Passing Guard: Pressure is Persuasion

“Pressure is persuasion,” I yelled to one of my students as he tried to pass his opponent’s guard. The tournament official next to me looked at me funny and smiled. “I like that,” he said. Afterward, the official and I had a conversation about persuasion and martial arts.

Part of my professional background is in communication and marketing. One of the areas I enjoy in my field is persuasion. For a marketer, that might be getting you to purchase a product or use a service. For a communicator, it might be getting you to show up to an event or fill out a survey.

But what does persuasion have to do with the martial arts? Or, more specifically, grappling arts?

In the context of passing guard, arguably one position many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners tend to want to be in, pressure can be an incredible tool. If you have me in the guard, whether it is open-guard (DLR, Butterfly, Spider, etc.) or closed-guard, I am not going to get out of it as long as you are comfortable. You have it in your mind that you are OK and I am not winning. But when I create pressure properly, I might just persuade you to let me pass.

If we are in the guard and try to create distance or separate ourselves from our opponent, it can be extremely difficult if he or she knows the intricacies of controlling posture. This is where pressure shines. By appropriately applying pressure, i.e., driving my opponent through the mat and not letting him create space or shrimp his hips, I can pass safely and end up in a top position.

Pressure is also useful because it is, in my opinion, easier to conserve energy by using gravity. If you are using passes that require several moves or a fast-paced approach, what happens when you are tired or against someone with incredible guard retention? If I am in your guard, I want to encourage you to change your mind. Pressure is persuasion. More on the idea of persuasion coming soon.

What type of guard passes do you like best?




Keep your head up.

We were just kids who wanted to wrestle. It’s hard to believe where we all are today. It seems like a different world.

As we progress through our journey in martial arts, we face many obstacles such as learning curves, harder techniques, and tougher opponents.

The young men in this picture faced obstacles over the last 9-10 years that were harder than anything experienced on the mat.

Marriage. Divorce. Kids. College. Career change. Surgery. My friend Roy to my left on the end in the black gi? He battled ALS and never lost his faith in God or Jiu Jitsu. He passed away almost a year ago.

The young men in this photo are champions all. Not because of medals or awards. In life, it’s about keeping our head up even if our hand isn’t being raised.

What are you struggling with and how can training help you overcome it?

What I’ve been up to lately.

I know it’s been a few months since my last post, so I wanted to touch base. I haven’t given up opining—quite the contrary. I have had numerous things on my mind lately, much of which I am eager to share with you in the coming months.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was opening my own martial arts studio. We held our first official class in early August. I have nearly completed the renovation and installation of my mats and flooring system. There are still a few odds and ends before I can claim we are 100% finished, but the doors are open and training is going well. I love my new mats (Dollamur/Swain hybrid surface) and the subfloor made with 3″ foam blocks. We have around double the mat space from our old location, and the best part is that we have air conditioning. That is a huge plus being in South Ga.

Opening the studio has been much like clockwork. I say that to encourage anyone who might want to one day open a business or facility of his or her own. If you have a little seed money, a game plan, and the ambition to make it happen, you have everything you need. The most expensive part of my build-out was matting. If you don’t want to use tatami or roll out style mats, there are several more financially feasible options such as puzzle mats, flooring foam and canvas covering, or finding a gym who is closing and willing to cut a deal.

If you want to follow my lead, here are a few items I had in my process. I purchased the subfloor foam from Wisconsin Foam. The plywood came from Lowes. You can see some of the process in the pictures below. Getting insurance was easy through Most of my students followed me from the old location and I am using Square for billing.

I also created a website for my new academy. Check it out at

I am surely glossing over a few details, but transparency is important to me. If you want to know more about how we made this happen, I would love to chat about it.

Out with the old.

Jesse and Matt tear down the wall.


Breaking a few eggs to make an omelet,


Breaking more eggs.


Jason fixing the plumbing.


Applying the foam blocks.


Laying the subfloor down.


More subfloor.


Second layer of plywood going down.


Dollamur/Swain hybrid mats.



My daughter to show how much we had done.


Mats and Matt.




Almost complete.


Intense discussions amid the work.


Our sign.


A class in the new gym.


I’ll close this segment with a couple of questions:

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

What are you doing right now to get there?

A Lesson Learned

If you ever wonder what I do when I am not training or waxing philosophical on a mat, here is one thing I do in what little spare time I have: write. If you read this blog, you already knew that. I write for local newspapers and magazines as well as research papers for graduate school. I recently had a piece published in Deep South Magazine that is deeply meaningful to me. It tells of a time when a chance meeting opened my mind to the world around me. Please take a minute to read it if you can. And as always, thank you for being a willing audience.

Here is the link:

Pull the trigger and eat the frog.

Judo coach Hap Wheeler always has words of encouragement for his students as they maneuver through techniques against unwilling opponents: “Pull the trigger.” I hear him say this phrase in my head often when I hesitate to do something. My last post was about fear and how to use it to do new things and learn new ideas. That often means pulling the trigger and getting over the fear.

One of the most valuable principles of Judo is “consider fully; act decisively.” That’s the essence Hap is getting at with his students. It’s the same sentiment Yoda shares with young Luke Skywalker: “Do or do not; there is no try.” We cannot give a partial effort to do something and always expect great outcomes. If we do something to its fullest and the result is not what we wanted, at least we have answered the question of “what if.” We have learned and gained experience (knowledge + experience = wisdom).

How do we get over the trepidation of pulling the trigger or acting decisively? One suggestion is to “eat the frog.”

In all of his uncanny wit and sensibility, Mark Twain advised, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning, and if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. “

We tend to let the “frogs” in our lives keep us from doing something. They are often the source of procrastination, hesitation, and fear. Twain’s point with the metaphor is to do the hard thing first. Get it out of the way early in the morning and the rest of the day will be easy.

How can we apply this to the martial arts? Maybe we can get off the couch and work toward losing those extra few pounds keeping us from our ideal weight class. It might be that we sign up for a tournament because we have never tested our skills in the arena. Perhaps we set about learning that last kata keeping us from earning our Shodan (ahem, this is for me).

One area that I have been hesitant to pull the trigger was leaving my comfort zone and starting my own martial arts studio. I have operated my program through a local non-profit for over four years. While it has been good for much of the time, we have outgrown our space and the capacity with which the organization can help. It was time for me to strike out on my own.

I had the want to do so a year ago, but I just couldn’t seem to pull that trigger. After a year of debate, hesitation, and fear, I ate the frog. My new studio, Redemption Martial Arts Academy, will open in August. It has been liberating knowing that whatever happens, I have done the hard part. Yes, there is construction to be done, money to be spent, and the business side of it to complete, but that first step is over.

If you have something holding you back from seeing your dreams become a reality, wake up in the morning, pull the trigger and eat that frog. You will be glad you did.

Are you using your fear properly?

Version 2

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – attributed to Mark Twain

I recently had a friend ask me about fear, how to think about it and handle it. I pondered for a bit and asked myself why we have fears in the first place.

Do children have natural fear? In some instances, yes, particularly as they age into adolescence. One thing I have learned by being the father of a little boy is that they generally are not scared to jump off the top of a slide or run headlong into a flying flip. It never crossed my son’s mind that this might be dangerous. It’s my job to teach him that. So far, he hasn’t hurt himself doing it. He is better at it now than he used to be, so much so that his first gymnastics coach asked where he learned to tumble. “From being a boy with no inhibition.”

Part of being a martial arts instructor (or any kind of teacher) is getting your students to release the fears they have been taught and quit focusing on the “What ifs.” “What if I get hurt?” “What if what you teach disagrees with what I’ve previously learned?” “What if…”

Some people fear uncertainty. Humans tend to be risk-averse. This is an economic term meaning a person is cautious of losing and seeks a safer investment option. Many people would rather not lose than win. That’s not a paradox. You see this in martial arts too. In competition, we may play it safe and not go for a submission or takedowns because we might lose our position or footing. Afraid to fall. Afraid to fail. I recently told a student at my college, “A ship is safer in the harbor, but that’s not what it was built for.” We should never let the fear of the unknown stop us from seeking new things.

We often don’t realize that our fears are merely misguided perceptions. Seneca wrote, “We are more often frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” You might take a step back from whatever is blocking your way and causing your fear. Examine it for what it truly is. Tim Ferris says defining your fears is more important than defining your goals. Those fears may be what is keeping you from obtaining your goals.

Another way to cope with the anxiety caused by fear is to use negative visualization (premeditatio malorum). Think about the absolute worst outcome for a scenario. If it pertains to martial arts, it might be that you break a limb during training (happened to me) or you tear up another student’s knee (also happened to me). In life, it might be that you ponder what would happen if your wife died suddenly of a heart attack or that a drunk driver hit your children. I know this sounds heinous, but by going ahead and processing what you might feel and visualizing the worst cases, you are freer to embrace the adventure and live in the moment. Understanding that life generally happens on the continuum of best case and worst case scenarios, if you prepare mentally for the worst, falling somewhere in the middle is a plus.

One of the most widely realized fears is the fear of death. Are you afraid of dying? Why? I typically look to Stoicism for answers to life, but in the case of death, I will defer to Epicurus. He wrote, “Death is nothing to us.” It is futile to the living because if you are alive, you are not dead. And it is fruitless to the dead because if you are dead, you have cannot care one way or another.

My question is, if death is what stops you in your tracks, perhaps you have not embraced living to its fullest. Marcus Aurelius (back to the Stoics) wrote, “You will give yourself peace of mind if you perform every act of your life as if it were your last.”

I have learned to embrace the uncertainty that drives our fear. I thrive on that chaos, that whirlwind, to use a Biblical analogy. The presence of fear should be an indication of something unknown. If you can harness it and turn it into excitement about learning something new or the potential to overcome an obstacle, it can be a powerful tool. When you step into the ring or on the competition stage, you may lose the match. But if you focus only on winning or losing, you lose sight of a bigger picture: the chance to learn and grow.

What fears are you experiencing? Do they stem from winning/losing? Getting hurt? Dying? What are you doing to use that fear or overcome it?




Jedi Lifestyle: 3 Ways to Use the Force

Other than a few random sheltered individuals, most people know who the Jedi are. Who doesn’t love master Yoda and even have a special place in their hearts for Darth Vader, the Jedi who was led astray by his anger and the dark side?

What if the Jedi were real people? Who might they be? What might they try to teach you? We know levitation and ESP are not currently available and lightsabers are still a few years in the making. I can think of a few teachers who might embody the spirit of the Jedi: Angela Duckworth (Grit), Carol Dweck (Mindset), and lastly, a real-life Yoda, Epictetus (Will Power). Each of these individuals brings an element to the table which is needed to create a successful attitude and mentality.

What is Grit? According to Duckworth, grit is about effort. This includes both Perseverance: working hard even in the face of setbacks; and Consistency: sticking to your goals. Duckworth conducted a study on West Point cadets which demonstrated that the students who ranked higher on her grit scale had the highest GPAs. In her studies, she illustrated that grit has more to do with success than IQ, which is constant over time whereas grit can change.

How can you grow your grit? Duckworth suggests focusing on your effort instead of your talents. We tend to plateau faster if we only work on the things at which we are naturally good. This also plays to the idea that habit overcomes obstacles in our training and our lives. Through consistent practice, there is no technique or skill we cannot master.

To stay the course in our training or in life, we need people who are going to push us to be better every day. Therefore, associate with achievers and radiators instead of drains, to quote a mentor of mine. Seek out and align yourself with the people who will make you better.

Perhaps the most essential element of grit is your frame of mind. Mindset matters most. Remember that. What is Mindset? According to Dweck, there are two kinds:

  • Fixed mindset
    • intelligence and ability are innate
    • avoid challenges and give up easily
    • compare themselves to others
    • do not value criticism or feedback
    • focus on the grade of the assignment
  • Growth mindset
    • ability can be developed through effort
    • seek challenges in the face of failure
    • compare themselves to yesterday
    • criticism or feedback is welcomed
    • focus on learning the material

It is imperative for us to maintain the proper mindset when we begin training. Never say to yourself, “I’m not a math person” or “I will never understand this technique.” That is defeatism and a fixed mindset. Get rid of it.

Ok. We’ve discussed grit and mindset. How do we use the force?

Remember what Yoda said to young Luke: “Beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…” ― Yoda.

Don’t panic and get angry. That’s the dark side. Focus on what is in your control and on getting the job done. Longtime student of Epictetus and devout Stoic, Jim Stockdale once wrote, “Each individual brings about his own good and his own evil, his good fortune, his ill fortune, his happiness, and his wretchedness.” Regardless of the circumstance or situation, it is up to you to grow your grit and mature your mindset. Stockdale went from being an officer over numerous men to being a prisoner tied to a post in a manner of minutes. His status in life changed, but not his grit or his mindset. Epictetus once said, “Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”

What circumstance or trial are you going through today that will help you grow your grit and mindset?

The Books You Read Are Safe…


I had an epiphany the other day: The Neverending Story is an entirely different movie when you are an adult.

I watched it with my kids a while back and they loved it. My son requested it daily for several days afterward. The scene with the wolf scared him slightly, but much like Sebastian, he overcame his fear. There are so many memories from that film for me, but they are framed by what they meant to me as a child. The scenes took on new meaning watching it as an adult.

Atreyu resonates with me as much as he did when I was a child, not because he was cool and carefree, but because he embodies the aspects of liberty, dignity, and responsibility that I cherish as an adult. He, even at a young age, took care of himself on the plains hunting the white buffalo. He didn’t show fear when the darkness reared its ugly head. He walked through the gates of the oracle when older warriors had failed.

The monologue from Rockbiter was lost on me as a child. Now, it nearly breaks my heart. “They look like good, strong hands, don’t they?” he said, as he thought about what his hands couldn’t keep hold of. How often have we pondered the same thing as adults? As martial artists? We foolishly believe muscles, size, or even weapons can protect us when the darkness sweeps across our lives. What Rockbiter lacked, as so many of us do, was the one thing Atreyu had in abundance: the mental fortitude and life experience to overcome even the worst of circumstances. He had developed these as a warrior on the plains.

Another item from the film that stuck out to me as an adult (aside from Sebastian’s dad cracking a raw egg into a glass and drinking it; so 1984) was what the storekeeper told Sebastian when he encountered the book. He said, “Your books are safe. While reading them, you get to become Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe… but afterward, you get to be a little boy again… This book is not for you.”

Ponder that for a second. The books you read are safe. There is no skin in the game. Do they take you somewhere or change your perception of the world? Do they make you more aware of your surroundings? Do they reveal things about you or the world around you that make you pause to remember, reflect, or regret? If the answer is no, then what you are reading is safe.

The same questions apply to your martial art. If your training gives you insights, whether physical, mental, or spiritual, you have a redeeming quality in the art. If the art tests you, takes you the brink of defeat and failure, but also empowers you to press forward, it is a useful art. But if the art in which you train claims to have some esoteric principles or secret physical powers that can beat anyone, yet it has never been proven effective in real life against unwilling opponents, then the art you train is safe.

There can be no development of inner fortitude without pressure, both from outside and within. There is no progress of ability without the diligence of training and dedication to principles. There is no growth without skin in the game. If your art does not require that of you, it is too safe.

We often remember the books and films of our childhood with a smile, but when we revisit them with adult eyes, they can reveal our naiveté about the world. We must consistently evaluate our perception against new experiences and new information. I love The Neverending Story because of its connection to my childhood. Now, I love it because it shows me that change and discovery should be a never-ending process. Perhaps it is time for you to open a different book in your life, one that is not safe, one that pushes your limits.

The snooze button is stronger than You? Read this! -Reblog

How often do you hit the snooze button? Maybe this short post will help.

Pointless Overthinking

The circadian rhythmDrawing by Adrian Serghie

Many people “cheat” on their morning routine and they hit the snooze button. Maybe hitting that snooze button is part of the morning routine now. How hard is it for you to wake up in the morning? Do you like pushing that snooze button? Have you ever wondered why?

Research shows that hitting the snooze button is a bad idea for our health because it disrupts our natural sleep patterns and it also messes up with our ability to wake up naturally. When the alarm goes off, our body gets into the waking up process. If we don’t wake up and we touch snooze, our body will try to go to sleep again and this cycle repeats itself a few times if you like playing with that button.

At a high level, after we hit that button, our body will try to go to sleep once…

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Recap and Highlights of the US Sumo Nationals 2019 – Reblog

Here is a recap of the US Sumo Nationals where I and4 others from Georgia competed. I took Silver in the new weight class even though I weighed in as a lightweight. It was fun. We will do it again next year.

North American Sumo

The US Sumo Nationals wrapped up last Saturday (2/9/2019), and what a great day of sumo!  There were so many exciting storylines and amazing matches, most of which I will recap and highlight below.  If you don’t want the results spoiled before watching, however, be sure to watch the complete video of the US Sumo Nationals was lucky enough to get access from Americus Abesamis‏, who has been a major player in North American sumo for quite awhile.  Thank you again, Americus!

If you need an introduction into the US Sumo Nationals 2019, be sure to check out our preview post.  It covers some of the primary competitors, but there were a few surprise appearances this year.  If you have any questions or comments afterwards, be sure to email me at  I am always happy to chat about sumo!  Also, please let me know…

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