Imposter Syndrome, Entitlement, and Curricula

Imposter syndrome is how you don’t feel like an expert in a field in which you really are a relative expert. Maybe you’re surrounded by people who are so much better than you, or you’re at that point where you’re aware of what you don’t know, or you have this vision in your head of what someone with a given title should be. You question your belt because others with the same belt are doing better, or you feel like you should be able to do that sweep, or you have this mental model that someone of the next rank should be able to handle any situation. When someone says they don’t feel like they deserve their belt or they don’t deserve the promotion they’re up for, it’s usually this phenomenon. They’re fully qualified, but they don’t feel like they are.

Pretty much the opposite is entitlement. Someone who feels that they deserve something, that they are entitled to something. Maybe it’s because they’re surrounded by people who they can tap, maybe they can do some techniques more smoothly than others, maybe they have this model of themselves that’s greater than their actual skill. Maybe they’re right and they really do deserve the thing.

I was an entitled shit as a whitebelt. I always felt like I deserved another stripe or to have my blue belt. I was so confident in my abilities despite getting so easily destroyed by purple belts. Of course, purple belts are gods. They know grappling inside and out and so well that they should be able to beat me. They’re advanced, but certainly I’m intermediate, right?

As a blue belt I felt confident, but like I was always learning – pretty much until it got to the point where I was getting ready for my purple belt test. I was nervous. The test got moved up by almost a month. I spent two weeks going to as much judo, wrestling, and BJJ as I could and tried to roll as much as possible to make sure I had practiced everything I was going to have to do. I probably over prepared. I had in my head that purple belts needed to know and be able to show all of the details. I was super happy with how I did on the test, and having the purple belt felt like recognition.

Fast forward a bit over two years. I have one stripe. I know which positions I suck from and where I keep getting caught, but I don’t know what I need to work on or where I’m supposed to be trying to go. There’s no curriculum. Gains in skill are much harder to come by. I took my shitty leg lock game (that I thought was awesome) and made it okay; I can’t get better without teaching more people how to defend leg locks because what I do now just works (though I know it could be better with the right practice). Passing is slowly improving, but only a couple of guys have really good open guard games for me to test it on and they’re highly sought after rolling partners so I get to roll with them maybe once a month. Guard is… odd. I still find myself trying to just get to the top rather than trying to submit from the guard. Maybe that’s not a problem, but I should have enough dominance as a purple belt to setup an armbar from guard at will, right? I shouldn’t feel like I have to do a sweep instead. But repping feels natural and I don’t have problems when the moment arises – when someone gives their arm.

I have no idea how to get to brown belt, what I need to do, what “ready” would even mean. I just know that I don’t feel ready. I know that I want to be able to go to a tournament and at least win two matches. I don’t know why. It’s kind of an arbitrary number. You have to lose two matches to be out of the double-elimination bracket, so if I win two, then I’m breaking even? Like, if you’re not at least at 50% of the skill of those at your rank, you can’t go to the next one? In reality I know some guys who are really good and never competed, so maybe that doesn’t even matter and it’s just my arbitrary reference point to make myself feel better. I’m going to keep blaming my ankle and my shoulder because they’ll keep hurting and I don’t know if I’ll ever really feel up to competing again anyway. I’ve already counted judo out aside from refereeing. This is just ranting now…

Training For LEOs


I’m not a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO). This perspective is based on my limited knowledge about the situations LEOs and similar find themselves in and the training I have done. Your experiences may vary. There are individuals who are far more qualified to speak to this subject than myself, so if interested I’d advise reaching out to them.

It has become a popular topic as of late about if LEOs should be required to train in grappling (especially BJJ). What follows is a discussion around the considerations of circumstance for LEOs working in the United States, the cost of training, and an understanding of the limitations.

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Teaching – I Feel Like I Suck At It

Long story, but the result is that I was teaching last night. I feel like I still suck at teaching.

When I’m 1-on-1 with someone I can tailor the lesson/details to their experience and questions. I can feel them perform the technique so I can know what they need to tighten up and help advise with that in mind. I can also elaborate on more points progressively based on what they need to work on.

When I’m in front of a mixed group – ranging in experience from first week to four-stripe blue belt – I just don’t even know where to start. If I show the technique with too many details, won’t the new students be overwhelmed? If I show the technique without enough details, is it really worth the advanced students time? I feel like for most of the students, I didn’t provide enough details. I realized after class a ton of information I should have shared with them, but didn’t – for example, why you turn the leg you do for S-mount and how to use it to keep pressure.

When doing warm-ups, I tried to help one of the students learn them, but I flubbed it. He was able to do what I had described, but my description was clearly lacking. Andrew and Todd helped out by explaining what they think of. The amalgam of explanations wasn’t perfect, but at least he was able to do a couple of correct repetitions before we moved on to the next exercise. I think my solution will be to just do that kind of a warm-up solely for experienced students, and if it’s a mixed group instead jump into technique reps, then do a situational flow drill to address the need to warm-up before we roll.

I think I’d be fine to teach with someone more experienced to be there to fill in the details about what to show. I’m always fine showing a variation in class. I just don’t think I have the confidence or experience yet for teaching on my own.


Purple Belts Quit Because Their Heart Gets Broken

Watching some Chris Haueter videos today, and this stood out to me:

“Blue belts quit because life happens. They get a new job, they move, they get married, whatever it is. Purple belts quit because their heart gets broken – about jits. Somehow… it’s the obstacle belt. It’s the belt where it just doesn’t seem like you’re getting any better…”

There’s a lot of nuggets of wisdom in this video if you start from the beginning. I like his overview of what each belt is about. I disagree with his implication that judo focuses on strength rather than efficiency – sport judo does, but the art of judo doesn’t (judo very much has street, sport, and art components too). Still, overall it’s an excellent video.

To the note of why people quit, I think that’s pretty profound. It’s pretty often that life comes up, gets in the way. You move, you get a new job, you get married, you have a kid. Life is constantly vying for your time. I know I personally have to keep re-evaluating my schedule. How do I get to BJJ and judo enough to progress in each, while still being at home enough to actually see my family? Getting to purple belt takes commitment. By the time you get it, you’ve determined that BJJ is important enough that you’ll make time for it. You’ve probably sacrificed another hobby, hanging out with friends, or even some family events. Training means keeping a schedule.

I’m kind of afraid of having my heart broken. I’ve had a ton of injuries. I remember other times where I desperately cared about the recognition of a rank, or where rank would matter for what I could or couldn’t do. I can’t increase in judo referee rank without getting two more ranks in judo; including learning/performing kata and all the throws of the shodan test, but now having to do so modified for all of my permanent and semi-permanent injuries. Honestly, it’s pretty frustrating. I know that had I delayed the break for the wedding by a couple weeks I’d already by ikkyu rather than nikkyu since so much of it comes down to time in rank. I also know that most of my time away from judo or BJJ has been of my own volition. The clubs have been around – I’ve been the one that’s absent. Still, it’s been awhile since I hit that wall, and I’m pretty sure hitting it after eight years of BJJ would suck so much worse than hitting it after just a couple years.

In Defense of The IJF

It’s easy to bash the IJF. It’s easy to be upset about the rule changes. Still, there are a couple of things which are important to note. First, the IJF does a lot of good and we should give credit where it’s due. Second, the IJF isn’t some cabal of guys hanging out in an underground bunker in Europe – it’s a federation with member organizations which themselves are comprised of clubs and individual members (which probably includes you).

Overall, I think we’d all agree the national governing bodies and the IJF do more good than harm. The IJF is a non-profit organization. They’re not fleecing us out of money for a couple guys to get rich (that I know of). It streams the major judo events for free. In the US, USJI provides insurance to judo and jujitsu clubs, helps pay for athletes as able, and helps connect judoka together. Keeping records of ranks, running tournaments, training referees, and setting guidelines keep us honest about what we’re teaching and learning. Popularizing the sport keeps new people coming in to the club to keep the lights on.

Remember that you as a judoka are (probably) a member of the IJF in some fashion. As you grow in judo you have the option to take on as major or minor a role in the direction of the sport as you’re willing to. You can learn to referee. You can help run tournaments. If you have a regional or local body you can participate in the equivalent of local government and vote on topics and representatives. If you want to help determine the direction of the rules you can work hard at refereeing and eventually get to a place where you’ll probably know the right people to talk with regards to influencing that kind of change. And even if you don’t do that, you can still help determine how your club trains by working hard and becoming an instructor.

I’ll still complain here and there, mind you. The rules tend to drive how clubs practice so losing leg grabs and the lowered emphasis on ground work are things that I think we can point to the IJF for being responsible for. However, sport rules shouldn’t really determine how a club trains, and if you want to train something that’s not competition legal it’s not like the IJF is coming to your club to stop you.

Competition and Background


Teaching grappling techniques is a lot like passing on genetic material. When you show someone a technique, they copy it, but there’s always the risk for some mutations. A lot of the time, those mutations are inconsequential. Sometimes they’re advantageous. Still other times, they’re detrimental.

Mark had this story that stood out to me about this topic. Evan performed this technique that worked pretty well. Mark asked him where he learned it. Evan noted “from you”. Mark laughed because he’d never even seen that variation. Somehow, Evan had changed some of the details Mark had shown and the result was a submission that didn’t even look like the original, but was nevertheless effective. He’d comment on that a lot of times – how he’ll show us his way, but we’re ultimately going to have our own way anyway. I think that’s mostly true, though given enough time training with someone you’ll eventually be able to mimic all of their personal technical details.

Because techniques behave a lot like genetics, I think we can benefit from diversity. Learning a different kimura variation from each of Mark, Justin, Wade, Anders, Thales, Lesley, and Mike, there are different details I’ve acquired from each. My kimura isn’t the result of a single lineage and learning a single way, it’s seven instructors and countless training partners. Just because you know how to defend the setup for Justin’s kimura doesn’t mean you know how to defend mine. Having a diverse background as a grappler can make for a stronger and/or more well-rounded game because you’ve likely been exposed to a lot. It can also be problematic because you may end up learning a lot of variations without mastering any given one of them. Though, in general, I’d say you tend to first pick up the aspects of your instructor’s game that are the strongest simply by virtue of them being able to teach that aspect the best.

For those who learn to mimic only one instructor over the course of their entire grappling career, I feel that competition is important. Competition is a chance to metaphorically cross-pollinate. You get exposure to those other variations and it might even change how you train something. You also get to test what aspects of your game work, and what need help. If your gym has never taught you leg locks, grappling against a leg lock specialist will be an eye-opening experience. If your gym neglects stand-up, the first time a high-level judoka effortlessly throws you can make you question everything you know about how to start a match. Competition can, of course, only test how well your personal style works within the confines of the sporting rules, but it can often be a pretty good test of how well-rounded your game is, and how adaptable you are to different situations.

None of this is to say that if your gym is already pretty diverse competition can’t also be beneficial, but rather that if your gym lacks a diversity of backgrounds – if every student at your gym started under your instructor – competition is one of the only ways to find out if what you’re being taught works in other contexts. Diverse gyms already have the advantage of being able to test a lot of situations.