Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Repost: Dev's First and Second Year Reflections...

Again, saving some of what I think are Dev's best insights...

His "first year" post (2009):

It's been exactly a year since I started this BJJ stuff, and after getting my blue belt Monday, I thought it would be the right time to reflect a little on what I've learned, and what I haven't learned.

Steve (of stevebjj.com fame) inspired me to start this blog, and I wanted to say thanks - this has been a huge benefit to me, being able to recap techniques and experiences, as well as showcase some of my buddies who are way better at this stuff than I am.

I'm not going to regurgitate every single thing I want to say here. Steve did a great job summarizing "Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started" when he did his 1-year anniversary post, and I concur wholeheartedly. In fact, I reread that particular post about every 2-3 months. His second-year anniversary post is also good. Dolph also has a great recap post.

Here's the two biggest points I want to put out there for all of us brand new guys that just started BJJ this year. Techniques notwithstanding - this is big-picture stuff.

What I've learned:

- You're not alone.

When I walked through the door of the school, I was welcomed with open arms. Guys took the time to teach me not only technique, but etiquette, respect, and appreciation. Colin walked right up and introduced himself to the noob the first day; John T patiently (I can't emphasize HOW patiently) waited through my strength attacks before showing me that being able to bench press a house won't overcome technique; and every single person has lain bare the insights of their game that make them great, all in an attempt to make my game better.

And it wasn't just MY school. After visiting Foster BJJ in Seattle, I discovered another school where you're welcomed like family and beaten up like a younger brother. On occasion, you hear stories about schools that aren't welcoming or supportive, but in my short time I have yet to find real evidence.

Additionally, since starting this blog, I have found an amazing community online: one that supports, trains, mentors, coaches, cheers for, cries with, and loves its members. Steve, Georgette, Rob, Mike, Dolph, Slidey, Leslie... I've never met most of the people whose blogs I read, but I feel a kinship with them when I recognize the frustration of a failed technique, a lost match, an injury that takes you out of training, or the emotional highs of promotion, winning a match, and seeing a teammate succeed.

I love knowing that my being an uki helped someone learn a new technique. I love knowing that I was able to help someone move an elbow, or a hand, and turn a sketchy technique into a solid one. I love the feeling of seeing a teammate execute all of his training in a tournament match, and WIN. The community, for me, has truly superseded the individual.

The moment I am most proud of so far in BJJ wasn't winning at the Mundials, it was when Coach promoted me to blue by saying I have been a good mentor to some of the younger white belts. That meant everything to me.

(Side note: don't interpret that to mean I actually believe I know what I'm doing. Ha! Far from it. I'm not THAT stupid... err...)

- Check your ego at the door.

When I walked into the school, I thought I was someBODY. Freshly back from Iraq, in super shape, and ready to learn some asskicking. It took about 3 weeks for me to really get it, that it wasn't all about me, that it wasn't all about power and strength, and that I had better develop a different attitude quickly.

I had a couple "successful" practices early on where I was able to dominate some guys I thought were pretty good, but there was one practice I remember vividly about a month in. I just got manhandled by every single person I rolled with - big, small, experienced, not so experienced. I was crushed, just obliterated mentally. I really thought at the time that this whole BJJ thing just wasn't for me. I'd been successful at the personal training stuff, and figured I could probably just hit the gym some more, beat my pullup record, bench press a couple houses, and call it good.

It took everything I had to go back for one more practice. In fact, I wasn't even going to go back. But my buddy Dane, who came in about the same time I did, emailed me a couple times and really got my head on straight, and I owe him sincerely for keeping me in the game.

Now, I love going to practice, "win" or "lose." I put those in quotes, because now I see a winning practice as one where I take away a solid technique or refine a crappy one into a solid one. It's a winning practice if I get turned into a damn pretzel but at the expense of a teammate executing a move he's been working on for weeks. And it's a winning practice if I bring one more person into the BJJ fold. So far, I'm pretty proud of myself - I've brought 7 or 8 guys into class, and 3 or 4 of them have actually stayed! I should get a damn commission! :)

What I already knew:

- There is always someone bigger, better, faster, and stronger.

I've been saying this for years in every capacity I can think of. This goes along with checking your ego at the door. Simple fact is that it just doesn't matter how tough you think you are, someone will show you you're wrong. Not in the "Bully Beatdown" sense, although sometimes I suppose that's necessary (check out this ridiculous story from Leslie's blog). It just takes that first couple weeks to really figure it out.

What I haven't learned:

-how to do a goddamn armbar correctly.

Honestly, I can't even begin to bore you with all the stuff I haven't learned. Suffice to say, I don't have the years it would take to just list everything I don't know. I think the biggest thing is understanding that at every level, it's a new world.

Borrowing a quote from the great Cobrinha, I will continue to be a "white belt every day."

Thank you again to everyone for the past year. Next year will be even better.

To finish, here's a great video featuring Saulo.

And Dev's second-year post:

2 Years And Counting

Well, that was fast. :) You know, the brain is a funny thing. I just couldn't stay away.

First, when I published my last post (about taking some time off), the sense of relief was immediate, I'm not going to lie. I know for a fact all the pressure to write was self-imposed, and I think I just needed to confirm to myself that I didn't have to do it. Thank you to all of you for your awesome comments, here, by email, and on facebook.

Never mind the fact that it's been less than a week. :) Anyway, as soon as I did that, my brain started functioning normally again. I realized that it's been almost exactly two years since I started training jits. Not to mention I just got my purple belt, which is still fantastically surreal.

And I guess the anniversary got me thinking about what I've learned and accomplished over the past two years.

Most bloggers have done anniversary posts. Steve has a couple great ones (year 1 is still my favorite), and Dolph did one in 2009 that really got me thinking about the technical aspects. And I did one at the one year point, right after receiving my blue. I've since made a separate page above that compiles a bunch of what I think are really good Reflections: "recap" or "anniversary" posts.

So because I am always one to succumb to peer pressure and follow a crowd, I figured I'd do my two-year anniversary post. Ah, but what to write about? Have I actually learned anything over the past two years?

I earned my blue belt right about this time last year, and that same week competed in the US Open. That was an eye-opener. Since then I've competed in 8 more tournaments (including 3 no gi tournaments) this past year, and because of better luck than good management, brought home 11 medals. As much as my defining moment was winning gold in Brazil, I'd have to say the event that really turned me around was at this year's Pans, where I got crushed in the first round of weight brackets, but came back to take 3rd in the absolute. I learned SO much about myself that day, and about how much having someone there to support you means.

Technically, my game has advanced fairly significantly. I went from being a white belt/baby blue with an okay spider guard and not much more to having what I consider to be a decent guard in general. It's certainly not impenetrable, but I'm comfortable there, which I think is key. I can play open or closed, with one leg or two. My top game is still lacking, but I'll get to that.

But what have I REALLY learned this year?

- Friends and family are everything. I could not have done anything without the support of my wife, my son, and my friends, which includes all of you blogosphere maniacs. There is no quantifiable way to explain how much it means to have someone shouting for you on the side of the mat, or to get an email or post on a blog that says how much they appreciate one thing you said.

- There is a universal language of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is the most accepting, welcoming community I have ever been a part of. No matter where I went, which country I was in, whether or not I spoke the language well, poorly, or not at all, I was welcomed in virtually every gym with open arms and treated like a member of the family. I have no horror stories of being shunned because of my BJJ heritage. No one asked me who gave me my belts. No one kept any mystical secrets from me. They just trained.

- It's all about the experience. Name your cliché: it's not the destination, it's the journey... whatever. I don't want to win all the tournaments I enter. I don't want to become a black belt. I don't want this to be easy. What I WANT is to enjoy myself every day I do this sport. I want to enjoy the challenge, the success, the failure, the relationships, and the idea that I learn every time I step onto the mat. I never want to be so concerned with "winning" that I forget to have fun.

People overthink the experience so much - "I don't know if I'm going to enter this tournament, because...[I'm not ready, I don't think I'll win, I'm overweight, name your excuse]." I have been extremely fortunate to compete in a bunch of crazy tournaments in places I never thought I'd compete, against people I had no right to be on the mat with. Thank GOD I wasn't concerned about WINNING.

When else will I have a chance to fight a brown belt in a no gi match in Chile? When else will I have the opportunity to represent my gym - my FAMILY - at an 8-man tournament in Peru? When else will I be able to support awesome local tournaments in Santa Cruz and Lake Tahoe? Quit hemming and hawing and making excuses, and just go do it. It's not about the tournament, it's about experiencing as much as you can in this world of jiu jitsu.

Go train at another school, or roll in a friend's garage or studio.

Add an extra day when you go to Disneyland or Disney World this year, and find a gym in LA or Florida to roll at.

Go find a no gi tournament to enter, don't wear a rash guard, and see if YOU look like a sasquatch attacking a stray camper.

On your lifelong dream of going to Macchu Picchu, take an afternoon and train with Sniper in Lima, and tell them you know me and see what that gets you, aside from a beatdown. :)

Just do SOMEthing to make yourself, and the rest of us, better. Because we all get better when someone new trains with us.

Sorry about the rant. That just came out before I could stop it.

Anyway, my plan for the next year is fairly simple.

- Keep going. I'm going to move from California to DC, and I'm going to find places to train when, and where, I can. I am open to ALL recommendations and invitations - already had one guy invite me up to Maryland, which I plan on doing.

- Work on my retarded side. We all have it. My old coach, Daniel Thomas, espouses drilling your techniques just on one side, and having your other side catch up later, because we never get enough drills in anyway, so you might as well be good on one side and crap on the other than be mediocre on both sides. I absolutely agree, but I understand why people think the other way. Whatever the case, you still have a retarded side, I guarantee it. If you want to beat me, just pass to my left. :) My plan this year is to work on that.

- Work on my top game. I have spent 2 years now developing a guard game. It's not incredible, it's no Pe De Pano. But for what it is, I'm proud of it. On the other hand, my top game has suffered as a result. So it's time to fix that. I'm going to start playing the top game and see what happens.

- Try to use the Technique Of The Day. That one lesson from Beto Carmona in Brazil will stay with me the rest of my time in this sport. We are taught techniques for a reason, and you get nothing out of it if you don't ever try to use it during sparring. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but you have to at least attempt it.

And that's that. On to year 3.

Also, apologies now. I was going to translate this post into Spanish, but I've got a million other things going on today, that takes WAY longer than writing in English, and I want to publish this. I'll get back to translating into crappy Spanish with my next post. :)


A.D. McClish said...

Definitely a Dev fan. :) It's interesting to read those back to back. Lots of great stuff in there. I laughed out loud AGAIN at the sasquatch attacking a camper comment. Thanks to you, Dev, for giving us so many nuggets of wisdom!

Megan said...

Love this. It was great reading the perspective of someone who was a "natural" starting off, especially across time.