Spring Retrospective

April was a weird month and May is shaping up to be also. Due to some medical outages I haven’t gotten to train as much as I’d have liked.

The big news: we’ve changed affiliations; we’re planning a trip out to the new affiliation head after I get my second round vaccine; we found a new gym location; we’re targeting late May to reopen the gym at the new location under the new affiliation; we’re going to require vaccines because navigating the county order without them is confusing.

The order has different provisions for gyms with group fitness classes than sports, but the sports section is under “Youth Activities” so it’s messy to determine which set of rules applies to us. There is, however, a provision about circumstances where everyone is vaccinated which effectively lets us just ignore the whole deal. On one hand that pretty well ties our hands to avoid having to navigate a precarious situation with the county health department. On the other hand it’s what we would have wanted anyway, potentially with exemptions for individuals who can show proof of positive antibody test for a case that was known to have happened within the last 8 months.

I’m super excited about the new affiliation. I think it will be really good for us. Chris and Melissa have already been super responsive and welcoming. We’ll be making the trip out to LA to get some training and evaluation in with them – figure out where we’re at and what the relationship should look like moving forward. Having an affiliate head you actively want to get dinner and chat with is, to me, invaluable. That’s the kind of relationship I want; where we can just rant and discuss jiu-jitsu and get ideas about how to improve and learn from someone who’s been doing it longer.

Progress stuff – I feel like I’m on a plateau lately. A big part of the reason I’m so excited to go to LA is to get some new perspective on what’s going well and what’s not so I can try to change things up as appropriate. Hopefully we’ll be able to open the gym a couple of weeks before that so I can do some debugging with other folks outside the pod in advance, but we’ll see how the next two weeks go. Personally, I’m ready and raring to get back into teaching classes and rolling with more people (who have been appropriately vaccinated). My second shot is next week so per the order I should be okay to join the larger group at that point. From a practical standpoint, I’ll be two weeks out from the shot at the end of May, but am still testing antibody positive in my regular blood donations (last result from April 25, next scheduled draw on May 23).

I gave blue his fourth stripe on his belt. He’s been ready for awhile; I just felt weird about it until I saw that he’s been a blue belt for four years already. The black belts approved of it too, so everything is kosher.

Belts Comparison

I’ve compiled all the measurements into one place with photos on a new page on here to compare and hid the individual posts that were just impressions. The posts still exist so I can reference them, but they don’t really serve a purpose. I’m likely to modify my Fundamentals Curriculum posts similarly to have them be pages/subpages rather than blog posts to be able to better reference them myself and have them exist separate from ongoing personal blog posts.

Coaching Certifications

As I look at how I can better coach grappling I’ve found that there’s a lot of different certifications, courses, and materials. For a private gym, none of them are really necessary; that is, we’re not required to maintain an NCEP certification or something to legally operate.

Here’s a list of relevant organizations/sports with links for what I’ve found for classes for me. This is essentially a more detailed list than my post on Coaching Criteria Recommendations. Notably, I found a lot of stuff by searching what WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) and other high school sports orgs use.

  • NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) – CIC and AIC Certifications
    • Fundamentals of Coaching ($35)
    • Teaching Sports Skills ($35)
    • Coaching Wrestling ($50)
    • First Aid, Health, and Safety ($35)
  • Human Kinetics Coach Education Center – ASEP Certification
    • Coaching Principles ($60)
    • Sport First Aid ($40)
    • Coaching Youth Wrestling ($19.95)
    • Coaching Wrestling Principles ($50)
  • USA Wrestling – NCEP Certification
    • Copper ($50)
    • Bronze ($80)
    • Silver
    • Gold
  • USA Judo
  • 3D Institute – Required for Silver and Gold under USA Wrestling
    • 3D Coaching Essentials Course ($20)
    • 3Dimensional Coaching ($125)
    • 3Dimensional Coaching Course For College Credit ($550)

So, yeah, just for coaching certifications there are at least three options for wrestling coaching that I could find between USA Wrestling, ASEP, and NHFS. That’s not to mention that colleges like UW Whitewater also offer certifications covering ASEP. If I had a ton of time and money to drop on these I’d probably do all of them to compare them each, but the reality is I don’t have a strong reason to get NFHS or ASEP certified at this point. Their courses seem great and cover stuff that even the NGB courses don’t, but honestly, the NGB courses and some supplemental first aid stuff from Red Cross seems sufficient for now. Still, it’s good to know these other ones exist if I want to get more into pedagogy.

Pandemic Problems

Due to a family member of mine being exposed to someone who tested positive one week followed by my quarantine buddy having a roommate be exposed to someone who tested positive we haven’t been able to train anything the last two weekends. We both have negative PCR tests for everyone in our households so it was maybe being too safe, but I’m more glad we waited until we both tested negative after those events. I know there are folks who feel having a quarantine buddy is an undo risk. I’ve been called part of the problem even taking steps like this and only having a quarantine buddy because we can both otherwise severely limit our interactions with others and potential exposure risk both to ourselves and from us to the community.

It’s frustrating not being able to train. It’s even worse watching as the rest of the world has opened back up. Globetrotters just had their Iceland camp and videos are already up. As I watch Europe all I can think is “that could have been us.” The response to coronavirus in the United States has been abysmal. The executive branch of my state tried to put a reasonable response in place, a bit too late, but they tried. The legislature and courts stripped the Department of Health of their power to do anything in the face of the pandemic. It was left to municipalities to handle instead. We opened up too quickly because we were hopeful. We waited a long time to get a mask order. The mask order is being challenged by a few local businesses that feel this is a right to choose issue while the state is putting out record numbers of new cases per day.

I’m sick of the dumb fucking memes about how the homeless population hasn’t been completely wiped out by a virus that has hospitalized almost 1 in 10 infected in Wisconsin because the true lethality of the virus won’t be realized unless those who need care end up overburdening the health system as we saw in Italy and are currently seeing in Texas. I’m sick of people politicizing the response. I’m sick of the people around me looking at outcomes per an exponentially growing number of cases rather than outcomes per resolved cases. Wisconsin just had 1000 new cases yesterday. It will be around a week before we see how many of those new cases are hospitalized. It will be the next two weeks before we have any data on how the mask order, which is already being challenged by a few local businesses, will effect the spread of the virus here. And that will be only here in Dane County because the mask order is municipal. We are one of 7 counties (out of 72) that have a downward trajectory in new case numbers. Folks talk like there was already a peak even though we still seem to be in an increase overall and it’s too soon to say if our downward trajectory will last.

At some point I want to actually evaluate all the cool content that came out of the Iceland camp videos, but for now I’m just incredibly worn down by the way the virus is spreading through our community and how it doesn’t seem like it needed to be like this looking at the places that are already open without 1000 new cases per day.

Grip Training

There are a few exercises I strongly recommend for lower arm strength for grappling:

The reality is, we do a lot of gripping, especially in the gi. Lower arm strength (fingers, hand, wrist, forearm), not only in the muscles but also in the tendons can be a huge boon. This shouldn’t replace learning how to grip properly or that you should be comfortable death gripping for 5 minutes. More strength tends to mean fewer injuries. Will your grips be harder to break? Absolutely, but that’s a terrific side effect as opposed to an explicit goal if I’m being honest.

There are plenty of other lower arm exercises like hammer curls, wrist rollers, using fat grip adapters, holding/lifting with hubs, the list goes on. Those things can be a lot of fun and you can find great advice for them on r/griptraining if it’s a hobby you’re looking to pursue, but I think the above is a reasonable list of things to work on for grappling. Ultimately it comes down to some form of pulling/hanging/brachiating, levering, grippers, and extension bands. Four exercises that can easily be added to your workout or done on rest days to help make your lower arms healthier and stronger.

What Makes a Purple Belt?

I asked Mike what he thinks the blue belt should work on to get ready for purple belt. He had two overarching concepts: 1. Movement, fluidity, and smoothness 2. Setting positions.

Movement is one of those things that’s easier said than done. Mike had suggested wall drills and flow drills. Since this particular blue belt struggles a lot with hesitation and overthinking, the reality is I need to push him harder during rolls, maybe even to the point of smashing just to reinforce that he needs to pull the trigger. Luckily he knows he doesn’t need to be nice to me so he can be more tenacious. Still, I need to really think about what will improve his fluidity and movement. There are a lot of drills I used to do explicitly to improve my movement like yoga ball drills and wall drills. I’m hoping he has a yoga ball to work on some of them.

Setting positions feels like one of those super easy things to work on by comparison. He needs to learn to not only hold but dominate the classical positions and then smoothly move into the submission positions from them. Once in the submission positions, he needs to practice thinking about them as positions themselves so the actual submissions stop being the effort. He’s currently looking at triangle, juji gatame, Saddle, and back control for these submission positions. Honestly, it’s a start. I’ve seen folks get promoted to purple belt with less than those four.

These things, along with developing his RNC as his favorite submission, are the focus for now. Once we can do standing, there’s also going to be that. I’m thinking of “encouraging” the white and blue belt to work the throws of the Celtic wrestling styles from a fixed collar and elbow grip to get them a sense of timing and basic competency with foot sweeps so we can use those to set up all the other standing things.

Quarantine Training Progress

I have two quarantine buddies and mats in my back yard. One individual is a blue belt, two stripes, promoted over 3 years ago now. In my opinion he’s close to but not quite ready for his purple belt. My current goal for him is to get him ready for purple belt by March 2021. I’ll talk about why that date below. The other individual came in as a fresh white belt, she’d only attended a handful of classes previously. We’re joking about trying to get her to be a blue belt by the time the quarantine ends. At the rate the US is going, we may have that kind of time.

These two train together additional days beyond the 1-2 days per week I’m available during quarantine. This means I can show them a drill or concept and they can spend multiple sessions per week drilling it so when I see them again we can evalaute how it went and any questions before moving on to the next thing. I essentially get to speed run a class one day for them to get a week’s worth of content out of, plus the blue belt has a vast video library to reference so I can say “look at Priit for this turtle thing, he’s got good details” and the blue belt can watch and work those in for them, again, texting me if he has immediate questions, but also with the cushion that I can help evaluate and recommend the following weekend.

So that’s our setup. We do around an hour of debugging, Q&A, and positional study and then 30-60 minutes of rolling with evaluation between rolls where something significant comes up. I get to work on my things, they get to work on theirs. There’s a sense of improvement where the white belt has made tremendous progress; our initial goal was for her to become a competent training partner for the blue belt, and I think she’s exceeded that goal by a long shot at this point. We’ve gone through the conceptual stuff with her from all of the units in my previous posts except for standing in the interest of safety and space. We’ve started delving into our favorite beyond the basics topics. She’s getting a passable leg lock defense, she’s consistently taking the back if you make a mistake, and once on the back she can capitalize in a way that most blue and even some purple belts struggle to. However, she’s limited to two training partners, and we can only give her so many reactions between us. She’s going to need exposure to a larger pool of people to make the next big leap. She’s doing really well for the circumstances though.

March. In March 2018 I got promoted to brown belt, two instructors got promoted to black belt, and the head coach got promoted to first degree black belt. A cycle has pretty well been established. In March 2021 two instructors will go to first degree black belt, and the head coach goes to second degree black belt because time in grade. I don’t know if I can get ready for black belt by then due to the quarantine and a lack of direction, but my goal until then is going to be to get anyone I’m working with as close to their next belt as possible. The reality is, promotions are going to happen in March simply due to the time in grade system for black belts; for those of us not yet on the TIG system, it’s going to be a big crunch or a longer than average wait. The US may well still be in quarantine by then if neither of the current Phase III vaccine candidates pan out and we keep half-assing a quarantine just well enough to delay the virus’ spread but not well enough to stop it. Should that happen I’ll need to have serious conversations with the black belts to find someone able and willing to at least evaluate these two. Without a larger pool to measure them against I can’t really be confident of where they are without a more experienced eye helping evaluate.

The last thing is, as noted, I am hoping to get ready for my black belt as close to March as I can muster. I’ve been reviewing a lot of video content to go back over the basics and working those higher level details into the drills I’m doing with my quarantine buddies. I can’t say it’ll be enough. Other than improving my chokes and my passing, I don’t really have any clear direction on how to get better other than just improving my details in general. It’s hard to get the kind of feedback rolling with a white and a blue belt I could get rolling with black belts. I’m thrilled to be fortunate enough to have quarantine buddies who can be safe outside our time together so we’re at a low risk of catching coronavirus from each other, but it’s disheartening to be where I’m at. At least two schools in town are violating the orders designed to limit spread of the epidemic. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t constantly tempted to go to one to get the work in I need for black belt. I’m just trying to remind myself regularly that living family matters more than racing to the proverbial finish line in an artificial hierarchy.

Belts & Belt Checker

There are a few big aspects of BJJ ranks that I have a major problems with. The dependency on lineages, the way we enumerate black belt ranks, using ranks to separate competitions to the extent that folks aren’t allowed to compete up, the very notion that there is a “blue belt world champion”, the lack of standardization in expectations; I could go on.

Black belt rank enumeration is probably the easiest one to gripe about. A “third degree black belt” in any other martial art refers to the third rank of black belt – a sandan in judo terms. Ordinals are not indices and I die a little inside every time someone refers to something as “zeroth” – that literally means it’s before the first in the series, which by definition means the first isn’t the first. Yes, arrays start at 0, but no, counting does not. A black belt followed by a first degree black belt makes no sense. There are bigger fish to fry though.

So many folks are outside the purview of the IBJJF and we accept ranks not registered with the IBJJF as a community, so it’s influence really isn’t on the level of being a universal governing body. And while JJIF (with UAEBJJF) and SJJIF would each love to lay claims to being the official governing body of BJJ as a sport, neither of them have enough clout in the community to make those claims. You probably had to go to Duck Duck Go to look up SJJIF while reading this to verify I didn’t just think there was a sub-body of JJIF, if you even knew about the JJIF. There’s no one body you can go to and check out most folks ranks, or that can advise on what the criteria for ranks should be that we all accept. There isn’t a system for a promotion board in the area that signs off on all ranks and vets instructors’ ability to evaluate and promote.

Instead, we’re reliant on the concept of a lineage. Helio taught Rickson who taught Luiz who taught Thales who taught Mike who taught me… Except that falls apart really quickly. I trained all four stripes of white with Justin, almost all of blue belt under Wade, the later part of blue belt and about half of purple belt with Thales and Mosquito, the rest of purple and all of brown so far with Mike. A lineage doesn’t really reflect who I’ve learned from. Similarly, while Thales promoted Mike to brown and black, Mike was a purple belt long before, so Mike’s lineage and now mine, are a reflection of only the last couple of years of training Mike did before being promoted to black belt. And then there’s the whole situation where due to politics the head of an affiliation promotes someone at a specific school even though they’ve never met them. There are enough people that there needs to be something else. Lineage, in my opinion, is a system that’s rapidly losing its meaning.

Enter BeltChecker.com – Christian’s attempt at a BJJ rank database. It’s not perfect, even the concept has its own flaws, but it’s something. It’s not the IBJJF; there is a route to validity even if you’re coming from an unrecognized background; it integrates with platforms like SmoothComp so you can see competition history; it even has features for you to note other experience like judo, Sambo, or wrestling if you’re clever about it so folks can see why you might have only been a one year blue belt. I don’t think it solves everything, but it’s nice to have an earnest alternative that’s largely based around the reality of BJJ – you’re a black belt if someone who is a black belt says you’re a black belt – in this model the community can check your work and the people who know you personally can vouch for your skills. And it’s public. You can see who voted for me and who I voted for.

BeltChecker.com isn’t going to revolutionize BJJ, but I think it’s a good project. If you found this blog because you know me, I encourage you to sign up, fill out your profile in full, verify your identity, and start getting voted on. It will take time to be verified, but be patient. If we can have something where everyone shows their work publicly, we can move beyond the lineage system to something that better reflects the who, how, and why that go into rank without having to scrap together a governing body and promotion board; but it’s only going to work if enough of us adopt it that the votes mean something and people only speak to the folks they know.

Update

I started this blog in 2012. I deleted everything and started trying to plan a fresh start in 2017. Then life got in the way. I just couldn’t be arsed to bother blogging. As the coronavirus has me trapped inside and the closest thing I can do to grappling is watch instructionals, I’m going to give it another crack.

What’s different this time is that rather than being a blue belt in 2012 who thinks he knows leg locks, I’m a brown belt in 2020 who knows he doesn’t have a high level game and have way more exposure to other styles of grappling. What’s the same is that everything I say is going to be limited to my opinion and current understanding, so no promises that it’ll hold up years later or even be correct right now.