Don’t Get Staph

The headline summarizes my advice to you, the reader. After wrestling in middle school and a year in high school — and after 18 months of training BJJ — I finally zigged when staph zagged.

It’s frustrating, because I’ve been training really hard for the Pans at the end of the month, and when the infection hit I felt like I was better than ever in terms of technique, timing and conditioning. Making matters doubly vexing, I’m the guy who takes every precaution: I always wash all my gear after every use, even my belt; we mop our mats after every class; I use Athletic Body Care body wash and lotion.

Ultimately, no matter how many precautions you take, mat-borne illness can get you. It’s just part of the price of admission to this great sport of ours. (I’m particularly at risk, I must acknowledge, because I have eczema, so I have more breaks in my skin than most people on average).

I was lucky. I was also paranoid. These two factors enabled me to catch it early. I tell this story so others will know the warning signs. Hopefully you’ll never need to know these signs, but if you have the misfortune to get the illness, the sooner you get after it, the better.

Training the previous night had gone great. It was my 24th straight day training, but I didn’t feel run down or sore. But when I went to bed, my shin was sore. “Huh,” I thought. “I must’ve clashed shins with someone and not realized it.” I didn’t see a bruise, but you don’t always turn black and blue when you get whacked.

About a half-hour later, I noticed a small patch of my skin had turned red. I raised an eyebrow at this.

About a half-hour after that, a portion of my shin about 3.5 inches by one inch was red and swollen. My skin felt stretched out, and the ara felt warm to the touch. Uh oh.

I called the doctor.

Fortunately, they were able to see me just two hours later (if they had put me off, I would have gone to the emergency room). I was amazed to hear that most people my doctor sees that have staph wait until it starts to weep before they make an appointment. By this point, you’re a raging mess of contagion and it takes much more work to get the infection under control.

Since I have no illusions that I am stronger than a bunch of microbes, I eagerly accepted the powerful antibiotics she prescribed and gobbled those suckers down.

As if you needed convincing, having staph (even a mild case) is awful. There’s the pain, of course: mine felt about twice as sore as the worst bruise I’ve ever had. The antibiotics themselves mess you up, too, and take my advice: do not gobble these on an empty stomach. If you’ve been given the right medicine, you will get sick.

Far and away the worst part for me, though, was just not being able to train. I feel the same way about injuries: being off the mat drives me crazy, and retards my progress. Injuries are the enemy.

Infections are worse, though, because if you’re honest about what you’ve got (and you MUST be, unless you’re a real prick), a lot of people will balk at training with you. This is totally understandable: nobody wants this stuff, and with good reason.

So I played it safe. I was told on Thursday that I wasn’t contagious, but I waited four days after that to get back on the mat. No reason to take unnecessary risks, and even though it was driving me crazy not to train, I wanted to be certain I wasn’t putting anyone else in danger.

Needless to say, it was a big setback. I took time off from training, missed a US Grappling tournament (I’d signed up to do all eight divisions again), and generally had to sit inside and sleep a lot. And it could have been a lot worse.

So now, several days after that, I only have one more day in my antibiotic regimen. Hopefully, this will end both the staph and the “feeling like crap from antibiotics” portion of this training camp.

Fortunately, I have implemented a new anti-staph strategy in my training.

Rainbow tights: is there anything they can’t do?

The rainbow scares away the microbes, you see.

Felipe Costa says just keep training

Felipe Costa never won a major tournament from white belt up to brown belt. He was promoted to black belt right before the world championships (Mundials). He lost in the first round.

The next year, he won the Mundials at the black belt level.

What changed? The guys at Open Mat Radio asked him that in a wide-ranging and excellent interview.

Felipe’s answer is simple, but really inspiring. It sounds cliche, he admits, but many cliches have their roots in truth.

I saw so many people — and I still see so many people — giving up every day. Because they train a little bit, and then they don’t have the result they expect right away — and they already gave up. If I had to give up, I would give up on my yellow belt! I have always had the mentality of trying again and not getting discouraged. …

It’s gonna take time for you to achieve what you want. Very few people do it at the first try  … if you’re going to give up on the way, you’re never going to reach what you want.

It’s a great way of saying “just keep training,” from a guy who knows. He lived it.

While they’re training, we’re training. When they’re slacking, we’re training. When they give up, we keep training.

Felipe Costa’s whole interview with Open Mat Radio is interesting, inspiring, and available now on their site (or you could subscribe through iTunes, which I recommend).

Technique Prevails: Mendes Brothers and Durinho Seminar

This weekend, I was fortunate to attend a seminar in Charlotte at Fernando Loor BJJ taught by the Mendes Brothers and Gilbert “Durinho” Burns.

It’s pretty rare that you get three world champions teaching a seminar at the same time, and I was especially excited because Gui Mendes competes at my weight. Whenever you get the chance to learn from a guy your size who happens to be the best in the world at that weight, you have to take it.

Predictably, the seminar was packed. About 50 people attended, including multiple black belts. If you’ve seen any of the Mendes’ technique videos, you know how absurdly detailed they are — everything these guys do, they do for a reason. A technique that you see someone else show in 2 minutes takes them 10 minutes, and it’s not because they’re padding the time. All that additional information comes from the countless hours they’ve spent thinking about how to optimize the technique.

In person, they’re even more impressive. Rafa and Gui encourage you to ask questions, and no matter how esoteric the query, they have an answer for you. “Why do you put your hand there?” “If I put my hand here instead, it would be easier for a big guy to smash, for these three reasons.” Stuff like that. There are many reasons these guys are the best, and they were all on display.

Put it this way: my notes from the seminar are 2,000 words long, and I’m sure I missed a bunch of details.

The Mendes Brothers have a reputation of trying a lot of innovative techniques, but I can also report that I successfully worked one of the things they showed into rolling yesterday against a very good training partner. That says something about their teaching ability, since it usually takes me a month or two to work seminar techniques into my sparring.

Enough of that, since I’m not going to talk about the specific techniques. I am going to talk about the last 40 minutes or so of the seminar, though, which is where Rafa, Gui and Durinho rolled with all of us.

I’ll explain how it works, and then give the two reasons I think it’s an awesome idea for seminar-givers to implement. Everyone gets in a line, and when one of the three instructors is free, you jump in with one of them. You get three minutes with them or until they submit you, whichever comes first.

Hey, I did something right! … and it still worked out how you’d expect.

I got to roll with Gui, which was exactly what I’d hoped for (and big thanks, Hameed, for helping me rig the line). You don’t need me to tell you how good he is, so I won’t (but he is, and his top pressure is heavier than any dude our size has a right to).

What I will say is that he’s great to roll with. I watched him adjusting his intensity to the skill level of his partner. Mostly, he’d just stay five percent or so ahead of you. If you did something good offensively, he’d let you work it; if you defended one of his attacks correctly, he’d move on to something else. Let’s be real, this is a guy who could get pretty much whatever he wants on you, however he wants it, so that was really cool of him.

After tapping me with a wristlock from a mounted triangle position. Really fun 3-minute or so experience.

This leads me into the two reasons I think this is a great practice for seminars. First, it’s obviously really fun and rewarding for the attendees. If you want to learn from someone chances are you want to roll with them. It’s a learning experience and also just a fun story to have, no matter how it ends up.

But the second reason, I believe, offers some insight into the Mendes Brothers. These are guys that think all the time about optimizing their training. That’s why they’re the elite: they’re constantly working on ways to get better at jiu-jitsu.

Now, normally, when upper belts roll with me, they’re basically doing me a favor. They’re not going to get as much out of the experience as I am, from a learning perspective. And when you’re a world champion, it’s not like sparring with a random blue belt is going to teach you anything new.

However, rolling for 45 minutes to an hour straight, against people of varying skill levels and sizes — that’s likely to be a great workout, if nothing else. Also, having to adjust from me (a 145-pound old guy blue belt) to one of the next guys in (a 200+ pound black belt) is likely to present interesting challenges.

What I’m saying is this “line of rolling” isn’t just fun for us participants, it’s a way for Rafa and Gui to get some training in while they’re teaching. Maximizing your time like this demonstrates intelligence and efficiency — and isn’t that really at the core of jiu-jitsu?

Besides the excellent instruction, the Mendes Brothers and Durinho were all very cool, too. At Hameed’s request, Durinho even gave him the distinct honor of a post-seminar judo throw. I have pulled the photos together into this animated GIF for your amusement.

You Gonna Get Thrown (you might have to click on this to make the animation work)

Bottom Line: This was a great experience. If you have the chance to take one of these seminars, don’t balk at the asking price: it’ll be worth it.

Improve your cardio by not improving your cardio

It happens all the time: young, terrifyingly strong and athletic dudes come into the gym. They roll a round or two and then go panting and wheezing to the edge of the mat.

“Man,” they say. “I’ve got to improve my cardio!”

I’m never going to say no to self-improvement, so yeah, we should all work on expanding our gas tank. But it’s funny that these guys rarely look around and see that people older, less strong and more girthsome around the waist are continuing to roll with no worries.

You may notice that the Revolution BJJ blog is one of the permalinks down at the bottom. That’s because they post articles like this one from Andrew Smith, who has a bunch of great tips allowing you to roll for longer even if you’re not blessed with cardio for days. Like most things in jiu-jitsu, technique and approach make the biggest differences.

Now that I’ve been learning jiu-jitsu for a while, I feel my body becoming much more efficient in movement. I do less to achieve the same results I used to have to strain for. When I took several weeks off with an injury, I came back and my cardio was garbage — but I could still roll several rounds and be less tired than the new folks.

Fitness is great. Cardio is important. We all should work on improving it. But I try to remember that technique and approach are often at the crux of what we’re trying to address, and I think Andrew’s article does a great job of showing that.

Kurt Osiander Seminar

“Hey everybody, I’m Kurt,” he said. “I curse profusely, so if you don’t want your kids to hear it, get them the fuck out.”

These were the first words Kurt Osiander said to the 80 or so people that gathered in Southern Pines for Kurt’s first East Coast seminar.

If you know Kurt, you likely know him from his glorious Move Of The Week videos. They confirm his self-assessment as a profane individual — and also show that he is a hilarious one. That’s why he’s inspired numerous memes employing the quotes from the clips.

What sometimes gets lost due to Kurt’s charisma: the dude is a badass. He’s a third-degree Ralph Gracie black belt, which means his toughness and technique are both at legendary levels. If you’ve been around jiu-jitsu for any amount of time, chances are you’ve heard stories of how the Ralph Gracie guys go after each other in training, and Kurt’s contemporaries include beasts like Dave Camarillo and Luke Stewart.

Most important for me, Kurt’s style is similar to the style I’ve been taught: it’s fundamental, not flashy, and based on positional dominance. Some seminar material is so different from your game that you struggle to understand the concepts (or at least I do): this was more like taking an advanced class on material you’ve seen before.

And what an advanced class. The seminar was four hours long, which made it ridiculous value at $60. Although my brain was full by the end, I would’ve done another session the next day.

I’ve already talked about Kurt’s rhetorical strategy, so I have to tell the tale of the one kid who stayed. The place was packed (there must have been more than 80 people there), so Kurt had to walk around a lot. He wasn’t always near where you were. I was drilling with my partner next to the brave youngster, a guy who must have really cool parents.

He was probably 10 years old, and was drilling the S-mount armbar when Kurt walked up. At first, he didn’t notice Kurt, because he was so intent on getting the right position before falling back for the finish. When he saw the huge man with the long hair looming over him, his eyes got as big as dinner plates. He stopped drilling just for a split-second.

And Kurt looks at him and says: “Well, don’t fuck it up now, bro!”

“You! Yeah, you! Don’t fuck this up while I’m watching!”

I am happy to report that the young fella executed the technique perfectly, and seemed to be having a blast at all times. The rest of the crowd all looked like they were getting a lot out of it too, and there was a lot of talent in the room: tons of upper belts.

Despite the four hours of mainlining hardcore jiu-jitsu, one of my teammates and I wanted more, so we split a private lesson with him. I really wanted to work my guard passing, and he showed me several details I was missing on my favorite passes. I also asked Kurt for ideas on how to chain passes together, and I think his tips will really help.

At the end, I asked Kurt to pose for a picture with me where he was doing Simple Choke from Knee on Belly. The results were predictably spectacular, since Kurt isn’t shy about mugging for the camera.

I didn’t notice until afterward that we were both wearing Shoyoroll gis. Given Kurt’s famous catchphrase, how could I NOT make this parody advertisement?

Shoyoroll, feel free to use this ad. No charge! I wouldn’t say no if you sent me a gi, though.

Taking a private with Kurt is worth it just for the stories. The techniques are also  awesome, of course — but you’ll get your money’s worth in more than one way. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Plus, afterward, we took him out for Orange Mocha Frappucinos*:

I can’t believe I did this. You may have to click on the image to see the animation.

The bottom line: five hours of first-rate instruction (and even better entertainment) with a uniquely charismatic individual. It was one of the best jiu-jitsu weekends I’ve spent in a long time, and I’m looking forward to training at Kurt’s place when I make it back to the West Coast sometime.

*This may not have actually happened. Although I could see the gasoline scene happening in a different context.

The Mink Gi

Two quick facts: first, my gym shares a space with Cageside Fight Co. Second, I’m a huge gi nerd. I don’t buy many, but I covet a lot of them, especially the ones with innovative fabric.

(I buy most of my gear from Cageside — they don’t pay me to say this, but they have great products at great prices with terrific service. Plus, their Genesis gi is right up there with my Moya as my favorite kimono, and it’s much less expensive.)

Bamboo is one of the fabrics of the future. It grows quickly, so it’s sustainable, it’s super-soft (I have bamboo sheets) and it’s also durable. But only Lucky makes a bamboo gi at this point as far as I know. Since Boomer (Cageside’s owner) makes gis, I asked if he’d ever considered adding a gi made of bamboo to his line.

“I’ve considered making a gi out of mink,” he deadpanned. A droll wit, that Boomer.

Hence, I had to do this:

No animals were harmed in the making of this Photoshop.

Looking back at this one, there are definitely things I’d fix about this Photoshop — it’s one of the first ones I did when learning the program. But I still chuckle looking at it, and that counts for something.

For the record, I would totally buy a bamboo gi. I would jump all over a hemp gi. But no, I would not actually buy a mink gi.

At least one of my training partners would, though.


[Edit: And here’s a quick close up on the gi, which should give all you fake fur entrepreneurs out there some fashion concepts to work with.]

Everyone Likes Surprises

Once a week, I travel to my instructor’s instructor’s gym for some extra-hard training. For two-and-a-half hours or so, we lock ourselves inside his barn, turn off the fans, shut the windows, and go hard at each other in a combination of jiu-jitsu, Bikram Yoga and Thunderdome.

Yeah, it’s pretty much the most fun ever. Once you’re done, anyway.

Usually, it’s some combination of 30 minutes of drilling, 30/60 minutes of intense positional sparring, 30 minutes of shark bait/king of the hill, and a half hour of rolling. This is followed by many hours of re-hydration.

Naturally, at some point your body becomes exhausted. Your mind, too, stops operating at peak capacity. It is a tale of both of these phenomena that I wish to tell you now.

About 90 minutes in, we’re pretty gassed. Everyone’s rash guard and shorts are soaked. Because it’s super-important to drill technique properly when we’re tired, we’re drilling takedowns and guard pulls. The idea is you go quickly, but correctly, so you continue to challenge your endurance while executing technique. You do one of your best three takedowns or guard pulls, then your partner pops up super-fast and goes, and you just keep alternating.

Of course, we’re all struggling to keep up the pace. Occasionally you’ll drag yourself to your feet and your partner will have his/her hands on the knees and be doubled over. Or you will be, and your partner will have to wait.

This last happens to me. We’re working in groups of two, and my partner takes me down. As I’m slowly lifting one leg up, then the other, I hear one of my other training partners say from across the mat: “Hey, are we switching off?” Yes, the instructor says.

Now, when I’m this tired, my strategy is rest until I’m ready to explode, then rest again. I hear this and understand we’ll be switching partners. I also understand that, unless I jump guard RIGHT NOW, I will have a tough time doing anything that isn’t totally embarrassing.

So I head to where my new training partner is on the mat, leap up to jump guard …

… and think, while in the air: “wait, did he mean we were supposed to be switching up takedowns with the SAME partner?”

My new training partner’s look of shock and bewilderment seems to confirm this theory. But thankfully, she still has the presence of mind and cardiovascular righteousness to catch my guard jump and deliver me safely to the mat.

I wish there was video. I imagine it looked something like this:

It is like I am a flying kitten.

In the future I will give fair warning before jumping guard. Even in tournaments.

Mostly because I don’t pull guard in tournaments.


I was flattered that someone with the skills and achievements of Roy Marsh asked me to write a testimonial for his school on their website. You may have noticed that the Sandhills BJJ Blog is one of the permanent links at the bottom of this site: Roy’s a terrific writer in addition to being a talented teacher and a beast on the mats. I just wish he wrote more.

Training camp for the Pans started this past Monday. I have a lot to say about that — or I will as soon as I get some sleep. Good training today!

Off the Rails

Every school has different belt promotion traditions. For some, a simple handshake and a handoff of the belt suffice. For others, you get thrown, get choked, or have to run a gauntlet of belt-whipping. There are probably numerous other traditions I’m ignorant of.

For our school, the tradition is the belt train.

This weekend, we’re having a seminar where some of my teammates may rank up. This brought back memories of my own belt train which I bring to you now in photo and video form.

What is a belt train, you might ask? It’s a marathon rolling session where, for a certain amount of time, you stay on the mat while a new person jumps on you every minute. For a blue belt, it’s around 15 minutes; for a purple belt, 30; for a brown belt, 45; and for the coveted black belt, a full hour. In my case, there were 18 people in class, so my train was 18 minutes.

Your idea of the train beforehand.

Making matters worse, everyone ranked below you can pick the starting position: they can be on your back if they want, or they can force you to stay standing to wear you out.

Because people go in order of rank, just as you’re getting tired, you start to get jumped on by the people who can ordinarily handle you anyway. The instructor, who can handle everybody anyway, goes last.

What the train is really like afterward.

To be honest, I really enjoyed mine. Not every minute of it, mind you: that final minute was excruciating. But there’s something about going through something like that with your training partners that’s really powerful. I feel about it the same way I feel about writing: I might not enjoy it, but I enjoy having done it.

Without further ado, let me deliver unto you the video. If you’ve come looking for the trainwreck, here it is.

The first 4:45 is banter that, while witty and effervescent, may not be interesting to you unless you know my training partners. After that it’s pure visceral ass-kickery. Enjoy!

My personal favorite parts:

7:58: Am I really getting assaulted by a dude in a tie-dyed gi?

9:26: It’s always fun to roll with someone more than twice your size. When he goes knee on belly, the audible OHHHHHH from the crowd is pretty funny.

12:50: I get jumped on from behind. Sadly, you can’t tell the deep oil check at 13:20 or so is happening, though you can hear people joking about it (“He’s a quart low!”)

14:52: The author of this blog is a good friend of mine, and is as badass as she is nice (and she is very nice!). You can hear through the whole video people telling her not to take it easy on me. “If you take it easy,” our instructor said, “you get a train of your own.” Good times!

16:27: Uh oh, I am getting Supermanned.

17:10: Uh, oh, I am getting lifted up by the pants and then dropped. Then comes the knee on belly.

McKayla is not impressed with your knee on belly, but I am.

17:50: My instructor tells me I have 10 seconds to re-tie the pants, and if I fail, I get two minutes with him. Yikes! At the end of the rapid-fire pants-tie, one of my training partners — a former college wrestler — double-legs me and hits a beautiful can opener. Man, I’m glad I do yoga.

18:45: I get put into a body triangle and the instructor tells my training partner not to tap me — just hold me there. The result is the best picture of the train:

Feels as good as it looks!

… and because I’m learning Photoshop, I had to do this:

This feels like Sistine Crap-pel. Hey, Yahweh, a little help?


20: 15: The most dramatic moment of the train. You can see my try to sit guard a few times, and hear my training partner tell me “Get up! You aren’t robbing me of this.” Then, at 20:20 he hits a sick throw that gets the biggest pop from the crowd (and my back).

I made an animated GIF of that throw, but can’t find it right now. I’ll add it if I find it later, or make another for those of you who can’t watch video at work.

Now, the last minute of this might not look like much, but God, it is miserable. My instructor’s mount pressure is brutal under the best of circumstances, but to have it happen after 17 minutes, when he just steps right into mount, when I’m exhausted, and when he strips away my defensive frames like they’re nothing …

Yes, it was a humbling experience. A humbling experience that left me looking like this:

Let’s get back to training!

I actually really like this picture. It’s clear I’m exhausted, but it’s also clear that I’ve survived, and that my instructor is helping me get up. As a friend of mine told me once, I’m never down: I’m either up or getting up.

Following this weekend, I’m looking forward to helping some of my teammates get up.


New blog: BJJ ref information

Just a quick note: one of my former training partners, a veteran of 500 or so matches refereed, has started a blog dedicated to the topic of rules and refereeing in BJJ tournaments. He’s got a thoughtful approach on different rules, applications and interpretations. Give it a look:

I have about four posts I’ve been meaning to write, but it’s been a crazy week. Hopefully more soon!