Saturday, April 5, 2014


So over the past few months, I have had less and less time to train. School has REALLY gone up a few notches, and I spend most of my time in the computer lab, crunching data, learning new software programs, and writing reports for class. All fueled by coffee and whatever food I have time to cook or run out to buy.

I try and go to jiu jitsu as much as I can; with two night classes that directly conflict with training, it's tough to do so. Thankfully, Rutgers has a BJJ club run by Garry Tonon that I can attend after my Wednesday night class, but getting a good amount of consistent training in has definitely been a challenge. Competing is out of the question between the lack of training, and being so sedentary means I will definitely not be able to make weight.

When I first realized I wasn't going to be able to attend BJJ as frequently, I had to make sure that at no point would I sacrifice school for BJJ, but that I also wasn't being lazy and making excuses. I am obviously here to get good grades, a master's degree, and ultimately a job; my long term goals do not lie in my jiu jitsu. I have slept in the past couple of days and missed morning training, but the lack of sleep from schoolwork has been so prominent that I knew if I went to BJJ with such little sleep, I would not be able to study the rest of the day and likely crash when I get home. The past couple of weeks have been exceptionally tough, and although I'm pretty resilient with lack of sleep, the past couple of weeks have had me unfocused and nodding off while working. To me, sleeping in was not being lazy; it was a matter of personal health and taking care of all aspects of my life. Not making it to class in my case is either due to A) physically being in class at school or B) studying and maintaining my health.

For those who aren't familiar with what I'm doing, I am getting my masters degree in urban planning at Rutgers University, with a focus in transportation. So I am learning how cities design various transportation systems, create transportation policy, and how to create sustainable solutions for transportation problems. This means I am learning a lot of new concepts as well as data collection and analysis methods. It involves learning new statistical modeling programs, collecting and crunching data in Excel, SPSS, and other programs.

I have the rest of my life to train jiu jitsu, but only two years to get a graduate school degree, which is something I keep telling myself when I look at the clock and realize that I need to be in the computer lab or at a desk instead of on the mat. It's quite frustrating, because I hate being inactive. However, I know I'll suffer more in the short and long term if I ditch schoolwork for training and get even less sleep. I just made a checklist of assignments that I need to get done by the end of the semester and I'm shuddering at the number of things I have to do as well as the time each one will take. Thankfully, I will be working this summer, and since my hours as an intern are capped at 28 per week, I will definitely have more time to train.

Now back to the lab!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Creating A Legacy: The Pursuit of What You're Passionate About

I started graduate school almost two months ago. It's a lot more work than college, but I love the material I'm learning. I feel like I'm learning the knowledge that I'll actually use once I get a job. I feel like I'm learning a lot, that I've become a sponge for knowledge once again. I feel as though I'm taking in enough and more to make me well-rounded, marketable, and even more interested and passionate about transportation and all things urban planning-related.

Now naturally, I'm training less. I'm writing less for Buddhasport. It takes weeks to get an article done because I write on study breaks, and training is no longer something I go to every day after work or only miss because of a big commitment. My time is now spent learning this new material, using the structure and framework of school to create a future path, or at least a substantial part of it. To show the world that I've accumulated enough knowledge and experience in two years to make an impact beyond the classroom and in the real world.

Not being able to write all the time and not being able to train as much as I like aren't fun. But at the same time, I get to spend all my time doing only things that I'm passionate about. My walk to class is spent largely listening to jiu jitsu podcasts and brainstorming for articles. Once I'm in class, my focus switches to the task at hand, learning as much as I can in 2.5 hours of lecture. Once I'm out of class, I'm either eating, training, writing for Buddhasport, or studying. Down time or relaxing is a meal in front of NetFlix or a brief break to write just one more paragraph in an article, maybe half a page if the idea is really good. The bonus? In each setting, I'm surrounded by people who are passionate about the same things I am, but are diverse in other aspects of their lives as well.

I still interview when I can, and even though I don't meet most of the people I interview in person, I feel like I'm "meeting" some of the people who have impacted my life the most. These people are from all walks of life and have made the martial arts a big part of their lives. I've always kept it a part of my life, and not always through competition; through writing, training, and covering events. Not everyone I speak to is a full-time competitor; some are balancing jobs and competing, some own brands, and some are artists. But they've all MADE time to train and spread the positive aspects of jiu jitsu or MMA because they want others to feel the same impact the art has had on their lives.

Writing about and covering the martial arts has become as much a cerebral as it has become an emotional process for me. When I covered Ring of Combat in September, I realized how different the fights are when you're so close to the cage, away from the crowds and comments and right up close to the fighters. To see the kind of training you've participated in (albeit in a much less intense setting for me!) taken to such a high level by such disciplined and passionate athletes is really something else. To see someone hit a combination, set up a takedown, or get the winning submission or knockout that you know they've practiced for hours in the gym is like nothing you can experience or explain. I've watched so many of these fighters come up through the amateur ranks and now through their early professional careers that I feel invested in them, invested in the sport in a different way than the competitor, but more than just a bystander. Watching how the loser truly walks away with nothing but the consolation of their team (assuming they had a decent turnout from their team) and how the winner is one step closer to their dream is something I can't describe; something that can only be witnessed, felt, and then understood.

When I interviewed Lou Neglia, the CEO and founder of the Ring of Combat MMA promotion, he pointed at my notebook and said "if that [writing] is what you love to do, then pursue it! Follow your passion and everything will fall in to place. Even if it's not your whole life, make room for it in your life." That stuck with me ever since he said that, and I've always made time to train or write no matter how busy I get. I'm currently typing up an interview with the brand 31Fifty, and the owner said that he doesn't run the brand full-time, because he had always wanted to be an X-Ray technician, so he's currently going to school to pursue that. He didn't want to give up on his dream even if there was an opportunity for him to run the brand full-time. He lives a busy but comfortable lifestyle in Northern California, running a company with a positive message, and alongside his wife, eagerly awaits the arrival of their baby boy. He now gets to pursue two things he loves, and has crafted a lifestyle based on his passions.

And that's what my goal is. To pave a path that allows me to pursue what I'm passionate about, to meld together what I enjoy doing and what I have to do to make a living. Writing, training, and urban planning are all dimensions of my life that will constantly change their level of importance and portion of my time they take up, each one will always be there in some way, shape, or form. Some people have fully committed to one thing in their life; I know jiu jitsu competitors who have truly made training and competing everything they do, and people who are so passionate about their work that it encompasses almost all of their energy. While that's definitely one way to go about pursuing your passion (I don't object to that way if it makes you happy) I feel very fortunate to be involved in many things that are shaping my present and future career paths.

And I'm working on another very special project that I hope to launch sometime in 2014, so stay tuned! Hint: women's grappling without all the pink and flowers :)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

New Chapter and Reflections Since College

"Where there's discomfort, there's fear, in these very tough positions, you're in a little piece of hell. And through this daily suffering, you learn to survive in these situations. You have to find comfort in uncomfortable situations. You have to be able to live in your worst nightmare. Jiu-jitsu puts you completely in the moment where you must have complete focus on finding a solution to the problem. This trains the mind to build that focus, to increase your awareness, your capacity to solve problems. Sometimes, you don't have to win. You cannot win. But that has nothing to do with losing."

This is a saying from Rickson Gracie that I've come across recently but have been understanding in my daily life for the past few months. It's something I've been doing and not realizing it.

For example, when I moved away from home in suburban New Jersey to college in Atlanta, Georgia, I had to do all the things my parents had done for me in the past on my own. I had to get used to paying rent and utilities on time, cooking for myself, doing my own laundry without being nagged, keeping an apartment clean, and making sure all my doctor/dentist/etc. appointments were scheduled by ME. Maybe your life was different, but my parents played a hand in either doing to nagging me to do all of these things until I left for college.

If I didn't go far away to college, I think I'd be a really different person. I'd be less independent, less open-minded, and less aware of a lot of things. Having to track my utilities made me much more aware of how much water/power I use, and having to cook for myself forced me to teach myself how to cook and how to shop for groceries without paying too much and still getting the good stuff. I had to make sure I didn't go over my monthly account limit and that I didn't overdraw any money.

About two weeks ago, I started graduate school. I'm only about 45 minutes away from home in the great state of New Jersey, but everything I learned in the time I moved out to college has come in handy once again. The transition to cooking, cleaning, organizing, and doing all those things by myself has come forth once again. And this time, it'll probably be much more permanent, as I'm hoping a graduate school degree will land me a job that takes me away from home.

Now with graduate school on my plate, training has taken less of a priority in my life. Which has made me realize that for a while, I was looking at training the wrong way. That if I wasn't winning medals that I was a loser, that if I wasn't good enough to hang with the people I compete with that my jiu jitsu was worthless.

Well that is totally wrong! My goal is to perform to the best of my ability given my circumstances. It has been, and always will be, but I think that I've lost sight of that at times. Losing is never fun, but taking it so seriously when, in the end, it's just a few minutes if your life, is not healthy! Having that mindset means that you beat yourself instead of building yourself up. And ultimately, I think the goal of most people is to build themselves up via jiu jitsu, whether that's on or off the mat. Jiu Jitsu is a part of my life, but it's not my entire life. I'm pursuing a master's degree in urban planning with a concentration in transportation to ultimately improve access to public transit across the country. My career goals are social justice oriented, while my spare time is largely jiu jitsu oriented. The two are separate but not necessarily equal.

Oh, and now I'm training at an Alliance Jiu Jitsu affiliate. The gym is called Maximum Athletics, and houses boxing, tae kwon do, and BJJ in one gym. The instructor, Nelson Puentes, is an Alliance brown belt and owns the company Inverted Gear. You know, the company that makes the panda gis! But Nelson's open minded-ness, excellent teaching skills, and strong work ethic have definitely helped me a lot on the mat.

In 2013, the gym I was training at went downhill in a fast and bad way, as the instructor stopped showing up to teach and ultimately closed the gym, leaving many "homeless". I trained at a Renzo affiliate for a few months before I moved out for graduate school, leaving me with some inconsistent training that did not help the mindset I had before. But with my new gym, new chapter in life, and new mindset, I'm feeling pretty good!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Slump, Big Time Slump

I lost my first match in the NY Summer Open yesterday. I lost 2-0, she either pulled guard and immediately swept or got a takedown, I honestly don't remember. I spent the rest of the match defending until the time ran out from bottom half.

I have not won a single gi match since the Renzo Open in December 2011. This is pretty upsetting to me because I've made a lot of changes since getting my blue belt in terms of training, diet, and general competition preparation. I'm in much better shape, am in a new weight class (featherweight), and am training 5-6 days per week, sometimes twice a day, with additional strength and conditioning thrown in. Here are some of the things I think might be contributing to my losses/losing streak:

- when I was at Shaolin's in 2012 (before my job switch forced me back to NJ for training), I was VERY stubborn and got frustrated very easily. I was able to change this aspect in the fall of 2012.
- switching schools- after I left Shaolin's, I began training at Jason Scully's academy. Jason has now closed his school, and due to the way I saw the school was operating, I left about a month before he shut the doors of the academy. I am moving in August for grad. school, so I'll be switching schools yet again!
- technique. Of course, technique is something we all work on
- aggression. I've had training partners tell me I'm not aggressive enough when rolling in class. I think this is because sometimes I think "I'm so much smaller than all these guys, what's the point in being aggressive if I'm just going to get overpowered?"

The first one is more or less resolved, the second I have minimal control over, the third is something I'm actively working on, but the last one is the biggest problem. I had much more killer instinct (to the point of it being a problem) when I was a white belt and a very early blue belt. I seem to have lost it for some reason and I'm not sure why. I want to win and I want to do well, but pulling the trigger in competition seems to be a problem for me. My conditioning/gas tank is very good, as I do a lot of outside conditioning and am rarely tired or unable to attack when rolling.

I'm was going to do a Grappler's Quest in NJ this week, but cutting to 119 is going to be very tough for me right now, and I have some cauliflower ear I need to take care of. I'm going to spend at least a week off the mat to take care of my ear and refocus myself. When I get back on the mat, I'm going to make a VERY conscious effort to go as hard as possible without being spazzy or careless.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meeting John Danaher

One of the upsides of now training at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Holmdel is that I get to drop in at the Manhattan school at no extra cost. My work schedule allowed me to take the 1pm class today, which was taught by John Danaher. For those who don't know, John is a highly sought after BJJ instructor, and coaches many MMA greats like Georges St. Pierre and has a unique background. He came to American from New Zealand to get his Masters degree in philosophy from Columbia University. This gives him a really unique way of explaining techniques and understanding BJJ.

John explained the takedowns and techniques we did in class very clearly, but looked around as the class did them as opposed to walking around. However, this doesn't mean he wasn't carefully observing us; after class ended, I came over and spoke to him and he pointed out a couple of things he noticed I was doing. He asked a little bit about myself, and I explained that I was one of Rolles' students from Holmdel, but worked in the city. We discussed what I did at work, and I explained that I'm a program coordinator at Fordham Law School. It was then that I saw that John and I see things in a similar light. We got in depth about how my boss helped write the constitutional amendment for Presidential succession, and how brilliant you have to be to understand the law at that level. While he referenced my boss's likely "encyclopedic knowledge" we agreed that at the highest level is where the application, understanding, and dissemination of that knowledge is what separates the elite from just the smart.

And that's where I began speaking about my journey in jiu jitsu. I explained my rut to him; that I hadn't won a gi match since December 2011, and he immediately asked if I felt any turning points. I thought for a second and then explained that I am starting to learn how to set up moves instead of forcing them. Throughout 2012, I tried to force moves in competition instead of looking for openings. Now with every pass, sweep, and submission I learn, I try and learn it in context; what to look for, how to set it up, and what to watch out for.

I also mentioned how I am no longer intimidated by my opponents. How I used to obsessively check the registration list, how I would freak out if I saw a big name like Alliance/Gracie Barra/CheckMat, etc. on the list and immediately defeat myself. He made the point that you are "fighting a person, not their reputation".

He thanked me for speaking with him and said he looked forward to seeing me at future classes. It was reassuring to know that the way I approach jiu jitsu now has been used effectively by someone else and isn't as overly analytic as others have led me to believe. Too bad his private lessons run at 150/hour!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I lost my first match at the New York Open by a referee decision and my first match at the Big Apple Open by 5 points and 1 advantage.

To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. It occurred to me after I lost at the Big Apple Open that I haven't won a gi match in a tournament since December 2011 at the Renzo Open. That's 8 tournaments that I've been eliminated in the first round. The first three times I lost after December 2011 it was by points, decision, or advantages, then I lost by armbar submission, then began losing by points/advantages/decision again.

In 2012, I took a break from May to October to not compete and just focus on improving. I feel that I've improved during training; I have better body awareness, have a better idea of my own strategy, and feel like I've learned some important details in several techniques. I've dropped to featherweight after my weight naturally changed and feel much more comfortable and healthy; I've never had to starve myself or doing anything crazy to make featherweight; I just avoid junk food and alcohol. Despite all these things, it clearly has not carried over in to the competition aspect. I think part of this is the aggression factor. "Pulling the trigger" in terms of going 100% is a tough thing to do, because there is fear of injury, fear of being a jerk, or simply not being used to going that hard if not everyone chooses to compete. I remember when I trained at Shaolin's, he put the people who were competing on one side of the class so they could roll hard against each other without any of the issues I just mentioned.

Additionally, it's been a rough few months of training. The school I was training at is now set to shut down. In the 6 or so months leading up to this, our instructor began teaching less and less, and sometimes did not even show up to class. A purple belt with the key would then hurry in ten minutes late and end up holding an open mat. Slowly, the school turned from a structured atmosphere in to one with more open and less structured training. I left the school about a month ago because it simply wasn't a structure that I could thrive in; I have no ill will towards the school owner and wish him the best in whatever he chooses to pursue.

I don't blame anyone but myself for poor performance. When you step on to the mat, it's just you. If there is something bad going on, it's your job to fix it before you compete, and maybe I should have switched earlier or sought out different resources so I could improve.

I am now training at the Renzo Gracie Academy in Holmdel, NJ. It's only about ten minutes away from my house, and there are several black belts as well as a great brown belt who teach class. I am also allowed to drop in at Renzo's in New York City for no additional fee, so I can complement my training the days I'm working in NYC and can't make it home on time. The switch has been pretty seamless, and some of my friends from my old academy are at Renzo's with me and are happy. Unfortunately, since I'll be attending graduate school at Rutgers University in the fall, I will have to switch schools yet again! The inconsistency of switching schools has definitely slowed me done in some aspects, but I'm much happier now.

I'll be doing the IBJJF NY Summer Open and possibly a Grappler's Quest at the end of July. I'm hoping that this new structured training environment will help me develop a game plan and that I'll be less preoccupied with other factors.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro's Perspective on the "Jiu-Jitsu as Chess" Analogy

My old instructor, Vitor "Shaolin" Ribeiro, posted on the school's blog that he felt that jiu jitsu was more like paintball than a chess match. To summarize the post, which can be found here, Shaolin says that chess is more like "you move, then I move, then you move", while paintball is much more about pushing the pace, taking initiative, and attacking.

The chess analogy is so common in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that I'd never honestly thought about alternative ones. The chess one isn't really one that stuck in my mind either, but I never thought of any other analogy. While I don't think there is ever a truly complete analogy for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I think the paintball one is very accurate. Paintball requires strategy and there is rarely a time where you're just waiting; you're either hiding or attacking (at least from my one experience with paintball). You can't really defend in paintball like you do in jiu-jitsu, as your main defense is to avoid being shot, but in paintball I suppose avoidance should be your first line of defense in jiu jitsu anyway. Additionally, you shouldn't really wait for the other person to move in jiu jitsu before you attack; the idea is that you are constantly attacking for a submission, fighting for a better position, or defending so you can do one of the two former things.

It also reminded me of the atmosphere in Shaolin's academy. Shaolin has a great energy about him; his enthusiasm for learning and competition are infectious and he always encourages his students to push the pace appropriately. I definitely learned a lot about that aspect of jiu-jitsu while I trained there and it helped me "grow in" to my blue belt for sure!

I'd love to hear feedback on this one to whoever stumbles across this! And visit Shaolin's academy when you're in New York City, you won't regret it!