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Just starting out in martial arts? Before you make the same mistakes I did, you’ve got to read this!

 

Whether it’s Gracie Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, Kali, or any other method of training it’s imperative that you get off to a good start. In this article I’m going to cover some tell tale signs to look for to find good training, just in case you don’t happen to be anywhere near RCW in Tigard and the Portland Area. Maybe you even live near us in Lake Oswego, but you’re already training elsewhere, I hope this information will help you prevent the same kind of mistakes I made along my continuing 30 year journey of martial arts.

First and foremost, how to identify if the coach knows what they’re doing.

I’ll give a couple examples but this isn’t as obvious as it sounds. I wish it was, but good martial arts is a rare find. It’s like discovering a world class musician, painter, auto mechanic, chef, or carpenter. You can relate to their craft, probably enjoy it, but replicating it at that moment is an impossible task. Let alone understanding all he tools and nuances of that trade.

Martial Arts is NOT an activity in the same way people pick up other physical hobbies. There’s such a vast difference between an aerobic boxing class and boxing as a professional sport they’re not remotely the same thing. Most of us understand that doing Tae Bo doesn’t mean we’re learning real boxing and self defense. The problem comes into finer detail when they’re eerily similar but different. Have you ever hired a contractor to work on your house and took the lowest bid? Only to find shoddy workmanship later, and hired another professional to come back and fix those mistakes. It’s because during the bidding process they seemed so similar the price was viewed as the major deciding factor.

Anything look different?

Rickson Gracie knows what he’s doing, notice he and the team behind him do NOT have cauliflower ear!

Watch the instructor closely, watch the students even more.

A good instructor will be able to relate key details to their students and pass on the knowledge to create numerous copies of their work. Do the senior students exhibit these same qualities? Look to see if these long term students (there should be some!) can perform the technique of the day easily, coach beginners on how to do it, AND make it work in live drills or sparring with resistance. The instructor should be able to perform the movement even if they’re into their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s. They should make it look effortless and relate the concepts contained in the idea presented. At RCW currently our head coaches are just entering their 40’s and have been training for more than 20 years. We would never ask a student to do something we haven’t done ourselves and often we can demonstrate it on the spot.

A good instructor should NOT have to be rough to prove anything to you!

People who are qualified know how to train. That means they can prepare people for competition without injuring them in the process. I have been privileged to train with some of the best in the world, and the better they were the safer the academy. Being hurt cuts your training short, you have to take time off, you lose training partners who are also out hurt, and being tough has little to no benefits! IT does NOT mean you never spar, or that the technique is not effective.

You should be able to FEEL the technique is effective and senior students should be able to handle beginners through skill, not by trying to be overly aggressive. This is another key area, where the natural inclination is that the harder people go at it the more “real” it must be. Nothing could be further from the truth. People like Rickson Gracie, Pedro Sauer, GSP, Bruce Lee, Anderson Silva, and countless other professionals all advocate training safely. Yet at the same time parring is alive elements of timing, pressure, control, and strategy that simulate reality.

What are their qualifications? Ask questions!

Are they offering Gracie Jiu Jitsu? Then they should be able to point to members of the Gracie family they’ve trained with. Jeet Kune Do, then surely they have some credential from Dan Inosanto or someone in the association. Be careful with quick photos, and paperwork on the wall, anyone can attend a seminar on a weekend and say they’re the next grandmaster. Funnily enough, across the board anyone I’ve met who’s qualified as a grandmaster NEVER wants to be called that! Your future instructor should have dedicated mentors who passed not the trade just like a head chef or an electrician. Who walked them along their path?

Go to the seminars and workshops!

At any good school, you should have the opportunity to work with the head instructor’s mentors. At RCW this year alone our students were offered the chance to work with Master Pedro Sauer of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, Henry Akins a a student of Rickson Gracie, Greg Nelson, Ajarn Chai of Muay Thai, and Dan Inosanto of JKD and Kali fame. When you attend these workshops the material you’re covering should be the SAME. If you’re affiliated with Dan Inosanto and claim to practice Kali or Silat and attend the seminar and it’s nothing what you practice all year long, then your school is NOT following the program!

Only one of two things could be the case here, either your instructor is exposed to material and chooses to do his or her own thing back home. That usually means they think they’re own material is better but they are depriving you of what you’re paying for and after years of this they probably can’t perform the technique either! Secondly, they might not have ever been in the affiliation to begin with! Countless people SAY they do Gracie Jiu Jitsu but very few are actually connected to the family and the art. It’d be like getting hired at a fancy Italian restaurant with farm to table food and then they find out you’ve only worked at the Olive Garden. They’re similar on the most basic level but drastically different!

Don’t fall for extremism!

A quick glance on Youtube and you’ll find some top videos with literally MILLIONS of views, often provided by people who have ZERO experience in the advice they’re giving. Phony JKD representatives, bad Jiu Jitsu, and self defense technique that if you tried to use it in a real fight you might not even make it home. Worse still is I’ve seen schools adopt this attitude and start ramping up their vocal intensity as if it adds something to the movement. Sadly, people who lack confidence can view these people as knowledgeable and be quickly defrauded. That person might even believe, like a bad relationship, that their next instructor has to exhibit the same machismo all the time or it must not be authentic.

I cannot tell you how many former Krav Maga students, and even black belts, I’ve had come through RCW only to find out their intensity and material just doesn’t work. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but that is the sad fact. Many people don’t break free of the extremism paradigm and will fight to defend it. As recently as this week in November 2019 I had a recent transplant from Krav Maga in our adult classes. I came in to start the class and the young man was asking another coach “what if I do this, oh wait let me do it as hard as I can…I’ll try this now… ugh ugh!”

Our coach was barely responding and just asking what he was trying to do as this young man tried to throw him around every which way. Before we could deduce the intent, the man exclaimed, “are you serious! None of this stuff works, I wasted a year of my life for what? I thought I was learning something.” This young guy might not know it yet, but he’s in a field of one in ten or twenty who ever look deeper.

Van Damme is in shape, but it doesn’t mean he knows martial arts

I made all these mistakes and more…

That’s right, I’m speaking from personal experience. I hired the sub-contractor and was duped for years trying to find the gold standard for RCW. I was lied to by people who told me they had qualifications. I was lied to by people who told me they could give me qualifications. I too fell into the trap that if training was hardcore it must be genuine. There was even a would-be-mentor I worked with who I later discovered was basically running a small cult! The problem with getting hooked on horrible training is that it can be hard to tell the difference even after a couple years.  Once you’re drinking the Kool-Aid, the sensation of being trapped can take a tremendous mental will to break through.

I had to throw it all away

When I encountered my failure at finding genuine Gracie Jiu Jitsu and had to say “uncle” to Relson, I didn’t run from it. I knew I had found what I was looking for, I was in awe that this 60 plus year old man could wrap me up. He smiled ear to ear, he didn’t use any muscle, and I was playing what sounded like drum beats constantly tapping out. I could’ve blown it off, or called him a jerk, but I knew right then this was a real thing. I wanted that skill to use leverage and principle over muscle and aggression. If it worked for him, I hoped it would work for me and I left the MMA school for Gracie Jiu Jitsu and never regretted it for a moment.

 

TL:DR!

  1. It’s worse to train with horrible people than to not train at all
  2. Observe the instructor and other students
  3. Make them show you their credentials/who trained them?
  4. If advanced students can show efficacy while smiling, they probably have “it.”
  5. Attend workshops and compare your school to the material presented
  6. Being rough is not a sign of good training, it’s the opposite!
  7. Don’t be afraid to start over, it’s never too late!

 

 

 

Good luck out there! When I was a kid good training was hard to find because it was such a rarity. It’s still rare, but good training is now hard to find because there’s schools on every block. In the last 5 years almost as many schools have closed around RCW as have opened. The one thing you can’t get back is time, invest yourself and really find out where you should be training to get the results you want.

 

 

 

Gracie Jiu Jitsu isn’t just for the athletic, the strong, the young, or the GIANT! 

Helio Gracie, who launched Jiu Jitsu into the mainstream along with his sons, was not a large man. Tipping the scales at 145lbs and a height of 5’9 he was average in stature. What he accomplished is the stuff of martial arts legends and the point I’m going to make is beyond the fact he was an immigrant to the U.S, learned a foreign martial arts style (Jiu Jitsu was originally from Japan), and completely disrupted that system and evolved the ground game. Then along with his sons he developed the idea for the UFC and lit the world stage of MMA on fire. What I’m saying is, Helio Gracie and the authentic pioneers still pushing the art did something even more incredible than all of this!

Quest for authenticity:

I have been on a journey since the 1980’s to find “real” martial arts. There’s a number of reasons for this like having a fraudulent karate instructor who lied about teaching Jeet Kune Do (JKD) like we do at RCW. Another contributor was an MMA school where I was supposedly learning BJJ and Grappling. Yet, it didn’t seem to work on students bigger or more athletic than myself. I looked inward for blame and surely thought I must be doing something wrong! This is the nightmare that keeps me awake at night, someone is out there who hasn’t found this piece of the puzzle yet. They think Krav Maga and all the confidence they instill in their class is ready for genuine reality. In my career path I have learned the different between feeling confident, and having skill. You have to be certain without a shred of doubt that your material is going to work for you when you need it.

Real self defense prepares you to survive any situation

GM Helio Gracie’s biggest contribution to the world was packaging a system that could serve any one, any size. Other greats have been able to do this like Dan Inosanto who is the heir apparent to JKD. Gracie Jiu Jitsu/BJJ when done correctly though, is such an efficient form of defense that you almost don’t need anything else! That’s a monster claim, and I’ll address it momentarily, but for now check out our own Coach Holly demonstrating one possibility for escaping the bear hug. This hold can be used in a variety of ways, but typically on the street it is used to drag people somewhere they don’t want to go.

Self defense with coach Holly!Rivercitywarrior.com

Posted by River City Warriors on Thursday, 19 September 2019

 

What if…???

It’s one possible escape for the bear hug as shown here, and there are numerous others and perspectives that include striking. So why not do those? Well for one, this is the method as Helio Gracie and his successor Pedro Sauer teach it. Secondly, and this is the struggle for real BJJ, it often looks like there’s something else you could do like hit the groin or the throat. When someone grabs you correctly, it is impossible to do those things. Think about this, those moves were legal in the first several years of the UFC, but how come Royce Gracie didn’t get hit in the groin or the throat? Because the technique works! At our academy we believe a move or technique must satisfy a few requirements. It should be based on leverage, a connection to the opponent using weight and scientific principle, it should also be effective when done slowly against a full on 100% resisting partner. Sometimes when you’re looking from the outside, you can’t get a sense for how it feels. You might think to yourself it looks easy to fly a plane or drive a formula one race car, but behind the seat of the machine it’s a whole other world. Jiu Jitsu is like that, it’s simple and effective, but sometimes slow and once you have a feel for it you won’t settle for anything less.

Using BJJ as a way

Back to the packaging of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, when it’s authentic the curriculum encompasses all manner of scenarios. For instance on our white to blue belt exam, the first major milestone of your journey, we emphasize about 35 standing defensive maneuvers. Out of list of 88 total moves this is a huge percentage of the exam. This is what sets RCW apart from schools that do BJJ solely for tournaments. GM Gracie and Pedro Sauer believe that the self defense aspect is one of the most important pillars of the art.

If you get in an altercation out on the street there’s no points, and you certainly wouldn’t sit down on the ground and expect your assailant to walk in and grapple with you. Because of this we feel it necessary that all students at RCW have these stand up elements like the one shown in the video. Eventually all students will do these techniques under a high level of stress and pressure, because they’re ready for it and they have to KNOW that it works.

This is what I mean when I wrote that if you only had Gracie Jiu Jitsu as a form of defense it would be enough. We can ponder things like John Wick, but how many of us are going to whip out our .45’s and go guns blazing. Nobody, self defense is going to come in the form of someone grabbing you on the street, or a single person trying to hit you. If you’re smaller, or female, odds are that the person is trying to intimidate you with their size and strength. In altercations like these the techniques that come out of Jiu Jitsu address the most common situations you could ever get into. And because the movements aren’t size dependent, anyone can feel confident in their own skin.

BJJ = Gracie Jiu Jitsu

Sometimes. Maybe. It depends. At RCW we were trained by the source, we have two Gracie certified Black Belts on site teaching classes each week. The curriculum that was passed down to us features a strong back bone in self defense that continues even on the ground. Meaning when we are “rolling,” the sparring in Jiu Jitsu, we are always aware of how to defend strikes and get to the best position for an advantage. Many sport based BJJ schools throw out this material altogether and focus on winning certain competitions by points alone. They don’t do any stand up defense and you’d be lucky to find a school that has solid takedowns found in wrestling. Usually these places have a few athletic students, frequent injury, and less than 1% of people that come through the door progress through these systems.

The knowledge of self defense prevents your joints and ligaments from being vulnerable to injury. In fact I have had several intermediate to black belt students visit our school and the ones from outside the Gracie method have NEVER seen the self defense positions like we offer. Be very wary of schools where BJJ means a lot of grip strength, jumping around, flashy agility, and moves dependent on flexibility. This is not the art, and these athletes generally don’t hold up well tot he test of time. Pedro Sauer opens seminars with “you need to be spoiled by good mechanics,” built on leverage, finesse, and skeletal structure. Once you get a taste for this elusive style of Jiu Jitsu you’ll be after it’s rewards forever AND you’ll be able to enjoy a long and healthy relationship with an art millions around the world love.

 

Don’t take our word for it.

In closing, one of my favorite quotes from Master Sauer is a simple “let’s see if that’s true.” Everything must be tested, much like the origins of JKD, the early days of the UFC, we need to put ourselves out there. At RCW we do exactly that, come see for yourself any time the difference in our Jiu Jitsu. Maybe you’re new to the sport, maybe you’ve been injured before, maybe you moved right after you achieved your purple belt, whatever the reason we welcome you with open arms.

In fact, we offer a free trial year round and typically the first 30 days for $1 dollar to prove we have the goods to keep people around. You can get yours right here –>FREE TRIAL<–

 

Thanks as always for reading!

Professor Joe Heller

We’ve all been there, down in the dumps ready and willing to pull the plug. In the end it could’ve been the right decision but more often than not we regret things that we relinquish too early.A common hurdle in life, but one less talked about is the stages of quitting. It doesn’t just happen overnight, and sometimes it happens before it begins. In my experience coaching mixed martial arts and self defense for over 20 years I’ve narrowed down the stages of quitting that I run into from time to time: and now a bulleted list, because everyone likes that.

  • The didn’t start yet quitter
  • The too quick quitter
  • The almost made it quitter
  • The mission accomplished quitter

If You Feel Like Quitting

The Didn’t Start Yet Quitter:

Right off the bat, we’ve got a quitter who hasn’t even done anything yet, but has already given up in their mind. This type of individual offers up reasons why they can’t begin a new activity or endeavor. In classes we offer like Gracie Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai I have often heard people concur phrases like “Well I’m not good yet…. I’m not in shape yet… I’m afraid people will laugh at me…what if it takes me a long time to learn?” And on and on and on. This line of thought derails your good intentions and prevents you from moving forward. Haven’t even begun yet, but this person is finding a way out.

We’re conditioned from previous experiences that people will make fun of us because we’re new or different. That we might stand out by being the new kid on the block and that it isn’t going to go well. In the modern workplace/academia there’s such a need to be on point and a know-it-all-cause-internets that the sense of exploration and wonder we had as kids is fizzled out like fireworks in the rain. This is probably the most common obstacle for most people, even if they don’t say it, before they come try a class out at RCW. Luckily it’s also the easiest to deal with, all you have to do is TAKE ACTION!

The action you take can be small, something as simple as booking a class, telling a friend you’re trying something new, putting it on your calendar like a scheduled meeting at work. The action step can go in to place, and you can go back to riding the excuse train all day, except now you’ve got an action in place that will probably get you to that new hotness and you’ll realize afterward that everything went amazingly well! Of course it did! Because if anybody made fun of you, or laughed at you, or required you to be highly skilled at a brand new endeavor then you shouldn’t bother hanging out with those kinds of people!

Sure there might be the minor internal quibble that your self-esteem starts to realize that you’re beginning a new activity, but learn to embrace changes and to love learning again and you’ll quickly be on your way.

Too Quick to Quit:

This Too Quick to Quit person… they’re pretty easy to spot, way easier to identify than our first transgressor. Too Quick usually comes in with fire in their eyes and talking the talk. They tell me how great they are and how grateful we should be to have their presence at the academy. They come in 8 days a week and maybe even start to be viewed as the most regular person in the school. Almost too soon, other students and coaches start to buy in and think just maybe this person will be the next life long addict of arm bars. And…. that’s because it is TOO SOON!

As quickly as the fire roared up it dies off from this expectation they can’t uphold. After about 8 weeks they vanish, never to be seen again. Its because consistency and skill are always tougher to come by than talent. This person might even be a serial activity starter, but over the years they’ve never really accomplished anything of substance. To help yourself out of this jam, the first thing we recommend is setting a schedule AND sticking to it. Even if you can come in every day the school is open, chances are you’ll burn out before you begin. Consistency is key, a little bit of discipline and the good news is when Too Quick makes it past 90 days they’re usually tempered and ready for great results.

So Close, Almost Made It!

The Almost Made it type, is the saddest for me as a coach and a mentor. For one I’m in the trenches with my students and have gone through all manner of things with them from cancer treatments and major surgeries to major life events, marriage and kids. It’s a very personal path, but I love the connection we get to have with people in our community and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Almost made it is just about to reach all their goals, is fitter than they ever have been in their life, and their friends think of them as a super hero.

Then it happens, life gets hard. Remember quitting before you started? Almost Made It rekindles the flames of self doubt about the road their on and before checking their map starts acting erratically. They start going to class less, they put in less effort than they ever did before. The excitement is gone from their eyes like the veil being lifted from Wizard of Oz. Often there’s an event that happened in their personal life or in the gym that changed something. Maybe they got the worst of it sparring with a newer person they always owned. Maybe they had an injury playing basketball and the recovery time is the hurdle in itself.

When you make it past the Didn’t Start phase and then knock out the Too Quick commitment jitters, plant a seed in your head on what victory really looks like. Is it an achievement, a belt, a skill level, a fitness level, finding like minded friends, or perhaps a lifestyle? There has to be something in there, some conviction, that when the chips are down you’ll find the resolve to keep going. Pausing your progress after all this time always ends in nothing more than tragic regret.

Deep down this still goes back to the initial reasons to avoid starting something. Most people want an out, we want a valid reason for quitting to relive our burden. That out when you take it is never as satisfying as making it! You can do it, call those friends, talk to your mentors, make a plan and stick to it even if that plan is to simply dig your heels in and be the rock you need to be to succeed.

Mission Accomplished, Right?

Oh Mission Accomplished and still quits quitter is a surprising phenomena. Most marathon runners don’t just run one race and they’re done. They take it to task, feel the rush, and rinse and repeat. Most people who attain an instructorship under Dan Inosanto (Bruce Lee’s protege) or a black belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu don’t just drop off. Some do, and it’s a fallacy that’s left over from the Almost Made It mindset.

An out, reinforced by the sheer discipline to keep going it can feel good to take a break, but be careful how long that is or you’ll just end up a quitter. Like Almost Made It, this person fails to have a list of convictions at the ready and reasons why they keep doing things that are good for them. It’s like someone who sets a goal weight and reaches their weight loss number, then immediately stops all the good changes they made and goes back to eating their old lifestyle.

I’ve seen it with Black Belts too, all the skill, time, and dedication required but when it’s accidentally viewed as the end all goal, it’s a let down. As Pedro Sauer says “Black belt is a great place to start learning Jiu Jitsu.” Meaning that you reached the mountain top, and you realize looking down there’s a whole new perspective to learn about in life and it motivates you to keep going. If you thought all the answers were at the top of the mountain, you might be in for a letdown.

The essence of life is in the journey and the steps along the way. Imagine your getting into wood working or music, and you somehow convince yourself after 10 years I will have achieved “it.” IT is impossible to be a stationary goal, it is the accomplishments achieved, the friends made, the learning in itself and those goals are on the move and nothing to be arrived at.

We’re all in this together:

We all face a temptation to quit any number of challenges throughout our life, it’s part of being human. It’s how we handle that process to eliminate our fears and move forward that leads to a life without regret. Also a life filled with new beginnings, new choices, success and thrilling endeavors. Good luck out there!

-By Joe Heller

Head Coach RCW

 

 

*Thanks for reading! If you’re in the mood to try something new, we have tons of classes on offer in Portland and the surrounding area. We hold self defense and mixed martial arts classes like Muay Thai, Boxing, Gracie Jiu Jitsu/BJJ, Jeet Kune Do and Kali year round for all skill levels. Whether you’re a seasoned practitioner or just getting started we welcome you to come train at River City Warriors. You can START right now by taking advantage of our 5 classes for $5 bucks a class deal. Just click the link below to be an action taker and have a great new experience.