A goal is defined as “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or a desired result.”
Are you training with a sense of purpose? If you do not have any goals for your training then unfortunately you are training without a purpose. Now to take that idea a step further, if you are not keeping track of your progress then you are also not training with a purpose. Every year millions of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions and most of those resolutions are health related. Hence why come the month of January gyms across the country are full of people enthusiastic about accomplishing their New Year’s Resolution. Fast forward one month and those same gyms that were crowded are now thinning out. What happened? Where are all of those “Resolution-ers?”
Sadly they just left for numerous reasons. One of the main reasons that people quit anything is because they do not have their goals mapped out. It is similar to planning a vacation. Saying that you want to go to Disney World is different than planning out exactly how you will get to Disney World. When you plan a vacation there is an order of things that have to be done to make that vacation dream a reality. Let’s look at this in steps:
- Estimate how much the vacation will cost (Travel, hotel, food, fun etc)
- Set a budget to be able to save the money to cover vacation expenses
- Stick to that budget even when you would rather eat steak instead of hot dogs
- Request time off of work (Assuming you have a job)
- Pack your clothes and essentials
- Travel to and enjoy the vacation
These 6 steps are a very simplified way at looking at how to plan for a vacation. The main point being that in order to accomplish any type of goal it requires you to map out how to get there. Now there is a goal setting method that is taught in most college and high school level Critical Thinking classes and that is the SMART method (SMART being an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results, Time(ly) ).
Specific: Be very specific with the goal that you want to accomplish. The more specific the better chance that you have at accomplishing that goal.
Measurable: The goal should be measurable to be able to track your progression towards accomplishing that goal.
Attainable: You should be able to attain this goal in the time frame set. Going from white belt to black belt in BJJ in 6 months is not an attainable goal. Your goal should challenge you and you should possess the abilities, skills, and knowledge to achieve your goal.
Results: Your goal should have an outcome. For instance if your goal is to lost 25 lbs then the outcome of that goal would be the weight measurement on the scale.
Time(ly): You should have a specific time frame set for you goal whether it be 30 days, 6 months, 1 year or 5 years. Each goal should have a start date and an end date.
As 2015 winds down and I am sitting here looking back over my year and thinking about the upcoming year of course there are a whole list of goals that are going through my mind and most likely they are going through your mind as well too. One of my goals is to become the best martial artist that I can be (this is not a very specific or measurable goal is it?). If you are reading this then most likely you have a very similar goal too or maybe your goal is a little simpler like getting in better shape (round is a shape but not all things round look good).
Bringing it to the realm of MMA how can we set goals to improve our “game?” Honesty is a good starting point. One of the things that I have meditated on over the holiday break is the realization that I am not as good as I think I am. For me this is of the utmost importance because when I acknowledge that I am not that good then I allow myself to be open to instruction from others who are more proficient than me. That is how I can improve my skill set. Another thing is to ask others (who have more experience) where I may be lacking and where I can improve. In any sport, we want to expose our weaknesses and blast them into strengths. Weak on your back? Then start sparring on your back. Weak at standup? Start sparring from standup.
Seems simple but how can we actually track our progress in a sport such as jiu jitsu? Jiu Jitsu is so dynamic that as you get better so does your training partner(s) and sometimes it is hard to see if you are actually getting better. That can be very discouraging too. So how can we measure our progress? Our professors measure our progress with stripes and belts but we cannot give ourselves belts and stripes so how can we know that we are improving and headed towards our goals?
Let’s do a simple example from a Jiu Jitsu perspective, as a white belt one of your goals should be to earn a blue belt and when I say earn I mean EARN as in have the skill set that is able to be demonstrated to where no one will question it. (Disclaimer: Do not worry about your belt color or train for a belt color. Train because you love it. See my previous article about promotions.)
According to most the average time to attain a blue belt from white belt takes 2 years. Some people earn it quicker (6 months) and for some people it takes longer (4 years). For this example I am going to use the 2 year time frame for the purpose of establishing a training goal and tracking it.
Goal: Blue Belt
Starting point: White Belt
At the White Belt level, you are a beginner like a baby learning how to roll over (and you do have to learn how to roll over the right way as a white belt), you know nothing and everything is new. So now we have to map out how we can get from knowing nothing to knowing the required knowledge that is blue belt level. Again I really want to reiterate that your progression is largely based upon your schools philosophy on training and skills. Schools vary in testing and belt requirements.
So we have a starting point and we have an end point, so now let’s map up a plan of attack to get there. The first step would be to setup a training schedule of Jiu Jitsu classes.
- Commit to a minimum of two classes a week. Two classes a week is the bare minimum that anyone would want to do. You will get better and improve but at a slower rate. We get better at BJJ through the amount of time that we spend on the mat.
- As your body gets used to two days a week add a third day and then eventually a fourth day. Four days a week for a working adult is still challenging to maintain a work life balance but it is extremely doable and as far as skills are concerned, 4 days a week is a great progression point.
You are now training four times a week and are slowly becoming an athlete. Yeah you might be losing a lot and getting whooped in class but you keep showing up! This is a measurable success and you can track your attendance on a calendar. Each class that you attend brings you one class closer to your goal.
- Change your eating habits. You are training four times a week and working really hard at improving so let’s feed our bodies accordingly! Replace the candy bars and soft drinks for protein bars and sports drinks. Eating habits can certainly hinder your progression. If you eat like crap then you will perform like crap.
- Pay attention in class. Ask questions. Show up early. Stay late. Do not just go through the motions. If you do not understand something then it is your instructor’s job to make sure that you understand and if you have instructors like we have at Neutral Ground, they will be more than happy to go over a move and explain a concept to you.
- Read books and articles. Watch YouTube videos. Fill your mind with knowledge and come back and ask your instructors questions about what you have read and watched.
- In open sparring is where you can demonstrate your skill level. When rolling with others try new moves, fail, get stuffed and come back for more.
- Compete as much as your body and finances allow you to compete. This is a great way to manage your skills. You can certainly tell how you are progressing when you stack yourself up against others.
- Do this for two years and beyond. Never give up.
This does not guarantee that you will be a Blue Belt in two years.
If you have made it to this point then you have arrived at the place to where you do not care about your belt changing colors because you have stuck around and developed a love for Jiu Jitsu, but if you still want to measure your ability to that of a Blue Belts then roll with them in class and during open mat. If you find yourself not getting submitted and actually getting into a dominate position on a blue belt or even submitting a blue belt who is of equal or greater stature to yourself then you know where your skill set is don’t you?
There are no destinations in Jiu Jitsu only the journey.
After much reflection I have come to the conclusion that a promotion whether it be a stripe or a belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an acknowledgement that the practitioner is on the right track more so than a symbol of status. Jiu Jitsu is a life long journey and while we need training partners to improve it is also an individual journey at heart because each person’s Jiu Jitsu journey is different. The starting points for students differ even though end goal could be the same. Some paths require more work than others.
The belt system in Martial Arts is still a relatively new concept as instructors found that having different colored belts that represented ranking were a great motivation to students (especially European students). This relates to the modern form of martial arts that we have here in the USA today. Americans are very concerned about status whether it is social or economic or whatever. A lot of people put stock on the color of the belt as a representation of their status. In a sense for some people this is a form of validation. Is this a bad thing? No. It is a good thing. It gives people goals to work towards. It helps to keep people interested and allows them to know that they are getting better. The ranking is an outward reflection of the student’s dedication to the art.
I am still very new to Martial Arts. I grew up playing football, wrestling and lifting weights. There was no belt system in these sports. It was all about skill and proficiency. If you were skilled you “started” (ie played first team). If you were not as skilled then you would not get as much play time. So how could someone tell that they were getting better? You would tell that you are getting better by competing against another opponent whether it is in practice or a game. So coming into a sport / Martial Art that incorporated a ranking system was new to me and I really did not understand it. What did all of these different colors and stripes mean?
Now I get it. The stripes and belts are an acknowledgement from the professor to the student that the student is on the right track and doing the necessary work. I am also seeing that the stripes and the belts are like a “high five” along the way. By no means do I feel like a belt or stripe is a destination because Jiu Jitsu is evolving and growing every day. The one thing that I have observed and experienced in my school is that the higher belts do not look down on the lowers belts. The students at Neutral Ground do not display that level of arrogance. If anything, the higher that a person is ranked the more humble that I have seen them.
Walking in the door as a fresh white belt and seeing the different color belts is attractive but it is easy to get caught up in just pursuing a belt color instead of just experiencing the journey of Jiu Jitsu. To me the Jiu Jitsu journey is about self-improvement, self-discovery and brotherhood. It isn’t about status and ranking. It is being able to do something that I enjoy with other like-minded people who enjoy the same things. Since I have started my journey I have been transforming from being more Earth based to now having some Water-like fluidity.
Sure getting a rank feels great but it pales in comparison to walking in through the doors of the dojo and seeing my Jiu Jitsu brothers and sisters ready to roll.
I’ll give you the answer to the question “What is most important to the heart of a warrior?” The answer is, “To desire with one’s very soul every second of every day to accomplish one’s aim.”
After re-reading Part 1 (after it was posted on the website) I realized that I am in need of getting someone to edit what I write. Good thing I am not a professional writer or those typos would be mighty embarrassing. Okay now to write more specifically about my transition so far.
To summarize from the previous writing, basically my health wasn’t that good, I was suffering from injury after injury and I was no longer having fun. I found myself in that place to where I desperately needed to do something different but did not want to just spend endless hours on the treadmill or bicycle.
. . . I was no longer having fun.
On a side note, I used to joke with a lot of my friends about common powerlifter struggles like: holding your breath to tie your shoes, not being able to find the correct size in clothing, closing down buffets and basically eating whatever I wanted. Sure I was big and strong (20+ inch arms and 30+ inch quads) but a flight of stairs could easily whoop my ass.
So I took my big ass to Neutral Ground. I was obviously the biggest and strongest person there. At that point in time all that I had going for me was size and strength. Sure I wrestled in high school 15 years ago but I certainly was not in wrestling condition when I first started rolling . . . and nope I could not even make it through the warm-ups. I was in such horrible conditioning. That first day I even rolled. That first rolling experience as well as the following weeks, I would get such sick muscles pumps. I knew absolutely no technique so I just relied on my size and strength. As we all know now, that did not work out too well for me. I was getting so gassed when I was rolling. Sometimes during class I would feel like I had to puke, other times I could hardly catch my breath. A lot of the time I felt embarrassed and humiliated. I regularly would walk back to my car after class feeling defeated. I wanted so bad to be good, to win, or hell to at least not get my ass kicked my people who were smaller than me.
“. . . I felt embarrassed and humiliated.”
Yeah I realized what every new person to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu realizes . . . this sport is physically and mentally demanding and tough as hell. It isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. For my first few weeks there I was just a choking dummy but I just kept showing up. I bought a “gi” and kept showing up. My training changed as well too. Instead of lifting weights like I was doing previously, my weight training sessions became less and less intense. (I needed more recovery time). This was another mentally challenging thing for me. As a powerlifter, I prided myself on size and strength. I was at the point to where 3XL shirts were getting tight on me and I had to start buying 4XL. Now in BJJ, I was “shrinking.” Yeah I know that my health was improving and that is honestly great but I struggled so much internally about not being the big guy anymore. At this point I considered saying that this wasn’t for me but I couldn’t allow myself to quit. If I were to quit because it was too hard, what type of example would I be setting for my children?
“If I were to quit because it was too hard, what type of example would I be setting for my children?”
I am sure that every white belt just starting out faces that crossroads. The crossroads to where either you are going to do this or you are not. I think that jiu jitsu is great though I do not think that it is for everyone. It really takes a special, motivated and driven person to show up day after day getting your butt kicked to come back the next day to get your butt kicked again. So why didn’t I just throw in the towel? I mean I could have easily gone back to powerlifting so why continue to get my ass kicked?
Around the time that I was feeling defeated, I allowed myself to be defeated and realized that this is where I need to be and then I started to get better. Warm-ups were going a lot easier and I was making it through them. I was starting to grasp the techniques that were being taught in class and applying them to when I was rolling with others on the mat. I basically had to let my old self die and when I finally let go, I fell in love with Jiu Jitsu. I went from rolling a couple times a week to now rolling almost every day. I guess you can say that I caught the Jiu Jitsu bug as I am now addicted.
“. . . I fell in love with Jiu Jitsu.”
After 3 months of training I competed in my first competition. It was just a local competition but it was a great experience. I walked away from that competition with a greater knowledge and realization to where I stacked up against other opponents and I was proud of my results. (I took home a medal in my weight class and division). I got to see where I need to improve, what I need to refine, what I need to learn and how much harder that I need to work. That is the key thing that I have gained from my experience so far is that I am responsible for my training.
“. . . I am responsible for my training.”
No I am not responsible for the results of my competition. Don’t be silly. I am responsible for the results of my training. When it burns do I push myself to get that extra rep? When I am exhausted do I dig deep and roll for 4 more minutes? When I do not feel like getting out of bed for an early morning session do I get up?
These are simple questions that I have the answers to. I give the answers with how I live my life. The same drive and motivation that I used in powerlifting is the same drive and motivation that I have used in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The one thing that has also helped is that Neutral Ground is one of the best places to train in the country. Not only are you getting world class coaching and experience but like I have mentioned previously it is a brotherhood, a fellowship of like-minded individuals who also want to learn and get better.
“. . . A fellowship of like-minded individuals who also want to learn and get better.”
So now to answer the initial question posed, “Is a Fat Powerlifter Too Old and Out of Shape for MMA?” The initial answer is yes. Do not expect to just walk onto the mat and think that you are ready for a cage fight. Some people jump right in a cage with no training or experience and yeah that is not a good thing to do. Training at Neutral Ground has shown me so far that it takes a lot and I mean a lot to be in the type of condition that the octagon demands. Now do not get discouraged because you can be trained and get into fighting condition, it just takes time and effort.
“. . . Do not get discouraged because you can be trained and get into fighting condition . . .”
It really does not matter your level of athleticism or background, what matters is your heart. I have found that just by showing up and not giving up, I am getting better and better every day. Training at Neutral Ground has truly changed my life for the better. I really get the sense that this is someplace that I belong and that BJJ is what I am supposed to be doing. For me everything just clicks now. Has it been easy? No, and it is still not easy. Some days I still leave the gym scratching my head wondering how I got beat or why I am so horrible or even feel discouraged like I will never get better. I just feel that, brush away those feelings and show up the next day.
Am I a bad ass yet? Nope, but I am a lot closer to bad ass than I am fat ass.
I have decided to make this into a two part blog. Part 1 gives you some background on my decision. Part 2 will go more in depth in how I was able to transition.
Last summer I was ready to do something different. I was weighing around 330 lbs, recovering from multiple injuries, and ready to make a difference in my health and lifestyle. To give you a clearer picture, I was a competitive powerlifter. I have been lifting weights and competing in sports for the majority of my life. When I was going back to college, I got the competitive itch again and thrust myself into training for competition. Unlike other sports, I really did not have to worry about doing too much cardio or even eating too healthy. Hell, if I wanted to eat a pizza with pie and ice-cream I would! I enjoyed the training and the competition. I became “addicted” to getting bigger and stronger like most everyone else in that sport. I put my best foot forward and had no idea where that would take me.
To be honest with myself, the allure of powerlifting to me was that it was an easier alternative than bodybuilding. I really did not have to watch too closely what I ate (so I thought) and did not have to worry about doing too much cardio. I set out to become the best that I could be in that sport. I would sometimes travel hours to train with a stronger group of people. I became a sponge and did my best to learn and apply different methods and ideas to my training so that I could get bigger and stronger and for a while there it was very effective until December 9th, 2014. After my last competition, I qualified to compete in the XPC at the Arnold Sports Festival. I had just recently moved to Illinois and started training with Team Lilliebridge.
That Tuesday was a day that would forever change my life and I did not realize it at the time. I was starting my competition cycle and was benching (I never really bench on Mondays). The weight was flying up. 365 paused. 405 paused. 435 paused. 455 paused. All too easy. So I decided to throw 500 on the bar and roll with it. (Two weeks prior I handled 575 with a slingshot). As I was un-racking the weight and bringing it out . . . POP! That was the sound and the feel of my right triceps tendon tearing off of the bone. December 18th, I have surgery to reattach my tendon to the bone. My hopes of competing in the XPC were crushed but I was bound and determined not to give up. Two days later I was squatting in a cast on my arm.
Now to fast forward some, I made a full recovery in record time but only to fall victim to more injuries. To where I was once looking at breaking a 2000 lb total, I was frequently side lined not being able to lift. One of my trainees still jokes with my about being a walking injury. From the triceps tendon tear to a strained pec to an impinged shoulder to strained and pulled spinal erectors to finally strained it-bands, I was done. These injuries completely frustrated and discouraged me. I was doing everything right (so I thought). After the it-band injury, I decided to take a break and just lift for fun for a while. This led me on a different direction.
So over the course of suffering injuries that year it really wasn’t until June 2014 that I really made the decision and took action to do something different. At this moment in time these were some of my stats:
Blood Pressure Average: 170/90
Resting Heart Rate: 85 bpm
BF %: ~ 20%
My feet and my ankles were also swelling from edema. Yeah, that is a sign and symptom of congenital heart failure. The sport that I devoted my life to was killing me. Not only was I a walking injury but my family was afraid that I would just fall over and die any minute. Getting more honest, walking up and down stairs was exhausting and hell even walking would hurt my back and I would have to sit down. I hated going to the grocery store with my wife because my back would cramp up and I would have to waddle behind the shopping cart. I can laugh about it now but during this time, it really sucked.
So at the behest of my mother and wife (they ganged up on me) I decided to take a break from powerlifting and do something different. I knew that I needed to do something fun because I hate being on a bike or treadmill doing cardio for hours. I wanted to do something that would get me into great shape and still have fun at the same time. We have a heavy bag at the gym I train at so I thought that maybe I would go into boxing or something like that. I mean I love to fight. I have been fighting my whole life and getting my butt kicked my whole life as well. So I had to have an honest conversation with myself because I was 32 and in horrible shape. The thought of getting into the ring at my age is crazy and I had doubts.
In Nas’ famous diss to Jay-Z “Ether” there is this quote:
“I still whip your ass, you thirty-six in a karate class. You Tae-bo hoe” – Nas
Despite my initial misgivings, I asked my buddy Google about age and combat sports and found some hope. There have been guys like Randy Couture who started and competed in MMA later in life. Yeah probably won’t be the next Randy Couture but the fact that he was able to compete at such a high level in his 30’s and 40’s gave me some hope about getting involved in combat sports. I figured that I could at least give it a shot, lose weight, have some fun and possibly compete at an amateur level. So I made a decision to try kickboxing. Then I researched gyms and chose Neutral Ground as the location that I would try. (They offered a free trial week!)
So my first day going there, I made it 30 feet from the building, felt stupid and embarrassed and left. As I left I hoped that no one saw me. So feeling like a moron, I went home and decided that okay I will try it again. The following Tuesday, I showed up a little early for kickboxing. They were having a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu beginner class. I am not knowledgeable about martial arts but as I was observing the class, I thought to myself that this is just like wrestling. I remember signing a waiver that night and as I was reading it there were disclaimers about breaking bones and tearing tendons . . . I was like oh hell here we go again. So why did I stay? Well I stayed mainly because everyone was so friendly and nice. I immediately got this vibe that this was more than a dojo but I could not place my finger on it exactly. Kickboxing was cancelled that night to my dismay but I was invited to try BJJ the following day. So I came back the next day and gave it a shot. That was the absolute best decision that I have made about my health and life in quite a while.
Since that day, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Neutral Ground has changed my life. My first class, I could not even make it through the warm-ups. I was so poorly conditioned. When I tried to do the somersaults, I got so dizzy in addition to not being able to catch my breath my running that I had to sit down. Make no mistake, training for BJJ is not easy and it is not for the faint of heart. As the new guy there, I was a choking dummy (still am sometimes to this day) and practice toy. Sure having size and strength helped me some but I really did not know how to use it in those early days. Sometimes I do not know how to properly use it now. The point is though that since that first day my health has improved drastically. My body weight is down to 280 lbs and my blood pressure is in the 120’s now. These are great benefits for me.
As it has only been a few months since I have started training at Neutral Ground, I know that I still have so much to learn and have a very long road ahead of me. You know what? That is okay because I feel like I have finally found a home. To me Neutral Ground is more than just a training facility. To me it has become more like a brotherhood. I look forward to each training session. I look forward to rolling and learning. It doesn’t matter that I am now 33 years old and wear a Gi because everyone else is wearing Gi’s too and some of them are a lot older than me!