Goal at brown belt: tap more 

On the day before my wedding, we had a special open mat where a host of jiujitsu friends converged to train during my last full day as a single guy.

It was already a tremendous experience — twelve rolls for me! Five black belts! — even before my instructor surprised me with my brown belt.



I want to thank everybody who reached out with congratulations, either for the marriage or the belt or both. Toward the end of the honeymoon, during the long travel day back to Durham from Belize, I started to think about goals for the next year or two.

(Okay, you got me: I was really thinking about this long before the flight back, as Betsy and I were plotting the invention of Double Reverse Secret Octopus Guard on the beach).

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Although I certainly still have competition goals, those aren’t really the terms I’m thinking in right now. I’ll analyze those in earnest in December. My main aim has always been to have good, solid fundamental jiujitsu over the long term. The rest will come as long as I keep my eye on that.

My main goal at brown belt is to tap more. Well, kind of. Let me explain what I mean.

To maximize your potential, you have to both enhance the skills you’re good at and shore up your weaknesses. Ideally you do these at the same time, but you’re naturally going to focus more on certain aspects at different stages of the journey. At purple belt, most of what I was working on related directly to positional advancement and control — escapes from bad spots, sweeps to get on top, guard passing and maintaining dominant positions. You can see how this would fit in with the long-term goals.

The jiujitsu teachers I respect most are those that  keep learning and are nearly impossible to submit. One thing I’ve learned: they don’t get that way by locking people down in side control.

At the wedding open mat, I noticed several of the black belts who don’t get to train with each other very often consciously putting themselves in another black belt’s best spots. If a guy had a dangerous guard, they’d eagerly play there. A guy has a good footlock game? Let’s play legs with him. Someone is known for their omoplata? Let’s start there and see what happens.

Does this mean you’re going to tap more than you would normally? Sure. But it also means you’re getting insights that you wouldn’t get if, say, you got to a spot where you knew you were safe, or if the only person you ever let get to omoplata was a new blue belt.

Seeing these guys that I admire, and whose skills are much greater than my own, roll in this manner really inspired me to put myself in more dangerous spots. Jiujitsu is about survival, and there’s tremendous power in learning about where are the danger points are. In order to know those points you have to explore them. Maybe you saw Garry Tonon’s recent quote about tapping several times a round on average? There are many reasons he’s so good, but I have a feeling that’s one of them. You don’t escape a Kron Gracie armbar without getting putting yourself in danger of being armbarred consistently.

At brown belt my A-game is fairly well defined. I know the techniques and move sets that make sense to me. To get to the next level — and have that rock-solid fundamental jiujitsu over the long term — it’s time to spend hours on the mat exploring my weaknesses and fixing those holes, and learning more about other folks’ strengths so I can add those insights.

So yeah, one goal over the next year is to tap a lot more. I have other goals, too, believe me, but those are for future posts.

Goal-setting has been a huge help for me. I constantly try to set and evaluate short- and long-term goals. Do you have tactics for goal-setting? What are they?