The following is a list of people of world class athletes (competitive at the adult level) that I’ve trained with (we’re talking more than a few rolls) and what I’ve learned from them. Like most of us I don’t train at a famous BJJ gym, but I’ve trained with some really good guys and have recently been reflecting upon what I’ve learned from them.
About three weeks ago, I woke up and thought I was having a heart attack. I was pouring sweat. I was extremely disoriented. I had my fiance call 911. I have a pulseox beside the bed (I’m always curious about my heart rate), my heart rate was 120. The room was spinning. I was freaking out. Medics came, turns out I wasn’t actively dying. “We can take you to the ER if you want.” they said. “No thanks.” I replied. I wasn’t about to wait 6 hours in an ER if I wasn’t dying, I hadn’t been to the doctor in 20 years. Long story short, I have some friends that are doctors and after a bit of convincing from them I went to a general physician, who sent me to the ER anyway. A few MRIs later, it doesn’t seem like I had a stroke. Turns out, after nearly half a lifetime in contact sports, I got a concussion. In fact, probably a couple close together after lengthy discussions (I was laugh-crying regularly at movies and shows on TV, and kept training anyway).
I thought I had to be knocked out to get a concussion but neurologists say 80% of concussions are just a quick change in acceleration/deceleration. Of all sports, not something I expected to happen in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. We don’t get punched in the head. We don’t run into each other head on.
In any case, when you’re an athlete and you’re injured, it’s tortuous. After all, you’re the type of person who stays busy, obsessed with improvement, with the hope of accomplishing goals. Your body atrophies and you lose your cardiovascular ability. And most of all, you’re pissed off because of it.
So what can you do when you’re injured? Do you desperately attempt to simulate some abbreviated version of any relatable activity to your sport? Do you watch as much footage as possible so that you return with a new and better strategy?
Maybe. But you know what you should do? Meditate.
The last thing my wrestling coach would always say to us before we stepped out on the mat was “Get after it!” I have to confess, for years, I never really knew what “it” was. Or rather I did know what “it” was, but couldn’t go after it. You see, I’ve been a reactive grappler for most of my life. In wrestling, I wasn’t great at shooting, but I had good takedown defense. My aim has always been to shut down the game of others, to tire them out, then dig deep towards the end of the round and try to finish with a win. I don’t know why. Probably because deep down inside, I’m just damn lazy. It takes a long time to get good at this style of grappling, but once you do, it’s extremely efficient. There are plenty of counter wrestlers that have been decent, but you’re hard pressed to name any of the best modern bjj players that aren’t uber aggressive.
The first time I paid attention to Erberth Santos was in this highlight video of him doing jumping back takes. It only takes a few reps of this move yourself to learn how hard it would be to hit against someone decent.
I was impressed. I looked him up. Oh yeah, I remembered this guy. He’d won brown belt Worlds, and Pans, and Brazilians. At his weight and absolute. He was TLI, which only made him scarier. I knew he was climbing the ladder of the 1%. I thought “it’ll take a while.” But when I saw him break Pena’s arm I was like “damn.” He lost that match because Pena toughed it out. I knew then one day Pena would be due for some payback. And he was.
I wish I could write the top 10 short guys in BJJ but I can’t. If you’re into Jiu Jitsu, being short is hard, so hard that the taller you are for your respective weight class – the greater your chance of winning. Sure, there are advantages to being shorter such as faster reaction times (shorter neural networks), greater strength to weight ratio, faster limb acceleration, greater endurance, and greater power to weight ratio. Nonetheless, the physics of Jiu Jitsu is about maximizing mechanical advantage and longer levers do just that – Especially when it’s multiplied using the gi.
You may have heard about Dominique Bell. He’s a purple belt from Atos. He’s an amazing cartoonist (we’ll call him Doodle Dom). And now he’s the current IBJJF middleweight purple belt World Champion.
I first heard about Dominique Bell at a local tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina. Someone mentioned to me “Watch this dude, he’s awesome.” Sure enough he demolished some poor local jiu jitsu player in less than a minute. If you’ve ever waited the 142 hours to have a match at the purple belt level at a local tournament, you know that by the time you step out there you are often times exhausted and disappointed despite the outcome. If you win you wished you had more matches and if you lose you’re disappointed you waited all day for one match. Not Dubious Dom. You could see it on his face. He wasn’t fatigued. He wasn’t disappointed he’d waited all day to demolish someone in a few seconds. You could see his passion.