Week Five: Making Better Choices As I Hit my Stride

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.

Victim Positions: Denial, Anger, Acceptance and Creative Non-Victim

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.

Week One: Chasing Ketosis

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.

Through the Fog of War: Returning to The Way

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.

When the Centre Cannot Hold: Switching Jiujitsu Gyms

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 Politics of Side Control: Fundamentals Lesson Two

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.
  • Remove space.
  • 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 Cross Collar Choke: Fundamentals Breakdown One

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.
  • Then pull.

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.
  • Breathe.

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.

Walking the Tightrope: The Reality of PKD and Jiujitsu

One week. One week until the next surgical procedure where the radiologist goes inside to kill a kidney cyst about the size of a grapefruit. Before I found out that I had polycystic kidney disease the line I had drawn was that I never wanted to live with anything sticking out of me: tubes, ports, bags. Funny how life always comes back to see whether you really meant what you said or if you were willing to keep going on despite your aversions and fears. Fortunately, the drain tube is only scheduled to remain in for a week, if all goes well, and then I can get back to some kind of normal. I wish that I could pretend that this is just another day at the office and that struggle only makes me stronger or some other vague platitude meant to inspire the read of this blog entry. I got nothing on this one: I am fearful, uncomfortable in a reasonable amount of chronic ache. Clearly, I have abandoned my jiujitsu practice. Right? I have accepted that I am now at the point of no returning to the mats, and that I would be far better off to begin practicing recommended sports like tai chi or gentle stretching. No. I do not think that I can carry on the war without maintaining battles on both theatres of war. I am in all the way.

Where I did draw the line was competition. Ironically, I made that decision more on the basis of a newfound situation of not being able to drop weight through my normal routes of cardio exercise, intermittant fasting and a keto/low carb/calorie counted diet. Something with cortisol levels, blood pressure medication and my body these days. I can do everything and remain in stasis at 175 pounds, which is putting me into the Middleweight division at 5’6″. Therein lies the danger: leverage, reach advantage and competition adrenline at purple belt spells inevitable injury from which my kidneys will not recover from. But still I remain.

What does that look like? For the past seven or so classes I have really focused on training with partners who I can trust or that I am capable of handling safely. Small or light white belts are always a great place to drill my technique so that when I have to train with bigger opponents or upper belts I have stronger technique to protect my core with and to escape danger. From my experience, the best movements for me relate to becoming a ball and exploding at the decisive moment to enable a takedown or a sweep or an escape. The game is Sumi Gaeshi, Tomoe Nage, Drop Seoi Nage, Squid Guard, Ezekiel Chokes, and a few other cool things like the Imanari Roll Entry. 85% of my time on the mat is spent in a fairly relaxed state, feeling the zone and connecting to my opponent in an effective way. The biggest challenge is that when my kindeys ache it becomes difficult to use my abdominal muscles to form the hollow with my body that is needed for much of open guard play.

When I was pressed by a colleague and then a family member about why I had not yet forsaken my “little hobby”, I felt like my true answer had nothing to do with the one I gave. I can get exercise by running or weightlifting or cycling. I can improve my mobility through yoga, and I damn well know that every time I hit the mats they hit me back for the rest of the week. The truth is that the jiujitsu community is where I find my social connections; my third place outside of family and career. At 48 years old, it is not so easy to make real connections in a large metropolis with anyone beyond a bartender at your favourite micro-brewery. Training twice a week at the gym is undoubtedly much safer for my kidneys than visiting the bar once a week. I suppose that I could fool myself into believing that I simply need to take it easy, but I know better. The easy path is not going to make anything better; it will only lead to regret and wishing that I had stayed out there longer than I did.

The Vocabulary of Movement: Speaking and Listening in Jiujitsu

On the sixth year anniversary of my jiujitsu journey, I dragged my body to class despite straining my MCL last week while practicing leglocks. Injuries happen, but I take knees quite seriously. Knee surgery is not something I want to add to my schedule of surgical procedures for 2021-2022. The question then becomes, however, how do I mitigate the risk of further damage while still fully participating in the class session and rolls? One way forward would be to sit on the sidelines during rolls and wear a large knee brace to signal to my peers that I am injured. The problem with this is that I do not get to enjoy the mental and physical therapy of training; it is often the main salvation of my work week and since I can only fit two sessions into my commitments, losing even one session has a negative impact on my wellbeing. The path I chose was a unique solution that I had never tried in my home gym before: alter the vocabulary and language of my jiujitsu.

During my return to jiujitsu classes post-Covid, I realized quite quickly that my strength, timing and grips had deteriorated, especially against opponents who had been able to remain training. During my first full week back, I also ended up at a new gym on Prince Edward Island (Gracie PEI) who had been able to stay open during the entire lockdown. The players there had not lost a step, while I had lost my shoes and ballet tutu. To compensate, I decided to change the language of my movement and to improve my chances of outplaying sparring partners by only playing obscure guards for that crew. I played Squid Guard, Lapeloplata and Galaxy Guard exclusively until the moment when a hole in their games could be exploited. The holes occured because they could not understand the language of my movements. What is he doing with my lapel? What am I supposed to do? This is frustrating! Strength will fix this! Ugghhh, I am tired… Ninja sh&t had saved my bacon, and I could not help but notice the instructor smiling at me using weird spinning stuff to frustrate his athletic, competent white belts who were trying to kill me. It was not the language anyone expected a 48 year old guy to be playing; it was the slang of a much younger, kool kid, and that made it all the more confusing.

New words can become fascinating, and the ability to speak a few foreign phrases at a restaurant or social gathering can range from showing intelligence to pretentious buffoonery. Knowing this, I spent the first two months developing those lapel sequences as a way to expand the foundation of my traditional jiujitsu. Esoteric techniques can be fun, but are not a sustainable replacement for the basic, pressure-heavy movements essential to universal jiujitsu. In fact, what I chose to do was connect those ephemeral oddities to closed guard, mount, and side control on both the opening moves and the endgame. For the first time in six years I felt like I had a small sequence of mastery. But, it is all fun and games until someone tweaks their MCL and meniscus. Heelhooks will be the death of me, yet!

Coming back to last night’s session, I decided to test out this concept once more. Partly because I like to experiment, and partly because I did not want to risk wrapping a lapel around my injured knee to stop an athletic opponent. So where do you go to find the words unknown to your night’s partners? I went straight to Deep Half Guard, Half-Butterfly Half, Lockdown, The Japanese Necktie and a Galaxy Guard hook. By using some of these unplayed positions at my home gym, I was able to weave out a fun night on the mats for me, a bit of frustration for my partners and a lesson to myself: change the way you move and nothing remains the same.

One highlight was playing a funny. crouched monkey stance in the engagment phase. I had learned it as a kid fascinated with kung fu, and while it looks ridiculous and is ridiculous, it also serves quite well to open up ankle picks and getting under opponents. Should it work? No. Does it work? Yes…for a few times.

In the end, players like Keenan Cornelius, Nathan Orchard and Margot Ciccarelli are beginning to explore and systematize the avant-garde of jiujitsu movements through this framework and metaphor of vocabulary. While it may be increasingly difficult to learn a whole new language as one ages (I cannot fathom learning any Japanese, Portuguese or Estonian at 48 years old), one can always pick up a few useful words, sentences phrases to gain access to a larger, beautifully expanding world. Curmudgeons and Luddites beware!

Tokui Waza: Finding Your Favourite Techniques

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. ~ Bruce Lee

One common conundrum we all face in the Information Age is the mass abundance of options. Before this era, knowledge was prized, hidden and well-kept, but now with the open sourcing of ideas (bad and good) all is revealed. Ironically, all has now become more hidden due to the weight of sifting through YouTube, social media and free content. However, in traditional martial arts forms such a judo, karate and even boxing, fighters are often known for a specific set of techniques which they perform with especial effectivness. An olympic judoka knows all of the essential 68 waza outlined by Jigaro Kano, but may use to three in offical competition. Mike Tyson had his peek-a-boo style that took him in close for his body/head combo. This small set of favoured techniques is known as the Tokui Waza in Japanese, and represents one’s style and philosophy.

Martial arts, in all of its forms, are especially prone to this newfound spamming of knowledge and information that was once held secretly. If you want to learn Mount Escapes, then there are hundreds available online for free; most are completely useless against a resisting opponent, but that will take much time for you to discover or confirm. It has even been said that the Gracies are guilty of sharing misinformation about their techniques so as to enrich the myth of “invisible jiujitsu”.

It is both the best of times and the worst of times, then to become a student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I can learn anything is want to with great digital and in-person support. I have no idea what I NEED to learn or whose guidance to trust inherently. So how does one build a solid foundational game in the Age of Information and Disinformation? Ahhh, Grasshopper there are many ways, indeed.

Firstly, trust the process. Go to classes consistently, listen to your instructor, compete at local tournaments, and ignore all other forms of information. If you have chosen a good school and work with great partners, then this will work…eventually. You will need to be lucky, insofar as having found a “style” that matches your body type, learning acquisition, age group and ability. But with enough time in the mats, this is the age-old method of martial arts transmission.

Secondly, you could go to classes, half-heartedly learn the proscribed techniques, but use sparring time to perfect that Flying Inverted Triangle Entry to Jailbird Smokey technique that your favourite Instagram artist shared last night. This will undoubtedly NOT work. You will make many enemies as you endanger your training partners and this will end your great UFC career within three months, guaranteed. Like many “show” or wushu techniques, much of martial arts looks amazing but will fall apart under pressure-testing. One might say the same thing for some 10th Planet flow drills, but that depends on who is running the school. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Thirdly, you can try to guide your own learning by following the first method, but adding two other important venues: visiting other schools/camps to train AND learning from the BEST instructionals for sale by the best instructors (note: best and famous are not the same; competitor and instructor are not the same…always). The main challenge with this option is that you must figure out who are the best instructors for you and what you actually need to study outside of classes to build your own game.

One thing to consider is WHO do you want to learn from, whose style(s) do you want to emulate? Yes, it will be true that certain “games” might not be ideal for your age/weight/physical abilities, but jiujitsu is an adaptive art form. Perhaps one man’s Kimura trap system does not work for you, but that should mean that you must abandon your dream of making that technique part of your arsenal. For instance, I have always loved the Imanari Roll, but at 48 and 175lbs, it is not the easiest movement for me to learn. Still, I fully expect to eventually be able add it to my Tokui Waza list. Time, determination and the acquisition of similar movement skills are all that stand ahead of my way towards eventual mastery.

If I were to offer up who I consider the best to learn from as virtual instructors, then I would probably say that from all of the instructionals that I watch [and use regularly] the best teachers would include John Danaher, Ryan Hall, Mikey Musumeci, Andrew Wiltse, Gordon Ryan, Roger Gracie and Priit Mihkelson. A lot of black belts teach techniques that they sory of know, but never use, whereas those listed above have a deep understanding of what they offer.

In the end, the best Tokui Waza should be mostly built upon the foundational techniques of traditional jiujitsu: cross collar choke, scissor sweep, rear naked choke, triangle, arm bar, Ezekiel choke, kimura and some form of footlock/knee bar. Beyond that one or two weird techniques to add spice to your style are always a great way to keep things interesting. At the moment, my esoteric techniques relate to lapel-based attacks and the Squid Guard. For some reason, these feel natural to me now; they did not before, but after six years of training I feel like my game is slowly forming into something recognizable and clear.

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