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.



An Experiment with Caffeine

Two weeks ago, I took a little less than 6 hours and listened to Daniel Pink’s new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He wrote this book to fill a void in the How To world that has come to dominate the self help and self improvement landscape: when do we do these things that we have learned how to do?

Not too surprisingly, many of us operate on a U curve.  We begin the day at a high level of thinking and functioning, hit a midday trough filled with yawning and a lapse in your analytical abilities, followed by a little rejuvenation at the end of the day.

Last week, I decided to experiment with some of the wisdom that his research suggested. He brought up coffee in his book and as a connoisseur of the beverage, I perked up when he began speaking about this (bonus: Dan Pink reads his audio book).

There are a few times during the day that your cup of java will be most effective.  On the flip side, there is a time in which it might feel effective, but it is actually not doing the body good.  This time, oddly enough, was when I was drinking coffee.  As such, I wanted to see if there was any truth to this.

The Best Part of Waking Up

When you first awake, our bodies begin producing cortisol.  Cortisol is a hormone that wakes up the body and gets us ready for our day.  According to the research, drinking coffee immediately upon waking up interferes with the body’s natural production of cortisol.

So, it is best to wait 60-90 minutes after you wake up for that first cup of coffee.  This is when the body takes a nose dive in the production of cortisol.

The first few days of waiting 60-90 minutes for that first cup was NOT FUN.  However, it did get easier, and I do feel great after a week of experimentation.  Good enough, in fact, to continue the habit.

In my mind, my body is responding with, “What is this?? You’re finally letting me do my job in producing cortisol for you?  HOORAY! I’m glad you finally got the memo!”

Nap Time!

Sometime in the 2-3 PM time slot (this differs from person to person) is when most of us hit a serious trough. Unfortunately, the majority of us do not have the luxury of scheduling a siesta during this time.

What may be in your power, is to never schedule anything that will take analytical thought during this time. If you can, schedule a break.  Optimally, you have a zero gravity chair that can fold up and stow away in your office like mine.


Which brings me to what Daniel Pink calls the nappuccino.  It takes about 25 minutes for the caffeine from a cup of coffee to kick in. So, sometime in that 2-3 PM range, down a cup of coffee, and kick back for a snooze. It generally takes about 7 minutes for us to fall asleep, and then 15-18 minutes later, the caffeine kicks in to wake you up, and you have the most productive afternoon and evening that you’ve had in years.

I’ve been experimenting with the nappuccino for a lot longer than a week, as I heard about this a while ago, but I took it up a notch and tried my best to incorporate it into every day last week.

You can bet that next semester, I will not be scheduling anything between 2 and 3 PM if I can help it.

From personal experience, I am still amazed at how focused and energized I am after successfully pulling a nappuccino off.  The 25-30 minutes it takes to get this done is minuscule in comparison with the amount of work you accomplish after the fact.

For some of you, it will take training. You are not nappers, you tell yourself. Neither was Daniel Pink. He hated napping. In his book, he describes how he eventually embraced the nap and how it has changed his life.

For a quick, 115 second video of Daniel Pink describing the ideas above, check out his Pinkcast 2.15.  He also provides links to further research on the science behind these ideas.

-This blog was written after a nappuccino. 

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.

No Hardware, No Problem

Today, I competed in my very first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament.  Grappling Industries put on a round robin format tournament in Kansas City. My white belt, 170lb, Gi division had 4 other competitors.

I went into this tournament with a clear goal in mind. I wanted to survive all of my matches. That is, I wanted to last the entire 5 minutes without being submitted (or until I was able to perform a submission).

My first match was against a very tough competitor, and I remember being trapped in the same position for at least a minute.  I could hear teammates and/or my coach reminding me to breathe.  This was good advice.  I concentrated on breathing a while.  The match was not a high scoring match.  When time was called, I remember thinking that I had met my goal!  I had survived.

Bonus: I won my first match by a few points!

I sat down to compose myself when the table called out my name and told me my 2nd match was up next.  Holy shit.

In hindsight, I could have requested that I be given a little more time to recuperate.  In practice, we are given only a minute to recuperate.  I was given over 5.  That’s going to have to be good enough, I told myself.

My second match was against the eventual winner (and winner of the Absolute Gi he had competed in at he beginning of the tournament).  I knew it would be difficult to survive.  After a little bit of parrying back and forth on our feet, I got in a deep double leg take down.  This is great if you’re in wrestling.  In BJJ, they are not all that great unless you have both legs to one side and you’re not in the middle of them with your head outside to be guillotined in under a minute.

I didn’t survive.  Shake it off and move on.

Before my 3rd match, I had a longer rest time.  This helped.

My 3rd match was much more active, as I was able to get take-downs, work a little side control, get a sweep after losing side control, and work on a submission (that did not come to fruition). Again, when time expired, I got excited.  I survived again!

Bonus: I won my second match.  This time by a wider margin of points.

During the fourth match, I got too excited.  I got a take down and side control, and was applying a lot of top pressure, but didn’t quite get room for a submission.  More action, which led to more points.  Perhaps this got to my head?  Perhaps I let my guard down?  I was ahead by a wide margin.  He grabbed my lapel from the bottom position and applied such an effective cross choke on me that I had to tap out.  Except… I guess I didn’t tap out.

I took a nap instead.

It is quite bizarre coming to with the ref holding and shaking your feet in the air while staring your coach in the eyes.

“I had a dream, coach.”

“Did you solve all the world’s problems?”

“Maybe. I got a good start on it, at least.”

I didn’t survive.  Grappling Industries doesn’t allow naps in the middle of matches, surprise, surprise. The experience was a great one though.

When I checked the standings, the first place finisher had won all four matches, and three of us won 2 and lost 2.  Because the other two competitors had won one of their matches by submission, they were awarded 2nd and 3rd place.  So, no hardware for the points guy.

You know what… no problem.  I’m happy having the experience.  The camaraderie of having your teammates all around you is indescribable.

Many would come away from this thinking that they need to obviously work on submissions.  If they could have submitted one of their opponents, they could have been in the running for 2nd or 3rd place.  But I didn’t come away thinking this.

I came away thinking I need to keep training and focusing on surviving and not getting myself into positions where I can be submitted.  If I could have survived all 5 minutes of all of my matches, I definitely could have won 3.

I’m a white belt. I just need to survive. Submissions will come in due time.

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.