The Tribal Element

If an outside observer happened to look into a specific building around 6:25pm on Tuesday, May 1st, this is what they would have seen.

A bunch of individuals wearing different colored Japanese pajamas, with different colored belts, were lined up in two rows.  On a closer inspection, the observer may have noticed all those wearing white belts were lined up in the row against the wall, and the row in front of them had other colored belts (blue, purple, brown).  Standing out front, the leader of the group was wearing a black belt.

On this particular day, the leader called one of the white belts forward, took a piece of athletic tape, and wrapped it around a small black portion of the white belt. A sentiment was shared, others clapped, and the individual returned to the line along the wall.

Then there was running in circles, some sort of interpretive dance, and then quite a lot of very intense cuddling.

So what is this observer supposed to take from this?  What happened?  What does this mean to these individuals?

The Tribe

Within the tribe, this ritual has very specific and special meaning. Each time a teammate gets a stripe or moves up a belt, it is a promotion.  It is a sign of progress.  Although the individual is singled out in this moment and recognized in front of his/her teammates, it is understood on a tribal level, that this was a collective effort.

The tribe must exist before the individual.

In my previous post, Evaluating a New Venture, I introduced a very important and key component of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is a deep tribal aspect. I became interested enough that I wanted to look more into this instinct that is within us all.  Indeed, this is an evolutionary trait that we all have.

In Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, he describes the early human tribes, and the consequences and rewards of such instinctual behavior.

Junger outlines three basic human needs that keep us all from going crazy:

  • They need to feel competent at what they do.
  • They need to feel authentic in their lives.
  • They need to feel connected to others.

It is that third necessity that he really dives into, observing right away that “modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”

This necessity is a root cause of PTSD in combat veterans. They go from a situation of intense interdependence within their troop, one in which they serve a crucial and necessary role, to the society just described.

It is this connectedness, camaraderie, and closeness that ignites the passion for Jiu Jitsu. This tribal feeling is powerful.  It is why combat veterans feel compelled to go back. It is why some teammates have turned down great offers elsewhere in their careers or lives.

We are born with a sense of the pleasantness of friendship just as other things. In the same way as there exists in man a distaste for solitude and a craving for society, natural instinct drawing one human being to another, so too with this there is something inherent in it that stimulates us into seeking friendships.



Grappling With The Nerves

With Victory Grappling Championships this weekend, my second Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament, there is a certain level of nervousness to which I feel many of you can all probably relate.

This often happens before a big event, whether it is an important presentation, interview, performance, or athletic competition.  The nerves strike, and sometimes they strike pretty hard.

As an academic, I’ve had countless presentations that I’ve given, which include each and every lecture in my statistics and math courses. I have also competed in many races in my adult life, including several triathlons. These BJJ tournaments are new to me, and because of this newness, their is a new set of nerves to deal with.

Since a high level of nervousness can hinder your performance, it is probably a good idea to find some ways to cope.

Embrace the Nervousness

For someone to not be nervous about a big event approaching is unusual, and can actually be a sign of apathy.  As soon as these new set of nerves arrived at my doorstep, I invited them in for dinner.

If you are going to be in the game of presenting, performing, and/or competing, you will need to accept the fact that you will get nervous.  The best way to accept this fact, is to embrace and get to know that nervousness like an odd family member or neighbor (like Kramer on Seinfeld).

They are much easier to manage if you just let them in, and sit at the table.  When you try and combat them, they begin to argue with you, mess with you in all kinds of inventive ways, and make the situation awkward and even more unsettling.  You can try your best to kick them out on the street, but they sneak around the back door and end up at the dinner table anyway for a very unpleasant evening.

It is best not to fight them.  Get to know them well enough that you can laugh at their ridiculous antics.

Embrace the Now

Your thoughts will inevitably shift toward the presentation/event itself.  You will think about how things could go wrong. What if you fail?

If you think about all the presentations (performances/events) that you’ve given (competed in), and try and remember your frame of mind during the presentation (performance/event) itself, I bet you will arrive at a simple answer. Your mind was focused on the moment.  It wasn’t wondering and worrying about the end, or the post presentation (performance/event) praise or fallout.

It was embracing the now.

That’s what your mind should also be doing as it leads up to the big event.  It should focus on your preparation, the down-time, and the much needed sleep that your body desperately needs in situations like these.

Keep your mind in check.  It will drift back to the future and cause worry.  It takes practice in getting it back to the present.

Sometimes, when it does drift to the future, I like to fast forward it a bit more to after the event is over.  Remember all those feelings you’ve had post presentation and/or post performance/competition?  Whether you bombed your presentation or performance, or lost miserably in your competition, did you ever think, “hey, all those nerves were completely justified”?

Regardless of the outcome, you most likely wondered why you were so nervous in the first place?

Embrace Your Best

Since all that you can give is your best, embrace that idea.  You are going to go and do your best.

If your mind drifts to the future, you can quickly think of this inevitable outcome before returning your thoughts to the now: you will have done your best.  That is all that is important.

Embrace Your Insignificance

Put yourself in the other’s shoes, who will be watching your presentation/performance/event.  How would you react to a failure?

You move on, and eventually, you forget it. You also wonder what did that dude have to be nervous about?

2 Hobbies, 1 Day

Saturday, April 28th will be a busy day.

Parkville Microbrew Festival

A few months ago, Erin and I committed to attending the Parkville Microbrew Festival in Parkville, MO. It takes place at English Landing Park in Parkville, with tasting going from 1-5pm this year.

The Greater Topeka Hall of Foamers will be serving 17 of the club’s beers, two of which will be mine.  One is called Sgt. Gerry Boyle Irish Ale, named after a character in one of my favorite movies: The Guard.  The other is called Kaw Valley Singletrack, which is an American Red Ale in the spirit of Lakefront Brewery’s Fixed Gear.

Tickets are $35 in advance (through the link I provided above) or $45 at the gate while space and supplies last.

Victory Grappling Championships

The day before my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Kansas City, my coach posted an event beginning at 9:30 AM on Saturday, April 28th.  It is the Victory Grappling Championships that will be at the Parkville Athletic Complex.

What are the chances?  My two passions in life converge on the same small town in Missouri, separated in time just enough that I could make both happen if I want to.

Last night, I decided to do just that and registered for the tournament.  It will be over a month since my first tournament, and I’m itching for some more competitive experience.

There is a little information about the event on Facebook, and a place to register here.  It costs $50 for a single division or you can do both Gi and No Gi for only $10 more.

Interested in one and curious about the other?  Come check either or both out!

An Insight and An Equation

Over my Spring Break, there were a few moments where I felt enlightened. Both came during a physical activity during which I was listening to a podcast.

The first insight, I could not remember the reference.  It goes something like this:

Your task at hand isn’t the task at hand. It is what is keeping you from addressing and completing the task at hand.

The Task at Hand

Let’s take losing weight as an example.  Many people desire greatly to lose weight.  However, that is not these individual’s task at hand.  Losing weight is straight forward: exercise more and stick to a diet plan.

The task at hand is getting your entire being into a place in which those two things are part of your daily routine.  This is a monumental task for many.  It can include (but is certainly not limited to) the following:

  • Accepting the fact that you need to change your habits and mindset.
  • Taking steps to change your habits and mindset.
  • Making changes in your lifestyle that promote your newly developing better habits and mindset.
  • Manipulating your newly formed habits into something sustainable.

This game never ends. Even for those that already have the great habits and mindset. The clock goes off.  It is time for your run.

The task at hand is not going for a run.  It is convincing your body to put the workout clothes on, followed by the running shoes. Now you need to convince your body to get outside.

Only now is the task at hand going for a run.

This process never goes away, but it does get easier with practice.

The Equation

The following equation is not mathematical! So, you don’t need any mathematical ability to understand it.  In fact, if you are mathematically inclined in any way, you may scoff at the following equation and think, “That isn’t an equation!”

This comes from Tim Ferriss’s podcast with Joe Gebbia, the co-founder of AirBnB.  It is a fantastic podcast that I recommend, as Joe tells some great stories.  One of my favorites is of a prank he pulled in high school involving playing some Pink Floyd over the PA system.

One of the things he mentioned was the following equation:

(SW)^2 + WC = MO.

He frames it in terms of entrepreneurs, but it can apply in so many other areas of life.  The equation is interpreted as follows. When you have an idea, in terms of who will embrace and love your idea…

 Some Will, Some Won’t…  Who Cares?      Move On.

I’m not much of an entrepreneur, but I loved this equation.  I immediately thought of how it applied to simply living your life. Living life in a way of belonging and not begin accepted. Live your life the way you want.

Some will accept the way you are, some won’t.  Who cares about how that split happens?  Move on, and be the person that you want to be.

Limiting Your Focus

There is a story that Saulo Ribeiro tells in his book Jiu-Jitsu University about Helio Gracie at age 90. Helio told Saulo,

Son, you’re strong, you’re tough, you’re a world champion, but I don’t think you can beat me.

Although the 90 year Helio wasn’t about to beat Saulo, he simply stated that Saulo couldn’t beat him.  And Saulo couldn’t. Helio survived. Saulo could not impose his game on the 90 year old Helio.

This taught Saulo a very valuable lesson: the importance of survival and defense in the art of jiu-jitsu.

In turn, I hope that it also teaches all of us a valuable lesson as well.

The Basics

When learning something new and exciting, it is very tempting to dive head first into the vast ocean of your endeavor. This leaves us thrashing about here and there, with no real direction, lost in a seemingly infinite sea.

Perhaps it might be better to first build a sturdy boathouse and dock, and make sure that it is well kept.  Without these basic building blocks, we have nothing to land on or come back to.

As a beginner, it is tempting to want to take on the ocean right away. But it is best to limit our focus on the basics.

In Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he describes a writing assignment that a student is assigned. She is supposed to write an essay about her home town, but can’t do it. When the teacher changed the assignment, and instructed her to write about a brick in the opera house on a small block in her home town, the words began to flow.

Josh Waitzkin used the above reference in his book The Art of Learning. He applies the idea of limiting focus to martial arts in the chapter “Making Smaller Circles” (this chapter name was the inspiration of the featured image for this post):

We watch completely unrealistic choreography, filmed with sophisticated aerial wires and raucous special effects, and some of us come away wanting to do that stuff to. This leads to the most common error in the learning of martial arts: to take on too much at once.

As a brand new student in jiu-jitsu, I try my best to limit my focus on surviving and defending. This takes quite a long time. I had to tap out several times during a class a few weeks ago. Surviving and defending is tough enough!

Coach Criqui emphasized this same sentiment during a recent class, describing the confused state that students get themselves in after watching 20 YouTube videos of moves they want to practice.  He, too, encouraged us to limit our focus.

The Instructor’s Dilemma

There are several BJJ Academy instructors I’ve listened to on The Grappling Central Podcast.  Many of them share a common sentiment: the struggle to drill and teach what should be taught versus drilling and running the program in a way that keeps students coming back.

Drilling basics, defense and survival strategies may get students in the door, but unfortunately, most of us don’t have the mindset of limiting our focus. We come in wondering how we’re going to compete and beat the instructor before we’ve learned how to defend against getting choked. Better yet, how to avoid positions that will lead to getting choked.

We want to dance before we can walk. We want to navigate the vast sea without a boat or a dock.

Students see where they want to be. Instructor’s know and understand the path the student needs in order to get there.

The successful student will work hard, think hard, and put the necessary time in, allowing their instructor(s) to lead them along the path the instructor knows so well.  They limit their focus and stay on the designed path.

Students who look for and take shortcuts and alternative routes will inevitably get lost and not succeed in the way they had initially set out to.

Stay on path. Limit your focus.