This is a follow-up to my early article, Back to Martial Arts, reflecting on eight months of classes twice a week (about 85 hours).

Original Goals


Improved self-defense strategy and tactics from deadly force at very close range, or when only lower levels of force ("mere force") is morally and/or legally appropriate.

I think I've made a lot of progress.  I can now

  • recognize the positions,
  • understand the basic goals of both players in those positions,
  • usually anticipate submissions (although escaping them is hit-or-miss),
  • have at least one or two techniques to improve my position from each,
  • know how to stabilize dominant positions (far from automatic),
  • have submitted training partners occasionally (focusing on chokes), and
  • my stand-up/clinch game is slowly improving

I try to spend as much mental effort as I can spare during sparring monitoring my partners' ability to punch or kick me, and occasionally spare a thought for waistline access.

Think in the Fight

I want to be able to think and fight, despite crushing pressure, until I'm  unconscious, not uncomfortable.  The only way I know of to overcome this  is to put myself in that situation repeatedly and work through it.

I've made a lot of progress on this, but I'm not done.  While being smashed in Mount bottom this week I tapped for the first time in several months.  I'll be seeking that same training partner out when he's in class to put in some more work.


Though I was working out regularly, I significantly moderated my daily workouts throughout the last half of 2018 specifically to avoid soreness or tiredness on Jiu Jitsu days.  Those were "performances" in a certain sense.  Since the beginning of 2019, I've returned to my normal workout schedule 4 of the 5 days I don't attend Jiu Jitsu.  Occasionally, I'll swap workouts to move particularly tough workouts (specifically, leg day) to give myself more recovery time, but I'm determined to keep both plates spinning.

Additionally, there's been a shift in the typical class warm-up routine from light mobility work to more strenuous Jiu-Jitsu-specific movement drills, so I'm usually doing a little more work in class than I was last year.

Day-to-Day Goals

Though I continue to prime myself mentally to be happy with avoiding submissions and employing principle and technique, as it is with any game, it's hard not to bring expectations about winning and losing with you.  I want to be happy when I learn, not when I win.  I need to see gradual improvement in performance in the long term.  But on a day-to-day basis -- especially with training partners that know more-or-less what I know and see all the same new material -- it's tough to discern any improvement directly.

Some days are hard and suck.  Some days are easy and pleasant.  With perfect timing, Cecil Burch posted The Placeholder Workout last August:

Even if you know you are at a low ebb, get a placeholder workout in and be patient. Things will get better, and so will your performance!

When I didn't sleep well and have a lot to do, there's always a temptation to stay in bed with the excuse that I won't be in top form, but I remind myself that today's  "placeholder" will contribute to some future breakthrough.  Without it, that breakthrough recedes into the future, probably by more than just the one class I'm tempted to skip.


I had a couple experiences where a new student would show up with little or no grappling experience and I would have a relatively easy time protecting myself and achieving dominant positions.  Because of that, when the most recent new student arrived, I had some (wrong) ideas in my head before I first started to roll with him.   It was clear that he knew something (and was very strong) after a couple minutes.  He put a couple wild submissions on me and I tapped, trying even as I did to get my strategy up-to-date with this new information; I never really caught up.

I need to mentally treat every new student as a black belt, wrestler, power-lifter incognito, with no expectation I can submit them, and a much more defensive mental and physical posture until I understand their capabilities in some detail.  This caution serves one of my primary goals: injury prevention.  Working with that new guy, I was acutely aware throughout the roll that this is how you get hurt.

When rolling with more tenured, skilled partners, it's all about survival, defense, and working the escapes I know.  When they use strength to get a submission, it's a compliment to me.

When rolling with similarly experienced/skilled students, there's a great exchange of ideas and healthy, friendly competitiveness.  I really enjoy watching my fellow students experiment with different strategies and techniques, still in the very first steps of carving out their "game".