Sunday, March 25, 2012

Always Watching

The instructors see everything.  One of the more subtle characteristics I've noticed about training in BJJ is how in-tune instructors are with the school.  This applies on a broader level in terms of  general vibe with the finger on the pulse of the team as a whole and on a specific level of each individual person training at that school.  It is a unique aspect of training that I've come to appreciate very much.  They push you harder when you're doing well and pick you up and dust you off when you are struggling.

Even when you don't think they are watching, they are.  And even if they don't directly see something, they will inevitably hear about it or it see it themselves soon enough. I liken it to a poker playing picking up every tell and action that's displayed at the table and acting accordingly.  I recall two distinct examples where I've experienced this first hand. 

Last summer, I was going through an intense period of training.  My momentum was good and I was hoping to get back into competition mode soon.  As such, my results began to show during live training and I was able to catch some guys that I had been having trouble with previously.  One guy in particular had been giving me a rough time ever since I started training with him and this day, and after I found myself on the successful end of one of our rolls, I looked up to see Jojo, on the other side of the mats looking directly at me.  He gave me an intent and acknowledging nod.  It was a quick moment that spoke very loudly to me.  He was aware of my struggles against this one particular teammate and immediately recognized the success I had just experienced.  He took me aside later and encouraged me to keep up the good work.  Similarly, I've often seen Jojo specifically fine tune other people's games, showing them moves that will fit well in their repertoire.  Jojo will often take time out of his personal schedule to work individually with students when he feels they need some one-on-one instruction.

I had the incredible good fortune to train with Bruno Tostes during my time in Albany several years ago. My game advanced incredibly during my time in Albany, but there was one day were things were just not going right.  I was getting caught by moves I felt I could have easily avoided and I felt I was not rolling to the best of my abilities.  My frustration must have shown because immediately after one of my rolls, Bruno asked me to roll with him.  One thing I've noticed about great instructors like Jojo and Bruno is that they know exactly when and how to roll with their students - whether to work with him to build certain parts of his technique, work him hard to develop his cardio or aggression, (or to spank them to bring them down a few pegs :) ).  In this case, Bruno rolled with me to regain my confidence.  He rolled with me in a way that allowed me to go for certain moves and remind myself that, in spite of my frustrations, it's not as if my technique went out the window.  Furthermore, after class he thanked me for rolling with him, remarking that we had a good flow in our roll and that my technique felt smooth.  HE thanked ME! I'm not going to lie, it was really, really awesome to hear and it was what I needed to hear at exactly the right time and he encouraged me to keep it up. 

I could go on with more examples like this that I have experienced over the years.  I would be very interested in hearing about some of your experiences like this.  So, please do share!!

Thank you for stopping by and happy training!


Thursday, March 1, 2012


Jojo does a great job in bringing in other high level black belts to train at our academy.  One of the frequent presences at our school is none other than JT "Spiderman" Torres, a world class BJJ player and my top bet to be the next prodigy in MMA should he ever go that route.  He always brings a new change of pace and technique for us and classes are always a little fuller after Jojo announces he will be coming by.

One JT story that has stuck with me was one experienced by my friend and teammate, Christian "Ninjaa" Gonzalez.  Christian is a fierce competitor who is as strong for his size as he is technical.  At the same time, he is also a martial artist.  One time he was rolling with JT and out of respect and deference to him, Ninjaa was not going full out against him.  JT immediately realized what Christian was doing and stopped the roll immediately and told him:


"When you roll with me...destroy me! Give it everything you've got, I know you got this!" JT was telling Christian not to hesitate in his roll.  In spite of his rank and credentials he needed to go after JT 100% as if he were fighting for his life.  Not rolling 100% would only be a detriment to him in the long run.  After hearing those words, just like that, it was on! Christian rolled with a new intensity against JT for the rest of their roll, much to JT's satisfaction.

More importantly, JT's advice stuck with Christian ever since.  Christian has always been one of the faster learners at the school in his own right but I believe that JT's words that night really helped his game a lot.  Christian himself has said that, "rolling with him struck a confidence in me to give it my all and not give up.  And its been carried with me since."

I have to be 100% honest: this is probably one of the biggest problems in my game.  As I've said before, I tend to get intimidated by higher ranking belts when I roll with them and it causes my game to lockup big time.  It's almost as if I feel like I'm "supposed" to lose and I freeze up.  By the time I finally react and start moving, my opponent is already halfway there to crushing me.  I'll have a similar experience if someone is bigger and/or stronger than me.  As easy as it may be to pick up a new move on a given day, it's been a lot tougher for me to adjust the mental aspects of my game, especially this part.  Thanks to Jojo and the rest of my team, I think that I have improved this over the past few months but I certainly have a long way to go!

As always, thanks for reading and good luck to everyone in their upcoming competitions!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Work Jitsu

Hey guys, I hope everyone got a good week of training under their belts, whatever color it may be! I'm really hoping for some feedback/advice for today's subject - balancing your work life with your BJJ life.  Obviously, I'm not the only person that must balance work and BJJ so I would love to hear how you guys manage to keep BJJ in your lives when work get very busy.

I'm sure most of us would like nothing more than to train everyday and enjoy the BJJ lifestyle to the fullest.  Unfortunately, whether due to work, school or other commitments that usually isn't possible for the typical BJJ player.

I had been lucky enough for the past 6+ months or so to devote a large portion of my time to training and working out.  Naturally, my game improved leaps and bounds and I made some great progress this past year.  However, I recently started a new job that has me quite busy.  Due to my hours and commute, I am inevitably late to class, if I am even able to make it to begin with.  I only made it in once last week, a far cry from the 4-6 times a week I was able to make it to class in the past and I already could feel the consequences.  The sudden lack of BJJ threw me out of whack physically and especially mentally.  My energy levels dipped suddenly and I was upset that I couldn't be on the mats.  I am addicted to the BJJ and I was going through withdrawal.

I was particularly worried about my physical condition and BJJ game atrophying due to continued lack of training.  I put SO much hard work on and off the mats trying to improve my jiu-jitsu and likewise, Jojo and all of my training partners had put the same in me - I would hate to see that fade away due to neglect.  As some of my friends can attest, I was very discouraged about this possibility.

 I also missed the Dustin Denes seminar!

So, I started to think - how can I maintain a Brazilian jiu-jitsu lifestyle while balancing a busy work schedule?

One word came to mind: Sacrifice.

I would have to sacrifice other aspects of my time and life in order to keep this part of my life whole.  I refuse to let my game and conditioning wither away.  If this means I have to stay up late doing extra work from home, then so be it.  If it means getting an extra roll in to maximize my mat time even though I'm exhausted, I will.  If it means sacrificing some sleep to squeeze in a late night work out, I will.  If it means I have to skip out on some fun times with friends, sorry guys, but I have to.  BJJ is an essential component of my life and I must find a way to maintain it.

It won't be easy, and I'm certainly not the toughest most headstrong person out there, but I will try my best.  Granted, I understand that I have to keep my priorities in order and sacrifice BJJ time here and there as well.  But, I would like to continue my progression or, at the very least, tread water and maintain status quo until my schedule opens up and permits me to go full blast in training again.

Here's to a good week of training.  And again, I would really be interested in hearing how you balance your respective "real world" schedules with your training!


Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Good Fight - New York Open

The ECU Family

I would like to give a huge congratulations to Jojo Guarin for winning a gold medal in the black belt division and to the rest of my teammates for their awesome performances and successes at this tournament.  It was a huge honor for me to go out to battle with you guys.  I was able to earn a silver medal myself! I am humbled by the incredible amount of support everyone gave me during this entire experience.  I also have to thank my friends, Tom and Christina, for traveling up to Nyack all the way from Queens to cheer me on!

I had been anticipating this day for a long time.  Hours and hours of training, gallons of blood, sweat, and tears.  I was ready for war.  This would be my first competition ever at blue belt - 149 lbs and under; gi division.  Interestingly enough, I wasn't too nervous going into the event.  I had already gone through so much adversity just to get here - injuries, slumps, etc. I was just happy to be officially competing again.

I arrived around 11:30 AM, registered, weighed in at 145.4 lbs, well under the 149 limit.  After that, I began what every competitive BJJ player plays at a tournament: the waiting game.  I situated myself with my teammates and tried to relax as we waited for our respective divisions to come up.  First up was none other than our leader, Jojo Guarin.

Jojo also gets a gold medal for having the cutest daughter in the world!
He fought a hard match and thoroughly dominated his opponent on his way to a strong victory on points.  He constantly had his opponent on the defensive, gained many dominant positions and had even more submission attacks of every kind.  In short, he ran a clinic.  Leading the way, his performance definitely inspired me and the rest of my teammates to follow suit.  And as the rest of my teammates competed, while there were wins and losses, fair and unfair, I felt that EVERYONE fought tough and represented ECU BJJ to the fullest.  I knew I had my work cut out for me to keep up the pace.
Finally, my division was called.  My fellow opponents congregated to our mat to check in.  I also noticed that we were all cautiously eying each other, trying to size each other up.  I went to the other side of the scorer's table to get away from that and avoid psyching myself out.  There was still some downtime as we waited to officially get started so I did my best to not let my nerves get the best of me and stay loose.  

Jojo also took me aside to offer a personal pep talk.  He told me to be aggressive, not to think too much and to just let my game flow - let the chips fall where they may.  Most importantly, he told me not to put too much pressure on myself (which I tend to do) and to just have fun.  I spent the final minutes stretching, warming up and controlling my breathing to prevent an adrenaline dump in the middle of my fight.  Soon enough, it was my turn to fight!


As soon as I stepped on the mats I could feel various switches in my body go on and off.  All of a sudden, I had selective hearing and could only hear Jojo and my teammate, Tom, yell out instructions to me.  My mind was completely blank and I was essentially fighting off muscle memory and instinct.  Does this happen to you guys? Importantly, I did not feel particularly panicky or anxious.  Nervous, sure, but mentally I felt in control of my emotions, not the the other way around.  The match itself, which you can see, was probably a little boring for spectators.  It was a tough fought 0-0 match that I won by advantage points.  While it may have looked uneventful, I can assure you that we were both working very hard for position and grips.  I was just lucky to have outworked my opponent this time, who I later met and is a great guy.  

One of the critical points during this match was towards the final minute or so of the fight where I was in my opponent's half guard but controlling him.  At around the 5:02 mark of the video, you can see me looking over to Jojo, who informed me that I was up on advantage points and told me to hold my position.  This was just a small example of Jojo's acute awareness and coaching ability.  Without him there, I would not have been aware of the score and probably would've risked losing my position to try to score points, endangering my chance at a win, and ultimately, a medal.  Jojo 100% coached me to victory.

When the buzzer rang and the referee held my hand, what a great feeling! It was my first competition in over three years and my first at the blue belt level and I had emerged victorious.  Most satisfying was the happiness my friends, teammates, and most of all, Jojo, had for me.  They all knew, especially Jojo, the long road I had taken to both get my blue belt and back on the competition scene.  Being able to pay a small dividend on the countless hours my coach and teammates had invested me was probably one of the most fulfilling experiences I've had on my BJJ journey.  I was happy that the hard work I put in the match reflected the hard work they had all put into me.  It was definitely a blue collar win - especially since I was literally wearing a blue collar hahaha.  Jojo was particularly happy for me and took me aside to talk to me after my first match.  He looked me directly in the eyes and told me something that will resonate with me for a long, long time:

"You belong in this division"

This was as firm as anything Jojo has told me in the now four years I have been training with him and struck me very deeply.  And while I definitely suffer from confidence issues in my BJJ game, Jojo was essentially affirming my rank as a blue belt and that I belonged in the competitive mix with any of the other blue belts out there, and he wanted to make sure that I knew that, and more importantly, believed it.  I will be honest with you - this was an awesome thing to hear from someone I look up to so much and I will carry this with me in my training and future competitions.  

But now, it was time for the finals!!


It would be entirely way too self-serving if I didn't post this match because it's only fair that I present my shortcomings along with my successes, especially because I went to BED! It's hard to tell from the video but my opponent put me to sleep with that bow and arrow choke! I definitely felt in danger and was trying to fight it off but did not feel close to where I had to tap.  Next thing I know, I'm off in la-la land and wake up with the referee standing over me trying to get me to come to!!

It was a tough way to lose but to be honest, I was still very happy with my performance.  I had actually seen this guy compete before and he is a very, very tough guy and had just knocked off a 4-stripe blue belt to get to the finals.  In fact, nobody had even scored a point on him going into the finals, so it was pretty satisfying to get that big double leg takedown on him.  It was definitely cool to hear everyone get fired up for that.  I just wish the end result was better! Most importantly, it was a great learning experience.  I realized that I could gamely hang in there with the best of them in my division - a HUGE confidence boost for me.  I also learned that I need to work on guard passing (specifically de la riva), and to work harder to play my game and not into my opponent's.  Oh yeah, and defending against the freaking bow and arrow!

All in all, it was an awesome day! I learned so much from both a personal and BJJ perspective and I am eager to get out there and compete again.  I even spent some time talking with both of my opponents at length after it was done - they are both great, tough guys and I hope I get the chance to compete with them again.  Just as BJJ is an addiction in and of itself, competing in it is like a sub-addiction - I can't wait to get back out there again!

Most of all, I am so grateful to have a great coach, great friends and great teammates.  Even though so many people were competing, everyone found time to give me personal attention during and after my matches.  Our school is like one big family and I am really fortunate just to be a part of it.  I feel as much a part of ECU and this sport than ever before.

Thanks for all of your support and LETS GO GIANTS!

Not bad for a day's work!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Impose Your Game

First off, thanks so much for your support! I was completely surprised by the amount of feedback and page views I had from just my first entry! I really appreciate that and really hope the subject matter is interesting!


One of the things Jojo specifically advises me to do is to "impose your game."  One of the biggest holes in my game is that I tend to be passive and react to what my opponents do, rather than have them react to me.  This often results in me being put in some dominated positions before I can even really attempt to do anything.  For example, Jojo noticed how I would let opponents reach deep into my lapel/collar and start from a severe disadvantage before even starting to do anything.  Thus, I realize how critical this is for me to do in order to truly level up my BJJ; so much so that I have actually made this my chief new year's resolution.

I believe I can pinpoint the source of this problem.  I am one of the lighter guys in a school of both highly aggressive and highly technical grapplers.  I am consistently surrounded by guys that are bigger, stronger, faster and more advanced than I am which makes for some great (and oftentimes, painful) learning experiences for me - if you don't believe me, just look at my teammates in the picture above! So, whenever we roll, the game I am usually required to "impose" is one of survival.  Particularly when I was still a white belt, whenever I was mounted, side controlled, knee on belly-ed and so on, I was always just trying to hang in there and survive.  Even in the rare moments where I found myself in a dominant position against my opponent, my position often felt tenuous and that I would lose my advantage quickly.  On top of that, mentally, I felt that I was supposed to "lose" against these higher level guys when I would roll with them.   Further compounding this is that I am not aggressive by nature - a problem I have had since my high school wrestling days, so it really takes a lot for me to get that spark.  Sounds like a perfect storm for getting smashed on the mats, right?

However, thanks to Jojo and the same guys that would pound me on a daily basis, my BJJ and aggressiveness have really evolved over the past six months. Jojo and my teammates have really encouraged me to be more aggressive (without sacrificing technique, of course) and make my move first, and let the chips fall where they may.  If I lose position or get tapped, that's OK - at least it wasn't for want of trying.  Teammates would tell me that "you need to believe you can beat me" and would tell me if I attempt to take a position on something, go the whole way with it.  Another piece of advice Jojo gave me was to think less and just let my game flow.  He would often see me waste precious seconds going through moves step-by-step in my head. and told me to let my instincts kick in.  Again, this wasn't an easy thing to adjust to and I'm still getting used to it.

But sure enough, I found myself gaining advantageous positions, and even taps, against guys I never thought I would be able to do so against.  Of course, there were plenty of times where I'd get steamrolled no matter what I did! While I still find myself necessarily in survive-mode many times, I also must evolve that to a point where I can escape and counter more effectively.  Surviving only delays the inevitable and not nearly as productive as trying to escape danger and improve my position.  All in all, thanks to Jojo and my teammates, this aspect of my game has undergone a productive evolution these past few months and I hope I can continue to develop it.

Other than that, I am winding down a good week of training in preparation for the tournament on Saturday.  There was an added variable thrown into the equation by work that affected both training and possibly my participation in the competition but I will find a way to make it work and fill you guys in more when all is said and done.  Hope you enjoyed the post and thanks for checking in.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Beginning

Thanks for checking my blog out.  To briefly introduce myself, my name is Mike Kim and I am a blue belt under Jojo Guarin at East Coast United Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.  I've also been lucky enough to train with Bruno Tostes at Renzo Gracie Latham and very briefly with Christian Montes at Ronin Athletics.  I'll save a more detailed introduction (as well as formatting) for later.  For now, I would prefer to just get things started.

I'm hoping that this blog will serve as a way for me to keep track of my journey through the sport of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and my experiences living the BJJ lifestyle.  Jiu-jitsu encompasses so much of my life from a personal, physical, mental and even professional level, hence the title, "The BJJ Lifestyle." I was also inspired by Lex Fridman's blog and his intellectual and philosophical entries on BJJ.

I am certainly not a top level competitor by any means - I am just your average (not even) blue belt who loves this sport and is grateful to be a part of it.  I hope that fellow BJJ players will find this interesting and perhaps find something they can relate with from my posts.

I plan on competing at the Good Fight New York Open in Nyack this Saturday so I anticipate posting about my training leading up to it in the next few days.  Thanks again for stopping by.