Hybrid Success Challenge: My Next Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Project

I have never been good at taking compliments.  

It’s not that I don’t appreciate people trying to say something well-intended, it’s just that I’ve often found that people tend to say something nice as a means of filling in an ellipsis in the conversation after a training session or a roll (often making it hard to actually believe the authenticity of what the person might be saying).  

Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely have a high value for constructive compliments, criticism, and feedback.  I just really want to earn it.  The equivalent of a participation trophy after each roll is less valuable to me than identifying a specific item that I can look to improve for the next go round.  For me, it’s an important practice in keeping me grounded, honest about my game, and dialed-in to the things I need to work on in order to improve.  

More than anything, it keeps me honest.  

So when a training partner looks at me and compliments my strong “wrestling base,” I tend to deflect the comment real quick.

Again, not like they’re being rude (people sincerely mean it in the best of terms).  In that same vein, however, I don’t feel I can honestly agree with their assessment.  

I have a great respect for wrestlers and their tenacity.  The exhibit a number of traits that I do not have (dynamic speed, aggression, a must-win mentality), but have the utmost respect for.  So when people ask me if I ever wrestled I school, I politely inform them that no, I never did (wrestling season conflicted with soccer season and I’m brown), I just happen to have passable jiu-jitsu wrestling. 

I say this because the minute I go up against a real wrestler (be it someone who’s trained in college, high school or, hell, even middle school) all of that “passable jiu-jitsu wrestling” goes completely out the window.  I promptly have to abandon all my pho-wrestling tricks and quickly resort to the hallmarks of Brazilian jiu-jitsu guard pulling basics to remotely have a chance against someone of my own relative strength, size, and skill level.  

So while it may be tempting to believe the wonderfully polite individuals who compliment my “passable jiu-jitsu wrestling” skills, I happen to know one major key that never seems to fail:

You might be able to fake out another jiujiteiro who also likely didn’t do wrestling in their formal years into believing you’re a wrestler, but you definitely can’t fake out a wrestler.

At least not without some kind of heavy training or dedication to that craft.

Which brings me to why I’m writing this here today.  I think it’s high time I give this wrestling thing a little bit of the old college try.  

Now I hear you, there are plenty of jiu-jitsu, judo, and anti-wrestling tricks that you can use to neutralize these sorts of attacks.  Believe me, I get it.  That still doesn’t downplay the importance the art of takedowns, balance, and weight distribution play in the sport of submission grappling.  

And yes, I could lead a perfectly fine life pulling guard (or shit, if I got really good at leg locks, just sitting to guard and hoping some kind of magic Eddie "Wolverine" Cummings magic avails itself to me).  But I think there’s something entirely underwhelming about intentionally ignoring one of the cornerstones of the gentle art for my own progression as a martial arts practitioner.  

I have managed to go the past five years of my jiu-jitsu journey getting by on counter-wrestling, misdirection, and (what I like to call) creative sprawling, but I see my tricks getting old real fast.  Despite the better efforts of my truly amazing instructors and training partners, my efforts to improve my wrestling skills have been marginal at best.  I know that in order to even maintain level of being “passable” as I continue to rise up the ranks in BJJ, I have to evolve.

That is why I’ve decided to put myself on a 30 day wrestling challenge.  

It is also why I have decided to put my intention to do so on this website as a means of keeping myself accountable for the next month.  

So what will this entail exactly?

Well people who are familiar with me and my podcast may know that it was about this time last year that I made a similar (but different) challenge to do 30 days of using a grip strengthening product called a JitsGrip.  For those who are unfamiliar, here’s the basic gest:  I outlined thirty days of trying out new things to help improve my famously terrible gi grips, opting to journal my experience through a set of instagram photos, videos, and comedy bits (seen below).  The end result was a noticeable improvement.  Suddenly, I was able to maintain a grip for at least a small period of time on my training partners (granted it’s still terrible, just less terrible).

You can see the rest of #RafsJitsGripsChallenge posts right here:

For this particular challenge, I’ve opted to use several tenets:

First, I will utilize a handful of the techniques demonstrated in my good friend Justin Rader's Wrestling/Jiu-Jitsu DVD, the Hybrid Success Formula.  Justin famously heard how bad my wrestling skills were and sent me a copy of his DVD as a means of trying to help a brother out. And we have obviously seen how the wrestling has worked out for him.  If I can get even the smallest of percent better because of it, I feel it’s worth a shot.  I’ll pick a set of tips Justin outlines in his DVD and likely do some write ups on how the implementation of it goes (perhaps even getting some video footage).

Second, I will make it a priority to train at least some form of wrestling during open mat sessions over the next month.  I won’t like it much, but I will ask my training partners to help push me to at least try some of this stuff during some live rolls.  

Third, I will take advantage of watching the Olympics as a further means of study.  While I am not stupid enough to believe I will be able to replicate what I see these truly gifted and hardworking athletes do on the television, I will assign myself some homework in deconstructing the small things that make them so effective at what they’re doing.  I have often found that breaking down even the smallest of things about jiu-jitsu in my writing has helped to uncover some major developments in my game.  

Fourth, I will call in for backup.  While I may not be all that gifted at wrestling, I happen to have a wide network of people at my disposal here in Southern California who are AND have all offered to help in some way.  This may include making some trips to visit some friends you may recognize from the podcast.  

And finally, I will take recommendations from you all.  I know you’ve got better things to do, but I’ve often found the grappling community to be a helpful bunch of individuals.  I’ll ask that you throw your best YouTube videos, articles or advice my way and do my best to implement it as I adapt the tenets of this challenge as we go.  I am a big proponent of constructive notes and will appreciate any help you guys will be willing to give my way.  

I fully understand this will not be easy (confronting our weaknesses is never a fun process).  I also understand I’ll likely be falling flat on my face in front of a mass audience.  I don’t really mind.  My jiu-jitsu journey has always focused on the big picture.  Temporary failure is just the path to long term development.  

And, yes, I fully get there is a gimmicky element to the 30 Day aspect of this thing.  I tend to do well with micro-goals.  It’s like when I go to roll in a given class, I come up with a set of small goals I look to do each class (perhaps establish a good entry into deep-half, land at least one good sweep, etc. etc.).  When I outline a set of micro-goals, I tend to notice I can not only surpass my own expectations, but that I can also chain them together to create even larger goals as a result.  Additionally, I’ve often found the only way to make something a routine is to start.  If by the end of it, I elect only to sit to seated guard, then so be it.  At least, I’ll feel content knowing I challenged myself to try and get out of my comfort zone.  

I also texted Rader tonight to let him know I'm finally ready to give this 30 day challenge a shot.  He is wildly excited to see how it plays out.  Admittedly, so am I.  In short, I am lucky to have good friends.

Anyway, thanks much for sticking around to hear my nonsense.  I hope you’ll follow along as I do this crazy thing.