Friday, January 23, 2015

Becoming a Black Belt ...

BJJ is not an art that gave up rank easily - a BJJ black belt was something earned only by those prepared to undertake an extraordinary effort - at least on the4 landscape that that I came from. It wasn't a 'business' qualification - it was a reward for extraordinary effort. Times though, may be a-changing! I have been accused by some people, of 'being difficult' in regard to awarding rank .. but those that accuse me of that, are of a generation of martial artists who look at the black belt as something that everyone should be able to achieve - and that it should be 'gotten', and not earned. I do not sit in judgement of such people - those kind of people can do what they want - but the legacy I want to leave, holds to a standard that the Machado Brothers have set; one that I hold to, as do many other BJJ black belts. But as I said - times, they are a changing! if anyone wants a Black Belt - they can simply go buy one. if one wants to become a BJJ Black Belt - that is a different matter entirely - they need to do the work; stay the course - and avoid the temptation of jumping to another instructor just for the carrot of a shiny black band of cotton. I am very proud of the many Black Belts that I have had the privilege of being able to guide on their journey ... I feel that they too, are happy they walked the 'path less travelled'. getting a black belt is easy - becoming a black belt is something else entirely. JBW

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Being THIS ... but wanting THAT ...

Being THIS … but wanting to be THAT … can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Wanting to be something other than what we are can cause stress and underpin bad behaviour - it can lead to jealousy and can change people for the worse - I’ve seen it happen; and I’ve seen it happen with otherwise excellent people. But …
Wanting to be something other than what we are can also drive us positively toward our goals; it can trigger changes that lead us toward better versions of ourselves. It can drive us to train harder and with more focus, to improve and to inch our way toward a better life for ourselves and for our families.
We all want to improve our situations. It’s a natural progression from the survival-state. But it is worthwhile asking sometimes - at what cost? And to what end? Life is short - we all want to get it as RIGHT as we can … but as I have said before, it’s who we become on the journey to our goals - that ultimately defines who we are and how happy we can be. Ultimately, history, the community (as well as friends and family) will judge each of us. I like to think that we can all bring something to the table ... we all have the potential to leave the world a better place for our having lived in it. This is a simple but worthy cause. JBW

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Compare Not ...

Comparing ourselves to others - although somewhat a natural tendency - can be a corrosive way to live our lives. 
The fundamental fact that we need to embrace is, apart from the very odd exception, there are always others better off than we are or further along the track than we are, in any given aspect of our lives - and likewise, there are those worse off or further behind on the track than we are, in any given aspect of our lives. 
It’s helpful to compare ourselves to others in ways that allow us to identify how we might improve or better our circumstances - but that is very different from bemoaning about or begirding others for succeeding we have yet to succeed. I loathe to say it - but the so-called tall-poppy syndrome is alive and well on the martial arts landscape.
My preference is to spend time in the company of people who are not of this mindset - who rather, applaud and encourage others to be successful, even in those areas where they themselves struggle. Personally, I can say with complete assurance, that I have always admired other people’s success; it is in fact, very difficult for me, to even imagine what it must feel like to envy others - I have never experienced that emotion. 

Each of us has their own strengths and weaknesses, both on and off the mat. Encourage others when they succeed … work quietly on doggedly ourselves in those areas that are important to us …. deny envy, jealousy and tall-poppy thoughts if ever they should arise. We are all unique. JBW

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The ripples are not the stone ...

When we are ‘on mission’ - that is, moving with purpose toward a goal - there are many, many side (precessional) effects. My favourite example (from Buckminster Fuller) is the Honeybee example: the bee, in it’s pursuit of pollen, is the cause (probably unknowingly) of a hugely important side-effect that benefits the world - that is, cross-pollination of flowers - which in turn, creates more flowers - which in turn, allows the bee to collect more pollen … and so it goes. Bottom line is this: the cross-pollination effect is not the reason the bee does it’s thing - it is just a ‘side benefit’ - even though it’s importance may seem almost immeasurable. 

Warren Buffet (great investor) probably doesn’t give much of a hoot about the silo’s of money he could spend if he chose to do so - that money is almost certainly, just a side-effect of him doing what he loves to do - playing the investment game. The playing of that game is what gets him up in the morning - not the money - for sure! Ignorant people can easily misunderstand what is really going on here - and point derisively at Buffet and ask ‘what’s an 80 year old guy doing obsessing about making even more money?’ That would be like asking the bee why it is obsessed with cross-pollinating flowers. The bee, if it could speak - would probably ask - flowers? What flowers? And what is this cross-pollination thing you speak of?’. Purpose-driven living has ramifications … but let’s not confuse the effects of purpose-driven living with the power of pursuit, from which they flow! The ripples are the not the falling stone ... JBW

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Extracting value ..

Some people extract more value from things than other people ... and usually, those that do are the kinds of people who innately understand the concept of leverage. 'Leverage' is about 'moving a lot with a little' - moving a big object with a smaller object - etc. Arriving (by way of thinking) at how e can reap value from the things we learn in our martial arts practise, in the wider aspects of our lives - is ultimately about being congruent. If we are 'this way' over here (doing this thing) then we should be the same way 'over there' - doing that other thing. If we pay great attention to detail in the way we practise our 'Kimura' from the guard - then we should also pay that same level of attention tot he way we practise our Kimura from every other position - and then, we may as well pay the same amount of attention to every other technique - and then, it might occur to us to pay the same amount of attention to other aspects of our lives away from the mat - this is extracting the most value from the Kimura as we can get. I don't want to practise 'excellence' in one part of my life - whilst I am failing at all the other parts - I know many, many people who live that way. There is great leverage in living congruently. Have a great start to the new year everyone. JBW

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mat commandments ...

If there came a day when someone would climb a mountain and return with a set of commandments pertaining to behaviour among martial artists - surely, number one on the list would be this: THOU SHALT NOT GRADE OTHER INSTRUCTORS STUDENTS!

This, in my view, is a very deplorable act. It is usually driven by a pathetic need to engender loyalty from someone - and often, from someone who doesn’t care to be ‘bought’ in any case. Grading other instructors students is a sure sign that the perpetrator is more ‘merchant’ than martial artist. JBW

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Perfect Effort

We are all different. We differ in a myriad of ways - from one another - body type, age, experience, reasons for training, what we want to get out of our training, differing priorities, etc, etc. And because we are different, how each of us approaches our training (mentally, emotionally, physically) will also vary from the approach that others take. Some of us will be better at some techniques than others, some will be quicker, heavier, slower, more flexible, etc. The one thing that we can all do though - if personal results and improvement is important to us - is to put in a Perfect Effort. We can each try our best - and in doing so, we can in no way, be faulted, by anyone. The Perfect Effort is the path to excellence. JBW

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A little wiser ...

Wisdom … ‘something you won’t get until much later in life’ , my father used to say. He was right of course, because wisdom is the progeny of ‘experience’ and ‘thinking’. ‘Thinking’, untempered by ‘experience’ is closer to ‘daydreaming’ that it is to wisdom. Likewise, ‘experience’ without thinking, is in no way a guarantee of wisdom (e.g.: animals may gain lots of ‘experience’ throughout the living of their lives, but we wouldn’t describe animals as ‘wise’). It’s the perfect marriage of both experience and analytical thought that gives rise to wisdom - over time; on the mat; and of course in life, off the mat. Wide-ranging experience coupled with an equal part of thinking, gives rise to that quality we label … wisdom. The hope of course, is that on the journey from white to black belt we gain wisdom ... certainly, 'mat wisdom' but ideally, wisdom also in the larger game we call 'life'. JBW

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Strengths & Weaknesses

On the mat - I have long ago learned that even though we should know our strength’s - we should also never stop working on our weaknesses. And so too, off the mat. It seems to be a social norm to flaunt our strengths, talents and successes - perhaps as a means to give ourselves a ‘leg-up’  in an ever increasingly-competitive world; but to do so at the cost of ignoring our weaknesses and failings, is to live a very unbalanced life. In my own experience, our strengths and successes will take care of themselves; but keeping our attention on those areas of our lives that could do with improvement, will give us the biggest return for our efforts, over time. JBW

Monday, December 08, 2014

Leaders lead ...

Good leaders lead by example. They are usually very congruent people. By this I mean - what they say and what they do, are in alignment. Some of the best leaders in life are too busy running toward the things that matter to them, to even realise they are leading the way for others. Such people are passionate about their pursuits; often they didn’t ask to fill the ‘leadership’ role - they just ran in a direction that mattered to them; only to realise later on, that others also wanted to run in that direction. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe them would be to call them trailblazers. Trailblazing can be a business fraught with peril. It is often a personal quest fuelled by personal desires, curiosity and a need to walk to the beat of ones own drum. There comes a time though, when the trailblazer may realise he is cutting a path that others have decided to follow; at that time he might decide to pay more attention to ‘how’ he is running and ‘where’ he is running to; if this happens, he is making the transition from trailblazer to leader. Trailblazers are responsible only to themselves - leaders are responsible for others. JBW

Friday, December 05, 2014

The 1st Arnold BJJ Classic - downunder!

In the New Year (weekend of March 13th/14th/15th) the city of Melbourne is playing host to the inaugural Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Classic. This is not only a first for Australia, but is a first for the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Competition landscape. The first ever Arnie BJJ competition – with Arnold himself being in attendance – will take place on Saturday March 14th – and I have been asked (as an independent party) to assist in the organising and running of the event. My role is to keep everyone informed as to event details - field a referee and officials team – design the way the competition will be run and to solve problems if and when they arise. I have agreed to accept this role with the view that it could possibly become one of the biggest independent BJJ events in the world. The forward plan is to roll out the Arnie Classic in a number of countries – and that could lead to even more extraordinary possibilities. I urge everyone interested in competition, to take this opportunity to get in ‘on the ground floor’. I will be sending out info packs to 140 odd BJJ schools come monday. The BJJ event will be part of a larger three day martial arts and fitness expo - which is expected top attract tens of thousands of participants. A real first for Australia! 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Comparisons ...

We often look at others through a set of eyes that only sees the ‘highlight reel’. In fact, a good friend of mine said this the other day ‘We tend to compare our ‘lows’ with other peoples ‘high’s’. Nicely put! I think this is true - both on an off the mat. Personally, I think that constantly comparing ourselves to others is not a very healthy way to live our lives. We each occupy the universe in our own way, often to the best of our abilities, often also at the mercy of a certain amount of luck (both good and bad). Some of us, create our own luck to an extent, and break free from the shackles of our environments or circumstances - most though, do not! But still, we all live - and strive to be happy and fulfilled as we try to improve our circumstances. We can learn from others - for sure - of course - (necessary perhaps) … but comparing ourselves to others in a way that highlights our struggle can only lead to unhappiness (envy even). Remember, everyone (in some way) struggles. We tend to judge others by their victories and successes and ourselves by our shortcomings. To quote fro the poem Desiderata … ‘If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” 

- JBW 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

It takes two to tango ...

When we first begin our BJJ adventure - it seems quite natural to try our best to inflict our will on our opponent. What we lack in technique and strategy, we try to make up for with strength and athleticism. As we progress through the ranks and gain understanding, we begin to ‘swap out’ some of that reliance on strength and athleticism for technique and strategy. This comes with the realisation that although we might have our own ‘agenda’ - so too, does our opponent; and we need to respect and understand that! Of course, we all want to apply our technique and ultimately, attack our opponent - but it is very important to understand that he/she has exactly the same thing in mind. We need to be of two minds - one part of us attends to what our opponent is trying to do to us - and the other part is constantly on the lookout for the opportunity to do do what we want to do to them. Defence and Attack go hand in hand - as one student of mine puts it ‘Rolling is a conversation … not an argument’. It takes two to tango! JBW

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Concerning Rank ...

Martial arts rank can be a funny thing. It is a thing that some stow much importance on - whilst others - give it little weight at all. Although it can be seen as recognition of ‘time served’ - there is so much variance between styles and what ‘time served’ actually means - that it is really difficult, if not impossible, for people to agree on any kind of standardisation. From my own perspective (holding black belt ranks in several styles) - some hold little to no meaning for me - whilst others, I do place significant value on. At the end of the day, it really comes down to how I conduct myself on the martial arts landscape and in the wider world in which I live - that actually matters. One of my favourite latin sayings ‘Acta - non verba’ cuts to the very heart of it … what we do is what counts, rather than what we say. BJJ is not an art that gives up rank easily - a BJJ black belt is something earned only by those prepared to undertake an extraordinary effort. A BJJ athlete is tested in each and every session - the lessons to be learned are countless in number - the black belt isn’t something one can hide behind (it offers little, if any, sanctuary) … but it is worthwhile, in the extreme. This year, being awarded my fifth degree BJJ Black Belt by professor Rigan Machado, was a bit of a shock. I find myself in sparse company, there being only a couple of other non-Brazilian nationals to have been awarded that rank (Bob Bass and Chris Haueter being two others in the USA). What I do recognise is this, Bob, Chris and I do all share a commonality - apart from the obvious quarter of century or more in the study and practise of the art we all love - and it is this: we are all ‘students’ at heart. We all remain intensely curious about and invested in, the un-ending evolution of BJJ - whilst still being capable of extracting great satisfaction from mining ever-deeper into the fundamental principles and underlying concepts which support the art at it’s very foundation; we all love to solve problems; we love to find connections between aspects of the art that previously seemed unconnected; we love to train, to explore and above all else - we love to learn. We got together earlier this year and although we hadn’t seen each other for quite a few years - it was as if we had sweated on the mat together only yesterday. So no matter where you find yourself on the BJJ/Ranking ladder - know this - we are all undertaking the same journey - we all share the same frustrations, the same trial, tribulations and the same sense of wonder. Rank, in most instances, just indicates how long we have journeyed to date … respect to those ahead of us … respect top those behind! JBW

Thursday, October 30, 2014

professor ... not master!

In BJJ - the Black Belt is commonly referred to as a professor; the original and still most common interpretation of which, simply means ‘teacher’. I don’t mind that. Certainly, when people refer to me as ‘master’ - I reel back in abject horror. No master am I.

Actually, I consider myself a student, first and foremost. A student with more experience than many others, perhaps - and therefore I try to ‘teach’ - to help and advise others who are partaking of the same journey. But ‘master’? No! Emphatically - no! I leave that title to others. Some deserving - some very, very much undeserving! JBW

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

updating the software ...

The advent of MMA has had several large effects on the martial arts landscape.
Some of these effects are good, whilst others (in my opinion) are bad!

I have long been a fan of trying to ‘connect’ up the various elements of the combative arts to produce something more holistic and well-rounded; this has been my inclination from as early as the late 70’s. In short, I do like the MMA approach, from a technical/strategic perspective … what I do not like is the fact that many schools seem to have lost something in the process. Whilst the more traditional martial arts styles might not be as practical and effective, they did instil very important values along the way; values like, respect for each other, good manners, consideration for others, etc. I very much like those aspects of the martial arts. So the problem, as I see it is this, some schools have thrown the computer out, in an effort to update … rather than just updating the software. Throwing the baby out with the bath-water is classic mistake - one that, if we are not careful, is very easy to make. JBW

Monday, October 27, 2014

The recipe of 'us' ...

Some of our direction comes from looking outward … we see others who embody aspects of what we wish to embody ourselves - and we emulate. There are others though, who serve as examples of the kinds of people we do not wish to emulate - such people motivate us to be ‘unlike’ them. And then lastly, there is something we can find within ourselves, something unique, something that we can’t find easily in the external world - that drives us in a certain direction. That perhaps, may be the most important ingredient of all. 

So we can look around, find role models that we wish to emulate - identify others that serve as examples of the kind of person we do not want to emulate - and finally we look within and listen to our own inner-voice. All three approaches bring something to the recipe … the recipe of us. JBW

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Being vs having

Having a black belt and becoming a black belt are two different things. You can always buy one - and you have it! But having a Black Belt doesn’t necessarily mean someone IS a Black Belt. Same goes for life way away from the mat - we can strive to HAVE, HAVE, HAVE … I know people like this … but in the end, their HAVING doesn’t in any way guarantee them happiness. I think we should strive to BE!
BEING … is real; it springs from within … it simply IS! 

BEING …  doesn’t shout, wave or cry ‘look at me’ … is is a state, rather than an affectation. We are not apart from nature - our place is within nature … and when we look at everything else in nature … it just IS. The need to HAVE is a trick of the ego … it offers a lot but delivers so little. JBW

Friday, October 24, 2014

Winning ...

Winning can be rewarding. People like winning. People also very often misunderstand what so-called ‘losing’ is really about. Situations in which we lose are just trial runs - and this is where the real learning is done. And here’s a question worth pondering … what does winning really mean?

I like winning at life. That’s the real game. How is the whole thing travelling? How do we put all the parts together to create a picture worth having. I know many so-called ‘champions’ - who may have won gold medals, world titles, etc … but whose lives are pretty much dysfunctional. I have seen such people living in a crumby one-bedroom apartment, with their broken down car sitting in the driveway, no worthwhile relationships to speak of, unhappy with their lot while complaining how others have been more lucky, etc … all the time staring at their belt and medals collection in a cabinet beside their TV. Yikes! In fact, triple yikes! Win at life - that is the only game that counts. And there are many faces of the game … learn to have balance, learn to understand and shore up weaknesses … the strengths will take care of themselves. JBW

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Rollercoaster ...

In our training - both on and off the mat - the journey unfolds like a roller-coaster ride. We have our up’s and we have our downs … of most of us, this is just the reality. But again, for most of us (anyone reading this at least) - even the ‘downs’ are representations of a far better situation than that which most of the worlds population is experiencing. Our ‘downs’ would be countless other people’s ‘peaks’. Perspective is sometimes a difficult thing to behold.

If you are going through a ‘low’ period in your training, use that time to square away some fundamentals - get your ‘ducks in a row’ - then when things improve you will be better prepared to make the most of it. There are ‘seasons’ for all things … winter is inevitably followed by spring. The only question usually is this: can you go the distance? Perspective will help you do so. JBW

Monday, October 20, 2014

The spotlight of attention ...

Our attention is like a spotlight. Unfortunately though, it is often drawn to things that make us feel bad/stressful, etc … the trick is in understanding that ultimately, we are in charge of pointing that spotlight anywhere we like. Here’s something that has helped me on more than one occasion… when you feel bad/upset/hurt … force the spotlight of your attention onto something else other than the thing that is causing you to be unhappy. Expend the energy doing something that will move your life forward and improve things in some other area … this way you will heal more quickly; and the bonus is that you get some gain/benefit that otherwise might well have missed out on. JBW

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fuzzy Goals ...

The concept of fuzzy goals has always come naturally to me. I have never been one for fixating upon a clearly defined goal. Rather, I tend to begin with a rough - fuzzy - idea of what I want or where I want to be and I begin taking small steps in that direction. By keeping my goal ‘fuzzy’ - I am forced to keep my attention on the step I am taking right now - rather than on something that doesn’t exist yet. Also, the fuzziness of my goals allows for a lot of flexibility and adaptation to circumstance. As I have made my way toward my fuzzy goals - I have very often come across an even better goal … in itself, fuzzy. I have always been about the ‘process’ - and that is where I keep my attention. When I first started bushwalking/hiking some thirty years ago - my tendency was to take a straight-ish line toward my eventual destination; and this more often than not, proved to be impractical. There were lakes, swamps, rocky ground, cliffs, etc … that stood in my way. Eventually I learned to  follow the contours, use the little animal tracks, and circumvent the obstacles. The route might have been a little longer but I would arrive where I wanted to go, much more easily and often quicker than I otherwise would have. And again, quite often, I would find something even better along the way … keep the goals fuzzy; work the process. JBW

Monday, October 13, 2014

Authenticity ...

To strive toward authenticity is an admirable pursuit!

Being authentic will mean different things to different people; but to me it is largely about being congruent. What we do, what we say, how we behave, how we live - all beginning to align. We can never please everyone - this is an impossibility. There are those who will love us for our congruence - there are those who will despise us for it. But in being congruent - in being authentic - we carve for ourselves a much clearer course into the future. Being congruent - being authentic - requires effort, attention, discipline and a willingness to admit to our faults - and a desire to make ongoing course corrections so that the various aspects of our being begin to more closely align. So on the mat - and so too in life. JBW

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Some ways to look at BJJ ...

There are many ways to look at things. From the wider perspective - as if from above, taking in the big picture. From a narrow-deep-focussed perspective - scrutinising and analysing details and nuances that normally go unnoticed. From an inter-connectedness perspective - seeing how they interact or intersect with other things. From a personal perspective - looking at how how they interact on our own lives and the lives of others. These are just a few examples …

We can look at BJJ … in one, some or all of these ways (and others) to enjoy some level of understanding of it. 

Let’s look at it using the lens (as suggested) in my first example: from the wider perspective …

It may help to think of BJJ as a kind of a tree or bush. We can visualise any particular element of it (say ‘omaplata’) for example - as if it started out as a seed. That is, there was a singular idea (or application) of omaplata that first ‘took hold’. More than likely, that first seed or idea/application was a fairly robust one, as it had to ‘take root’ and grow/develop/evolve into the myriad of forms/applications/set-ups/variations that we see expressed at this present time.
So to put it simply - there was a ‘first omaplata’ - a first ‘spider guard’ application - a first ‘closed guard technique’, etc. 

Any such ‘seeds’ - if sufficiently robust - and planted in a sufficiently rich environment, can grow, develop and eventually blossom into a ‘tree’ in their own right. This is how BJJ was developed. (and cooking, and architecture for that matter)

And so, if we back away and look from afar (and through time) we see BJJ as a large and highly complex tree - with many branches, sub-branches, sub-sub-branches and so on …. sprouting new buds (and potentially new branches) at many points throughout it’s complex structure.

Prune it back if you like (a good exercise) - or graft some new ideas onto an existing branch - taste some of the fruit or just climb around and through it’s branches … there are satisfying pursuits aplenty - for all of us. JBW

Saturday, October 04, 2014

With a little help from my friends ...

The Beatles were right … with a little help from our friends - we can TRY - we can GET BY!

Jiu Jitsu cannot be practised alone - we need each other to make progress. And so it is in life. We are social animals; we may test ourselves against each other, compete with one another but ultimately it is the dance between each other that allows us to learn, grow, improve and develop. When we have an authentic respect for our training partners, and the vital role they play in our own development - we will not only be happier in our practice - but they will be too! JBW