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Be My Guest


A couple of weeks ago, some dude came to the jiu-jitsu academy to take a couple of free classes. He took the Muay Thai class followed by the Beginner’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. We have a lot of guys do this from time-to-time.

This gentleman practiced another martial art. Kung fu. He wore his sash.

It caught the attention of several of us senior guys in the school:

“Is that a sash that he’s wearing?”

“I think it is.”

“Does the Professor know?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Should we tell him?”

“I think we should talk to the dude.”

Now let me say this, I’m certain the guy wasn’t being disrespectful. Not in the least. But why he wore his kung fu sash in a jiu-jitsu school, I have no idea.

One of our guys politely talked to him. He put the sash away. End of that part of the story.

Most people might think it’s silly, but there is a tradition going back to Brazil that you don’t wear another school’s “colors” while visiting another school. By colors, I mean your school’s patches on your gi or a rashguard with your school’s logo on it. A lot of the schools here in America have brought that forward; ours is one.

Don’t wear someone else’s gi to our school. Our senior guys will look at you funny. The Professor will take offense.

This guy didn’t wear another school’s uniform, but he did wear his rank around his waist. That is akin to me going to a Judo school or a karate school and wearing my jiu-jitsu purple belt. Silly. I’m not going to do it. I will tell the instructor what I do, what my rank is and who gave it to me. And I will tie my kimono jacket tight with a white belt unless the instructor tells me otherwise.

Similarly, when visiting another school, I’m not going to wear my gi that has my academy’s logo all over it. I’m not going to do it. It’s in poor taste. I do think it’s disrespectful — but maybe I’m tiredly old school.

Case-in-point, this winter I accompanied my instructor to two academies. He went there to teach. Both academies are run by his friends — we are loosely affiliated with them.

I didn’t bring my gi emblazoned with my instructor’s name. I didn’t even wear one of my school’s t-shirts under my gi. Personally, I just feel it’s a bit disrespectful to the school I’m visiting. Don’t ask me why. It just is.

I did, however, put on one of our t-shirts after class and worry it out to dinner with the students from the other school.

Here are some of the Rules of Etiquette I use when visiting another school:

  1. Show up early;
  2. Make sure you and your uniform is clean, and your nails are clipped;
  3. Talk to the instructor (if you haven’t already) and tell him your level of experience and a brief history;
  4. Don’t wear your colors. If it’s all you have, explain it to the instructor. He may not be happy and, depending on the school, you may be a mark. And then you’ll have to take your beatings — you’ve been warned;
  5. Warm up with the class. Don’t stand in the corner futzing with your belt;
  6. Don’t roll hard or strong! It’s not the Olympics. Be cool. It may even be wise to roll light to begin with and let your rolling partner tap you a couple of times. It’s not a big deal;
  7. If you wind up rolling with someone who you are obviously better than, do not submit him over and over and over again. Just roll with him. Again, be cool;
  8. Don’t ask to roll with anyone. Let people approach you. As far as I’m concerned, when asked, you’re not allowed to say “No”;
  9. Don’t be surprised that if you submit or dominate the first guy you roll with that the next guy won’t be so easy. If you submit him, then the next guy will be tougher. This will keep going until you get your ass kicked. Take the ass-kicking with humility and move on. They’ll respect you for that;
  10. If you come in with a chip on your shoulder, you can expect to get the toughest roll in the room, and he probably won’t roll nice;
  11. Thank everyone you roll with and;
  12. Say “Good-bye” and “Thank you” to the instructor.

We had one of those guys visit our school once. You know, a guy who talks a bigger game than he can back up. You know it when it happens. Guys who know don’t really talk about it.  He claimed a wrestling background and a couple of years of jiu-jitsu.

He said something like, “I can handle the Advanced Class” after our Professor essentially begged him to consider the Beginners/Fundamentals Class.

“No way,” he said. “I can handle myself with your advanced guys.”


This poor guy. You can tell that he’s not quite there yet. His movements on the ground were choppy and halting. He was still mostly stuck to the ground.

The Professor didn’t want him to roll with the advanced guys. I’ll find someone you can drill with. “You can drill out the series I taught today. I’ll even get one of my guys to show you what I taught yesterday.”

Nope. This guy wanted to roll.

So the Professor let him. He was partnered with one of our submission hunters who was given the order to “Submit him.”

The poor kid got the full arsenal and was submitted time-and-again. Over and over. In five minutes. “Jim,” he told me later. “I ran out of jiu-jitsu.”

On the other hand, we had someone visit the academy during open mat on Saturday. He briefly spoke to the Professor and was sent to the back to get changed.

While he was getting changed, the Professor came to a group of senior guys and told us, “This guy came from far away. He’s got some good training under his belt with some top notch instructors (American Top Team, Florida). Make sure you make him feel welcome.”

And we did. He rolled with a bunch of us.

When I left, he was sitting in a circle with about a half-dozen of our senior guys. Laughing. Comparing notes. Sharing techniques and stories.

This is how it can be and how it should be.


Jelly Elbow


This was originally published in September of 2010 but I took it down and broke the internet (because I linked to it on youtube). Someone recently asked to read it. So here it is in all its glory: 

I have what I call a “jelly elbow.†The medical term for it is “olecranon bursitis.â€

The olecranon is the tip of the elbow. Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa. A bursa is a sack of slippery fluid that pads most joints. At the olecranon, it actually pads the area between your skin and the elbow bones.

I am on the powerful anti-platelet medication, Plavix. My blood doesn’t clot very quickly. This doesn’t marry very well with my chosen hobby: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is, as one friend put it, “kinda-like judo with no rules.†There is throwing and wrestling and choking and joint locks and chin grinds and rib pushing and all other sorts of nastiness.

Because of the Plavix and the jiu-jitsu, I’m susceptible for bleeding and bruising and an assortment of other injuries. One of those injuries was cauliflower ear, where the blood got between the skin and cartilage of my ear — my wife drained the blood out (several times) and, while my ear is a little thick, I don’t have a deformed ear.

Now blood has entered into the bursa sack at the tip my elbow. My elbow is two or three times larger than a regular elbow — but much softer. Softer because my bursa is filled with blood.

I know it’s filled with blood because my wife aspirated 12.5 cc’s of jelly (blood) out of it over the weekend. She did it with 0.5 cc insulin needles. Now if you’ve taken the time to do the math, you have already realized that she jabbed me 25 times. And there’s still at least 10 cc’s of fluid in there — 20 more sticks. (Pic & video at the end of this post.)

My elbow feels like it has a mild toothache. But I’m already imagining my call to the doctor:

Hi, Doc. It’s me, Jim …

Yeh, I know. Long-time, no-see …

Listen, I called because I’m having a bit of a problem. I have olecranon bursitis …

How do I know? I checked it out on The Google. I’m sure it’s what I have …

Thank you.

The Google said the best treatment was ice, rest, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory meds. I tried all that for a month and didn’t get better …

No. I didn’t rest it …

Of course I should have. But that’s not why I’m calling. The Google said that my next line of treatment was to aspirate the fluid out …

Ha! Of course, I didn’t do it myself. I had my wife do it …

No. She’s not a doctor …

Stop laughing. This is the important part. I think she healed the olecranon bursitis but I have another problem. I looked up my new symptoms on The Google and it turns out that I probably have localized staph infection and septic arthritis in the elbow. The Google says that I’m going to need antibiotic treatment right away before I get a systemic infection …

I’m glad you agree with The Google there …

No. I don’t need an appointment. I just need you to call my pharmacy to prescribe some antibiotics …

Hello? Hello?

Sandi, I think another doctor hung up on me. Get the phone book!

Jelly Elbow (Olecranon Bursitis)

Some of the Jelly

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Tap, Motherf*ckr. Tap.


I teach students of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a lot. I always talk about tapping (submitting) before they roll.

Tapping is the beauty of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Tapping is the only reason we can do what we do — fight to the death with other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students. To the death.

We tap indicating, “If you don’t stop, you might kill me. Or, at least, break me.” I tap, I live; I don’t tap, I die.

Okay, I probably won’t literally die. But we’ve had our share of people “go to sleep” on the mat because s/he (okay, it’s always been a “he”) didn’t tap. Hell, in the past couple of weeks, I broke two white belts who didn’t tap.

Neither was my fault, as far as I’m concerned.

Let me set the scenario: I am small (usually a pound or two under 145) and I am old (47 as I write this). Most white belts are brutish, rugged, young animals whose motto is “Tap or be tapped at any cost.” Tapping to them is a weakness. A sign of failure.

White Belt No. 1 had 20 years and 100 lbs on me. He’s been around a while. Maybe a year. He’s knocking at the door of his blue belt. He knows stuff.

I got him in an armbar from the guard. His arm was bent as I was applying steady pressure, it wasn’t locked out. He was trying to use the single biceps muscle of his arm curl against the entire force of my back and shoulder muscles. He was at the point where he needed to use brute strength to survive; he doesn’t yet have the technical skills to counter where I had him.

He didn’t have enough strength. His elbow popped while it was still bent. I broke a white belt.

Tap. Motherfucker, tap.

White Belt No. 2 is a raw noob. He’s been at the school a couple of months. He has that personality where he thinks he know more than he does and isn’t progressing quickly enough. I have about 15 years on him and he’s about 50-60 pounds heavier than me.

He rolled strong and fast with all the grace of charging bull moose with a broken leg. I rode him for a little while from under guard. Just staying a beat or two in front of him. Never letting him get  close enough to apply any pressure.

And then I swept him.

When I was on top of him, he pushed at me and allowed his upper arm to get away from his body. I filled the gap between his arm and body with parts of me and soon armbarred him.

Again, I applied steady pressure. He was holding on by a palm-to-palm grip and then, eventually, only his finger tips. I felt no need to use a technical grip break. As a matter of fact, I knew that he was already beaten — all I had to do was fall toward his head and rotate back around. But I wanted to attack his other arm, for my practice. I was enticing him to roll toward me so that I could spin to his other arm.

Oops! Too late, his fingers slipped and the armbar was applied. Not too strongly, but strong enough to hurt his elbow. Even then, it took him a moment to tap.

He came up rubbing his elbow. I broke another white belt.

Tap. Motherfucker, tap.

I tell these guys,

“Listen. Senior students are not impressed when you don’t tap. We’re laughing at the guys who don’t tap when they should. We’re happy for the guys that tap when they’re beat. We’ll roll with them any day.

“There is no shame in tapping. If you’re not tapping, you’re not learning. Learn to tap when you’re beat. If you’re beat and you’re not using technique to escape, then you’re not using jiu-jitsu. In that case, tap and start over and use jiu-jitsu again.

“I tap almost every day. And no one here has tapped more than our Professor.

“The tap allows us to fight at full strength and speed. But if I don’t trust you to tap when you’re beat, I’m not going to roll with the intensity that we both need (I may not even roll with you at all) — it’s a disservice to both of us. And that’s best case scenario; if you get to the wrong guy and you don’t tap, he might hurt you. There are some guys on the mat that don’t even care.

“Tapping also allows us to get out of our comfort zones and do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. It allows us to try techniques, submissions, and transitions that are new to us. We are going to fail at these in the beginning and get ourselves into bad places. We might even get to the point where we have to submit. So be it! Good for us; we tried!

“So tap. Tap a lot. Tap early. Tap often. Especially as white belts.”

Okay. You might not believe me. I’m a lowly purple belt. Listen to Professor Ricardo Almeida, Renzo Gracie’s first black belt:

In many martial arts school, the instructor is the guy who is above everyone else and no one has ever seen him actually train.

In most Jiu Jitsu schools the instructor has earned the right to teach only because he has been tapped out more then anybody in class. Wether he would openly admit it or not …

I have no doubt that Grand Masters Carlos and Helio Gracie (the founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) tapped more than any living practitioner.

 And that is why I love Jiu Jitsu.

Tap, motherfucker. Tap.


Joe Rogan Says …


For those that don’t know, I’m a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I started studying in the late 1980′s or early 1990′s (I’m old; I don’t remember). I stopped taking formal classes for about 15 years in order to start a family and make a career. I’ve been back for the last three years and train four to six days per week.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to fight efficiently — using technique and leverage.

Comedian, television personality, UFC commentator, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt, Joe Rogan tells us why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is good for you. I agree with Joe on every  point. (A link to the audio on youtube at the bottom.)

“Jiu-Jitsu is good for you … It’s good to get your ass-kicked. It’s good for you to know how easy it is for a man to kick your ass too. It’s good for you to get destroyed. It’s good for you to get mounted and triangle choked.

“It’s good because you realize how easy it is for someone to do that to you. Because most people have no idea.

“They walk through this world having no idea of how some Marcelo Garcia character can just fuckin’ take your life any time he wanted to. And not just take your life, how about this? Take my life.

“How about that I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu since ’96 and that little dude from Brazil can strangle the fuck out of me any day he wants. That’s reality. And I’m almost a black belt. Like, high level.

“There are a lot of dudes I’ve choked out. I’ve choked out some good people, man. That guy can just tap me any time he wants. So for me to be almost a black belt, I may as well have never done jiu-jitsu — I’ll be able to hold him off for a little; he’s going to be able to get me. It’s inevitable. That’s the kind of reality that exists for most people that know jiu-jitsu.

“For most people, if you’re in some sort of street altercation with someone and you get a hold of him, that’s all you have to do is hang on. Hang on.

“Because you know what? In class you’re going 100%. Do you know why? Because you don’t hit each other. You’re trying to choke …

“In grappling you’re allowed to go 100%. It doesn’t mean you hurt your partners. If you have a lock or if you have a choke, you put it to a certain position and you can just hold it and let it go.

“But the point is it takes 100% of your to get to that position, and that’s exactly what’s going to come up in a fight. In a fight it’s going to be a 100% effort, except that you’re used to doing a 100% effort three or four nights per week.

“Three or four nights per week, I go and there are grown men and they are going to try and kill me with their bare hands. And I’m going to try to kill them. And then we are going to slap hands, and we’re going to hug, and I say, ‘Thanks, Brother’, and I move on to the next guy.

“You go to the next one. And you tap hands, you slap hands (that’s what everyone does) and you lock up!

“And this is the goal: I’m going to try to get you to tap. And what you’re saying when you tap is, ‘You could’ve just killed me.’ And you’re going to do the same thing to me.

“If you get me in something, I’m going to have to tap. I’m not going to want to, but I’m going to have to. Because it’s very important; you don’t want to die.

“It’s a game. And the game is using your body to dominate another person’s body with technique and leverage.”


Passing the Guard


I often say, “Jiu-jitsu is hard.”

The Guard

The guard position and passing the guard are fundamental to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The guard is a control and attack position with the person being on his/her back. Most of the control is done with the feet and legs.

The person not in the guard must deal with the guard player’s  legs and feet before s/he can do much anything else. The passer must get past the guard. The guard is passed by going around, under, or over the other person’s legs.

This is often easier said or taught than done live against a fully resisting opponent that understands what you are doing.

[An aside, passing the guard of someone who doesn't understand the guard position is easy. Hot knife through butter.]

King of the Hills

Last week I had an hour of passing guard practice against high level competitors in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game called King of the Hills. In King of the Hill, one man starts on his knees with the other man’s legs wrapped around him and his feet locked (closed guard). If the guy in guard gets passed the other guy’s guard, he wins and is the new king. If the guard player sweeps, submits or stands up, he wins and remains king.

In that hour of King of the Hills, I passed one guard.

In my defense, I was playing against the highest level guys in the school and half the time was verses my instructor. Still, I passed just one guard. I’m not happy about it.

Back to Basics

Part of my problem, I think, is that I know so many ways to pass that I haven’t perfected any one.

This weekend I did a long, hard look at my guard passing game and have decided that I’m going to work on specific guard pass over and over and over again until it becomes mine. I’ve decided on one of the simplest passes there is. A classic standing pass and guard opening combination.

Now, mind you, the guard is a dynamic position. It’s difficult to take in all the variables. But, if I stick with the basics and drill out the fundamentals, I’ll do well.

My Plan

For the next month, and with any training partner that will let me, I’m going to drill out the guard opening and the pass.

I will defer live training when needed just to drill this thing out. I will warm-up with this pass. I will work open mat with this pass. I will teach this pass to the kids and, if given the opportunity, I will teach it to the Beginners Class.

A dedicated month of drilling out this single pass and it’s variations. At the end of the month, I’ll see what my labor has brought.

The Pass

Here is a simplified description of my chosen pass. It assumes my opponent has me in his/her closed guard:

  1. One hand on both collars controlling sitting posture; the other hand grabs same side wrist cloth and pushes down into hip;
  2. Technical stand in posture. Straight back. Looking toward ceiling.
    • Push knee down while stepping back (shake if I have to) or
    • Reach back and technically open his legs.
  3. Opening the guard -
  4. Push knee to floor.
  5. Under hook other knee.
  6. Step over leg.
  7. Shoulder pressure to hip.
  8. Pass.

I know that’s very basic. There are many technical considerations that I’ve glossed over or didn’t mention — but I didn’t mean this as an instructional.

The Point

The whole point of this post is to explain to the uninitiated that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is hard. Passing the guard is fundamental to jiu-jitsu. At this writing, I have five years of formal study and many more of sporadic, informal practice. For the last three years, I take between three and five classes per week. I’m on the mat between two and four hours every time I get on the mats. I’m a serious student.

And, as of yet, I am completely uncomfortable with my guard passing. I have no road map. No real plan. And no true expertise on any one way to get it done.

Oh, sure, I pass plenty of guards. I’m good at it at times. But it’s more a responsive thing. I want to dictate. I want people to see me and think, “Oh, no. He’s going to pass my guard. Again.”

Back to the point, jiu-jitsu is hard. It’s reasons like this that becoming a black belt takes years and years of studying and practice. It often takes 10 years or more to get to the black belt level. And even then you’re still not comfortable with your game.

In ten years, I will be a black belt.

In ten years, I may be telling you this same story.

Jiu-jitsu is hard.


Marcelo Garcia vs Andrei Arlovski


This is one of my all time favorite rolls on youtube. It shows Marcelo Garcia rolling with Andrei Arlovski.

Arlovski is about 70 pounds heavier than Garcia. Arlovski is an “International Master In Sambo” and Garcia is one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu grapplers on the planet.

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