you roll with a very large white belt – that is, have to learned to control weight? Can you roll with a blue belt about your size and control the positions? Can you roll with a brown belt and survive long enough or keep yourself from bad positions? Can you roll with a white belt half your size and keep from crushing them – are you a good partner for new students to work with? I also distinctly remember a certain purple belt test at Third Heaven where the two candidates had to roll with two people (each) at the same time. I’m pretty glad that wasn’t part of my test.

Long weekend

I have to keep this one brief, so here are the quick bits:

  • Wrestling class is still harder than anything else I’ve ever done. I love it and wish I could make it more.
  • I got promoted to purple on Saturday (and got the last two stripes on my blue belt), so that’s pretty cool.
  • I got to work on some straight ankle locks and knee bars with a couple of blue belts that were interested in working on them.

All is well. Sorry for the short post, I’d love to go into details about wrestling, what we’ve been doing in BJJ, and the test; but alas, no time.

Rolling and Zen

I love flow drills. I feel they help my game, but more importantly, they help me decompress. Flowing is a spiritual experience for me. I like to describe it as “very zen”. It’s six minutes where my brain is completely off. A sort of moving meditation.

When you think about what you’re doing while flowing you’re not quick enough. Likewise, you can’t let yourself be distracted by thinking about anything outside the flow. A second thinking about what you’ll have for dinner and you’ll have been swept. Think about the armbar in front of you and you will have missed the window. You trust that your body knows what to do, and your mind ends up just blank. There is no past; no future. During a flow drill there is only what is happening in that moment.

The times you have to think when rolling are times where you or your opponent is stalling. You’ve been pinned, you’re holding him in mounted triangle just trying to get that last two inches of space to finish, you’re in deep-half just chilling. Flow drills are about movement and don’t have these stalls. When you get the pin and they don’t escape you move to a different pin. Both of you have to keep moving. Neither of you has time to chill; time to think.

I know some guys are thinking through their flows. They’re thinking four or five steps ahead to avoid being too slow when the opportunity happens. I’m not them. I’m not hunting for the submission. I’m not worried about holding the top position. I’m just having fun and relaxing. If you are the kind of person who sees six moves ahead I applaud you. That’s a fantastic skill. The next time you’re super stressed though, I recommend grabbing someone you can just flow with at a pace fast enough to keep you from thinking, but an intensity low enough that there is no ego. That’s the sweet spot. That’s where you can’t think; you just have to do.

An Incomplete History of Grappling – Judo

There’s the history of judo that we’re all taught. Kano spent his childhood learning various forms of jujitsu and in the late 1870′s learns Tenjin Shinyo ryu jujitsu, followed by Kito ryu jujitsu, and in 1882 he founds the Kodokan. The styles that go in to judo, and even the dates around the history are really fuzzy. Andy Adams claims that “jujitsu was flourishing during Jigoro’s boyhood. One might even term the mid-19th century the golden age of jujitsu.” Conversely sources like Allen Gordon refer to jujitsu as a “dying art” at this time. And while Wikipedia indicates that Kano had difficulty finding a teacher, implying that his studies in jujitsu started around 1877, we have sources like Gordon noting an earlier relationship with Teinosuke Yagi who teaches Kano the “rudiments of jujitsu”.

Kazuzo Kudo gives us other clues that Kano’s jujitsu may have started even younger. He notes some of the same jujitsuka that the Wikipedia page references and the story meshes that no one will teach Kano all of jujitsu as he is too young. Kudo’s story and Gordon’s story seem at odds though. Gordon notes Yagi teaching Kano, while Kudo describes Yagi simply as being the man who points Kano toward Fukuda.

Fukuda is the point where we start seeing a consistent narrative. Kano trains Tenjin Shinyo ryu jujitsu under him for a number of years. Both Kudo and Adams note him dying in 1879, though Wikipedia seems to erroneously place this during 1880. It’s possible he falls ill in 1879 and passes in 1880, but it seems that Kano departs in 1879 to continue his training elsewhere. At this point all sources agree Kano went to continue his study of Tenjin Shinyo under Masatomo Iso. Where Fukuda emphasized randori, Iso emphasizes kata. Sources remain consistent that in 1881 Iso falls ill and Kano begins his study of Kito-ryu jujitsu under Tsunetoshi Iikubo. Iikubo, like Fukuda, emphasizes randori.

Fuzzy dates come up in a lot of the stories. I’ve always been told (and had found resources which noted) that Kano trained with Fukushima Kanekichi under Fukuda. Kudo tells us this is under Iikubo (though in the previous section you’ll note he dreams of kata-guruma while attaining his mastery of Tenjin Shinyo under Iso, a technique he had not yet discovered by this account). It doesn’t really matter which it is. We know it’s Fukushima who drives Kano to discover the technique. Though, this actually introduces another mystery as Kano is said to have searched out jujitsu because he was small and bullied, while the mythos surrounding kata guruma notes that Kano had previous experience in sumo and had turned first to those techniques before finding a book on western wrestling and adapting the fireman’s carry. I find it a bit odd because aside from this story I have trouble finding any history of the Kodokan that notes Kano had a sumo background.

The most finite date we come across in the history of judo is 1882. It is in February of that year that Kano opens his own school, the Kodokan. After this, things get fuzzy again.

Probably one of the oddest subjects is how judo gets its ground game. We tend to attribute it to Fusen ryu jujitsu, but the more I learn, the more I doubt that the style itself had a strong ground game. StackExchange had a solid answer to the question of Fusen ryu having a history of newaza. The TL;DR is – no. Fusen ryu seems to be a very typical koryu. It likely had an emphasis on standing joint locks, throws, and weaponry with the elements of ground work present, but by no means the focus. Rather, what we find is that Mataemon Tanabe was a great ground fighter and likely influenced a lot of the ground work of judo. DdlR of Bullshido’s post which the most complete answer draws upon is here. The TL;DR of it is exactly as expected – Tanabe was a beast on the ground, independent of Fusen ryu. What we do know from the continued tradition of Fusen ryu, which does still seem to exist and have schools, is that Tanabe was a master of it who taught it to others. In this way, similar to how people who train with me will learn unorthodox grips for throws, Fusen ryu probably did acquire a reasonably strong ground game due to Tanabe being in the lineage.

Probably the best person to ask about Tanabe is Tanabe. Luckily, he has a little autobiographical piece on his study of jujitsu that was translated to English. This is where we see that he had an explicit nickname of “Newaza Tanabe”. It also leads us to question if Tanabe ever ran a school, which would be required for the story I’ve always been told. It also implies that at some point Tanabe learned judo as he was a judo instructor at various places, and that at least of one of his students, Yuko Tani, was among the five men who traveled across the world to prove the efficacy of judo. The five men are Yuko Tani, Mitsuyo Maeda, Shinshiro Satake. Akitaro Ono, Taro Miyake. Their travels will result in some great mythos of their own, including the founding of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but that’s a history for another day.

With any history it’s hard to say what really happened since at this point most of our sources are secondary or tertiary sources. We’ve been taught by oral tradition save a few dates committed to paper. What we can say is Kano definitely knew jujitsu, that at least Kito ryu and Tenjin Shinyo ryu found their way into judo, and that Tanabe was probably a strong driving force behind the newaza we know today. Everything else, well, I can say I don’t have any definitive answers.

Prep work and blitzkriegs

Tomorrow starts my (relatively) intensive next two weeks of prepping for the test.

If I end up teaching judo, my plan for tomorrow morning is to cover renwaku waza. However, I don’t plan to cover the traditional go-with-the-flow style of combinations I have seen a lot of. I plan to cover imposing your game on the other guy with an all-out blitzkrieg. The difference between the two is that how I’ve traditionally been taught is to do attack 1, and depending on if they do A or B to counter, follow up with 2a or 2b. An example is that you may go in for a hip throw, if they counter by checking your hip with theirs you can switch to an ouchi gari, but if they counter by circling or posting you’re generally in a good position for osoto gari. Instead, I’ll be focusing on a 1 > 2 > 3 approach using a simplified scenario where you can always impose how they need to counter if they’re going to.

Alex, a great wrestler at Fight Prime, worked with me on Tuesday on a really powerful ippon seoi nage from a tight overhook. I plan to teach and incorporate that. I already do a powerful osoto gari and ouchi gari from the tight overhook, and they each afford a drastic simplification over the traditional judo variants – there’s only really one way out. You’re in too close for most of the normal counters to be viable, so stepping out to try to make space is a requirement to not get thrown in these cases. That simplification means we don’t need to focus on having multiple options. We get to focus just on the attacks and the timing of the follow-up without guessing which follow-up will be appropriate.

Uke steps in for ogoshi > step around and sink in the deep overhook (whizzer) > immediately go for osoto gari > [if they step out] immediately go for ouchi gari > [if they step out] immediately switch to ippon seoi nage. It’s a lot of steps, and more throws that we’d normally cover in a single judo class. However, they’re just four basic throws that everyone already knows – even if they come rarely. Obviously if Matt or Tim want to teach something else I’ll defer to their expertise, but this is my plan if I end up covering tomorrow.

After the 1.5 hours of judo will be between 2.5 and 3 hours of BJJ with an explicit focus on the purple belt curriculum. Submissions and transitions from every position is the goal. Thoughtful practice makes for exceptional execution.