If your normal day looks something like this... rushing from work to pick up your kids, (or arranging a sitter to pick them up,) then driving them from activity to activity, grabbing a fast food snack on the way, before driving them home again to make dinner, squeeze in some homework time, get everyone fed, cleaned, & ready for bed. Then, you still have to check homework, pack lunches, & then get ready to start the whole routine all over again tomorrow..
Then, imagine being able to take your time after work, maybe hit the gym, or just relax.. Take a few hours for yourself while your child is having fun and getting fit and healthy in our "Bully Breakthrough" - Self Defense/Martial Arts classes. (Or come in and watch & enjoy coffee on us! We are an open access facility and parents are always welcome.)
After a long day of work, the last thing any parent wants to do is turn into their child's taxi service.
After being picked up from school in our mini bus by our staff of professional drivers, your child will arrive at URSA Academy, change into their martial arts uniform, eat a healthy snack so they have energy for their classes, then jump right into our comprehensive martial arts and Life Skills program.
As part of their classes, your child will participate in our Character Building Life Skill program, a long time cornerstone of martial arts instruction. Through 'mat chats,' in-class activities, & projects of their choice, kids develop confidence, focus, teamwork skills, kindness, humility, responsibility, & discipline.
We are a true martial arts academy providing transportation as a courtesy to parents from select Ann Arbor & Saline area schools for children ages 5-12. We are not a babysitting service, a daycare, or a nanny.
With excellent, daily martial arts instruction, Bully prevention strategies, and fun character development, we are a constructive alternative to daycare.
Now enrolling for the fall & winter semester. Space is limited.
Call 734-369-8509 or CLICK HERE to reserve a spot for your child today.
Over the course of your jiu jitsu career, your focus should always be on improving your skills and improving your game. Promotions are a byproduct of successful training. Every single BJJ Black Belt Professor worth his or her salt focuses on the long term journey, not the short term promotions.
Despite that example and the frequent reminders, some jiu jitsu students spend a fair amount of their time focusing on the next promotion. When these students get promoted, their ego jumps into overdrive and they feel like it’s ‘long overdue.’ If a student has this mindset, they lose focus on improvement, because they are too driven by extrinsic rewards, promotions, tournament wins, etc.
Again, rewards, stripes, belt promotions, and bjj tournament victories are the AFTER EFFECT of successful focused training. When your eye is on improvement, you will often get promoted when you aren’t expecting it. I remember getting promoted to brown belt and thinking that I wasn’t done working on what I was trying to accomplish. My brown belt promotion happened fast, I got two stripes at one promotion, and I jumped a class of guys who had been purple belts longer than me. I was struggling with work and school and so I dove headfirst into my training because it was the one area of my life that I could control. I trained 6 days per week, often twice per day, and I was on a mission to get better.
When I was promoted to brown belt, I didn’t feel ready. It was like I had just started to understand how much more I had to learn. And in typical ‘black belt fashion,’ I was told by my professor Saulo Ribeiro that that’s how he knew I was ready to be promoted. He said, “You’ll grow into your belt. It shouldn’t feel comfortable on Day 1.”
I’m a black belt professor now myself, but I completely understand that sometimes the things we say are CONFUSING! :) But.. they are also true.
Recognizing how much you have to learn is a sign that you’re finally learning something.
So... what do you do with that? Understanding how little you know isn’t an excuse to stop and be satisfied with knowing that you can’t know everything. But instead, it’s the catalyst that will cause you to dive headfirst into your training and keep learning, regardless of the color belt you’re wearing. You must always have a focus, something to work on, and always have a direction for your training. You’re only as strong as your current challenge.
So today, I’m going to break down some of this “Black Belt Speak” & help you understand my mindset when I promote.
Despite a belts main purpose of holding up your pants or keeping your gi top closed, belts in jiu jitsu have power. Someday I may write about the significance of jiu jitsu belts, but today, I want to share with you one of my favorite experiments that illustrates it instead. Fernando Terere has talked about this before and I recently did it in my academy. I paired up white belts with upper ranks and then had them swap belts. I really like that concept and I feel like it breaks down the barriers between your newer players and more experienced players. High ranks practice humility & remember the real reason why we enjoy what we do week in and week out. Low ranks get a boost of confidence and a glimpse at what it will be like at the next level.
Xande Ribeiro did this once with me when I was a new blue belt. He swapped belts with me not long after he had won BJJ Worlds. The moment I put on his black belt, I felt like a superhero. Despite any effort to “stay calm & stay cool,’ I couldn’t help myself. It changed me and changed my confidence. Now, it didn’t immediately make me roll like a world champion black belt.. But I didn’t roll like a brand new blue belt either.
It doesn’t matter if you believe it’s the belt which holds the power, the label, the status, or the time and training itself, OR if you think the whole thing is bollocks. Aside from this ‘in academy’ experiment, there is a much larger example where you can see the effect of belt rank and promotions.. Specifically delayed promotions.
In jiu jitsu, there has always been a debate about ‘sandbagging.’ Many coaches will hold back their star students in an effort to fill up their trophy cases. Aside from the ego and ethical issues that come from trying to find a way to cheat the competition by misrepresenting yourself, I think sandbagging has the potential to destroy the competitor that coaches are holding back.
As a coach, people think that if you hold back a prodigy that they will just destroy everyone that they go against in their division because they are so much better than the average competitor. For a short time.. That’s true.. It will work for a short time and they will win. BUT, while they are walking through the low levels collecting medals and team trophies, they aren’t being challenged and they aren’t improving. Everyone else around them is competing with them, training with them, working to bring themselves to the prodigy’s level.. And then, all of a sudden, your prodigy is an equal. After years of comfortably winning, they are no longer able to rise to a challenge. They start getting caught in the early rounds of tournaments by people they used to beat. Everyone knows their game, because it’s never changed or evolved. Everyone improved around them, and they run the risk of getting swallowed up by the masses. The prodigy is now average, and they have to play catch up and try to catapult up the next level after not being challenged for years.
Sandbagging can lead to mental defeat and ‘lows’ that cause many to leave the sport altogether. It’s the rare few who can get out of a situation like this, find new direction, put the work back in again, and then get back on track. I think sandbagging may be the greatest disservice that a coach can do for a competitive student.
I believe that with the right amount of trust and respect in a coach/student relationship, that students will rise to the occasion presented by the coach. If I promote a student to blue belt before they feel ready for it, it’s because I know they are ready to rise to that challenge. That promotion will force them to get there faster. Belts aren’t punctuation marks. They aren’t the end of the sentence. They are doors that open to show you your new challenge.
For that reason, I don’t promote based on tournament victories. Depending on the student, competition COULD be a factor, but winning a medal is not the only thing that shows me that you’re progressing. Are you training consistently in the academy on your set schedule? Are you trying new things or are you stuck in your old habits? Are you challenging yourself during your matches or are you collecting the same taps from the same techniques on the same people every day? Are you setting a goal to improve by 1% every single day or are you allowing yourself to stay in your comfort zone? Are you working with your teammates to help them improve? As a team, we are all an integral part in each other's success. Their success is your success. I am fiercely protective of our team. Some people disagree with this, but in my academy we don’t cross train at other local schools. We learn from others in seminars and train when we travel, but we don’t have mini factions from our team that go around to do weekly challenge matches at every local gym that has a padded floor. I’ve never seen any value to the clash of egos that happen during most local cross training. The development of our team is so much more important. Because “iron sharpens iron” and we are only as strong as our weakest teammate. Your development is a direct result of the growth and improvement of your team and your training partners.
All of this adds up to what Saulo calls “seasoning” on your belt, training for your mind and body, and ultimately leads to your next promotion.
Train your mind to focus on the challenge. Recognize how far you have come since your first day of training and where you can be a month from today, 6 months from today, a year from today. Keep coming in, roll, sweat, have fun.. Keep putting the work in, and lift your eyes up to see the longer journey, not just your ‘wins & losses’ on a daily basis. It’s my job as your coach to see the bigger picture and recognize when you’re body & mind are ready for that new challenge.
Then, when promotion day comes, trust me to know that I can see that it’s time, even when you can’t. Your team & I are here to support you and give you the tools you need to ‘season’ this belt & eventually move on to the next. Saulo told me, “You only experience each belt once, you’re a black belt forever. Enjoy the journey.” Be excited that you have reached your milestone, not afraid of it, & embrace the challenge that lies ahead.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a very ‘real’ combat sport and 100% practical and effective self defense, But it’s often called, “The Gentle Art” due to its emphasis on skill & technique as opposed to pure strength. It’s truly one of the safest contact sports you can do. Unlike MMA, BJJ utilizes solely chokes and joint locks and does not include strikes. The person on the receiving end of the submission actually CONTROLS the amount of time they spend in the submission. With a simple tap, one partner tells the other that the submission can no longer be defended and the match is over. Then, you stand up, fist bump, and start again.
Due to the nature of our classes and the environment in our academy, injuries are rare. The occasional bumps and bruises are more common, typically from two people moving toward the same thing at the same time. The majority of injuries we see people walk in with are sustained OUTSIDE of the academy. (After work softball and basketball teams are definitely the highest.. Especially when alcohol is involved..)
In my 15+ years on the mats, I’ve seen the occasional training injury, typically from someone utilizing strength over control. Regardless of how often black belt professors emphasize technique and control over strength, beginners almost ALWAYS start their training with these priorities in the wrong order. For that reason, white belts tend to sustain injuries more often than upper ranks who have matured in the sport and have truly subscribed to the belief that technique and control come first.
When students come in with an injury, whether it was sustained inside or outside of the academy, the first question they ask me is if they have to be done training. First and foremost, your actual treatment plan is something that should by your doctor. Feel free to make sure to educate your doctor on exactly what we do. Many doctors have no idea what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is, and if they have ever heard of it, they might have it confused with MMA. So, make sure they understand what you do, and work with you to create a reasonable & realistic recovery plan. (Except in the MOST EXTREME circumstances, the order to “never train again” is unreasonable.) Just like I’m not a doctor, your doctor is not a jiu jitsu practitioner. If your goal is to continue, let’s work together, along with any physical therapists, or recovery professionals, to help you achieve your goals.
Now, the REAL question to me is not, “Can I keep training during an injury?” The real question is “Should I keep coming in to the academy during an injury.” And while I’m not qualified to answer the first one, the answer to the second question is, “YES!”
As soon as you can physically make it into the academy, I want you there. Not only present, I want you gi’d up and on the mats with me. Your body may be injured, but your mind is not. I want to work with you to challenge your mind and think about jiu jitsu in a way that you CANNOT when you are actually physically practicing the sport. When you are watching and listening, you are LEARNING. You are seeing details that others miss and you’ll be helping your teammates learn.
Anyone who has ever taught anything will tell you that their own knowledge of their subject grew exponentially when they had to explain it to someone else. When you are injured, but participating in class like this, you will inevitably answer a question or two. Your brain will be challenged to understand the technique in an even more in depth way than you would if you were training.
Then, when you are physically able to start repping technique or training again, you will be SURPRISED that there is no rust to knock off. Your brain will be further ahead than you were before. Your conditioning will need to come back, but you won’t have taken any steps backwards, you won’t have fallen off the wagon, and your routine will have stayed the same. You are primed for a comeback during a time that MOST people quit. Coming into the academy while you’re injured is the KEY to continuing on the long journey and earning your black belt.
Despite the fact that this may seem like the obvious choice, your physical health is NOT the number one factor that will determine whether you achieve a black belt. Your MIND and your ROUTINE are far more important. Injuries slow the body but there is no reason why they should slow the growth of your mind or interrupt your routine. If you allow them to, that’s YOUR CHOICE alone.
If progressing and succeeding in jiu jitsu is important to you, protect your training routine as if it were a physical object. Don’t let people, injuries, outside influences mess with it. Don’t abandon it, don’t neglect it. Protect it, maintain it, and KEEP it.
Stability of routine is comforting and relieves stress. Coming into the academy is therapeutic. Your mind is occupied and you’re surrounded by people who care about you and support you. What more can you ask for when you are healing?
We have had students come into the academy during injuries and say how they just “Need” to be here. They feel better after just being present. The academy is a place of strength and collectively, your teammates can help bring you up and carry you through in a way that is much harder to do on your own.
At URSA Academy, we have had more than a handful of students going through cancer treatments while training. The treatment may stop the training temporarily, but that doesn’t stop them from coming in. They get strength from the teammates on the mat, and those on the mat have a beacon of inspiration sitting on the sidelines. It’s a pretty incredible transfer of energy and a powerful testament to the power of the TEAM.
So, if you’re injured, if you’re having a rough day, not feeling up to training full strength.. COME IN. Can’t do the Intermediate/Advanced class? Come to the first level BJJ class. Can’t do either? Gi up and come on the mats. I want you there. Let’s work together to make sure that the day you’re ready to train again, you’re further ahead than you were before.
See you on the mats.
This is a huge question.. I have two answers for this.. First, you need to identify yourself in one of the scenarios and the answer below it is my answer for you. (But then read them both!)
Jiu Jitsu Practitioner 1: If your goals are weight loss, stress relief, camaraderie, participation in a healthy hobby, something fun to do, a gym alternative & a great way to get in shape while learning something cool, & to improve, but you have no designated time frame.. So, roughly 90-95% of ALL Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners, then No, competition is NOT needed to progress in BJJ.
If you love coming to the academy and training, then there is no need to go outside of it to progress or get promoted. You will progress in your skill level & you will continue to earn belt ranks & promotions based on your dedication, consistency, effort, and skill level demonstrated in the academy.
Your decision to not compete has zero reflection on your love for the sport, your commitment to training, or you dedication to your success. I love golf. I take a few lessons & play twice a week when the weather is warm. I have things that I’m working on in my swing and I have goals that I’m trying to achieve. I want to break 70 this year and I’m working on it. I don’t play in tournaments & I haven’t since I got out of high school. I don’t need to play tournament golf to love golf.
You don’t need to prepare for and compete in tournament jiu jitsu in order to love jiu jitsu.
I believe that competition is a COMPLETELY SEPARATE skill. In many ways, competition is complementary, but it’s still separate. I was talking with Bernardo Faria a while ago about this and he told me about some of his training partners back in Brazil. He said he has guys that tap him and other world class competitors like a drum, but you have no idea who they are. They’ve never won anything big. They are strictly academy training partners who don’t compete.
They either choose not to enter tournaments or they enter but don’t win big. Some of them may not do as well because their game isn’t a tournament style game or mentally, that’s not their mindset. Maybe they don’t have the resources or time available to properly prepare for tournaments or travel to them. Either way, their tournament record has no reflection on their prowess in jiu jitsu and they have the upmost respect of their world class, big name training partners.
Now let’s talk about tournaments..
Jiu Jitsu Practitioner 2: If you are a former athlete who loves the challenge of competition.. if you weren’t an athlete but you like the idea of dedicating time to preparing for a tournament with more intense training, proper diet, supplemental lessons, etc.. if you find competition exhilarating.. if you aren’t afraid to learn from a loss, sometimes in front of your friends, family, training partners, etc.. Or if you can keep your head after a win, then tournament jiu jitsu might be for you.
Competitions are great. I don’t do them very often myself anymore because I am a Teaching Pro. My main focus is working with my students & helping them to reach their goals. I do genuinely enjoy tournaments and I compete once or twice per year. I like the mindset shift that comes during my preparation. I like the adrenaline rush in the bullpen & the feeling of stepping on the mat. I love looking across the mat and seeing that I’m competing against guys that I’ve watched compete for years. When I fought Comprido, I knew that 99 times out of 100, he was going to beat me, but I loved every minute of the match. I know guys like me who have fought Saulo in a tournament and have felt the same way. The best part may be after the match. Anytime I’ve fought any high level guys, we have always talked after, discussed the match, and shared a mutual respect. It’s honestly one of my favorite things about competing.
I love the whole experience. The 5-8 minutes on the mat is great, but the whole trip is what it’s all about. My favorite tournaments are the ones where we can bring a big team from URSA Academy, my family comes along, we can meet up with other Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu schools and compete together and make a weekend trip out of it. In my experience, the bigger and more professional the tournament, the healthier and more inspiring the vibe is that permeates the scene. People may do one local tournament and never compete again. If they do a regional IBJJF tournament, they tend to go again or want to try something bigger. Once they do the Worlds or the Pans, they are hooked for life. They may only do one tournament every other year, but it’s going to be the Worlds.
The more you do something, the better you get. (Assuming you are practicing RIGHT!) The more you train, the better you’ll get at jiu jitsu. However, that skill is not ALWAYS directly transferable to success in a tournament. The more you compete, the better you’ll do in tournaments. And THIS skill IS transferable to your skill progression back at home. Ultimately, if you want to compete well, you have to practice both skills. Competing in jiu jitsu, assuming that you are continuing your consistent training schedule at the academy BETWEEN tournaments, will make you better at jiu jitsu.
Thinking about trying a tournament? Make sure your mind is right. I’ve taken teams to a ton of tournaments over the years and I’ve seen a ton of people quit afterwards. Sometimes it’s because competing was their big goal that they were working towards and once they accomplished that, they were unable to move on to a new goal. They considered themselves, ‘done.’ I’ve seen people quit because their ego was unprepared for the possibility of suffering a loss. I’ve seen people quit because they built up unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of themselves that do not match their preparation. I’ve seen people quit because they were so embarrassed by their loss that they were afraid to go back on the mats with their coaches or training partners for fear that they disappointed them so much that they wouldn’t be welcomed back.
So, in order to avoid that, answer this question.. Who is it that wants to compete? Is it you? Or is it an outside person? Is it a parent, a friend, a training partner, a coach? If you are competing to appease or impress someone else, it will not help you improve. I believe it’s unhealthy and it will hurt or kill your progress.
I have been around this sport for a long time now. I can walk through a tournament and determine very quickly who is competing for themselves and who is competing for someone else. This has nothing to do with who takes it more seriously than others. But there are some telltale signs that will show you who is approaching a tournament with a healthy mindset eager to learn or an unhealthy amount of outside pressure.
Tournaments can create stress, they can turn into something you feel you need to do for self validation. People use language equating a simple jiu jitsu match to a mission, a battle, or war. This is not war.. This is not a battle.. This is a sport.. Something we do for fun.
There can be undue social media pressure.. We live in a unique time where people document everything online. And while it’s great to get support from family and friends and share our interests, a tournament isn’t an epic social media story either. Conor McGregor, Chael Sonnen.. these guys make a living out of hyping fights and increasing Pay Per View buys. The social media buzz they create is a method to increase their paycheck, nothing more. They have a passion for MMA, but at the end of the day, it is their job. After a fight, win or lose, they go home and prepare for the next one.
Jiu Jitsu tournaments are what you do to challenge yourself. Resist the urge to hype your fights, create social media beefs, or go crazy online before or after your matches. Focus on your match, focus on your goals, and remember your purpose and your goals. Everything else is just static that distracts from your progress.
Jiu Jitsu practitioners are notorious for social media tirades and elaborate posts because they don’t compete very often, maybe a few times per year. So, they allow themselves a ton of time to indulge these distractions. Football players do this a little bit.. Because they have a whole week before the next game. Baseball players rarely do this.. They don’t have time to waste going on social media explaining their error they made in the 7th inning and then thanking all of their sponsors, because they have another game in less than 24 hours. They just go to practice to make sure they are better next time.
In your entire life training jiu jitsu, if you are learning anything, you are going to tap way more than you’re going to win… including tournaments. Caio Terra said there is only one spot available for first place. Your reasons for competing have to be a lot more than trying to win first place otherwise, your disappointment will outweigh your progress and your jiu jitsu journey will end before it really gets started.
So, do you need to compete to progress in BJJ? No.. Will it help? Yes.. IF your mind is right.
I've been training for a few months and feel like I'm not making a lot of progress. Is this normal?...Read Now
People often question whether or not they are making progress because ‘progress’ is almost never the straight line trajectory that we have been conditioned to expect. Progress in anything challenging, progress in anything worthwhile is a roller coaster. Ups and downs are a NORMAL part of the process towards long term growth & development.
On our good days, we can say that to ourselves and say that we understand that we will all experience low points. BUT, when you’re in one of those valleys, it’s tough to remember that another peak is right in front of you. As you’ll remember from my blog article last week. The jiu jitsu journey is a long one and not everyone makes it through.
Before I get into giving you three tips to help you measure your success, I want to address quitting really quickly. This isn’t something that people talk about, but I think it’s important to share with you my feelings on the subject. Not everyone makes it to black belt, most people quit. BUT, that’s not because most people can’t achieve black belt. I truly believe that every one of my students has what it takes physically to earn one. The test comes from the mental side. “Can you see the peaks, when you’re in the valleys?” If you can, then congratulations, you’re on the path to black belt. If the valleys, and your subsequent frustration, threaten to overtake your whole mindset, then you’re standing in your own way & creating your own road block to black belt.
So, here’s my advice about quitting, when it’s ok, and when I believe you should push through. If you’ve given jiu jitsu a fair chance, (see below) & it’s not for you, that’s fine. There is no shame in liking something else better. BUT, I believe that you’ve only earned the right to ‘quit on your best day.’ If you are training well, having fun, competing well, and everything's going right, and at the end of the day, you still would prefer to do something else with your time, then jiu jitsu is not for you, and you’ve earned the right to walk away. My wife, Amy, is a blue belt and doesn’t train anymore. She might pick it up again at some point, but right now, she’s raising our kids and training fitness kickboxing. She didn’t quit on a bad day, in fact, not long before her last roll, she earned a stripe on her blue belt.
But, If you have a terrible tournament or awful training sessions, you can’t turn your back on your training, or turn your back on yourself. Quitting on your ‘worst day,’ is giving in to your own roadblocks. There’s no growth there and quitting then is doing a disservice to yourself.
So, how do you cope when you’re in a valley & you can’t see the other side? What do you do when you feel like you’re not making any progress?
Here are three tips that I use to help move this from a ‘feeling,’ to a measurable metric that can guarantee growth & progress.
1) Do you have consistency in your training schedule?
As you’ll remember from last week, consistency doesn’t need to be 6 classes per week. Consistency means that every week, rain or shine, summer or winter, good days or bad, you come in to train in the same number of classes. For most of my students, 2 to 3 classes per week is the perfect, sustainable number of classes. If you want more growth, faster, take a look at your training schedule. How many times per week are you actually training? (Not just thinking about training..) This seems strange, but a lot of people think they train more than they do. I’ve heard it many times before. People say they train 5 times per week, but they usually train 3 at the most. (If you’re unsure of how often you really train, you can ask at the front desk, we take attendance.)
This is the number one reason why we use rosters and encourage consistency in your schedule. When your training schedule is set in stone, you arrange the other things in your life around it. When you try to fit your training schedule around your life, you rarely make it. When was the last time you randomly found a few hours in your schedule? Never.. Schedule your training like you schedule your job or your school & you’ll be consistent.
2) Are you training to learn or training to win?
When you roll, are you working on the technique that I showed in the class, or are you doing your own thing? Imagine doing that in a traditional classroom situation. If you’re paying and going to class to earn a degree. And when the professor gives you a syllabus, you take a look at it and say, “Yeah.. That’s probably good for a lot of people, but I’ll figure out my own path… I watch a lot of Youtube..”
I will never understand how people think that makes sense.. If you’ve never done something before, how can you be the person who directs your own course of study? When you choose an academy, that’s something you should be looking for. Is the Professor someone I trust to direct my course of study? Can this person guide my development in the sport? It’s a huge responsibility, one that I take very seriously. I call myself a “Teaching Pro,” because I think that’s a position that needs to cross over into our sport. In golf, they have ‘touring pros’ that you see on TV every week, and ‘teaching pros’ who are the men & women who train everyone from the pros down to the hobby golfer. When you choose an academy, you’re choosing an environment that you love, a place that’s clean & professional, where you feel comfortable.. But you’re also choosing your ‘teaching pro.’ So, assuming that you have a Professor that you trust who takes pride in creating the best possible curriculum, trust their course of study.
Another side training to win is straight ego. I know this side from my own experience. There was a time at purple belt where I tried to win every match. I always did the same thing. I like the guard, and I knew my favorite and best submissions. I always went for the same thing and I tapped a lot of people with it. It was my goal to tap my partner with that same submission in every match. While repetition isn’t a bad thing on its own, I was NEVER working on understanding anything else. So, once my training partners learned my game, I couldn’t hit my go-to moves as much as I could before. I felt like I was getting worse because I couldn’t tap people at will. My training partners were uncovering my weakness and I didn’t like it.
My professors told me that I needed to open up my game and try new things. I hated the vulnerability and the fact that I was getting tapped more. But through that, I was rounding out my game and growing. It led me to a huge breakthrough and I reached another one of those peaks. The mental breakthrough of being unafraid to try new things in my matches is one of the biggest advancements I made as a purple belt.
Its through experiences like that that have guided me in writing curriculum for URSA Academy. I want people to find their style, but I want them to understand a little bit of everything. If you work what I teach, even when it’s not one of your favorite positions, techniques, or styles, you will be a better jiu jitsu player than if you stay in your comfort zone and always go for the same wins.
3) Put some numbers to your training...
To truly take “feel” out of the equation, we need to put some measurable numbers to you training. Don’t get me wrong, “feel” has its place. If you’re in a tournament and you lose a match, but we talk about the points where you did well and we feel that what you did was a ‘win’ & a learning experience for you, then you should feel good about that. But IN the academy, ‘feel’ can lie. You can feel bad when you tap, when you’re really learning. You can feel great when you win, but not growing. So, let’s put numbers to it.
Everyone in the academy should have the goal of training 20-30+ matches per week. We train 3 min. matches in class. Your goal should be to train 10 matches per class. Assuming you are healthy, try to be the first AND last person rolling on the mat. If you find yourself taking unnecessary breaks, sitting out, walking in the lobby, grabbing drinks, or spending more of your time talking about rolling than actually rolling, than you are slowing your own development. If you increase the number of matches you roll per class, then per week, you will see your development follow the same path.
This is one of the most common questions I hear at URSA Academy. Honestly, I’ve been hearing this question years before I opened our school. The canned answer here is 7-10 years. But if it were that simple, I wouldn’t have wasted my time writing a blog post about it. And I have enough experience answering it that I’m actually changing the question. It’s not “How long does it take to get a black belt?” It’s “How long does it take YOU to get a black belt?” That question is much more relevant, more accurate, and it will give you a ton of insight about yourself & what to expect throughout your journey in jiu jitsu.
First, let’s talk about the factors that can swing that 7 - 10 year estimate one way or another. Your skill level, natural talent, outside influences, family, etc. can ALL change how long it takes you to get a black belt. If you are a young phenom & an athletic specimen with a Division 1 wrestling background, a judo black belt, & an understanding of how to best leverage that background in jiu jitsu, AND you enter the sport humble, willing to learn, & willing to work hard, then you’re going to get your black belt faster than most.
If you are a father of 3 who trains 2-3 times per week as a way to stay healthy, have fun, be part of a team, & do something good for himself, you can also earn a black belt, it will just take a little longer.
All of those variables impact the amount of time it will take you to earn a black belt in jiu jitsu. BUT, the ONE factor that is consistent amongst all of my students, and in my opinion, the Most important factor that influences this promotion is consistency in your training.
Please don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not recommending that all my students train 6 times per week. (Unless you’re trying to be a high level competitor.) For 95% of my students, who are hobbyists or hobby competitors, I’m looking for a long term sustainable training schedule. Two - three times per week is enough.
I have a buddy that I trained with as a white belt who never trained more than 2-3 times per week. But the key to his success, is that he never trained less than that either. Today, he is a black belt professor of a successful academy down in Toledo.
For me, I had much bigger swings in my training. I can look back and see exactly how the frequency of my training and the consistency of my schedule directly impacted my promotions. I was a FOUR YEAR blue belt. At the time, I was working a ton of different jobs, sometimes making money, sometimes I was too broke to pay my training bill, I went to school, sometimes part time, others full time. Ultimately training was not my main focus, so I earned roughly a stripe per year.
Then came purple belt and a switch flipped for me. I started training hard. I was having a tough time finding real work, so I focused my energy on the only thing I could control. I poured all of my frustration into my training. I trained 6 days a week, sometimes 2x per day. In my first promotion as a purple belt, I earned 2 stripes. I was promoted to brown belt in a year and a half and jumped over an entire class of purple belts who had gotten their purple belts ahead of me.
I didn’t all of the sudden get more talented, I just outworked them.
As a brown belt, I started competing in IBJJF tournaments. My instructor, Saulo Ribeiro also asked me to open my own academy under him. My skills were there, but I had to get my head straight about what I was going to try to do with jiu jitsu. The biggest area of growth as a brown belt wasn’t in the guard or the mount position, it was in the 6 inches between my ears. I had to mature into a black belt.
Now that I’ve trained and promoted hundreds of students, I believe that you have to mature in every belt. This has nothing to do with age either. We work with people of all ages at URSA Academy, but if you’ve ever been promoted in the sport before, you understand that the feeling is different on the first day in your new belt, from the feeling wearing it 6 months, 1 year, 2 years later.
The elimination of the “belt chaser” mentality is one of the first signs of ‘maturation’ in jiu jitsu. Nobody asks me about promotions more than new white belts.. Followed closely by blue belts. By purple and brown, people rarely ask about promotions. At URSA Academy, we have monthly test & promotion weeks. My purple and brown belts train consistently during those weeks. It’s no different than any other week of training. White belts and blue belts always show up more that week than any other week.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t care what it is that brings you into class, as long as you come on the mats & train. If test & promotion week bumps up your attendance, good. Hopefully watching everyone working hard, seeing other people get promoted, & supporting your teammates will help motivate you train more. But showing up on test & promotion week only won’t increase the frequency of your promotion. Promotions may be awarded on test week, but they are earned on the weeks in between.
I love working with white and blue belts. As a coach, it’s the part of your journey where I can help my students the most. White and blue is tough road. You’re still learning the mental side as well as the physical game of jiu jitsu. The temptation to quit still creeps up every once in awhile when you hit a rough patch.
They often have to fight that feeling of ‘not getting better’ or actually ‘getting worse.’ White & blue belts can go through long stretches where they don’t SEE their progress. They don’t yet understand the long term up & down journey of jiu jitsu. They don’t understand that everything they are experiencing on the mat, all of these setbacks are actually piling up under the surface, stacking on top of eachother, building up pressure, until they burst forward with a huge breakthrough that catapults them to the next level.
Through the maturation process, you begin to understand what you know, & what you don’t. What you have to learn, & how to learn it. How you can grow your own game & how you can help others. Why are you doing this? What is your motivation? When you begin to answer these questions, the answers add up to tip the scales over from the extrinsic motivation that comes from belt promotions or physical medals to your own intrinsic motivation to train. We talk about this shift all the time in our sport, but you usually hear it called by the phrase, “getting bit by the jiu jitsu bug..”
Once you ‘get the bug,’ everything changes. Purple and brown belt are actually easier in some ways than white and blue, at least mentally, because you are no longer fighting the desire to quit. There are plenty of physical challenges & breakthroughs, training milestones, mindset challenges. But the ‘quit’ is gone.
When you hit black belt, you have to have answered all of these questions, experienced & overcome all of these obstacles. These are the obstacles that cause most people to quit along the way. You have to have maturity. And you have to understand that you’ve got more work to do on the other side of the black belt than all of the work you did to get there. And there are never anymore promotions to mark your progress. If you don’t have intrinsic motivation, the drive within yourself to improve with no desire for outward recognition, you’ll quit the day after you get your black belt.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is unique. In traditional martial arts, a lot of people who aren’t running a school really do quit training right after they earn their black belt. I hear it all the time from my students who have earned black belts in other martial arts. Brazilian jiu jitsu is such a long road, it requires a total transformation, & it becomes such an ingrained habit over a decade, that BJJ black belts tend to keep training long after they get that last major promotion.
Throughout my journey to black belt I kept hearing a line that I always thought was a cliche’. “The journey BEGINS at black belt.” I didn’t understand how that was possible because it took me 9.5 years to get my black belt. But I finally got it after one of my first tournaments as a black belt. I competed against Comprido. He was a reigning black belt world champion when I first started training. I can remember sitting on the mats with my friends as a white belt talking about how great he was. Fast forward 12 years.. Standing across from him on the mat, wearing the same color belt was surreal.
I lost that match, but I didn’t make HIS highlight reel. ;) That match gave me so much clarity to understand that my journey is, at most, half over. I have so much to learn as a black belt.
On MY journey, this stage of my development comes through helping my students achieve every level of success in their own games, a level of success they can’t necessarily picture on their own.
For anyone training with me at URSA Academy or through the BJJ Teaching Pro Online Academy, that’s my job as your professor; to guide your journey & help you not to fall or give up when you stumble along the path, coach you to train through the end of every round. Train every round until you can’t train any more, no skipping matches when everyone else is training. Train until you’re done. Push yourself to train more matches per day and make each day count. Try to increase the number of matches you do per day. 30-35 matches per week. Then work hard to make it your goal to be the last one training on the mat.
Maximize each training day & make it count. Then make every week consistent. Because consistent weeks turn into consistent months, which turn into consistent years… The challenge of getting your black belt is, in a lot of ways, more fun than ‘having’ your black belt. Every promotion is a different test & a different challenge. Enjoy every belt. You only wear it once.
The first time I started teaching jiu jitsu, I covered for someone else. I asked him what I should teach. He said, “Anything you want.” I wanted to do a good job so I picked 3 or 4 techniques that I really liked at the time and taught them all that day. Learning 3 techniques in one class was pretty standard where I trained. So, in order to do a really good job, I thought I would teach 4. I believed that more was better.
Years later, after I opened URSA Academy, I had to miss a class so I had a purple belt teach for me. I called him and asked what he taught. He told me that he taught his FIVE favorite arm bars or submissions that can come from an arm bar. FIVE TECHNIQUES in one class. He wanted to do a great job and blow people away with awesome stuff, so he packed as much as he could into a 90 minute class as possible.
There are two ways to be BETTER. Quantity.. or Quality. When you don’t understand how to improve ‘Quality,’ you err on the side of ‘quantity.’
I didn’t understand ‘quality’ when I first started teaching & neither did my guest instructor. In an average week, I did what I had always seen & heard. I threw a ton of techniques at people, roughly 3 per day, or 18 per week! If you’re training right now in an academy that teaches 3+ techniques per class, this scenario is probably pretty common. Warm up, learn a technique, break off into pairs, rep 2-3 times then sit & talk about it. Get back into the group, learn a new technique.. Then break off into pairs, ask your partner if they know the technique because neither of you were paying attention. Maybe rep 2-3 times, sit & talk, and wish you were rolling.. And then repeat the whole thing one more time for technique #3.. After that. You roll and NOBODY does ANY the techniques you just learned.
That’s the quantity approach. And it’s the most common BY FAR. Almost everyone does this. But in jiu jitsu, (and in most things,) knowing a little bit about everything will leave you coming up short really quickly. The phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind here.
The QUALITY approach is the best way to be successful. Period. There are examples of this at the highest level of any sport. Miguel Cabrera is a hitter. Steve Nash was a shooter, Dennis Rodman was a rebounder. We see the same thing in jiu jitsu. Roger Gracie takes people’s backs & chokes them out. Saulo Ribeiro takes mount & x chokes everyone. Rafa & Gui Mendes have their unique guard games. Of course, they know all styles, but they have perfected their own. That decision to focus one element and become the best at that thing has led all of them to the top of their respective sports.
When I began to understand the Quality Approach, I completely changed my teaching style. Over time, I went from teaching 18-20 technique to 2. In my most advanced class, which is offered 6 times per week, I teach 2 techniques per week. My goal is to set my students on the path to becoming experts on the techniques I teach. In private lessons, we niche this down even more. I work with each individual student to help them develop their own unique game. For example, if I’m working on more of a ‘smash’/power technique in our advanced class, and I’m giving a private lesson to a woman who is 103 pounds, our lesson is going to be about how to avoid getting smashed and getting back to positions that are more in her wheelhouse.
In our kids classes, I want them to be experts on self defense. I want them to be able to defend themselves in any position on the mat, or off. After that, one technique we like to work on is the simple arm bar. I want them to understand arm bars forwards, backwards, and upside down. We call them our little “arm bar hunters.” They should be so good at arm bars that they can spot them from everywhere, from the mount, the guard, the back, razors, etc. They may not know the latest Youtube submission, but they will be experts on a highly effective submission that they can apply from almost anywhere.
I always say that Saulo could teach a tutorial on his x choke and how to defend it. He could show it to his opponents, and still hit it on them in a tournament. He wins with simple techniques, not because it’s tricky, sneaky, or because people don’t know what’s coming. He wins because he’s the best in the world at what he does. How many hours do you think he’s practiced that top game in his life? I have no idea.. But from my personal experience training with him for years, I can tell you he’s practiced that game a lot.. I can’t count the number of times he’s x choked me.. But I can say it’s a heck of lot more than he ever trained inverted guard. QUALITY over Quantity.
At URSA Academy, and in my online curriculum The BJJ Teaching Pro, I developed a mind map that outlines the core techniques that jiu jitsu students need to be successful. People are often shocked when they see it because the number of techniques is pretty small. It seems like it couldn’t possibly be enough. When I first designed it, I wanted to outline the journey from white belt to blue belt. But by looking at the specialties of the greats like Roger Gracie and Saulo Ribeiro, I changed my mind. They used WHITE to BLUE belt techniques at the highest level and they won.
When you recognize the Quality Approach’s superiority over the Quantity Approach, you’ll understand that this mind map isn’t a beginner’s tool to be discarded when you get promoted to purple belt. Its the nucleus of your game that you’ll use for the entire length of your jiu jitsu career. And it’s the foundation for all of our curriculum for every program at URSA Academy.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu landscape is roughly 85%-90% men. (An ‘official’ stat may exist somewhere, but this percentage is my observation based on our numbers at URSA Academy, tournaments, and my experiences with the sport for over a decade.) Our academy actually has more women than most jiu jitsu academies, but more on that later.
Not only CAN women train, but I believe they SHOULD train. Men get so many benefits from their jujitsu training: physical fitness, weight loss, muscle tone, social interaction, friendships, emotional balance, stress relief, healthy hobby, etc. NOT ONE of those benefits is gender specific. Not only these, but I personally believe that there is no better form of practical self defense for women than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The main Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) positions, closed guard, mount, back, side, etc. all take place on the ground with one person dominating the other. When you picture some of the worst case scenarios, or attacks that can happen to women, many of these attacks involve positions that look very similar to jiu jitsu positions, most obviously ‘closed guard.’
I think that is one of the most common reasons I’ve heard from women about why they don’t want to train. While some of them enjoyed the technique, many women don’t like the close contact involved in live rolling. Knowing that the close contact and the realistic situations are what makes the training both ‘real-world’ practical and essential, how do we help women to overcome these barriers?
First, choosing the right jiu-jitsu academy is crucial to your success. It really is the make or break element to a woman’s future in the sport. As with most things, this part of the culture is led by the Black Belt Professor of the Academy. If he or she is respectful, encouraging, and inclusive of women, most likely, the entire academy will be as well. If the Professor makes you feel like the exception, or awkward, or too fragile, then it’s going to be very difficult to get the most out of your training experience at that academy.
Women’s Only classes are not essential… In fact, in my opinion, women’s only classes can limit the growth of female BJJ practitioners. This may be a little controversial, but I stand by my opinion. Our academy has one of the largest single academy women’s teams in the state of Michigan. Many of the women who train at URSA Academy have expressed that while they genuinely enjoy rolling with other women in class & their camaraderie off the mats, they would not want a separate class just for them. We actually had a women’s only class in the early days of our academy, but it wasn’t until after we dropped that class that our enrollment grew! It seemed that many women who self select into male dominated sports are looking for an inclusive environment, not a separate ‘club within a club.’ While I initially eliminated the class because our clients were not interested, I am now a firm believer in having everyone train together. In my experience, separate training has never produced equal results.
Both male and female BJJ practitioners benefit from rolling with a wide variety of training partners. Women, especially those learning for self defense purposes, need to practice technique on men. Men and women, even those who learn and practice in the same academy, roll very differently. It’s important for women to roll with men to understand how their physicality changes the game. For men, it’s important to roll with women because women rely much more heavily on technique, especially at the beginner levels. At the white and blue belt level, women are far more likely to push their ego out of the way, experiment, and try out new styles or the technique of the day in the end of class matches. Everyone has something they can learn from a training partner who approaches the sport from a completely different angle and the only way that learning can happen is when everyone is training together.
Although she’s not currently training since she gave birth to our second child, my wife, Amy, is a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. While we were dating, she came to my tournaments but mostly stayed out of the academy because jiu jitsu was “my thing.” It wasn’t until after we got married and opened URSA Academy that she decided she wanted to start training. She said to me, “You teach people self defense for a living and I know nothing. If something ever happened to me, I would feel so stupid to have had jiu jitsu at my fingertips the whole time and never learned anything.” So, she put on one of my old gis, and jumped in a class.
Amy told me that her interest in BJJ started with purely self-defense in mind, but she quickly realized that there was a lot more to it. She started toning up, losing weight, & getting in great shape. She loved feeling strong. Her confidence increased & she walked on to the mats excited for the next class and for the next challenge. She was a high school/college athlete & decided that she wanted to jump in and compete almost right away. Since she had competed so much in the past and I knew that win or lose, tournament nerves or results wouldn’t shake her, we both entered a tournament together in London, Ontario, Canada. We also competed alongside my Professor, Saulo Ribeiro. It was a great experience & something fun that we did together.
In a very short amount of time, Amy got to see every side of jiu jitsu. She continued to train for her own benefit in our classes and at one of our affiliate academies, she learned ground self defense, she competed, & then she started helping me teach the kids classes & writing our BJJ kids curriculum. So, from the beginning, she has been part of our Academy. When I was on the mats, she was in the front helping clients. Our students always saw our academy as a husband and wife team or a “mom & pop” shop. I never liked testosterone driven ‘meat head’ gyms anyway. So, when we started ours, I wanted everyone to feel welcome. Throughout the years, my wife and I have continued to work together to create a culture at URSA Academy that is comfortable for our whole family, and for both men and women to train & socialize together.
For any women looking to train, I highly recommend that you try out as many academies as you can to see where you feel comfortable. If you walk in and it feels like a ‘boys club,’ it probably is. You have to decide if that’s a place where you are going to feel comfortable, or if you think that environment will inhibit your own training and development. Then choose the academy where your professor & your team will support & encourage you, and you can comfortably train, learn, & grow as a BJJ practitioner.
Over my years of training, I’ve seen a LOT of trends come and go with BJJ protective gear. I’ve found that like most things, there aren’t many hard and fast rules. Most choices are more personal preference than necessity.
The most important ‘safety measure’ is usually the most overlooked. The number one thing you can wear to make sure that both you and your jiu jitsu training partners stay as safe as possible is a gi that is free of rips, tears, and holes. If a gi has holes or tears, fingers and toes can get caught inside the material and lead to dislocations and small joint injuries. Back when I wasn’t able to replace my gis as often as I do now, I used to throw a new patch on any spot that started ripping. There are International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rules for patch placements, but if it’s just a gi for training at home, it’s more important that it’s not going to catch on anything than having the patches in the proper places.
Likewise, all patches should be sewn on securely and double stitched. If one of your patches starts to fall off, sew it back on or rip it off. The in between could catch on something leading to twists, cuts, or similar small joint injuries to the ones I mentioned with ripped gis.
When you’re training no-gi jiu jitsu, keep these same guidelines in mind. It’s not mandatory that you wear a rashguard and spats. A t-shirt and gym shorts or even gi pants all work. As long as there are no rips, tears, loops, or anything that can trap a finger or toe, it’s going to be safe for you to train. In time, you’ll start to develop your own preferences for what you like to wear. But as long as it’s safe for both you and your training partners, I consider it acceptable training gear.
Moving away from the absolute necessities, the piece of safety gear that I really highly recommend is a mouthguard. It’s not technically mandatory, but honestly, I see no reason not to use one. I personally wear one every single time I roll. I started out using the ‘boil and bite’ mouthguards that you can get from the sporting goods stores. When my wife and I got together, I started wearing a custom mouthguard. My father in law is a dentist so he took impressions of my jaw and to this day, he makes all of my mouthguards.
The difference between boil and bite mouthguards and custom mouthguards is night and day. Boil and bites can be a little tough to roll with, I think that’s why a lot of people quit wearing them. Boil and bites are designed to be used with ANY sport. They are pushed up on the upper teeth and when you hold your mouth closed they will naturally stay in place. Unfortunately, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you’re on your back, upside down, moving quickly from one position to another and you might have your mouth open, they tend to move around. You’re not in the same positions in jiu jitsu as you are in other sports. So, the boil and bites tend to get jostled around and can feel like you’re going to swallow them or you have to concentrate too hard to keep biting them to keep them in place. It’s distracting, so jiu jitsu players tend to spit them out.
Custom mouthguards or mouthguards that stay in place that don’t require you to bite down and hold them in are great for jiu jitsu. I highly recommend them because even though our sport doesn’t have striking, bumps can happen by accident. Basic mouthguards can help protect you against a lot of the minor dental injuries that happen from those occasional bumps.
After mouthguards, the next most common piece of safety or protective gear that jiu jitsu players tend to wear is wrestling headgear to protect against cauliflower ear. I used to wear headgear from about 6 months into my training through my years at blue belt. I started wearing it initially because I had a couple of spots of cauliflower ear developing. Not everyone is susceptible to cauliflower ear, that bloated & puffy looking ear that is a characteristic of wrestlers, but I am. I’ve never liked the look of it, and I didn’t want to deal with any hearing issues that can come from it.
One strange part of jiu jitsu culture is that cauliflower ear can be a badge of honor in BJJ, wrestling, and grappling. While I never ‘wanted it,’ when I was in my early 20’s, I didn’t really care too much about preventing it either. For that reason, during that time, I was hit or miss about wearing my headgear. When I was about a year into my blue belt, on a day I had skipped wearing it, I had a pretty bad ear injury that required stitches. It was a weird accident where someone’s ankle bone pulled my ear forward & disconnect it. I needed stitches behind my ear to reattach the cartilage. After that, I wore headgear every day to keep that protected.
After I got my purple belt, I stopped wearing my headgear and I haven’t had any more problems. I was at a point in my game where my ear didn’t get aggravated in the same way that it used to. I’ve talked with a few of my other friends who are black belt academy owners and we all agree that around purple or brown belt, if you haven’t gotten cauliflower ear, you’re probably in the clear. By that time, you tend to not have your head wrapped as much as you did at the beginning. When you aren’t constantly defending and you get to play your offensive style, that’s usually a sign that you might be in the clear. Hard takedowns or a lot of pressure on your head can also cause ear injuries. Most people in jiu jitsu don’t wear it unless it’s absolutely necessary because it can be hot or a little uncomfortable, but headgear is an simple and effective way to avoid these types of minor ear injuries.
The only other piece of protective gear that I’ve ever worn is knee braces. In Ann Arbor, we are fortunate to be located across the street from the world headquarters of a wrestling gear company. They make great compression wraps that have no metal pieces but still provide good support against lateral joint movement. I had a minor issue with bursitis in my knee a few years ago. When that happened, I wore braces on both knees for about a year.
People come to jiu jitsu with a lot of previous injuries from other sports and activities. The best part about Brazilian jujitsu is that we can develop any game to suit your strengths and diminish your physical weaknesses or prior injuries. But, even when we develop a game that minimizes those issues, many people feel more comfortable wearing basic compression wraps on those joints that are a little weaker than the others. Again, as long as there is no metal in the brace that can hurt yourself, your training partners, or rip the mats, you’re free to wear any brace that makes you feel more comfortable and protected.
Speaking of protection, I haven’t mentioned the use of cups. A lot of people assume that all male jiu jitsu players wear them based on the nature of our sport. Despite the physical contact that we have when we roll, cups are actually highly discouraged in the academy and they are not allowed at all in tournaments. As I said before, for the safety of your training partners, any brace has to be soft sided and not have any hard pieces. The entire cup is made out of hard plastic. They were outlawed in competition because people were taking top positions on their partners and pressuring the cups into people causing injury, even breaking noses.
If you watch competitors get ready for tournaments or even get ready to roll in the academy, you’ll see a lot of people taping their fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, etc. Some people go through a TON of athletic tape to wrap up just about everything. I know a lot of people who swear by this taping method to protect against small joint injuries. I don’t personally do it, but there is nothing wrong with the practice and it can’t hurt anyone else, therefore it’s fair game.
I hate to use this cliche’ but the best protection is prevention. If you find that your fingers are getting hurt, that’s a sign that you’re relying too much on your grips. Don’t overcommit at the expense of your fingers. You can always let go and grip again.
If you find that you or YOUR training partners are constantly getting bumped and bruised and no one else is having that problem, slow down. Focus on rolling smoother with more fluidity.
If your jaw is getting hurt because you’re tucking your chin to defend when someone is applying a choke, that’s YOU putting yourself in a bad position. At that point, you are too late, you lost, and you need to tap to protect your jaw and to tell your partner that they completed the technique. THAT’S ALL A TAP REALLY IS, a signal that the move is completed correctly.
If you’re rolling with me, I would personally never pressure your jaw for a tap, but, it is not your training partner’s responsibility to make sure that you’re comfortable during the choke and in a tournament, your opponent will pressure down on it all day long if you’re applying this ‘bandaid defense’ of a choke. Like we always say, at that point, you didn’t lose because of the tap. You lost because you allowed yourself to get into a bad position probably 2 minutes before the submission happened. If you’re finding that submissions are hurting or uncomfortable, there is a simple fix, tap sooner. Don’t let your ego cause physical pain or injury.
If you have any questions about any of the protective gear that I mentioned in this post, please contact us at URSA Academy. We would be happy to help point you in the right direction & hook you up with the appropriate gear that will allow you to practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as safely as possible for many years to come.
With summer approaching, it’s important to have a 'refresher' on proper gi cleaning and the procedures we have in place to maintain high standards of cleanliness at the Academy. The truth is, this is important all year round, but for some reason, this issue always comes up more in the summer.
First, to answer the question directly, you should be washing your gi every time you wear it. Its also important to wash your gi immediately after training. I remember a student years ago who complained that he could never get his gi smelling fresh even though he washed it before every class. I thought "before every class" sounded strange, so I asked him to go through his exact steps after each class and describe how he washed his uniform. He told me that he changed back into his street clothes after training, threw his gi in his trunk, then on the day of his next class, he would take out his gi and wash it. He thought that washing it closer to class time would make it smell more like detergent, but he didn't realize that letting the gi sit wet in his hot trunk for two days was the exact opposite way to make his gi smell better.
Our coaches at URSA Academy go through proper cleaning methods with every new client, but I wanted to go through them again just so everyone knows exactly how and why we do what we do. First, even before you put on your gi, it's important that YOU are clean. If you come from work at your office job, there is most likely no need for you to shower before training. However, if you're working outside in a labor job, you're visibly dirty, or you go to the gym or for a run before training, please be courteous to your training partners and shower before class.
When you arrive at the academy, please change from your street shoes into your academy sandals or flip flops. The only place we allow bare feet is on the mat. Shoe racks are available next to each mat. Please wear your academy sandals every time you step off the mat to make sure that the mats stay as clean as possible.
We clean and disinfect the mats every day, sometimes more than once depending on the classes that happen during the day. We do our part to keep them clean. We appreciate that everyone does their best to keep the dirt, rocks, and bacteria from the outside world off the mats to make for a cleaner and safe training space.
Under the gi, I personally like to wear a rashguard and spats to create an additional barrier between myself and the gi. I've found that it keeps my gis smelling better and helps them to last longer. I highly recommend that all students wear some sort of compression clothing under their gi to absorb sweat and add that additional layer between your skin and your partner. Although we all know that jiu jitsu is a close contact sport, your partners also appreciate that extra layer of sweat absorption when you're rolling.
During class, if you're a person who sweats a lot, feel free to bring a small training towel to wipe your hands, head, & neck between training partners or whenever it’s needed. This will help you to keep the grips & have a little more control.
After class, I recommend washing your gi as quickly as possible. I personally have a washer and dryer at the academy. But, before that, I used to walk in my house carrying my gi and put it immediately in the washer without ever setting it down. Carry your gi home in a bag that you can throw in the washer as well. If you're washing the gi every day but you throw it in a gross bag before and after class, you're taking one step forward and two steps back. So stay consistent and clean it all.
This brings us to the 'big controversy' about whether or not to wash your belt. Basic cleanliness standards say, wash your belt. Because even though it’s not directly touching your skin, its absorbing sweat from the gi and growing its own farm of bacteria and funk. Traditional martial arts culture says that you should never wash your belt because it will 'wash away the experience.' (The tradition is a little more complicated than that,) but it’s a strong enough belief and superstition in our sport that most people do not wash their belts after every class. The truth is, that you should. We all should. But I would be lying if I said that I did. I do however air out my belts. I have multiple belts that I wear on rotation. After every class and let my belt dry completely before storing it. When the weather is warm, I leave my belt outside to sit in the sun which kills a lot of the germs, up to 99% depending on the source of the research. I wash my belt occasionally, when my wife throws it in the washer, after a particularly tough training session, or whenever I feel like it's needed.
Lastly, the question I hear all the time is HOW should I wash my stuff so I get everything clean but I don't shrink it to doll clothes. In my experience with gis, I think they all shrink. Some brands keep shrinking for life, others stop shrinking eventually. Sometimes I notice that blue or black gis shrink a little less, but the color can fade. Ultimately washing your gi can feel like a bit of a minefield.
Personally, after the first few washes in cold water, I wash everything on warm and I dry them on low heat in about 20 minute intervals until they are about 90% dry. I like to check them every 20 minutes or so, so that I don't have any surprises. You don't want to over-dry them or overheat them. After trying everything, simply washing and drying immediately after training is the best way to get them clean. I'm not afraid of gis shrinking a little bit in exchange for making sure my stuff gets clean. Cold water sets the color and holds the sizes a little better, but my gis smelled after a while. For me, the cold water just didn't clean my gi as well as I wanted. So, I think the reward of a clean, good smelling gi, outweighs the risk of a little shrinking and fading.
A lot of people use special detergent, borax, scented drop in crystals, white vinegar, and just about any kind of laundry booster you can think of. After years of trying everything, I finally landed on using just regular laundry detergent. It works fine. When I first get a new blue or black gi, I add white vinegar to the first few cold water washes just to set the color, then I switch to warm water. But for me, I've found that the key to gi longevity is just having multiple gis and rotating them out. If you have one gi, it’s going to need to be replaced faster if you wash and wear it every day. Either it will smell over time, even with proper washing, or it will start to fall apart because of the washing.
If you've committed to training jiu jitsu a lot, it’s important to have multiple gis. If you are training in more than one class per day, bring multiple gis to the academy. I teach more than one class per day and I typically wear 2-3 different gis per day depending on the intensity of the class. Again, it’s all about making sure that I'm keeping the mats as clean as possible and being courteous to my students and training partners.
A little bit of effort goes a long way to make sure that the academy stays as clean as possible and we limit the possible exposure to standard contact skin issues. This is an issue that we take very seriously at URSA Academy. If you have any questions about our standards for cleanliness or the cleaning and disinfecting procedures that both our staff and our professional cleaning crew follow, please contact any member of the URSA Team.