Tuesday, October 30, 2007

About that Triangle

If I were a mouse, then I might be looking at a picture of a cat. If I were Joe Frazier, then I might be looking at a picture of George Foreman. If I were Superman, then I might be looking at a picture of kryptonite.

As it is, I am who I am … which means I’m looking at a picture of a triangle choke.
I have been relatively successful at defending a number of attacks—mata leao, armlocks, collar chokes—from a number of different opponents, many of whom have significantly better skills than me. At the same time, I have had an amazing ability to fall prey to triangle choke attacks from opponents who, by most measures, are often not as skilled as I am.

Why? As Casey warned me months and months ago, my posture in the guard is terrible. I suspect it is because, in my head, I am “on top” and part of being “on top” is being “over” your opponent. This means I have a tendency to lean over the guy when I am in his guard. While there are some physical attributes (read: tight quads) that are contributing to the problem, it really amounts to little more than a very, very bad and costly habit. As I’ve told people, I’ve lost four fights in competition and all of them are attributably directly to my poor posture in the guard

So there’s that. And there is no more severe penalty for poor in-guard posture than getting submitted by triangle choke. While I need to get better at not getting in the bad posture position in the first place, I might as well remind myself of how to attack the triangle choke.
  • 1. Turn your head to face the choking leg or your free arm. This will take much of the pressure off the choke because now your artery is between his pelvis and his calf rather than between your own bicep and his thigh.

  • 2. Whichever escape/counter you’re going to use, posture up and step up with the leg that is on the same side as the trapped arm. For me, this almost always means stepping up with my right leg since it is usually my right arm that gets trapped. Whatever you do, DO NOT step up with the opposite leg. This will allow the guy to underhook that leg and swing his body around to get perpendicular to your body and get an excruciatingly good angle on your neck.

    UPDATE: The step up leg is determined by the kind of escape. If you are using C.C. Grinder, then all of the above is true: step up with the leg that is on the same side as the trapped arm. However, if you are using the Midget Slam escape, then you must step up with the opposite leg.

    You have to do this because you need the leverage of that opposite leg in order to help posture up out of the Midget Slam. You can't do this if you step up with the trapped side leg. You don't have to worry about your opposite leg being underhooked because when you dive down into the Midget Slam, you actually block the guy from being able to reach under and underhook that opposite leg.

  • 3. Use your free hand to control his hip and keep it in place. You want to work your hips toward the trapped arm side. Whatever else you do with your arms (Midget Slam or CC Grinder), circling your body around toward the trapped arm side will make it easier to put pressure on his legs. Circling in the other direction will get you choked out.

  • 4. Move! Move! Move! Almost nobody hits a triangle choke perfectly on first effort. The sooner you begin attacking it, the more likely they are to get a poor triangle that is more easily defeated. The longer you wait, the more they can arrange their legs to get the lock in properly. As soon as you feel the triangle coming, posture up. If your posture is already broken, then turn your head on your side (facing away from the trapped arm), and move into either the Midget Slam (opposite leg step up) or the C.C. Grinder escape (trap side leg step up).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Art of Jiu Jitsu, Part 4

Question: What is the most important aspect in training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Answer: To understand the main concept of the art.

Question: Which is?

Answer: The Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner must know how to wear his opponent down. When the opponent is worn out, he's unfocused and his concentration level is down. That is when we use our brain and intelligence because our opponent can't think clearly. Jiu-jitsu is about using the proper strategy and tactics at the right time. You don't look for the technique. On the contrary, you set an environment in which the opponent gets himself in trouble. The submission technique is there waiting for you, but you need to know how to set it up.

Question: And how do you do that?

Answer: Good question. I'll try to answer that the best I can. The submission technique is the tip of the iceberg. You can only get the submission technique if you control the opponent at will, and the only way you can control the opponent at will is through perfect positioning. What do I mean by "positioning"? Well, every jiu-jitsu position has a certain amount of details that should be perfected. The closer to perfection you are on these technical points, the less chance the opponent will have to escape. Then, he is under your control. Now, when he is under your control, finding the submission technique is simpler.

--excerpted from Grappling Masters

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Found in a Lost Weekend

Sunday night watching the Seahawks fall behind the Saints early ... Kind of a crummy weekend, in a way I'd rather not get into other than to suggest that it might hopefully be a pivot point from which things will get better.

One thing that was nice was this find while reading one of my favorite financial/economics blogs, The Big Picture run by Barry Ritholtz. It's a discussion on sports psychology as it relates to trading--a topic that pretty much sums up everything I'm interested in (read: obsessed with) right now.

Research in Sports Psychology: What It Means for Traders

The post is from the blog of financial market analyst and trader, Brett Steenbarger. Steenbarger quotes some of the key findings, which I copy below.
  • "The finding that experts in a particular sport are better than novices, not merely at physical skills but also on the underlying perceptual, cognitive, and strategic components of sport, is robust in both laboratory and field research"

  • "The primary importance of the "10-year rule" is that it seems to hold up regardless of the domain investigated. As such, it is one of the most robust findings in expertise research to date"

  • "Understanding what practice is best and how practice should be carried out are even more important questions than how much"

  • "Data from sport studies also indicate that those practice activities that require the greatest physical effort and mental concentration are ultimately the most enjoyable"

  • "Whether one examines wrestling, figure skating, karate, soccer, or field hockey, there is a montonic relationship between the amount of practice in which one has engaged throughout one's career, and one's eventual athletic success"

Steenbarger's own summaries of these conclusions provide some helpful color, if you want a less clinical sounding take on the ideas presented. For me, it reinforces some things I had suspected, mainly the role of specialization, and "honing" technique rather than simply accumulating technique. And some of it underscores some old notions that have recently come under fire, such as the idea that it shouldn't take "ten years" to get a black belt in jiu jitsu.

Performance studies suggest that, even if it didn't, ten years (referred to as the "ten-year rule") is apparently the average time it takes for mastery (if it ever is to be achieved) to truly develop. So, by this accounting, when you get your black belt is somewhat irrelevant to when mastery is likely to occur. Again, if it ever does.

At any rate, an interesting read in a weekend lacking in upsides. I managed to get in a "39" workout on Saturday, and spent most of today raking leaves in the front and back lawns--so I'lll give myself a point and a half for activity over the weekend. Monday will be a busy, stressful day, so we'll see if I can get anything athletic accomplished or not.

I'm thinking about taking the day class on Monday--I've got a conference call at 10 a.m. but if I can be done with it by 10:30 a.m. (which I should), then there's a halfway decent shot at making the 11:45-12:30 p.m. "all levels" class. I'd need to leave at 11:15 a.m., but I should be able to make it back to the office by 1:15 p.m. The trick is to make sure I bring my gear to work with me so I don't have to make the detour of running by the house first.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Confidence and Failure

I wrote a post in response to an article from Jay of Jersey Shore Jiu Jitsu on the issue of "Confidence in Grappling."

Jay’s original article is here.

My post read:
I think confidence and failure are very much related. Lack of confidence often has to do with an outsized fear of the consequences of failure. A lot of times I'll feel that I can't do a certain thing. But not because I don't know what to do, but because I'm afraid of what will happen if I try and fail.

This is compounded when things like rank, recognition and ego are involved--as they inevitably are. But the key to confidence is often in getting over the fear of failure.
There is a surprisingly shallow pool of free information on the internet with regard to sports psychology. I suspect that is because the “data” per se, isn’t very specialized, though the actual administration of sports psychology is exactly that. In other words, unless you are focusing on the issues of a specific athlete, much of what sports psychology has to say is pretty boilerplate.

That said, I did find some interesting things here and there that might be helpful. Here’s a section from the USTA (United States Tennis Association) website section on player development:

“Tennis players are motivated by many factors, including fear of failure, hope for success, or a combination of these two. While there are times when fear of failure is helpful (for example, to prevent overconfidence when a player is expected to win easily), it is healthier to approach competition from a “success” rather than “fear of failure” perspective.

Fear of failure is a weaker form of motivation because it increases worry and negative thinking (“I better not lose this match”), detracts from performance focus, and centers thoughts excessively on outcome. Players with this fear enjoy competition less and are at greater risk for leaving the sport. By contrast, players who approach tennis from a success orientation welcome tough challenges with less fear, and they view competition as an exciting opportunity to improve their skills and display their competency.

What can you do to help players adopt a success orientation? Here are some suggestions:

Every match has some elements of success, regardless of the actual outcome. In reviewing the matches, focus on the positive aspects of the performance, rather than the negative. Help the player set and achieve short-term goals to increase the behavior needed for continual improvement. Attaining these goals provides the player with a rewarding sense of satisfaction, regardless of the competitive outcome, and it leads the player to focus more on “success” rather than “failure.”

Convey an attitude to the player that the most exciting and enjoyable moment of competition occurs when the match is close and on the line. Encourage the player to thrive on these challenges, for it provides her or him with an opportunity to overcome difficult obstacles and to achieve even greater success.

Arrange practices and competitions so that the player gains experience in “going for it” under pressure. By expecting to perform even better in tight situations, rather than holding back due to insecurity, the player gains greater control over her or his actions. This attitude promotes a healthy motivation toward success and enhances feelings of competency.”

My biggest problems tend to have to do with rolling with white belts and other relative newcomers I feel I must outperform. I remember having this feeling shortly after getting my blue belt; that it was no longer tolerable to yield so much as a point to a white belt in sparring. Obviously this is a counter-productive attitude to have when training. Unfortunately, this attitude—which has lingered in one form or the other ever since—was compounded Tuesday night when Rodrigo kept “score” on my first sparring session. My fatigue, combined with my general defensive fighting nature, helped create a perfect storm of anxiety that contributed to an annoyingly poor performance.

Update: I spent some time compiling all of the first e-mails from Lloyd Irvin's Grappling Blueprint free, e-mail service. I remember reading some criticism of Irvin that his material were pretty much basic "sports psychology crap." Well, it's crap I needed to re-read. Irvin hits on a lot of the things that have been holding me back mentally, as well as convincing me that I am right about how he creates what he calls "the phenomenon" by focusing on specialization early and often in a jiu jitsu career.

I've printed out the pages and am going to bind them sometime over the weekend. At this point, they are almost daily, required reading.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rough Start 31 Days Out

A C+ practice last night. The first training of the week is always "special"—usually consisting of me gasping for breath just as the specific sparring begins. Actually, that’s not right. I’m not out of breath. It’s not a "cardio" issue in the aerobic sense. It’s mostly muscle fatigue. A quick break—long enough to let some of that lactic acid or whatever it is that brings on the fatigue—and I’m fine.

That and the typically frustrating roll with a new white belt. "New" as in "someone I’ve never seen or rolled with before." These guys always bring out the worst in my defensive tendencies. Last night I got caught in a pretty sharp uchi mata in large part because I didn’t attack and got too defensive. I watched a tomoe nage opportunity go by, never went with the morote gari, and never fought for the morote seionage when we did grip.

To make matters "worse," Rodrigo was refereeing us and counting points. Even though I wound up on top in the scramble, Rodrigo gave him two points for the takedown. He got another two points for managing to reverse. There was another scramble. I was in his guard and though I managed to stand, my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember what to do.

Another scramble and we wound up on knees. I managed to pull guard (!) and sink in a guillotine. It was locked in, but I didn’t have his throat where I wanted to. More importantly, I forgot that the next best thing to a guillotine submission is a guillotine sweep to mount. But, once again, I hesitated, and time ran out before I could get the tap or the sweep.

That was the feature event of the evening—and what has preoccupied me ever since. I actually did fairly well in the mount/knee on belly/side control drills, doing a better job of maintaining mount that I’ve done in a while. And I did manage to hit that guillotine sweep later on near the end of the evening. But I was annoyed at getting caught in the throw and more than a little embarrassed that I didn’t do a better job at attacking the guard in at least two instances last night.

There’s a physical component. Like I said, the first class of the week is always the hardest. But there’s also a tremendous psychological component, as well. I was thinking about that article Tommy sent me awhile back from Gracie Magazine, talking about the role of aggression. I have a hard time attacking for some reason, a hard time initiating the action. I was always a counter-striker as a kickboxer and those same traits have followed me to the jiu jitsu mats. Against weaker opponents, I can get away with that right now. But at comparable levels, it just isn’t working for me.

Here’s an excerpt from the Gracie magazine article, "The Mental Predator" by Martin Rooney, conditioning coach for Team Renzo Gracie.
Both the shark and the lion are famed predators. When they attack, motivation in instinct, not something that they are forced to create. The desire to finish their opponent is pure, and there is no emotion or remorse. There is no anxiety or stress leading up to the event for the shark and the lion, it is simply part of their daily routine.

There is, of course, risk of injury, but they do not allow fear to interfere. Their lack of abstract thought and the ability to question themselves is an advantage. With questioning comes indecision, with indecision comes anxiety, with anxiety comes mistakes, and with mistakes comes defeat.

The shark and the lion have practiced and mastered many of their methods of attack. There is no fear that they are underprepared. There is no concern for what could have been done or what might be missing. This unconscious confidence is a huge edge, and predicts that the way things have been practiced are the way things are going to be performed. The shark and the lion are master predators.

Rooney also provides "10 Ways of Increasing Your Chances of Becoming a Mental Predator". Worth a look.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Into the Autumn

I don't remember whether or not I tend to get sick when summer turns to fall. But that was certainly the case this year. It seemed like autumn came crashing in, like something expected but nonetheless too soon. One day it was a balmy 78, the next day we are barely above 65. We actually blazed up the fireplace last Saturday afternoon.

Sore throat, congestion, general weariness really since that Wednesday when I bailed on post-class sparring. I didn't think I was sick then, just tired and wanting to get to the weekend where the six-hour performance of GATZ awaited. Without getting into the particulars, all I wanted was to make it to Saturday night's event without getting injured or sick. That accomplished, I proceeded swiftly thereafter to get both.

The "injury" was minor and self-inflicted: tearing up my knee a little bit practicing double leg takedowns at home. The sickness is what it is--or, fortunately, was what it was. I'm feeling much better as of Monday and am looking forward to getting on the mat tonight and getting my preparations for the November 10th tournament underway.

A couple of thoughts. Working out in the mornings before work is not going to work. It may have in the past, but I'm just feeling tired all the time. So rather than continue to force the issue, I'm just going to have to put in the extra effort on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe I can squeeze in one weekday morning cardio session or something, also. But I probably will do myself better by getting eight hours of sleep every night than trying to climb on the treadmill at 6 every morning.

I've got both a competition and a practice gameplan set up for November 10th. I'm not sure how much of it I should post--since it is my first blue belt competition, I'm tempted to post the whole thing. In any event, the point is to keep it simple--which I've done--and to make sure I work my gameplans in pratice so that I know what I can count on five weeks from now.

Anyway, I'm looking to be back on the mat tonight, Wednesday and Thursday. We'll see what comes of it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Revolution 11 10

I just took a look at the flyer for the upcoming tournament in Bonney Lake, the one sponsored by Liberty Events on November 10th. In particular, I wanted to know what the weight divisions would be, how close they would be to the Copa and PacNW Championships divisions.

The answer? Not so close. The flyer for the upcoming event is incomplete, but assuming they keep their weight divisions the same, I’m looking at competing either lightweight (155-169.9) or at featherweight (154.9-140).

I’d hoped to be able to stay at or around 160 in order to make a 158.9 cut. With lightweight in this event being an additional four pounds lighter, that gives me a little something to think about. As a white belt, I have competed nine out of ten matches in the 146-158 division. The next division up has been 159-171 (which I competed at in my first tournament). I definitely feel more comfortable under 159 than over it; when I’m training at full pitch, my weight drops to 158 without any dieting whatsoever.

That means that this time around I’ll need to put a little extra effort into shedding the last few pounds. Five weeks is plenty of time to lose five pounds—though I’d like to get down to around 152 or so to give myself plenty of room for error. My suspicion is that we’ll have a couple of guys at 155-169.9; I’m thinking that anybody who competed at 159-171 is more likely to compete above 155 than below it come November 10th. This would mean Lindsey for sure, and probably Mike. But it also might include James, Sean and even Jason. Clint, who has competed at 158-145 I think, could probably get under 155. And Jason (Garcia) is a shoo-in for under 155 insofar as I think he has competed as light as under 146.

Anyway, the upshot is that I’ve got some weight to lose—and the sooner the better. I weighed in at 165.7 fully dressed this morning, which is typical for a Monday. By Monday, October 22nd, I need to be weighing 159.7 fully dressed—or less. That will give me another three weeks to cut another six pounds. As a progress check, next Monday’s limit (October 8) should be 162.7.