The relief of no longer feeling like I am starving cannot be underestimated, and that has made this week far more bearable in terms of the keto diet. I feel like what I am doing is accepting some of the differences in what I can eat, finding ways to substitute cravings for more responsible options, and not beating myself up when I just need the carbohydrates due to training. I am also experimenting with using KetoCitra as a way to stay in ketogenic therapeutic levels on those days I need the glycogen to replace what was lost in session. To put things in perspective: in a hard session I may lose around 1100 calories in an hour of Brazilian Jiujitsu and that involves every muscle in my body, from toes to nose. Monday I did a noon session and a seminar (total 4 hours), Thursday I did 8 hard rounds and a class (2 hours), and Saturday began with an hour private lesson. When bigger, younger, faster men are trying to kill you, the glycogen disappears far faster than say a 10k run or an hour of yoga. Think of it more like running while doing yoga as people try to strangle you. Fun.
So far the experiment is working well in terms of how I feel after and before sessions. My ketone levels could be higher, but then for me that might not be as useful if I cannot do the physical activity that keeps me focused and happy with life. I am not certain how I feel about the process in the long haul, but right now, this week felt so-able for a lifestyle, which it did not before.
I have also been able to thrown in two 16 hour fasting periods, go for a 10km walk and rest a bit after a harder week before school ended. Looking ahead, I have my MRI scheduled for September, have a week training in Estonia, go camping this week and also spend 3 weeks visiting family on Prince Edward Island after that. Warmer weather means that I feel less aches usually and Hope seems easier to evoke from something as simple as a bird chirping at 6am.
As you can see from my weight charts, my weight loss since getting ready for the Ren.Nu program has been steady; nothing too drastic, but steady. I feel like my body composition has improved and inflammation of my joints is less, too. Blood pressure has steadily improved as well and stabilized since starting the program. It had rise as 2022 began for no obvious reason, and I would not necessarily attribute it to Ren., but then it seems to follow the weight loss curve. for full disclosure I did opt to start taking 5mg of Ramipril in April of 2021 to take some load off my kidneys. While this was awful for the first 3 weeks, my body seems to have adapted to that with only a few random drops while exercising or in other unexpected moments. Worth the small effort on my part, and I take it before bed to avoid initial dizziness I had if I took it in the morning.
In the end, after five weeks, I feel like this may have been one of the best wellness choices that I could have made for my health. I remain skeptical, as everyone should about any programs, but just having some more information, a group to observe and connect with, and to feel less alone made it worth the costs for me. I do seem to have a LOT of KetoCitra at the moment, but that is fine, as it will get used eventually. I probably should try two servings a day, but the one double scoop feels “right” for now. I will not be taking it to Estonia with me, however. I simply do not want any hassle at borders or airport security given the insanity of current airports.
It has been over two decades since I would have considered myself anything close to an academic, but some books, such as Margaret Atwood’s Survival, have stood with me along my own personal journey as philosophical ways forward. While it was an early, theory work by Atwood, the book has kept me aware of how we all need to progress through the challenges that devastate us throughout our lives. For me, Polycystic Kidney Disease has brought me through the whole gamut of emotions just as a misdiagnosis of bipolar manic depression and my jiujitsu training has taken me through the highest bands of the human spectrum and the lowest depths of Hell. In the end, I strongly believe that the greatness of the human condition is to experience as much of the bandwidth, to create the greatest surface area that one can with his life, is the goal. As Tennyson’s Ulysses asserts: ” I shall drink life to the lees!”
Now this particular blog entry is not really about PKD. I write one entry a week now to explain my experience with the Ren.Nu Program out of California and a ketogenic approach to dealing with the disease; but really, this is a personal blog to reflect on my progress through jiujitsu, which for non-practitioners is basically a combat art that puts one in the most uncomfortable positions imaginable, under pressure for rounds upon rounds. If you cannot imagine another human’s sweat dripping into your pinned eye socket or feeling an oppressive weight upon your stomach for minutes that feel like hours, then you need to live a little to get closer to death. Basically, it is mindfullness in its most profoundly awoken reality. When I explain it to others who do not roll, I often say “Your most horrific fears and places of discomfort are where I have learned to hang out and practice my calm, meditative breathing.” It gives me a massive advantage in this game called life, but it does demand a heavy toll of passage. In terms of Atwood’s positions, it is my way of becoming a creative non-victim.
Jiujitsu has gotten me through some claustrophic MRIs. Jiujitsu has helped me deal with the equivalent of a guitar string being inserted into my abdomen to perfrom sclereotherapy four times, and it has helped me deal with having a tube hanging from a cyst for a week out of my abdomen (my greatest fear). I am still here, and that is why I spend so much time meditating, reading philosophy and training to learn how to destroy non-trained human beings by strangling them or ripping off a limb: it brings me peace in the way an actual warrior finds peace in the fog of war.
So how is my jiujitsu these days? It has been an interesting year. I have gone from the Covid-era to a post-surgery era to being a teacher era to being the worst student in the room (but it is an amazing lion’s den of a room) in a few hundred days. That being said, I am about to embark on my first return to a BJJ Globetrotter’s Camp in two weeks in Parnu, Estonia. Estonia happens to be where my wife’s family escaped in post-war, Soviet occupation. It is also a really cool EU country where the JitsVulcan, Priit Mihkelson hails from, and it is his system of defense that I use in my rolling to keep my kidney’s safe against large men (250 lbs) who are trying to kill me.
Now the last time I trained with the Globetrotters, I was just awarded my blue belt, was naively heading to compete at World Masters 2019, and was super-excited to have some time with my friend Angel from California who I met in Iceland. He showed me this lapel guard called Squid Guard and we became instant friends. In the space between I have worked hard on the lapel guard, I trained in a cold garage wearing socks during the two years of Covid in Toronto, and I dreamt of one day being able to just hang out and be a part of a Globetrotters Camp one more time. It is funny, but I remember every damn class I have taken at these camps. From meeting Carlos Machado to being a poor uke for Chris Haueter to having Chris Paines pin me for a whole round just by pinning my elbows together, I made my way through Iceland despite being sleep-deprived from our first year with our daughter. The next camp a year later was funded by selling a bass guitar, and I got to learn some lapel wizardry from Mike Van Dammen after a hilarious drinking session about how I ate nothing but puffins in Iceland. I ate pig knuckles with Ben from Japan, the best fried chicken bao with Angel and went on a Pirukuud tour through Tallinn. What did I take away? I built a reasonable open guard and then vastly improved my leglock entries with Charles Harriot. Heading into next week’s camp, the sky is the limit even if I just want to be chill, hang out, love being alive and see if Christian Graugert has any new “jiujitsu for the beach” moves.
What is my game like these days? Ahhhh. Arrggh. Ummm. I play a lot of Running Man to Turtle a la Priit these days at Action Reaction MMA. Those two positions I have down to black belt level, but I need some kind of Hawking and a better Panda (specifically to avoid the Bow and Arrow Choke) to round that part out. My top game is a knee slice based on a seminar with Gui Mendes, a lot of time with my Brazilian coaches, and some Gordon Ryan instructionals from when I used to write for BJJ Fanatics. Once I pass, I am about riding mount for the Ezekiel, armbar or cross collar choke. It is based on a lesson with Kurt Osiander, an instructional from Roger Gracie and a Globetrotter class from Christian. The game I wish I could play is more like a Margot Ciccarelli Underworld approach to off-balancing with some Keenan lapel guard and Ryan Hall leglock game. I am not there, but I will try nonetheless as an almost 50 year old male.
The camp will be one thing that I have seen as a crack of light through the darkness for the past year. It has motivated me to try the new diet, lost 12 pounds, train hard and be positive in the face of so many places where I could be in denial about my skills and weight gain. I could just be angry and hate the world. I could give up jiujitsu or stayed at an easy club with status. I could have just accepted my doom as sooo many other PKD warriors have had to: I have a disease for which there is nothing but a long road to dialysis and that is that. Instead…here I am, a creative, subversive non-victim ready to keep ducking the executioner and trying really, really hard to offer the community another paradigm of what it means to be a warrior, a hero.
To end, here is a little clip of my school end song to send off the rest of my peers. I chose David Bowie’s “Heroes” as that is what resonated most at this moment. So thus begins the summer, I hope the hundred of readers who have found this site throught Dr. Weimbs continue to follow until the summer’s end.
One stop solutions, all-in-one answers, and that damn screwdriver on your Swiss Army knife tend to leave you disappointed at the end of the day. I feel like ketogenic therary in its hardcore iterations may well be the same kind of experience; that being said, for me it remains the best game in town. Perhaps the hardest part of any diet remains the question of how sustainable it is for the body and mind over a long period of time within a certain social culture. It is much harder to go ketogenic in a colder climate where carbohydrates and sugars are the common response to a lack of fresh vegetables/greens and some darn depressing weather. Personally, my body hates the winter; I absolutely would rather live somewhere like Bangkok, Spain or Hawaii. However, even as I edge towards only 6 years before retirement, I know the value of the having a superb, almost accessible medical team with all of the hi-tech kit my kidneys could hope for. I feel fortunate to have been given three sclerotherapy sessions to drain four large cysts off my kidneys over the past year. How easily that might happen in Bangkok is questionable at best.
Now access to the best medical resources is one thing, but becoming a patient who seems like a good bet for such access is the hard part. If one thing drives me to stay healthy, lose weight, drink water, adapt my diet and maintain a positive mindset, then it is to appear like a better choice than the other patient who smokes, drinks, eats Cheetos all day long, and feels like a 5 minute walk is a vigorous workout. Survival of the fittest when in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But let me be clear: none of this can happen without helping to build a better PKD community experience for everyone. If I can help one or two people somewhere in the world to rethink their diet or mindset once they are diagnosed, then writing a blog about my experience or participating in the Ren.Nu program is the least that I can do.
So, how has this week been? This is my hardest week of the year, as my wife is chaperoning a Indigenous Awareness school trip on the other side of the country, my five year old daughter needs a lot of ice cream and shoe-shopping to cope with no mommy-time, I had 140 school reports to write, a jiujtisu class to sneak in. Very little sleep, massive amounts of caffeine and some familiarity with my old friend alcohol, would all be the challenges of a week like this, but to pretend that weeks like this do not happen would be highly detrimental when considering the sustainability of this diet. As the week came to an end, I was surprised to see how well I came out of it by Friday morning. Yes, I went over on carbohydrates. Yes, I am out of ketosis. But…and it is a big BUT, I feel pretty awesome overall. My body feels healthy and my weight is around 171-173 lbs of fairly lean muscle. Hence, the message that I took from the week is deeply founded in the reality that I can survive a week of less than optimum behaviours, thought I doubt that would continue for more than 7 days.
Perhaps what I found most interesting was that while my body told me that I needed carbohydrates, I readily compromised with the choices I went with. Instead of a hamburger bun, I would added 1/2 cup of brown rice to curried ground beef with dandelion greens. Instead of a nice piece of lemon cake, I went with some heavy cream and strawberries. There was no fast food options chosen, and pizza never appeared in the pantheon of my cravings. Maybe one idea to take away is that the idea of cheating is easier to deal with when your cheat options are still healthy by anyone’s standards. Yes, I know that the program swears off things like bananas, rice, almonds, spinach and red meat, but I personally feel that some of those elements should remain in tiny quantities while I am still functioning with fairly solid kidney function. That level of function will undoubtedly degrade over time, but a slower degradation is my personal goal. I am not attempting to eradicate my 50-100 cysts, I am just trying to outlast them to the end of my life.
As far as ketosis goes, I am mostly in a 0.5-0.7 low level for my ketones, and that is okay for now. Once my weight loss stops (it will once the love handles get eaten up), then I will slowly edge my ketosis up. Once I start being able to recover from the stresses of year end, it will be much easier to sleep a full night and a bit into the mornings. I only have a few days before the family goes camping and then I am immediately off to Estonia for a BJJ Globetrotters Camp. It will be pretty hard to tell how many classes I can do on any given day, but I feel like I can do 2-4 hours of camp a day with just some time spent watching from the mats’ edges. I am really hoping that the meal plan gives me a decent healthy factor of choices with the “vegan” option, but given the sheer number of calories burnt in a session, I am pretty sure that my body will just burn the glycogen before it can even settle in my muscles.
The opportunity to train with a large group of European players can only add more depth to both my game and open up a whole different paradigm to the martial art. I could also just use some fun, some conversation and a few days where I can be quiet. Train. Eat. Sleep. Train. It will also be super cool to have another chance to hang out with my friend Angel from California. Covid took its toll on our correspondance, but it will be reassuring to see how his game has evolved in two years passing. He was the first to introduce me to the Squid Guard and the lapel game that I have been working so hard upon over the past few years.
Week Four has been decent. I am not setting the world on fire, but I am settling in to the diet lifestyle in a way that finally seems sustainable for a long haul. Whether the blood and urine labs in September will confirm that this is the right approach for me remains to be seen. I suppose that I am finding my own way, and hopefully along the way I will inspire a few people through this blog to find their own way. Whether that involves KetoCitra or keto or calorie counting or meditation or whatever, the point is that we can all forge a pathway towards a slightly improved health outlook. For my own part, it has been quite a long haul with a lot of fear, anxiety and negative surprises founded in the fact that most doctors are not particulary good at giving any guidance to their patients beyond “there is not much you can do, so don’t stress and drink lots of water.” It felt like idiotic advice 4 years ago, and it feels even more irresponsible now.
Week three on the diet has brought me to many thoughts and realities about Polycystic Kidney Disease, and my place within it…perhaps. It has been a week of endings at school, continuance at jiujitsu and beginnings of the summer. So many personae and identities to blend: father, teacher, martial artist, musician, writer…
It is Father’s Day and I decided this morning to take a devil may care day on the diet; I do not want to forget that I am trying to stay alive to live and not eek out a meagre existence without experience or joy of a good meal with family that does not include Cronometer at the table. I also know not to let that line smudge so that I descend into a Hell of getting back to ketosis a week later. I never forget that I am fortunate enough to see a long horizon in lieu of death sentence on my PKD. I am in this game of Ren.Nu to make long term changes to keep me going as I am as long as I want. I also know that MOsT of these changes are positive, doable and will have a great affect on the quality of my life. But a great thing soon can become a cult of sacrifice and I know better; I studied vampire cults and identity construction for my Master of Arts at McGill University. Too much is often worse than not enough.
Enough philosophy. How has the diet been going? I think very well. I feel less dead at 4pm, though I have had a few headaches along the way. I enjoy my weekly text check-in with my nutritionist just to see what she sees. It helps and makes it worth the cost of the program. The KetoCitra is good. I actually like it as a drink. Caveat emptor: it is awful as a sports drink. I had some in the car before jiujitsu so I used it and ended up with a massive headache after 8 rounds of 8 minutes of combat. Bad idea, genius. The group sessions help remind me that there are others doing the program who have more and fewer challenges than I do at this stage. I am always interested to see the difference between Canada and the USA when it comes to food and medical experiences. The sessions are a bit of a slog, but they probably need to be.
I have been doing my own meditation program as usual with the Waking Up app. I spent a long time finding the best mindfulness approach for me as a way of letting go of the fear of death, pain and illness that comes along with PKD. I do not think I could have done the MRIs or the sclerotherapy procedures without Sam Harris. My preference, but also a suggestion for others. I expect to always use the app especially now that he has added lectures by others about Self, duality and Buddhism.
Jiujitsu has been rough. I have zero power still. Opponents have 100 percent and adrenaline. Still, this is what I do, and lost 15 lbs in a month have made my body so much more fluid. I am losing one session a week, but I did a 6.6 km run instead of the second session in 40 minutes just to get my body moving at a keto-friendly pace. With a week of day long training sessions in Estonia in a few weeks it is in my interest to find a balance between what I can do and what I need to do, both in terms of carbohydrates and exertion.
Ketosis is slippery. I am just holding on at the bottom end of light nutritional ketosis this week. That is fine for my current goals; I feel pretty solid, am losing weight and have a reasonable mindset, I think. From my experience before, things will get hairy in two weeks as those voice of “reason” start chiming in. People will say: “uhhh, you look too thin.” or “aren’t you too old to be doing this; you need to eat. !” I am fine with that. The beard had to go or I would resemble Rasputin pretty quickly.
What motivates me? My daughter had her first ballerina recital at age five. I want to be here for her as long as I can. I want to be mobile, pain minimal and active for as long as I can until I cannot. She mischievously asked me whether I would die from eating her candy this week; she wanted to know whether it had to be hidden, I think. Life is extraordinary, and I appreciate the struggle, because it gives me the beauty of a summer night motorcycle ride, a blistering blues guitar solo, a perfect Jiujitsu strangle or a profound conversation with a friend. I can avoid a doughnut for that, can’t you?
As I begin the second week of the Ren.Nu program, I have to admit that I feel like there is no life force in my body. While this may sound a little hyperbolic, the one thing that I find hard to explain to others are the days when I feel like there is no spark being ignited within my body. I feel like my kidneys become almost a heat sync for energy or that they are like the ignition in a car; no spark to light the fuel to create internal combustion. It kind of sucks. I should note that I sometimes felt like this before the diet began, but today is especially difficult. I imagine that it relates to my body desperately seeking glucose and turning to my protein to convert that instead of going to fat as fuel. That is what I think; but it may not be true. In my current diet, I am still eating too much protein even though my carbohydrates are around 30-40g. Regardless, this is an expected hurdle for me, and one which will take this entire week to sort out.
Perhaps the hardest part of a diet like this is the self-judgement that the Ego creates with failure to comply to with the exact macro counts. As this deprecation occurs, the Monkey Mind is constantly demanding carbohydrates, demanding “cheats”, and rationalizing all deviations from the planned course of action for the day. It is a reality that I encountered in 2019, but I am finding that the parameters of this “better” dietary change is much more challenging that the parameters I set out for myself then. In 2019, however, my goals were weight loss to get down from 170-163 lbs so that I could move from the Middleweight to Lightweight Division. I did not care about exact macros, nor did I care what effect the diet was having on my kidneys, per se. I only cared about making weight for Masters World, and I did.
This time around, I actually feel better overall than I did before. I am losing weight, I am dropping in inflammation, and I feel decent about my daily internal body cavity pressure against my kidneys. On the flipside, I feel too weak to train in the ways I had before, and I feel a lot more keto flu effects (and I am still not near ketosis). So what has changed? I expect that the Ramipirl (5mg) I decided to take in consultation with my general practitioner is reeking havoc with my previous protocols. Blood pressure has dramatically improved on the charts, but with the lower heart rate and pressure I imagine that I negatively feel the effects of the body fuel switchover much more accutely. Time will tell how things progress, and I see no reason to abandon ship.
The rest of this week has me on am end-of-year field trip with my 13 year old students. Eating properly while at a Hard Rock Cafe or a breakfast buffet will undoubtedly challenge my willpower to avoid carbohydrates and sugar, but that is fine. I already warned my colleagues that I may not be eating or drinking with them. Frankly, some rest in a hotel room or swimming in a pool might help in comparison to chasing my five year old daughter around until 10pm. I will continue to miss out on jiujitsu training, but instructional videos, yoga and the weight loss from the diet can compensate for a bit of that gameplay loss. My Ego had thought that I could still train full on, but avoiding injury from the lack of strength to resist training partners is probably a higher priority that pushing through.
After surviving three days with 120 twelve year olds on a Niagara Falls school trip, surrounded by candy, junk food and carbs, I am looking forward to home. I have been lowering my carbs and proteins while upping my fats, but still no keto. a little frustrating from the Peer to Peer pressure of hitting keto levels in the Ren.Nu group chat; since I could not make the session due to a jet boat ride, I watched back in the hotel at night. I am stuck at 0.3 or 0.4 m/mol.
Who knows if my body is resisting because it has been here before or if it has other plans for me, and frankly I have little control over that part of the game. There was a lot of talk about waves and tides in the mindfulness section, so to extend the metaphor: I am caught in the 0.4 current and I have to accept that and wait for the right time to start swimming hard. Might be a week away or tomorrow, but I cannot base my mindset on artificial targets. My journey, my Tao.
Otherwise the inflammation is still decreasing, and I feel fairly solid despite a disruptive week. A lack of decent coffee in Niagara has not helped with the sluggish fog of war that I continue to experience. A few days home, a 5k run and some yoga should help, but a small victory would help a bit. Not required, but it would help sway the tide
I guess that I should mention that I feel pretty calm for being on a school trip. More accepting, more mindful of my time and what I put into my body to get through the days of insanity. It is a nicer, more sustainable mindset. If I could just squeeze in some jiujitsu training then things would feel pretty good. I probably need to get my KetoCitra to two servings a day, but doing that at the Hard Rock Cafe felt kind of creepy from a teacher point of view, so I left that for home. Perhaps more exercise in my home gym and just general, easier fitness will kickstart things. We will have to see. Two more days before the second week closes, so all is not lost, all is still to come.
As the week came to a close, I finally hit moderate ketosis at 0.9 mmol/L. By all accounts this was a real struggle to get my body over to a fat fueling paradigm, but I definitely feel a difference in my energy and cognition. In the past two days, I feel less disgusted when eating greens with oils, have less of a craving for just meats, and my body seems to have figured out how to plate food in a way that actually meets the percentages and ratios I need for the diet. Vegetables are becoming more attractive to eat, carbohydrates less so (if only because I know how their suddent intake would make me feel again). The KetoCitra tastes pretty good in contrast to the lipids of the diet, and herbs from my garden are making the blandness of some items come alive. Basil, chives, fennel and tarragon all go pretty well with items like salads, butters and eggs. Cheese is probably the best way for me to add the fats that I was missing at the end of the day, and being in Canada there is a whole myriad of French cheeses which are high fat and low industrial processing. Pistachio nuts and walnuts are another addition to plates that give a bit of fiber and fullness to the mix.
I would not say that I necessarily feel like I can hit the jiujitsu mats at full force yet, but I do feel like a run or a workout in the gym is more than feasible, so I may do that this morning once I finish the blog and my morning decaf pourover coffee. My weight is down to 172 lbs from 186 when I began the diet and was retaining tonnes of fluid. The LMNT electrolyte packets have helped with salt intake and I am supplementing some B12 and D vitamins based on the initial blood labs. My blood pressure is also back to the ideal 112/65 when I wake up (I do take 5mg of Ramipiril to lower the load on my kidneys). So I feel like my body has self-corrected back to the path I am needing to take for the remaining 10 Weeks of the program. While the internal spark is not fully lit, it appears that the engine is starting to turn over after being flooded for the past two weeks.
The past week has felt like a dog chasing a car, and I really see no end in sight. This marks the end of the first week of the dietary project I have been looking forward to working through for almost the past year. Basically, I have signed on for a 12 week nutritionist-supported keto-therapy diet out of California with the Ren.Nu group, which is connected with Santa Barbara Nutirents who produces a medical food for polycystic kidney disease, KetoCitra. It was a bit of a stretch for me to decide to engage with a sort of pre-clinical trial based on a ketogenic variant diet, especially when the totally cost would be around $2000. However, the reality is that the money is pocket change when one looks at his or her health. To me, the science looked promising, and considering my last attempt at keto allowed me to compete at the IBJJF World Masters in 2019 in Las Vegas, I knew there was potential. If I could even learn a few tricks, a few more ways forward, or at least come to understand the disease better, then the 12 weeks would be well spent. In a worst-case scenario I would lose some weight post-Covid and maybe feel a little disillusioned. As long as there are no voodoo rituals involving chickens and ancient spells pushed through cosmic crystals, I will accept the outcome.
I am a skeptic. I never gamble. I take risks, but only those that I am mostly in control of the main parameters. I also understand that Hope and Will can often “damn the genetics” and with a touch of science, magic is possible. Not Harry Potter magic or woo-woo New Age stuff, rather the unexpected leaps that a Carl Jung writes about in Synchronicity: the exception to the rules. Let’s face it, the rules seldom even make sense in our universe, so I see no real reason to expect all narratives to end the expected way; the best stories seldom do. They all end, but not in the way you expect.
How has it gone? Hmmm. Good question. I would say that I see positive changes in my eating, and I am back to being hyper-aware of my eating in a mindful way. The issues with water retention last month appear to be self-correcting, and I actually like the taste of KetoCitra. I had a tonne of blood taken for tests, and my initial results show significant improvements my eFgr and creatinine levels from March and November (probably based on my sclerotherapy procedures in December). I also feel super weak, brain foggy, exhausted and I feel frustrated with the challenge of balancing out a way of eating that meets the criterion of the program. At the end of each night, I am either too high or too low in calories, too high in carbohydrates, too high in protein, too low in fat or just hating the whole damn thing. The darkly toasted bread dripping with butter and jam calls my name. I just trudge off to bed and ignore the siren calls…for now.
Jiujitsu is probably the hardest obstacle to maneuver. It is a combat sport based on being fueled by carbs, caffeine and acai bowls. A single session of 90 minutes might rob me of 1100 calories and all of my glycogen stores on a normal night. When I do not have 1100 calories to begin with by then, it gets a little hairy in there when you get thrown in with some world-class black or brown belts. When the opponent is trying to rip your limbs off and you are fueled by avocado and a prayer…you get the picture. Suggestions always range from taking time off to doing yoga instead or maybe some gentle stretching; one of the main reasons for my work on my health is so that I can continue to train, so stopping training kind of defeats the purpose. Becoming injured by a carbed-up 26 year old at the end of a sweaty night also defeats the purpose. The dilemma ensues.
I do not know how other people are functioning through this first week yet. My ego tells me that it cannot be good for them, but then I am probably wrong. Other people can often follow the recipes and eat from a plan, whereas my brain demands that I use the recipe as a starting place and go from there. I don’t know; I will figure it all out by the end of the 12 weeks because I have to do so. Who knows, maybe it will get easier. Perhaps my nutritionist will have a eureka moment or my body will learn to perform on fat as fuel by the time I start my intense week of training at the BJJ Globetrotters Camp in Estonia in mid-July. Time reveals all, just as a butterfly flapping his wings in Brazil may cause the siren calls of carbohydrates to cease in my ears.
I should note that I already did a run with ketosis in 2019. I found that it was useful in terms of weight control, lowering of inflammation and pain, and self-esteem, but that it was unsustainable beyond a 3-4 month time frame. The body (my body) simply rebelled and said that enough was enough. Weight slowly crept back up with a bump in Covid due to the unavailability of fresh food in Canada, and no amount of exercise can counter social isolation, lack of community, and eating canned soup or frozen chicken fingers. I guess I see this diet program as my first decisive step back into the world post-covid. A hard, difficult step to be sure, but all great journeys begin in chaos and uncertainty.
I do have the distinct advantage of already having self-implemented a meditation routine using Sam Harris’ Waking Up app (by far the best meditation resource on the market). I have a digital scale (Withings), blood pressure monitors (Qardio), heart rate monitors, macro tracking app (MyPlate), an intermittant fasting app (Zero), and other tech that all integrate seamlessly on my iPhone. I have the metrics, but I do not have all of the answers.
Over the next few weeks, I will write a few reflections and see how my main health factors are progressing or declining: weight, stress, blood pressure, blood glucose, mental health, jiujitsu play, and any pains or aches in my flanks that normal come from the preceding factors. The goal here is not to write a review of Ren.Nu, Santa Barbara Nutrients, KetoCitra or anything personal about others. The goal is just to share my voice and perspective on a challenging disease which needs participation in groups like this if there is to ever be any long term progress. This week was about beginning the chase without ever expecting to hit ketosis nor having the car run over me. While there is great value in becoming a PKD Warrior (as I often see in social media posts), I feel that my true value in the community is as more of a magician or charlatan with cheap parlour tricks to entertain but provide riddles and rhymes to engage the little inspirational part of the mind. No warrior can sustain a war without end or purpose, but with a great story the weakest citizen can take down tanks and topple governments. With just a sprinkle of the magic that is a compelling story…anything can happen.
Jiujitsu is filled with truly talented individuals, and yet it leaves a wake of fallen casualities. Since I began practicing BJJ I have seen hundreds of training partners disappear from the mats; some return, while some simply are missing in inaction. Injuries, life responsibilities, disappointment with where they fit on the belt hierarchy and a myriad of other reasons take people away from whatever the reason that they chose to begin the journey. It might be possilbe that a few individuals had meagre goals for their participation and once that blue belt was achieved, the rest of a long, stuggling path seemed pointless.
As an educator, I tend to understand what motivates students to thrive, achieve and participate. Positivity, personal recognition, specific grades in an area of passion and even peer pressured support are all routes of engagement that can keep students in the classroom and pushing towards understanding. What seldom works is negativity, relentless struggle, promises of careers or Ivy League schools, or angry parents who always want more from a child. Upon reflection, I think our mats also function on the same foundations. If you want to keep a student or training partner, then they need to hear positivity about what is being done, feel connected to the other members of the academy and perhaps most importantly, feel like he or she is making progress in the right direction towards goals. Safety, both physical and emotional, is possibly another factor that we seldom speak about during the “grind” of training, but no one wants to deal with bullies or ego-maniacs trying to show “How dominant I am, Bro. I am barely even rolling hard because I am also humble”…as they rip an arm in a kimura or perform their “signature move”: the flying knee on belly cartwheel to inverted triangle choke. Ta-dah.
As I move forward at a new jiujitsu school in Toronto, Action Reaction MMA, I am looking for those people who can offer me a space from which to continue to hone my skills and learn more about this art of movement. I will avoid the negative gossip. I will ignore the brain wondering about promotions or belts. I will direct my own goals for myself. I will enjoy my time rolling and learning on the mats in the year ahead; fun and positivity are my main purpose this year, because that is what I need to stay on the tatami these days. I do not need Bros who need to validate themselves on my body. I do not need to feel like conspiracies are afoot about who deserves that next belt based on that last roll with an upper belt half his size and twice his age. Jiujitsu is not about fighting hard, but rather it is about avoiding strength through technique so as to increase the chance of not wasting energy before the clock has run out. And some days the clock runs for round after round after five minute round.
I am always surprised how one cautious, heart-wrought decision can suddenly push one off in a new direction. Once I found my new gym and signed up for a year, I also was able to procure a spot in a new ketogenic diet program tailored towards people with polycystic kidney disease. While the cost will be somewhere in the $2000 for the 3 month program, I feel like it is a great opportunity to lose some of the post-Covid weight and ensure that what I think is a healthy diet for me is also a healthy diet for my kidneys. It is going to be a bit of a long road through some hungry moments when cheeseburgers or poutine calls my name, but the benefit of being able to even spend one more full day out of dialysis or kidney failure with my daughter and wife make the challenge worthwhile. Who knows, I might even get to Lightweight division by the time World Masters rolls around in Septemeber.
The second step was to commit to the upcoming BJJ Globetrotters Beach camp in Estonia this July. I bought the camp ticket last Spring, but with a pandemic and war on the Eastern front, it felt like I would have to abandon the trip for an easier visit to New York City to train. With these other two decisions, I found the will to take a bit more of a risk and head to Estonia for a second time. As you may be able to tell from previous blogs about my experience with their community, a Globetrotters Camp can be a life- changing experience if you love the idea of spending six days training with like-minded people from around the world. For me it has always been a place where I can reset, be reminded of how much I love my wife and daughter, and just focus on one thing for a while. I can just be me for a brief time each year.
So where is all of this leading me? I have absolutely no idea at the moment, but I can say that I feel more alive than I have in quite some time. Just having things to look forward to in a positive way, adventures with new people and mindsets has been truly invigorating. I do feel like I have some new goals forming; that for the first time since the pandemic I can finally plan with hope and aspire to pushing myself to do more than just show up, more than just go to my garage to keep learning independently for no particular purpose or goal. I know that I am still fascinated by some of the open guard and lapel techniques that I have been working for the past year. Connecting those techniques through movements feels like time well-spent. I also realized that I still have a place for no gi in my training now that I have swtiched gyms and have the camp coming up. It is much easier to bring spandex in carry-on luggage than kimonos. Plus, The Truck and Berimbolo entries are becoming easier for me post-kidney surgeries. Taking out a few cans of pop worth of cysts help with the inversion and stomach compressions.
I do know that none of this is about achieving a brown or black belt. Even if I am never promoted again, I made it to my ideal goal: purple belt from a black belt that I respected. The rest in terms of belt hierarchy and promotions is not really that important UNLESS my actual jiujitsu develops to that level. I need to grow into my purple belt and enjoy this moment, because in the end there will never be another purple belt stage for me, so I need to experience it fully completely. Others may fight to become a fictional king of their little mat fifedom, a kingdom where they sit like Macbeth and tell tales of how they, too, once were warrior. But I am no king. I am an adventurer or maybe a conjuror. I want to tap the sources of knowledge and run with the widest group of practitioners that I can before I die. I want to explore the depths and the widths of the art without fear, dogma or an ego which closes doors of opportunity to me. Maybe one day, my wife and daughter will join or re-join jiujitsu, but that is only for me to gently encourage as time passes. I certainly want them to feel safer when I am no longer with them, and perhaps in some sense that is why I continue to write: to share my hopes and fears with others when I am no longer here, nor there.
It was inevitable. Despite pretending that all would be well and that I could just ride out change at my gym, I knew it was time for me to move on and find a new crew. Opportunities take people places, others feel slighted by random, perceived slights, and then human drama begins to play out like Shakespearean plays performed by second rate actors. Exit stage right [chased by bear].
I will certainly miss my opportunity to teach beginners class; it was a rare chance for a purple belt to share some of my knowledge with white belts in a class format. I doubt that I will be given such a chance again, so I truly made the most of my six lessons. In the end though, I was always quite aware that people only want to learn from black belts with tonnes of competition experience at the highest levels. It is all good. What was especially thrilling was that I chose to give stripes the four of the students who had been working really hard before and after the Covid restrictions, had missed out last promotions in September and who were also moving on in the time ahead. Our professor, Igor Mocaiber, approved of my choices, and I was able to give each of them just a touch more motivation as they continued their journey.
What I find is a little more challenging is becoming a ronin at purple belt. Walking into new rooms after kidney surgeries, Covid layoffs and self-doubt is not an easy task. When I left Toronto No Gi, I was a white belt with 2 years experience. Sure, I walked into a very tough room at Budo Canada, but no one had any expectations for the gringos. Over four years and 10 competitions, I had a pretty solid understanding of who I was and what I could do on the mats.
I have spent the past year developing a Squid Guard with the lapels, a few open guard sequences, a mount that ends up in a few different submissions and a few other things. But my game has become a little more relaxed, as I was rolling almost exclusively with white belts so that I could actually get in hundreds of reps on what I was working on. How would I feel going into new rooms, as a human target with a purple belt? I would soon have the answer…pretty awful!
In my local area, I am pretty lucky to have two great gyms: Action Reaction MMA and RevMMA. The first is largely competition-based with a wide variety of students and it would allow me to remain a part of the Cicero Costha family. A few challenges for me will be that the team is pretty large and keeping my kidneys safe might prove a rough proposition with eager, young competitors hoping to tap a purple belt.
Given that Action Reaction is closed for two weeks as they move locations to a larger facility, I figured that I would start with RevMMA . Rev is a multi-combat sport gym whose jiujitsu program is led by black belt Joel Gerson and now affiliated with the Gracie Academy out of Torrence, California. I had taken a full day workshop with Rener Gracie and Brian Ortega a few years back, so I knew what I was getting into. The focus would have some elements of self-defence and an emphasis on very solid foundations. Safe, playful training with a lot of steady pressure.
I decided to jump right in with a Gracie Combatives class at 7pm, followed by an Advanced class with rolling afterwards. Gracie Combatives is a foundational sequence of 32 Techniques that is repeated on schedule for new white belts until they successfully attend a set number of classes and can demonstrate an understanding of these basics. Attendance is tracked on white cards that students take to classes. If I am totally honest, then I have to admit that I was stressed out and nervous because few things are worse than showing up to a class where everyone else knows what is going on as white belts and I have no idea as a purple belt. The language and vocabulary are strange, and while I have a boatload of knowledge, I have zero Gracie Combatives knowledge. Oh boy, it was going to be a rough night.
Fortunately, Joel connected me with a passionate adherent of the system, Daniel, and as we worked through the day’s two main techniques and four minutes of the punch-block series. While it may seem unbelievable, I learned A LOT about BASE and increasing mount control/pressure. I also felt pretty stupid. Like really bad at jiujitsu. So then it becomes a question of whether I can defeat the voice of my ego to rebuild the paradigm of my jiujitsu experience. Can I accept that I will feel like I have started BJJ over from square one? Good question.
For the second part of the evening, I dragged my ego into the Advanced class. We worked on a pretty awesome half guard smash pass that felt very much like a Mendes brothers’ technique based on multiple leg weaves and staples. Again, I felt like I walked away with a technique that would greatly improve what is my A game.
Rolls were hard, but excellent. With my first partner, a purple belt, I controlled the first half of the roll and then played defense in the second half. I was a distracted by my own cross collar grip and lost control of my leg freedom. Next round was with Joel Gerson, and that was never going to go easily for me. While I did what I could, two armbars and a defeated Squid Guard later, I was just happy to still be able to walk. Finally, I had a round with my white belt partner, Daniel. His defense in mount was pretty solid…except for that last second wristlock. I was gentle.
In the past 48 hours, I have had to question a great many things about my jiujitsu; what I want, who am I, who do I want to be, am I ever going to find a place to consider home again? Hard to say, really. As my daughter woke up quite sick with a fever in the middle of the night, and having been put into a bad mood from one of my parent- teacher interviews, I feel pretty distant from the moment without jiujitsu to take my attention back to Centre. Another week and I hope to have chosen between Exit A and B.
The place where you will spend most of your white belt career is in someone else’s side control. If you are lucky, then their side control pressure is useless and they will chase random submissions like a squirrel in a peanut factory. If you are unlucky, then you will feel the weight of a dwarf star bear down upon you as your diaphram struggles and gasps for air. The pressure will make you want to tap, even if you somehow resist, and the temptation to allow a submission becomes all that your inner voices scream aloud. And yet…I believe that most beginner classes teach this vital position weakly or even detrimentally to student understanding and progress.
In your first week of jiujitsu you will experience the position. Teachers and classmates will throw some facts to you about needing to shrimp or not leaving your arms out there. Coaches will shout to not allow the crossface as you allow the crossface pressure and then, like a koala being ripped apart by dragons in a Snoop Dogg Animal Plizzanet, you will submit over and over and over. You will learn this position from the bottom in classes, and generally you are put into the worst position as the starting point of escape: crossface pressure square stance wilth an underhook and your arm/shoulder on his lap control, pulling you in. Now. Go.
The main problem for this is that it inherently sets up a beginner fallacy that when you guard is passed you end up in this difficult position. Beginners often allow this exact position to be achieved so that they can practice the one or two side control escapes they learned in classes. I will argue that this is detrimental. What should be taught is how to position your body ONCE THE PASS IS INEVITABLE and you cannot retain your guard. My basic instructions might be:
Lift legs to your chest so that knees and elbows touch to close off underhooks and overhooks.
Do not lie flat, but rather angle towards your opponent.
Create space by shrimping away, inverting or posting with close distance frames.
Begin to escape by being relaxed so that you can feel your opponent’s telegraphing of intent through his muscle tension and release.
From the top position the goals of the control is generally the opposite:
Close the distance between your hips and chest to your opponent’s hips and chest.
Control one or two points at the hips and one or two points in the head, arms and shoulder area.
Flatten both shoulders to the mat to score the pin/pass
Relax tension in the body so that all of your weight creates corresponding pressure to a singular point on his body at the daphram.
Choose to either cook the opponent through pressure OR react to his movements to either improve your position to Knee on Belly or Mount (or both is succession after three seconds).
Do NOT get excited and jump on random Americana/Kimura opportunities dangled before you as traps.
Personally, my preferred escape from side control statistically is an elbow escape sequence based on concepts from John Danaher, Carlos Machado and Breno Damieri. The instructions as taught in the class last night might read as follows.
Regain inside position for your elbow on the pressure side so that it creates a strong frame and keeps your arm from being scopped up and your shoulder lifted onto his lap.
Regain inside position on the open side so that your wrist presses under his chin and into his neck or throat.
Lift your hips to relieve any heavy pressure.
Angle your pressure side knee towards his hip so that when you create space it can enter the space by driving towards the elbow frame until they connect.
Shrimp to create space. Then shrimp again when that fails. Shrimp until you can gain space.
Once knee to elbow connection is made, take your free outside foot and press it into your connected foot so that you can create a leg press motion to create space enough for a reguard to occur to closed guard, butterfly guard or an attack on his far-side arm (armbar, omoplata).
I am off to Montreal for March Break next week, but then hope to be back with my next beginners class whose topic is yet to be decided. Oss.
The first choke we learn, the first submission we abandon because it “doesn’t work” and perhaps the last strangle we come back to is the cross collar choke. It is both funny and sad that it has taken me six years to finally develop a decent version of the choke many of us are taught in the first few weeks of classes. The cross collar choke is a giant-killer. The cross collar choke is epitome of invisible jiujitsu that that Gracie family purports to be almost magical in nature, but also so essential to any player worth his rank on the mats. What? You cannot do this simple choke? But it is so simple and perfect, come friend.
Here is the thing; I have learned versions of this choke in sessions led by Rorion Gracie, Carlos Machado, Royler Gracie, and even in a private with Kurt Osiander in San Francisco. I am certain that I have been taught this technique by at least fifteen black belts so far, and I have more than a few instructionals featuring the most basic strangle. But here is the thing: it is damn hard for a white belt to hit this choke on a resisting opponent; almost impossible if that opponent is awake and breathing. Why?
As I have started teaching a Beginner Class at Budo Canada this month, I have truly been reflecting on how to communicate the actual steps necessary for a man or woman off the street to be able to participate and feel like they have accomplished something by the end of an hour. I should also note that my profession has me teaching complex topics like coding robots, deciphering poetry and learning to tie a necktie to 12 year old boys. My job is to explain concepts in twenty different ways to a sometimes less than engaged audience.
So…the cross collar choke. Here is the basic step procedure:
Grab the cross collar lapel.
Grab the other cross collar either above or below the first one.
Good luck with that. It will work on a smaller person than you who is also at his first class. But as soon as the newcomer tries to hit that on a regular, he will find himself in a whole lot of hurt. If that person is resilient, then she might try it 20 times without success and it is locked away as a fake move for white belts. Time to move onto that cool Flying Berimbolo Wristlock she saw on YouTube last night. The saddest part is that this reaction makes perfect sense. Why do a move that is so deceptively simple that it is also easily countered and therefore become useless?
Here is what I think and the basis of my next Beginners Class: the cross collar choke requires the calm, serene fluidity of water, misdirection and a dilemma which culminates in to slow, alarming pressure. It is the epitome of the gentle art, but it is the last thing that comes naturally to a white belt. A white belt uses hell bent for leather strength matched with the excitement of a three year old going to cuddle a cat. Every single movement of a white belt (and many blue belts) is telegraphed exponentially due to the tension of their body. His intentions about the cross collar grip are shouted loudly at his opponent: “Lookee whats I gots! Prepare to DIE!”. The death grip on the first collar tends to sink no deeper than the collar bone, while the second one is easily parried by the opponent until the grip burns out the arms. The choke is defeated and the thrill is gone.
I blame language. Most instructors use works such a drive, dig, grip and shove to describe the act of getting that collar grip deeper with the penetrating hand. While I will avoid obvious sexual innuendo here, that is seldom the way to deeply enter anything; shocking pressure tightens the entry and creates a sense of panic, a sense of urgency to close off access to the desired grip depth. What would I use for verb choice? Unfortunately, the better vocabulary choices might be to creep, to absentmindedly climb, to limply encircle or to gently beckon the lapel in a come hither fashion. Not exactly the heighth of machismo bro language, but I think that it is more accurate in the description of what the approach feels like to both the opponent and the strangler does. And let us be clear here: you are a creepy strangler here and not a mud-fisted gorilla ripping the life out of your enemy. There is a difference and if we are honest, some of jiujitsu is kind of creepy.
The cross collar choke is a slight of hand card trick. To pull it off you must be a grifter conning your mark as to your true intentions. After six months of workshopping the technique during every roll I can, I find that it works best in tandem with a perceived dilemma. I say perceived, because the dilemma for your opponent might not even be valid. For example, as I limply grip the cross collar from closed guard I might begin to feint a scissor sweep by opening my legs slightly and abandoning it. As I abandon I creep the hand in deeper. Rinse. Repeat. Then I might go for the oppoosite lapel end to give the illusion that I have some lapel wizardry being conjured; as he worries about that magic, I slid in another inch. Eventually, you see where I am going. I also NEED to note that my entire body is relaxed. I am wasting no energy. I smile if possible.
Now I might lose the collar grip. Perfect, I will go to the lapel game. He will panic, and I will go back to the cross collar with even more limp creepiness. The key here is that the goal is the strangle, but I will take the sweep without removing the collar grip. I will take the lapel sweep without removing the collar grip and then finish from mount. Speaking of the mount, Roger Gracie has the best high-level cross collar game from the mount. Unstoppable. Frankly, I have used a lot of his ideas to learn my own way. He uses attacks such as the Ezekiel to climb to high mount. He uses threats such as armbars and wristlocks to divert attention and he will be patient. Patience is critical. It is also a rarity for newcomers to the mats.
What would my list of steps read like for this choke?
Grab the cross collar at any point it is available and that grip should not alert the opponent to its danger. Go as deep as you can on the first grip, but be aware that anything above the collar bone will be noticed briefly.
Create the illusion that you are working something else. Pull his head, grip a sleeve, buck your legs, or look elsewhere with your gaze. Relax and feel what part of his body is tightening to counter your position.
When you are ready double grip the cross lapel and slip the main hand as deep as possible, which should be almost past his spinal column. Now pull him down to break his posture or crank your forearm like a lever in a counterclockwise motion.
You are still not using much strength yet. Breathe and begin to set up a scissor sweep. He will defend that or be swept. As he does, either go deeper or look for a counter grip on the other lapel. If it is under the first arm, then your body should angle towards the cross collar side if you are gripping over the first arm then the opposite is true.
Kuzushi is key from the closed guard. Use your legs to move him in different directions.
If you get the sweep, then keep the cross collar grip but make sure to wieght your body on the gripping side so that you cannot easily be upa swept. If you are, then go to the choke as the sweep continues.
The finishing pull is not with your arms flaring at the elbows, but rather you are pulling your hands to your pectorals, elbows to your ribs and pulling with your back and pectorals to finish the choke. Try not to tense your whole body; just what you are choking with.
Good luck. Depending on the level of students I might get to the mount version of this, but I feel like they are more likely to be in closed guard than mount anytime soon. To gamify the position, I would do two minute rounds of one person on bottom and one in closed guard. Bottom guy gets his grip at the collarbone. Top opponent cannot leave closed guard, nor can he grip break. He can be swept or subbed with any move from Closed Guard, but the cross collar grip cannot be reliquished to do so. See what happens. Oss.