It’s Better To Be Early For Dinner II

A Continuation On Last Week’s Post

“If one is concerned with eating, it is better to be early for dinner than late for lunch.” This is the axiom of the person whose understanding of jiu-jitsu is deeper than white belt. For the white belt, there is only confusion on the mats. The meaning goes deeper than the blue belt can understand. For the blue belt, there is only either victory or defeat in a particular skirmish. The blue belt is insistent on victory; they insist on not letting something go if they believe they have it, because to not get what they are after is to lose. This is, at least in part, the reason why really good blue belts can beat purple belts. Whether or not they actually have the x-choke from mount, they are going to apply it as though they have it – jaw-grinding, skin-scraping, neck-cranking consequences be damned. Blue belts are tenacious.1

However, a sufficiently deeper understanding of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu reveals to the practitioner that you can lose any one particular skirmish if it means maintaining the upper-hand while sparring. All this is well and good, you might say my audience, but what is the practical output of this philosophical talk?

Okay. Let’s talk about what this means when the rubber has already hit the road.

Your opponent is in your closed guard. You apply an armbar, but your hips are a little shallow, or the bite with your legs isn’t quite what it should be. It is NOT, generally speaking, in your best interest to continue applying the submission to the point of exhaustion. Sure, you COULD get it. You COULD finish your opponent with a crappy armbar. I have no doubt that happens thousands of times a day. White belts submit white belts each and every day.2 But why wed yourself to the life and death of that submission? If you lose it, I have no doubt your opponent is going to make you pay.

“Alright you asshole, you cranked and cranked and squeezed and groaned on that weak armbar. It’s gone away now. You’re tired. Now I’m going to make you pay for each and every agonizing second you plied that armbar.”

You, my audience, have another option. You can scuttle the submission, and go to the next one. You really can get the drop on your opponent. What if your opponent exhausted HIMSELF while escaping your armbar?! What if he said “You know what? I’m going to give this escape everything I have, because I refuse to be caught here and now.” So this opponent uses their athleticism and jerks their arm out. If you, as the practitioner, had taken a long-sighted view of your sparring match, then somewhere inside yourself, you were ready for this turn of events.

Your opponent pulls his arm out of the armbar like he’s trying to start a lawnmower from the 1960’s, and you – in an expression of pure Jiu-Jitsu preparedness and technique – slap a happy-go-lucky triangle from guard around his everloving head and shoulder. Then your opponent stops his arm from forming the other half of the triangle and buries it under your butt. But you, my audience, were ready and feed him an omoplata.

The continuations can go on, of course. And they do. Our Gentle Art is a unbroken, never-ending blob of continuations.

It’s difficult for me to overstate this case. Why apply an armbar at 100% of your effort for three minutes, when you can transition to the triangle, use 50% of your effort over 90 seconds? You have to be of a sufficient skill level to access these kinds of transitions, of course. The white belt does not understand. But the blue belt might. And the purple belt should.

Beating people in transitions, to transitions, and from transitions are the main reason why two people knowledgeable in jiu-jitsu can beat one another. After all, two black belts know all the same stuff, approximately. They both know how to defend an armbar. They both know how to defend a triangle. They both know how to defend an omoplata. But defending against these three submissions as they are seamlessly thrown at you one after another, as one transitions to the other then to the other and back again, is too much to ask of any human being.

Thanks for reading.


1. Please remember, my audience, not to get too caught up in the label ‘blue belt’ or ‘white belt’ or especially my label ‘purple belt.’ At its base, the divide is artificial. I mean ‘people of a certain skill level and certain understanding of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that is usually obtained after 2-4 years of regular training.’ It’s just a lot less goddamn trouble to write ‘blue belt’ as opposed to that more measured statement.

2. And any black belt reading this would say “Purple belts submit purple belts every day.” Aaaand I have to (a) shut up and (b) hang my head in shame.


It’s Better To Be Early For Dinner

It’s Better To Be Early For Dinner Than Late For Lunch.

I got to roll with our gazillion-striped black belt yesterday, for the first time. Holy Cannoli, my audience. Holy…Cannoli.1 Mr. Paulo Brandão might be the most technically gifted person with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of grappling. It was ridiculous.

I remember trying to pull him into full guard, but being unable to get my legs through his combat base. The big issue with combat base is that the person on top (the person using so-called combat base) is in control of their balance and ready to pass at a moment’s notice, once the opening becomes available. As the person on the bottom, I need to stay active or he’s going to get too far ahead of me and will pass. I can’t just continue to try playing a closed guard, or I’m going to lose the guard entirely.

Then he took a grip on my pant leg, put his other hand on my farside hip, and nearly instantly passed. What the hell, man? This Mr. Brandão was just a million miles ahead of every guard recovery, of every mount escape, of every back escape. I could literally do nothing to save myself. I’m not even sure how many times he tapped me in our six minute match, but – ballpark – the number is around thirty-eight-thousand times.

Let me just say, it feels weird being beaten by the same tools that you use to beat other people.2 I try my hardest to not get too focused on any particular skirmish when rolling. This was a lesson Donald had to teach me a dozen different times, each time with a different example, and worded differently. If you’re going to lose a particular submission, a particular pass, a particular grip, then – after you’re sure it’s lost – it’s better to just accept that you’ve lost it AND continue on to the next move in the series. The skirmish for the next move may not have yet started. You could get the drop on them. Instead of continuing to invest your energy, focus (insert all the things a person invests during their jiu-jitsu matches) on a losing battle, move on and win the next battle.

In other words, my jiu-jitsu friends, “It is better to be early for dinner, than late for lunch.” If you’re concerned with eating, then it’s better to be early for dinner as opposed to late for lunch.

My first roll with Mr. Brandão reminded me of this most important lesson.  And it reminded me what it feels like to be a goddamn white belts on the mats.  Son of a…

Thanks for reading.  Have a nice Wednesday.


1. I type that to abstain from using some of the more colorful language I know…:

2. Not that the disparity between my skill level and my typical opponents is tantamount to the disparity between Paulo and me. Mr. Brandão is obscenely good. In fact, if the skill level difference between me and a typical opponent is best measured in inches, then the skill level difference between Mr. Brandão and I is probably best measured in miles. That’s not an exaggeration.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for Self-Defense: A Story

A friend of mine, Sean, was jumped Sunday night. Deeply intelligent, and a man of no exaggerations, this was his account:

“Sunday night I had the unfortunate experience of being jumped. A hot headed drunk driver got out of his car and decided it would be a good idea to release his frustrations of the night on the nerdy guy (me) sitting on the sidewalk. The guy was at least 50 pounds bigger than me and completely took me by surprise.

I used two moves from our self defense curriculum very effectively and after 30 seconds of his assault, the attacker found himself unconscious from a collar choke. When he woke up, he was greeted by APD officers who congratulated him with a DUI and a free ride to jail.

It was late at night in downtown Austin. The streets were vacant, and I didn’t have any friends with me. However, because of my brothers and sisters that have trained with me on the mat, I wasn’t alone. Thank you.

One team. One family. One legacy. “

After he mentioned the incident in abridged fashion on Monday night – you know, that he got jumped and strangled the guy unconscious – I immediately needed to know the entire story, and wrestled the totality of it from him. Forgiving the errors which naturally come with the transmission of stories, this is what he told me (to the best of my ability to remember).

Sean, our Hero, was sitting down on the curb by a streetlight in the late hours of the evening. Some guy – we’ll call him ‘Guy’ – calls out from the window (stopped at the light this moment) “Are you looking at me?!”1

‘And I was not,’ Sean told me Monday night. I know Sean well enough to know he would never instigate anything with anybody, even if a person deserved it. He continued, ‘But I was now, you know what I mean? So I said…’

“No man, I’m not looking at you. But I am now…” – ‘Cause I was, at that moment, technically looking at him.’

Sean then ignores the situation, thinking it’s all over. And I’m not sure what Sean was doing at the time (sitting, standing or what?), but I do know this guy tries to tackle Sean, who then clinches with him. So Guy and Sean are clinching on the sidewalk somewhere in downtown Austin. Sean goes for a shot, and the guy tries to lock in a guillotine! In real life, of course, strangleholds could end in death. And if I was Sean, I’d have been officially shitting my pants now.

Of Jones vs. Machida fame.

Sean, however, kept a cool head, executed the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Self-Defense for the standing guillotine, and took him down. He solidified his cross-side position for a few seconds, and then moved into mount. But as all us jiu-jitsu practitioners know, the mount is both more dangerous than the cross-side, and less stable. And my audience, Our Hero Sean was reversed.

Guy started throwing punches from the top. Sean opened his closed guard, and began blocking punches.

And then, in the holiest fact I heard on that Wonderful Monday night, Sean strangled the guy unconscious with a collar choke. Ladies and Gentleman, a collar choke on the street! Golf clap everybody.

The cops showed up, and the other guy got arrested! He was, after all, operating a motor vehicle almost certainly over the legal limit. – not to mention assaulting the hero in this story for no goddamn reason whatsoever. What did the police officers say about the incident?

“Well, it looks like this guy picked a fight with the wrong dude.” Sean got to walk away, while the police took The Guy to the clink, the stripey place. Everybody who needed to win won, and everybody who needed to lose lost. Overall, the story made me incredibly happy to hear.

The End.2

Happiest of the outcomes of this fight was that Sean hadn’t been training much the past couple of months, and then showed up the day after the fight, scraped knee and all, to begin training again.


1. I’m stifling my impulse to be vulgar.

2. Briefly, allow me to digress into the mind of a jiu-jitsu person. What bothered Sean the most about this altercation was not that he got assaulted, not that the whole thing started in the first place, but that he lost top position. Let me say that again, in case you missed it. Being assaulted by a drunk asshole didn’t upset him. Being put into a guillotine-type situation (where you could be killed) didn’t upset him. Scraping up his knee a little bit didn’t upset him. Losing the top position is what upset him the most. While there is a certain amount of logic to it – he made a mistake and suddenly found himself in a position where he could be injured – there is also something to be said about him STRANGLING this bastard unconscious, something to be said about the final result of the fight. If Sean had chosen, he could have ended Guy’s life.

Playing Catch Up With Gracie Humaitá Austin

Last night, I knew it was going to be bad. This is because, normally, I don’t feel anything on the mats – and yesterday, I felt the pain, the soreness, that contorted sort of aching one gets from being tied in pretzel, then commanded under duress of submission to swim, swim, swim or be strangled. I felt it, sitting at Kerby Lane afterward…wishing I had ordered something with pancakes instead of biscuits and gravy.1

And what happened this afternoon? I woke up this afternoon after a late night of movies; and I feel like I was involved in a car crash. No, I feel like the hapless butterfly smacked, spattered, splattered against the windshield of Tim Kennedy’s 18 Wheeler of Death. I know Atomic Athlete is somehow culpable for this soreness, as we moved into some cycle everyone’s heard of…except for me.2 We searched for our two-rep (or three-rep) max in three different lifts yesterday. But being run over by the technically flawless (from the humble perspective of this mere purple belt) Tim Kennedy could NOT have helped.

Allowing me to start from cross-side, I first tried, without avail, to lay on a crushing cross-face. Then I thought, I might as well start looking for the kimura. I assessed my probability of successfully applying said kimura on Tim Kennedy (whose arm, I suspect, I do not even have the strength to bend) at p<<1%. But it’s my best submission. The rest of my submissions are at p=0. So I tried. And when he instantaneously escaped my cross-side and got to his knees – we are both on our knees now – I knew that The Holy Gabriel, Master of All Seraphim, had gathered up his fiery sword (in the form of Tim Kennedy, obviously) and that the fabled inscription on his sword shall ring true forevermore:

“Drop thy pants,

And grab thy toes,

I’m gunna show you where The Wild Goose Goes.”

Mr. Kennedy grabbed double-underhooks while we were both on our knees and, with me unable to move or breathe (not an exaggeration), he flung me to the ground, briefly took cross-side, before moving to knee-on-belly. Being body-folded to the ground knocked 78% of the wind out of me; and Tim’s knee-on-belly has two distinct qualities. It is unreasonably, really quite incomprehensibly heavy, and, secondarily, his knee was placed right on my diaphragm. I thought about tapping. God did I consider tapping. I was getting 18% breaths (I subtracted an additional 10% because of how heavy the pin is itself), and I just could not move. But, in the midst of my agony, I asked myself, “What kind of training partner do I want to be? He’s just back from that whole Luke Rockhold business, and what kind of goddamn training partner do I want to be?”

So I didn’t tap. But held on to the bitter end…and tried to give him the best I had in me – which, admittedly, isn’t much against people his skill level. I should also mention this scene I briefly sketched for you took place over approximately one minute (or less); AND that we rolled for approximately 12 minutes. This scene, in other words, was just one of approximately twelve identical scenes. Brutal…I know. Believe me, I was there.

Secondly! Secondly, we have an amazing new instructor in town. His name is Paulo Brandão.3 But I don’t have time to go into his qualifications. Suffice it to say this man has been a black belt for 15 years or so. I haven’t rolled with him yet, but I imagine it’s going to be ridiculous. Black belts alone are ridiculous. How badly am I going to get beaten by this man, with all those stripes on his black belt? My audience, you will (after me) be the first to know. Til then. Happy Wednesday.


1. I tell myself I’m going to order something different, but the goddamn pancakes are so good there. They’re preposterously good.

2. Something called “The Big 24.”

3. I suspect there’s a “~” over the a at the end of his name. Yes, yes, I just verified this.