Recap and Highlights of the US Sumo Nationals 2019

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 2019NorthAmericanSumo.com 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 NorthAmericanSumo@Gmail.com.  I am always happy to chat about sumo!  Also, please let me know…

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Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Stoicism: 4 connections between Stoicism and the philosophy of BJJ

Stoicism and BJJ: A great combination of practicality for life.

Michael Tremblay

  Greek civilization, Plinth of kouros statue, bas-relief depicting wrestlers, circa 510 B.C., detail, from Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, Greece

   Stoicism is an over two thousand year old philosophy originating in ancient Greece. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a modern martial art originating in Brazil. Despite these unique origins, they have a lot in common. I am both a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, and a PhD. candidate in philosophy studying Stoicism, and I have noticed that my philosophy helps my jiu-jitsu, but my jiu-jitsu also helps my practice of philosophy. Here is a list of the ways in which Stoicism and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu complement one another.

1. Stoicism and BJJ both place responsibility on the individual, and thus empower them to change themselves.

Stoicism is all about the choices we make. As an ethical system it tells us that we are responsible for our reactions to any given situation. If we are unhappy, angry, sad, or otherwise disaffected, it is up to us to change that, and not the…

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Book Review – As A Man Thinketh

Here is a nice review of a book with Stoic undertones. Both the book and the review are short and sweet.

The One Right Tool

As A Man Thinketh, by James Allen was originally published in 1902.  Though it’s well over 100 years old at this point, the principles of the book still hold.  The overarching theme of the book is – What we fill our minds with, becomes what our lives are filled with.  This review will be a short one, because it’s a short book. More of a collection of seven essays, all related the the same topic.  My copy is only 40 pages.

An interesting analogy used in the book is to relate your mind to a garden that you are in charge of tending.  Would you put seeds from weed plants in with your fruits or vegetables? If you’ve ever actually tended a garden and fought weeds for a season, you’ll pretty emphatically answer that question with a “hard no”.  Just like the garden, we have to work to keep weeds…

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Training through the years.

The Philosophical Fighter with Gustavo Machado, circa 2009.

Joshua Clements with Gustavo Machado in 2009.

This was me as a fresh white belt at my first seminar with Gustavo Machado, my head instructor. As I near ten years on the mat in Jiu Jitsu, plus the many more in Wrestling and Judo, I can’t help but think about this year and what it will be like. I have never tired of learning something new, and it seems the more I learn, the more the small details make the biggest changes in my game. It is not about adding to, but taking away, in the long run.

I started as a writer and progressed to being an editor. They are two different processes. In the former, I have a blank page and have to fill it up much as an artist does with a blank canvas. This is much the same as being a white belt. You grab techniques and put them in your arsenal. Before long, you have so much that the bag becomes too heavy to bear and you must dispense with something to keep going.

Being an editor is more like being a sculptor. You chip away at the inessential to get to the masterpiece underneath. This is where I like to think of my game. I want to unburden myself from the flashy and fancy techniques. Get back to the basics that make all grappling styles efficient. Just something I am dwelling on lately.

7 New Year’s Resolutions for Martial Artists

  1. Commit to being more disciplined

This year, be more disciplined in your training. Jocko Willink said, “How do you become better? There is only one way – The way of discipline.” This might mean doing more reps during class. You might get there early and do solo drills. Make every move count. With every new year, we should realize we are losing time, so make the most of it.

Be more disciplined in your nutrition. This means eating less crap. Less sugar and sodas. Less processed foods and box dinners. Less fast food (even Chic Fil A. It hurts, I know). Drink more water. I am trying to drink a gallon a day. Yes, I have to urinate often, but I feel more energetic. And let’s face it, as we get older, what we digest can be more effective than what we bench press.

Be more disciplined with your fitness. This doesn’t have to be signing up for a gym membership. It could be as easy as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. On your lunch break, go for a walk. Maybe play soccer with your kids for 20-30 minutes a day. Attempt to move more during the day. And don’t forget to stretch.

  1. Commit to being a better training partner

If you want to be a better training partner, one of the best ways is to focus on using proper technical application. Attempt to always us your technique instead of strength, particularly when you are drilling. It is okay to drill with speed when you are doing tournament preparation, but you should never muscle a move to make it work in training.

When you do get to roll or spar in the gym, don’t be a spaz. We know that white belts can be jerky in their movements. What’s worse is when someone with a colored belt spazzes like a new white belt. There is a reason the phrase “dirty white belt” is a thing. After a few times of that, no one will want to roll with you anymore. Most of us have to go to work the next day and don’t want to be injured by some maniac who can’t watch his speed or strength.

Make it a point to support and get to know your training partners as much as you can. This might mean going to watch or coach them at tournaments. It might mean getting together one weekend to watch fights. Getting to know your team will help you understand what each person needs in the room and how he might help you too.

  1. Grow your community

Speaking of training partners, try to spread the love. Don’t train with the same person all of the time. Various partners will offer you a new perspective and challenge you in different ways. Make it a point to reach out to someone new.

Going along with reaching out to new people, try this: Bring a friend. Our martial arts class is not Fight Club, where the number one rule is to never talk about it. Tell everyone you know (that you trust to choke you) and bring him or her to class.

  1. Reflect on your past and contemplate your future

Look back at what you have learned in the last year. What techniques or discoveries, what accomplishments or goals did you realize? Take a moment to be thankful for those moments and the people that helped make them possible. This also might bring to mind a few areas for you to improve in the coming year.

After you have reflected on the past, take a look at what you want to learn this year. It may mean training outside of your comfort zone. If you are a dirty guard puller, try learning one takedown. If you are an evil leglocker, give wristlocks a try (that’s the ultimate evil). Maybe you want to learn to breathe better during a roll. Add a yoga class to your weekly routine. Does your half-guard game need improvement? Start your rolls in that position. Whatever the facet is that you want to learn, plan for ways to make it happen.

While you are dwelling on what you want to accomplish, ask yourself, “Why is this important?” What will it do to improve your life? If you know the answer to these questions, it will help you stay committed to your goals.

  1. Focus on being happy

Be happy to be able to train. I lost several young people in my life last year, including a long-time training partner who was 44. I spoke about and quoted him in an earlier post. He was happy to be able to do anything as his diagnosis progressed. Every day, he was robbed of something else. Epictetus said, “If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone. Cherish your abilities and opportunities now. Be happy you have them and don’t squander them.

One great way to be happy is to stay away from negative Nancies. If there are people who are draining you of your joy by being negative, kick them to the curb. They are like sirens lulling you to the depths to be drowned. Find people who are interested in getting things done and align yourself to them. A rising tide raises all boats. We want to stay on the surface of the water and rise with it.

  1. Focus on learning, not winning or losing

This is especially true if you compete. The phrase “you win some or you learn some” fits this scenario. The training room should be a sacred place where losing is not seen as a bad event, but treated as a learning opportunity. That’s why we train: to improve our skill set. Epictetus once said, “A man cannot begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” If you are dead-set on winning all the time, not only will you be disappointed when you don’t get the victory, but you will also cease to progress as a student and practitioner.

This might mean you need to change the goal of your roll from tapping your training partner to hitting a sweep consistently. Or it might be that you focus on not getting swept against a person who has a great guard game. Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves.” If the goal is unattainable, change it. That brings me to my last point.

  1. Focus less on what others are doing and more on what you’re doing.

I used to watch my teammates and opponents to see what they were doing. And now and then, I wondered what the newest technique on the block might be. The problem with this is that when I focused on other people, I lost sight of my goals, my strengths, my weaknesses. This year, make it a point not to care about anyone else’s new promotion, gold medal, or flashy technique. This is your journey, so you do you.

Happy 2019, everyone.

 

Quitting: Should I walk away?

Quitting

Should I quit? A question we often ask ourselves.

Have you ever felt like quitting? Whether it’s a martial art, a marriage, or a job, we’ve all felt like giving up the fight at some point in our lives. So what do we do when we face the temptation to walk away?

Let’s look at why people quit. Some do it because of the stress involved in the activity. Others may stop because of a particular person or an undesirable task. In my martial arts experience, many quit because of family and work obligations. Of course, there are those that drop out due to the training being harder than they expected, but I don’t find that to be the norm for the average participant.

One thing we have to realize about not quitting a hobby or even a passion is that in continuing to engage in the habit, I am giving up the opportunity to do something else. In economic theory, this is called an opportunity cost: forgoing one thing in order to do another.

For some of us, that sacrifice is financial. Giving up a few hours at work to be able to train can mean less money in the paycheck. For others, it could be spending a little less time with family and friends. Giving up that drink at the bar on Friday night can be a good thing. Pawning off your children to an in-law every week to train may have drawbacks long-term.

In contrast, what are the benefits of staying the course and continuing to train or strive at your task? First, no expert ever became such by quitting. We will likely never get good at something if we discontinue doing it. And if we develop a certain proficiency, we generally don’t maintain those skills by neglecting practice.

While walking away from something I have spent nearly a decade pursuing would certainly be tough, years invested is not what keeps me coming back in spite of numerous surgeries, broken bones, dislocations, and constant aches. What kind of sadist would I be if I said I enjoyed those woes?

No, the thing that keeps me tethered to my arts at this point is much the same as what keeps me in my marriage. It’s the relationship. The people I have met and have made an impact in my life are what fasten me to the masthead of this ship, even when the sirens are calling to drag me down. This list of inspiring individuals includes my instructors, my training partners, and now my students. Without them, I am not who I am. Each one has left a mark on my life that I cannot deny. Quitting now would be a slap in the face to all of them.

When I think about staying the course, even when it seems impossible, I remember what Paul wrote to Timothy in the Bible, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I want to be able to say that when I am ready to leave this world. Death may win the fight, but I want him to know he’s been in one. The only way to do that is to keep going, stay the course, and don’t quit.

 

Even Elvis Had a Black Belt

Being the good parent that I am, I recently made my children watch all of the Karate Kid movies (except the one I dub as Kung Fu kid for reasons I might reveal in the future). I hadn’t seen some of them in their entirety in many years. As we watched, it occurred to me that there are numerous incredible sayings in the films. Mr. Miyagi embodies the perfect teacher of both a martial art and how it applies to life.

I never thought much of the fourth film, The Next Karate Kid, with Hilary Swank playing Julie-san alongside Pat Morita as Mr. Myagi. That was until now. My 8-year-old daughter trains with me and I hope I am teaching her in a similar fashion to Mr. Miyagi. Hopefully, she will not be as impetuous as Julie-san.

During one of the exchanges between the two, Julie-san overcomes an obstacle in her training. Here is the dialogue from the scene:

Mr. Miyagi: Congratulations, Julie-san.

Julie: Congratulations? That’s all you’re gonna say is congratulations? Don’t I get a belt or something?

Mr. Miyagi: Buy belt more.

Julie: No, I mean a karate belt. Brown belt, black belt.

Mr. Miyagi: Why need belt?

Julie: So everyone knows I’m good!

Mr. Miyagi: You know you good. That important thing.

Julie: Oh come on, even Elvis Presley got a black belt.

Mr. Miyagi: Borrow from Elvis next time see him.

I’ve witnessed many instances where a student gets a black belt and quits an art entirely, particularly if the rank is awarded to a youth or adolescent. I think that is because the reason the person trained was to get an award, a trophy, or a belt rank, or it could be that her parents made her do it. To generalize this issue to our broader world, where participation trophies are the norm and everyone wants a reward for doing even the slightest of tasks, how can we overcome the idea that we must have justification for our effort?

To answer my question, let’s look at what attaining the coveted black belt means in a couple of styles. In Judo, the first level of black belt is called shodan. It means, “beginning step.” As a practitioner, you have learned enough to display decent technique and you can demonstrate some of it to another practitioner. Nic Gregoriades, a great thinker and applier of martial arts to life, wrote that being a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gives a person a “fresh set of eyes” to see that although he knows many techniques, there is always room for improvement. He also wrote that the path to black belt should have made you a better person.

If these definitions hold true, then it seems that striving for a piece of colored cloth is a poor goal indeed. Why train so hard and for so long at something if it will not change your life and your mentality? Often in class, I remind everyone to ever be the student. Attaining black belt should be just that, a reminder to ever be the student. It should open our eyes to how little we know and how much more there is to learn. Lastly, we should be at a point in our martial art journey where the principles we learn in practicing our arts permeate our daily lives. Mr. Miyagi was a prime example of this philosophy.

As a caveat, having a black belt does not automatically imply that you are good at your art, as Julie-san thought it would do. If you have not dedicated time and effort to improving your technique, it will not serve you well when that belt is put to the test. Please do not think that having a black belt in any art is instant protection from a willing attacker or opponent. We train to fight so that we can be ready, not so we can be rewarded. Royce Gracie said it best, “A black belt only covers two inches of you’re a** – you have to cover the rest.”

Photo credit: http://www.elvispresleyindex.com.br/2014/05/elvis-e-o-karate.html

Your Best Competition––You

Who needs truth when you have an incredible tale to tell? Alexander the Great, one of the most successful conquerors of all time, was purported to have wept when he surveyed the size of his kingdom and realized there were no more lands to subdue. This makes for a great analogy even if I believe it is not entirely historically accurate.

I have realized as a martial artist and competitor that when I had to wrestle younger, more athletic opponents, I was not always on top or the best. In spite of this, the real victory for me is knowing that I am overcoming my own hurdles, my own adversities. Being better today than I was yesterday is what I have to look back at as well as look forward to.

I have many medals, but one lone trophy sits on a shelf at my gym. It’s a first place (my only first place actually). It’s plastic. It is no indication of where I am heading, but merely where I have been.

Some individuals have more trophies than others, certainly more than me. A trophy can be any number of things from a piece of plastic to your dream job or a time when you were in your physical prime. We look back to those items or times and remember how we felt in those moments, perhaps what it was like to be on top. This sense of pride overwhelms us and we smile.

Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but generally, these things also indicate that we beat someone in a game or a match of some sort. Or perhaps we got a job over someone else, or through a genetic lottery, we naturally looked better than other individuals around us. They all mean that we were in some way at odds with or in competition against other people.

There have been great athletes who certainly know the feeling of besting an opponent. Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend known as “the greatest,” even wrote a rhyme about how great he was: “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”

The question in the minds of any champion, even the greatest, is when will my reign end? What happens when the game is over? What happens when there is no one else to conquer or award to win?

Truly there is only one person that you can consistently try to overcome. That person is you. By making your fight against who you were yesterday, you will never lack for an opponent and you will also not have to worry about younger, stronger competition.

The opportunity to vie against others will come and go, but according to Confucius, “he who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.” The person you will always have to compete against will be facing you in the mirror each morning. While there is no trophy or monetary gain from a victory over personal adversity, it certainly has a sense of satisfaction. Make it a point to be a better you every morning.

 

 

 

High Expectations and T-Rex Arms

I had a wise friend once tell me, “Aim low and achieve your goals. Don’t be disappointed. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” While I found his wisdom hilarious, I also thought about the weasel getting a shotgun shoved up his nose by the farmer when he caught it in the hen house.

All joking aside, the reality of disappointment can shake us and throw us off course, sometimes derailing us indefinitely. I believe much of this distress comes because we have overreached in our hopes, or overextended our expectations.

Disappointment is something we all have felt and will continue to feel. The Bible guarantees it when Jesus says, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). In Buddhism, suffering because of desire or craving is one of the four Noble Truths. If it is universal, how can we combat the frustration of disappointment? I am not asking how to deal with it after the fact, but how to avoid it altogether.

When I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, my coach, Mr. Ken Hudson, would often tell us, “T-Rex arms.” This was his way of teaching us not to extend our arms carelessly. The result of doing so was almost always an armbar of some sort. For those who might be new to BJJ and Judo, or hope to try it someday, when you are in a bad position, keep your arms bent, elbows at your side. This is the definition of “T-Rex” arms. It will prevent having a sore elbow the next day.

In grappling arts, we often get overzealous escaping mount or doing a guard pass. We forget the “T-Rex” mantra and extend those arms just a little too much. Our opponent capitalizes on it and we are forced to submit. Sounds like life when we get our hopes up. Having high expectations can set us up for failure and instead of an aching arm, we are left with broken hearts and injured minds.

Just like “T-Rex arms” can keep me safe in a grappling situation, not overreaching in what I expect of other people, life events, or any even myself can save me from an immense amount grief. Setting smaller goals also enables me to more efficiently measure my outcomes against my original expectations because the change is minor in the short run. But through the consistent conquering of small obstacles, I build a habit and over the long term, the effects are enormous.

I am not suggesting that we neglect positive thinking entirely, but that we keep it in check with reality. Set attainable goals. Strive for achievable dreams. If you go further than expected, your joy will be that much greater.

Shakespeare wrote, “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises.” If he could have written a modern day interpretation, he might have said, “Don’t expect too much and keepeth thine arms bent and at thy side.”

 

Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.

On vacation at the beach with my family, we decided to take a stroll through an antique store. We do this ritual every year around the fourth of July, so I have seen most of the items in this shop over the last several years. Nothing new to me, but I indulge my curiosity just the same.

Browsing the same cubbies I always do hoping to score a relic of the past that I can’t live without, I stumbled upon a bronze plaque. It looked like it came off of a memorial or a grave of some sort. It had Chinese characters and the words, “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think” etched onto it.

The words of this Chinese proverb turned international hit song struck me. I am in my mid-thirties now, young by some standards, but nearing elderly if you ask an adolescent. Surely though, I have many more years ahead than behind, so why should I be concerned? Ah, but it is later than I think.

In the last month, I lost a friend who was 31 to cancer. Another young friend, 18 and getting ready to do a triathlon, was hit while cycling with her mother. The sad reality is that we only get this one shot at life and it is a short one.

Seneca, one of the big three Stoics, wrote on the brevity of life. He said, “You must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.” A stream that will not always flow. That is a certainty we often fear facing.

The question is what are we to do with our time while it is yet in our hands? A longtime training partner and friend of mine was diagnosed with ALS last year. At one point in our lives, we talked about how to fight human opponents. Now, he is teaching me how to fight the frailty of a fleeting life. In a recent post, he offered a reflection on things we can do to make the best of our time:

  1. Take that walk on the beach. Wheelchairs don’t roll well in the sand!
  2. Hug your family. When your arms don’t work anymore, take advantage of lifting your hands and worship! I really miss this.
  3. Eat that extra piece of cheesecake. Nobody really cared what you looked like anyway… lol
  4. Keep your words sweet. And forgive often.
  5. Call in sick to work every once in a while. When you’re laying on your deathbed, nobody ever says they wish they’d spent more time at work!
  6. Go outside and pet your dog. I think you appreciate that.
  7. Visit someone in the hospital or the nursing home. Even the shut-ins. This is a big one for me
  8. Don’t make a big deal about small things.
  9. Don’t waste time! It’s something you cannot buy back.
  10. Do good things people will remember you for. Not problems you caused.

I often get asked why I continue to put my body through hell in the martial arts arena. It’s because I enjoy it and I may not make it to retirement age. I don’t want to get old and have nothing to look back on with a sense of accomplishment. There is no sense in having wrinkles without a few scars to prove you lived. I will leave you with another of Seneca’s thoughts on the matter: “Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.” Remember to enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.