Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Diagnosis

Neurologist (11/24/08)

For those who don’t personally know me, which is pretty much everyone who reads this blog, there is another dimension to life that I have dealt with off the mats. I have suffered with migraine headaches for most of my life. They began to occur at about the age of thirteen and they continue today.

My condition is referred to as Migraine with aura, because immediately preceding the pain, I experience a disturbance in my field of vision that is still there even with my eyes closed. This aura is caused when a part of the brain shuts down because the neurotransmitter levels are so out of whack it just needs to reset. Over the course of thirty to forty-five minutes my vision returns to normal and the pain slowly fades in.

Luckily there are now medications that help to abort the migraine, provided I am able to take it immediately at the first sign of aura. When the medication works (about 80% of the time) by the time my vision clears, I am left with a really bad headache and not a full blown migraine. A vast improvement!

On September 21, 2006 however my condition took an interesting turn and my migraine presented in a wholly different way.

It was a Friday morning, I was getting ready to drive down to Anaheim for the graduation ceremony for my MBA. This was to be a great day. All my hard work was paying off. As I was getting ready, printing maps on the Internet, my wife asked me how I wanted my eggs cooked……I couldn’t answer her.

Something was terribly wrong, I could think of the words, but when I tried to speak it was gibberish. When I tried to write, it was a scribble. This was the day I was to receive my Masters Degree and I could not communicate. It was absolutely terrifying.

In short I experienced a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) in which blood is cut off from a section of the brain for a just a short amount of time. TIA is normally caused by a blood clot traveling thru the system and getting caught up briefly in one place where it blocks the flow momentarily. In my case, it was the spasms in the brain caused by my Migraine condition that actually pinched off the blood vessels.

Luckily, the effects of TIA are generally temporary. And in this case, I was just fine by the end of the weekend. I am now on medication to try to keep Migraine and TIA at bay but I have had a total of 5 TIA’s (none of the subsequent being as bad as the first) because the understanding behind the why and how of such neurological conditions remains largely a mystery.

When I saw my neurologist again for a follow-up on Monday afternoon, I received a piece of news from him that, while not surprising, still gave me a moment of pause. I had always had some quirky ticks. I spoke to the Doc about these things and he casually said, “Well, yeah…you have Tourette’s” like it was something that I should have already known as a fact. He explained how I have a very mild case and he also explained that there is a substantial link between Migraine and Tourette Syndrome.

As I said, I had always kind of suspected, but it still caught me off guard. When I asked him about my BJJ training specifically (something I had never done), his advice was to take things easily, not to allow myself to get overly exerted and to tap quickly on blood chokes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

BJJ Blog of the Year Contest

It seems only fitting that it has finally come full circle. I began keeping this Blog because I heard Caleb from The Fightworks Podcast talking about the results of the Blog of the year contest last year.

Now it took some time for me to finally settle in and download his XML file of recommended Blogs but once I did, I was hooked. Every day when I open up Google Reader, I have access to a world of my peers; like minded individuals who share the same struggles as I across each corner of the globe.

It was inevitable that I would begin to submit my own words to this world, and to my pleasant surprise I found my humble little Blog being accepted into Caleb's XML along with all of the others I read and anticipate. We share our struggles, we share our strengths; your insights have helped me along my journey and I hope to do the same one day.

If anyone would like to nominate this small project of mine for "The Fightworks Podcast Blog of the Year" I have included the link below. This is a very new blog and I harbor no illusions of receiving a nomination and I know the league of competition that is out there; because I am a fan.

Here is the Link

BJJ Blog of the Year 2008 Contest

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back in the Pendulum Swing

BJJ (11/18/08 6:00pm)

Its been a while since I've had a Monday night come and I've been able to get to class unabated. Finally, it happened. After the rather disappointing week I had just concluded, I really need to start this one off well. One thing that was helping to keep my spirits up was the fact that I was bringing in some new blood to the academy that night.

John, a guy from work, who had recently transferred in from Florida attended the 6:00 class tonight. He had about seven months experience at a Rickson affiliated school in Florida so he is not completely new to the sport. I'm happy to bring him and happy to have another office monkey with whom to talk about my other world.

Warm ups were the same as always. But this time I survived and felt no ill-effects. I don't know what happened to me on Thursday of last week but it seems to be out of my system now.

Technique focused on my old friend the pendulum sweep. I like this sweep because it has actually worked for me. I am not effective at sleeve control, so when I pull it off situationally I tend to control a cross lapel or an underhook, but isn't that the essence of BJJ, to adapt the techniques to suit your particular strengths?

We did guard pass / submit-sweep drills for our rolling portion. I passed the guard on my first attempt. Did very well actually. Then I decided to work on my spider guard with a considerably larger opponent. I did pretty well and kept a stalemate for a long time till he finally broke thru. After a few more rounds, and of course getting caught in a triangle, I passed again by stacking on a failed armbar attempt.

All in all great night. My co-worker was relegated to Upa's but had a great time. He told me that he needs a while to bring his conditioning back, and I know we can all relate to that!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lost Week, Lost....

BJJ (11/13/08 7:00pm)

This week seems to fit right into the theme of this Blog. My school has BJJ class at 6:00 - 7:00 on M,W,F and then at 7:00-8:00 on T, Th. Because I get up so early for work and don't get much sleep as it is, I like to do the 6:00 classes and get home. So most weeks, my plan is to attend the M,W,F classes and to augment my BJJ training on those days with one of the fitness kickboxing or wrestling classes at 6:00 on Tuesday or Thursday. At least that's the plan.

For the last couple of months, I have been involved in an after-hours training class at work that is supposed to take place on Tuesday afternoon from 4:00-6:00, thereby taking that day out of my rotation. That I can live with.

What is bothersome is the fact that, because there are only about 5 people in the class, and it is very informal there have been many occasions, including this week, wherein because of the instructor's scheduling conflicts the class has been moved to Mondays or Wednesdays. This week it was Wednesday.

Monday (11/10/2008) I had a meeting late in the afternoon that kept me in the office too late to make it to the gym. Tuesday, similar story. We are working through many issues that typically arise in the Aerospace industry at a typical year end plus numerous other special case scenarios that are guaranteed to make the next few weeks interesting. Wednesday we had our class that ran its full time all the way to 6:00, so three days down, and no training!!!

Thursday came about and I made the decision that even though I never attend the 7:00 class, it is better than the alternative of no training for the week! I packed my gi, and made sure that nothing would inhibit my getting to class.

Class started, there were only about 8 of us. We did a normal warm-up but I was feeling more drained than normal. Fritz (our Purple Belt) was teaching that night, I could tell he was tired. Right after warm ups, he just had us start rolling rather than drilling a technique.

My first roll was with Ruben, a very strong guy with good technique. I did relatively well with him, I was working on my guard preservation and recovery. I was able to work some of the proper half-guard positioning we had recently learned but Ruben proved very adept at countering and passing.

After my roll with Ruben, I was just about spent. I began rolling with a pretty new guy that I don't know yet. I had a pretty easy time with him and went light. Then I began to feel it. My stomach began to turn. I was not feeling well at all. I lost all my gas at once and felt my insides rising. It affected me to the point that this new kid nearly took my back and in the process got to mount. At that moment I knew the end was near. I laid on a basic Upa sweep, got into his guard. Told him "we are done", and ran off the mats toward the locker room.

It was not the first time I've lost it in training, but it was one of the more frustrating. Having been out of training all week and to have it end like that was just demoralizing. I'm taking Friday off, I'll do a strength and conditioning workout at home to recover.

Back to the mats on Monday!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Changing Weight Classes

15 to Go
At the beginning of this year, I began a journey. As I describe below, I was losing a battle with my weight. Thanks to BJJ, I have turned the tide and no longer feel defined by my belly. The following post was originally submitted back in March 2008 on I entered it in the Type in or TapouT writing contest for a chance to get published in TapouT magazine (hence the MMA emphasis). To my surprise, I placed third nationally losing out ultimately to someone who was able to interview a pro fighter.

I don’t want to fight Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz. Wanderlei and Shogun would kill me. What the hell am I doing? These were perhaps some of the most motivating thoughts I have ever had.

Now the reality is that I will never be in a position where facing off against the premier light heavyweights in the world is possible, but imagining that it could happen has helped me to reach some substantial personal goals, on my way to even more.

Near the end of 2007, I was sitting in my house one morning during the Christmas break. Like many Americans, I was on the couch shoveling copious amounts of fatty, calorie loaded foods down my gullet. In a moment of feeling particularly lethargic I decided to fish the scale out of my bathroom cabinet and see just where I stood.

To put things into perspective, I am thirty two years old and stand 5’7”. I used to compete in Tae Kwon Do tournaments and was generally in great shape. The last decade or so has seen me working in jobs that are less than physical. Years of working in a stressful industry, getting no exercise, and gorging myself on the worst possible foods had culminated in a belly could shade groundhogs and prevent
spring from coming in on time.

I plopped myself on the scale and beheld a number that at first made me think the scale was broken or out of calibration. It has been years since I was actively participating in Tae Kwon Do and walked around in the 150 range, but I can’t possibly be that much heavier, can I?

That dastardly digital display read 195. “I’m only 5’7” and I’m almost 200 pounds”. Shit. When did this happen? I used to be in shape, I used to be thin and healthy. When did I turn into this? Why didn’t I see what was happening and why didn’t I do anything to stop it?

Being a rabid MMA fan for years, I found myself immediately putting my girth in perspective. I thought about the fact that if I were to be dropped into the octagon right at that moment, I would have to face someone like Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz. I would weigh in at light heavyweight and be forced to go up against guys that are well over six feet tall and in incredible shape. Those guys exemplify what 200 pounds should look like, not me.

From that moment on I decided to make the commitment to get down to 150 pounds so I could face off against guys like KenFlo, BJ and Spencer Fisher without cutting weight and with notice, I could cut down to the realm of Uriah Faber. The ass whooping would be no less violent or humiliating but at least the guys would be
in relative proportion to me.

I had signed up as a member at the Gracie Barra school in my area two months earlier in October but had not gone in 2 months because I was out of shape and embarrassed at how hard it was for me to get through the warm-ups let alone the entire session. I knew that any plan to get back in shape would have to include things that I love, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA.

I sat myself down and made a plan. First I looked at my diet and cut out all of the crap. I dedicated myself to breaking my Dr. Pepper addiction and abandoning all the “foods” that had gotten me where I was. I began to focus on lean proteins and fresh fruits and veggies.

With my diet under control, I thought about how I could ensure that I was getting the exercise I needed. I formulated a plan to have my gi clean and ready to go daily so no matter how late I got off of work, I could still make it to the gym and get my butt kicked.

I purchased a new home gym system for strength training and to augment my Jiu-Jitsu and MMA workouts. In my weight room I put up photos of Chuck, Tito, Shogun and Wanderlei. Being able to see these guys as I worked out helped me to keep my goals visualized and to remind me that the faster I got myself out of their weight class, the better. The beginning of the year came quickly, and I felt that I was ready for the challenge.

Monday, January 7 2007 was my official starting day. A quick check on the scale in the morning confirmed that I was still a light heavyweight at 190 pounds. I began eating the way I had planned and got myself to the gym for my first Jiu-Jitsu session in more than two months. I was terrified.

Kazeka Muniz, my Gracie Barra head instructor is a phenomenal trainer who has recently worked with and cornered fighters like Michael Bisping. As it turned out Kazeka was away working with professional fighters, getting them ready for fights. But the school is world class and every instructor is amazing. That first night back was brutal and I thought I wouldn’t make it through a few times.

When it was over, I was so excited on the way home. I knew that I would hurt like hell the next day but that pain meant I was closer to my goal. Since that first night back, I have not missed more than two nights in a row and have received my first promotional stripe.

I started losing weight at a good pace. I weigh myself every Monday and by the 21st of January I had reached a milestone, 185. That day I changed the pictures on my wall. I was now a middleweight. I hung pictures of Rich Franklin, Dean Lister and Anderson Silva. And who wants to fight Anderson Silva when their out of shape? Great motivation.

I continued doing things they way I have been and on February 25th I reached Welterweight. Changing the wall yet again to reflect my new weight class, GSP, Matt Hughes and Matt Serra became my new training partners. With a new focus and a noticeably changing body, I pressed on.

It is now early March and I am down to 165. I am ten pounds away from light weight and 15 away from my goal. I have started searching for my last round of photos to help me reach my 150 pound goal. Knowing that I can achieve my goals when I set my mind to it, create a plan and persevere has done wonders for me. I have added another goal to the list. I want to begin competing in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and I know now that I can do it. My overall health has improved, my cardio ability is off the charts compared to when I started and most importantly, I am having a great time.

I give all the thanks to my trainers and teammates at Gracie Barra and to the MMA fighters who have adorned my wall to keep my focused on what I was doing. My wife Sheri has also been an unbelievable source of inspiration and support, without her I probably would have slipped in my diet or skipped a class here and there. She keeps me honest and is helping to keep me healthy. I’ll report again when I hit 150.

Since I wrote this original post, I have maintained the weight loss. Which I am very pleased about. It has been 8 months and I am at about 163-165 depending on the day. I feel that I'm at a decent weight but I could still stand to shed that last little bit. That's why I decided to post this now. I'm setting a goal to see what I can do if I rededicate myself from here to year end. I have been in a maintenance mode, which has been very easy, so stepping it up to hit the goal should be attainable. Especially with a very public accountability system, like weekly updates here.
Wish me Luck!

*P.S. to avoid confusion KnuckleUp West Coast used to be Gracie Barra SoCal

Self Control

Open Mat (11/8/08)

I've mentioned before about how rolling with Dr. Evil brings out the best in me for some reason. Well, I've noticed that this is a good thing and a bad thing.

During the open mat session I described below a similar phenomenon occurred that tends to arise when the Doc and I train together. Even when drilling a technique, if one of us is feeling too much space or an opportunity to escape, we'll take it. We both learn this way. The person executing the technique learns what they are doing wrong and where to tighten up and the escapee, learns how to keep their wits about them and look for opportunities.

Now on its face, this is just fine. But the Dr. and I don't stop there. We tend to let that escape move to a counter then another, then another and so on. Next thing you know its a full blown roll. All the while, this could be happening when neither of us are wearing mouthguards, because we are only drilling technique and not rolling.

The funny thing is, the Doc and I are probably two of the least aggressive guys in the gym. We don't go after each other with aggression, we both acknowledge that we bring out the best technique in each other. We just need to learn to control that excitement and keep it from growing to a crescendo like we do now. Its rare to find a really good training partner who is like minded, so self control is so much more important when you do.

We left that mat on Saturday, we were both bleeding from one or two places. I had a bruised cheekbone from an inadvertent punch in the face (he was reaching for the lapel and MMA instinct took over). Walking out of the gym we were both smiling saying "thanks so much for coming today, I wasn't going to come if you didn't". What other sport in the world can make you look forward to that?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Own Little Class

Open Mat (11/8/08 12:00pm)

As things would have it, this week I was also relegated to just training on Monday evening and on Saturday Open Mat. Needless to say this is not nearly enough! At the office I am in the middle of a mandatory, non-mandatory (if that makes any sense) after hours training course that takes place after hours. This class normally takes place on Tuesdays but as luck would have it, this week it was moved to Wednesday, one of my primary BJJ nights.

When I got to open Mat, the gym was empty. There was nobody there except for Playboy and Angel behind the desk. Thats it. I was fearful that the place was closed down for improvements or maybe the MMA cage had finally come in and was being installed. Nope, it was just a nice Saturday morning that must have kept everyone in their other lives. Before I had arrived, Dr. Evil had texted me to let me know that he was running late so I thought that I would have to wait for a while to work out.

Luckily, there was a brand new guy at the gym named Darren(sp?) he had shown up to watch the open mat session while I was warming up aimlessly, waiting for the Doc to arrive, I told Angel to find Darren a Kimono so I could show him some of the day 1 basics. I started with Upas, showing him that all familiar escape we all learn. We did a perpetual motion drill that had him escaping from my mount rolling into my guard where I would get to practice my scissor or pendulum sweep to get back to mount...and repeat.

When Dr. Evil arrived we worked with Darren on basic cross collar chokes and the Americana. The Doc also showed me a side control armbar and Kimura transition that is very similar to a knee on belly we learned a few weeks ago.

This was great. It really helped me to remember the basics and teaching them to someone is always the best way to learn. I told Darren to really resist the best he could when it was my turn to sweep. Even though he did not know "BJJ" he knows he doesn't want to be hurled over. I really learned a lot about my own technique and what works for me during this time.

We did some very light game oriented "rolling". I hesitate to call it rolling but for lack of a better word, that's what I'll go with. I started on my back with Darren in the mount his goal was to try to get the cross collar choke or Americana while my objective obviously was to escape & preferably submit.

Now Darren is a giant compared to me. He's probably at least 6' tall, extraordinarily strong with great big hands. I am not. The amazing thing about BJJ is how it neutralizes these differences when we hit the ground. While I am smaller and weaker, my little bit of technique led me to victory in every situation. I really needed this reinforcement that I have improved after some of the frustration I've had lately.

This was great session even though there were only three of us on the mats. I hope Darren keeps on coming.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Visualized Triangle Choke!

BJJ (11/3/2008 6:00pm)

One of the major issues I have been working thru is my mat anxiety. I love to roll, I love learning things, even when I’m getting my butt kicked and I don’t do anything right. When I’m going I’m willing to keep going until I’ll puke. My problem is that I have such anxiety about rolling beforehand. I’ll get nervous all day worrying about it to the point that when it comes, I get stuck in my head and I know it limits my performance.

I have been using many tools common in sports psychology to help me to overcome this problem. Today, rather than fixate on the prospect of free rolling and the potential to get dominated I set my mind to focus on a specific goal and an overall strategy instead.

During last week's open mat session, I tried a triangle set-up that seemed to work pretty well for me. I decided that I would make it a goal to at least attempt this same triangle in a "live" situation. I also committed to focus on a strategy of working on my guard game, focusing on sharpening my sweeps, hip movement and opponent posture control. Every time my mind started to wander into that obsessive and nervous place I pulled it back and focused on my strategy and goal for the night instead.


We drilled half guard sweeps and I can finally say that I am starting to become a bit more comfortable in half guard. I am able to really crunch into a tight ball so I find that I can be pretty elusive and hard to deal with in that position.


We did round robin Pass / Sweep or Submit drills. To my delight, Fritz called me to start on my back, which never happens. As luck would have it, Dr. Evil was my first opponent. Instead of being nervous like normal, I was focused on executing the strategy and obtaining the goal that I had set earlier in the day.

As soon as we started I executed my game plan and set-up the triangle as I had seen in my head. Before I knew it I had it locked in and was using my left hand to break the Doc's base. During the scramble, I was able to use the triangle as a sweep and finish from the mount. This was not just a victory on the mat but a victory in my own mind.

Don't worry about the Dr., he got his revenge a couple of rounds later by sweeping me like I was a bag of feathers making me look like I had no guard passing skills whatsoever!