Monday, December 31, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

BJJ Black Belt!

My BJJ Black Belt. What can I say? It took me 14 years to get here!

Being probably the only one in this region who is a "hobbyist" BJJ black belt (meaning I do not teach BJJ as my full time job, nor am I working in the fitness/gym or related industry), I think I'm ok with the time it took me to reach here.

Whats my secret? No secret actually. Just keep training, at my own pace, consistently. Consistency IMO is the key. One thing that I have emphasized, for myself especially, is to keep injury free. As a hobbyist, with my own business, a wife and two kids, I personally do not see the need to prove myself at my age in BJJ competitions nor in MMA. The chances of injury is too high, the rewards of success too negligible, and I have never been the type to go after fleeting and fickle fame and glory. It is more important to keep injury free, to continue growing even if it is at a slower pace.

Especially after the age of 30, where my body no longer recuperates the way it used to, and my stamina no longer is what it used to be (not that I had great stamina in the first place), I decided to try and train smarter. Thus, I started training with less ego, less reliance on strength, explosiveness, speed. More emphasis on structural strength, angles, timing, balance, weight distribution.

It is unfortunate, but the BJJ world is littered with thousands of blue to brown belts, who train too hard and had to quit due to crippling injuries. Even many of our legendary black belts we all know and admire are now saying that if they know now what they knew then, they would not roll so much and so hard, and rather drill more often.

It is perhaps with this viewpoint that my classes do not have this whole macho vibe. My classes are filled with working professionals, from doctors, lawyers, bankers etc who cannot afford to get injured. Of course, on the rare occasions injuries do happen due to accidents. But you won't see my class full of people with bandaged knees and broken fingers.

That is not to say my guys are not good. Its just that our priorities are different. We love BJJ, and love to train BJJ and to roll. However, we have no desire to be the next Mundial or UFC Champ. My guys do compete in the occasional competition, however it is clear the desire of a banker who trains BJJ for fun is different from a full time BJJ competitor who relies on wins to earn his/her next meal.

Perhaps it is due to my influence of training and being under John Will, who got his black belt when he was older, that I have this viewpoint. I can imagine if I trained under some 18 year old world champion, my view would be different. However, no matter how we admire the skills and the abilities of such young champions, they have not experienced living in the real world yet, and have not experienced for themselves the injuries that you get when you get older.

Thus the simple truth is, you cannot train a working adult, the same way you train teenagers. They/we cannot take such training without breaking down. Of course there will be exceptions, but you cannot take a reasonably fit 30 year old, put him through intensive olympic gymnastic training and try to get him to qualify for the olympics. Nor can you get a 35 year old man, put him in Barcelona's summer training camp, and expect him to be able to play for the first team when the next season starts. More likely than not, both these guys will be injured. There is no reason why BJJ would be any different. You cannot take a 30 year old man and put him through intensive BJJ training with promises of being Mundial World Champion. Furthermore, BJJ is a art with real submissions, the chances of injury if you go all out is higher than gymnastics or football.

I realize that perhaps my views will not be the most popular, as it goes against the fantasy of the martial arts. However, as someone who has attained my faixa preta, I can say with certainty that it is possible to achieve this without sacrificing your body.

Furthermore, I believe my methods of teaching are improving all the time. I have been teaching BJJ for 10 years now (since 2002), and initially it took forever to train my first blue belt. Now I have trained my current batch of purples from white to purple in under 3 years! My blue belts take on average 1 year from white to blue recently.

But ultimately that is the goal, isn't it? Being able to train and progress in your BJJ abilities, while not getting injured and having lots of fun. Interestingly John Will once told me that for a class to really grow and progress, you have to get rid of the students that injure other students, or make the vibe of the class uncomfortable for other students. Even though that person may very well be your best student, ultimately your class succeeds when everyone improves

Otherwise, you will end up with a class where there are the few elite "champions" of the gym, and the rest are cannon fodder who never improve. Yes, there are plenty of sycophants who hang around "champion gyms", always showing up for photo day to be photographed with "champions" and like to claim to be part of the group. However, these are not the best people to have in your classes, as they neither improve, nor give your gym a good reputation. Ultimately most people in these types of gyms quit. No one likes to be the bottom of the ladder in a dog eat dog gym.

Currently, I believe I have just the right atmosphere at my club. There are plenty of purples and blues on the mats, and they are the right type of training partner, willing to play rather than smash. The lower belts have plenty of good training partners, who actually allow them to roll, rather than be trashed all the time. That allows them to grow at a tremendous pace.

You will notice that my post went from getting my black belt to instead my class and my students? Well ultimately your progress has alot to do with the atmosphere and the class you are in. Find the right class, where you won't get injured by idiots spazzing on you, and where egos are not a problem, and you will progress. The sky is the limit!

Train safe, train smart

Sam Wee

Thursday, May 3, 2012