Ups and Downs

My friend Daniel recently posted a blog article where he dissected some of his feelings about being a grappler and the stagnation that sometimes accompanies this. Go and read it, then come back here.

I’m sure it’s a topic that I’ve written about before, but in the interest of not polluting my current views, I’m not going to re-read any of my writing, or direct you to. I want to investigate it now (as a purple belt with a single brown stripe who’s been training for about 8 years).

Many grapplers will tell you about the walls that they hit during their career where they feel like progress has stalled and the grind isn’t worth the gains anymore. It might be following a belt promotion or unrelated, but it often starts with a day away here and there that turns into a week off the mats, which devolves into a month and then it’s Christmas and you’re commenting to others about how you’ll be back next year. I’ve seen it happen numerous times, to various types of characters with a multitude of daily pressures and stresses. It’s a common occurrence around the blue belt promotion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is considered the first significant coloured belt. This belt is often earned after two or three years of training and the effort required to achieve it is often compared to a black belt in a more traditional art like karate or taekwondo. It’s a big deal, and for some, it provides a good opportunity to exit the sport with an accomplishment in hand. I’ve heard it thrown around that 50% of the grapplers who get their blue belt don’t begin working towards their purple the next day, which seems about right to me.

Like anything, 8 years is a long time to devote yourself to any pursuit, be it sports or otherwise. BJJ is no different. How many people do you know that have played football for 8 years, or cricket, basketball or any other sport? None of my friends outside BJJ have consistently devoted themselves to their sporting endeavours as much as I have to BJJ, that I can think of. I know a few climbers but at best they get up a wall or outside once a fortnight. It’s not a critiscism – life gets in the way, as they say.

And I think that’s an important thing to remember – life gets in the way of everything. Unless you’re training BJJ full time (and that would mean you earn a living teaching, most likely) then you will have work, family and a myriad of other things jostling for your time, and in many cases, getting it.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to always remember that BJJ should always be providing you with a challenge and equally rewarding you for attempting to solve its puzzles. Note that I believe the rewards should be attached to the losses as well as the wins and in many cases it’s not even an on-the-mat reward. My biggest reward last year was a sorry drive home feeling like I didn’t represent myself accurately and let my ego get in the way. That led to a conversation and a cleansing of sorts, which is now blossoming into a mutual respect on and off the mats. It was a serious growth in my character and one that I attribute to BJJ alone. It wasn’t a new technique; it was a genuine growth realisation. Ask me about it some time.

If you’re not getting the love from BJJ, maybe it’s a good time to take a break. Think of BJJ like a relationship – maybe you’re just not that into her anymore, even though you really want to be (on some level). Maybe a few months apart will reignite the spark or maybe it’ll prove to you that space is a good thing.

BJJ still challenges me and rewards me and it’s because of this I’m certain I’ll be back after my son is born. That’s certainly a time I want life to get in the way. When I do come back, I know I’ll see you there Daniel.

Running the Gauntlet

A successful grading in jiu jitsu results in a promotion of rank, be it either a minor promotion (stripe) or a major promotion (new coloured belt). It’s a big deal and is something that is normally celebrated, especially for those being awarded new belts. In my eight years of training I’ve received two belt promotions – firstly to blue belt in early 2008 and then to purple in May of 2011.

Over the years I’ve seen my coach and my club change a lot, and this is a good representation of how jiu jitsu itself is constantly growing and evolving. My very first lesson at The Academy resulted in my learning a basic armbar from mount. This is jiu jitsu 101 – a really basic movement that you’ll learn within the first few months.

Skip to 2:00 to see Rorian Gracie demonstrate this basic armbar, the way I first learnt it.

Except nothing in jiu jitsu is really basic; other than your understanding of a technique. As a result, I’ve seen this attack change over the years, and the way it’s been taught by my coach has evolved. The way he was taught seems so ancient and ineffective compared to how we’re doing things these days. I don’t think I’d enjoy training anywhere near as much as I do if I was at a club that didn’t grow as the sport grew.

This embrace of change has meant we try out lots of new things, and most of them are great. For example, our gradings (affectionatly called “Smash Sessions”) have changed format several times and now settled on a style that people love. It brings the affiliate clubs together and is an event everyone looks forward to. Everyone’s on the mat and everyone rolls hard, and we all love it. The old way of doing a grading was very systematic and very planned; now it’s much more free-flowing.

But not everything that changes I enjoy. A few months back a new practice (new to our club; not new to jiu jitsu as a whole) was trialed, and in my opinion, failed. The “running of the gauntlet” is a practice whereby new innitiates are welcomed to their rank. Two lines are formed and as the graduate walks through the passage they’re whipped by everyone else’s belts. It reminds me of American college hazing, and it’s not something I can relate to.

This isn’t our club, but you get the idea:

As a senior rank I took the opportunity to set an example, and partook in the exercise but specifically protested by lightly tapping the gauntlet runner on the back. Some people followed suit but too many for my liking took the opportunity to actually try and hurt someone. A free shot and a cheap shot.

That’s the exact opposite of what I want to get out of jiu jitsu, and to be honest I was embarrassed for our club. As an expectant parent, I was thinking about how I’d feel if my child was wanting to join a club that did this kind of thing. I later heard that there was serious protest from the women in our club too, who declared that under no circumstances would they be running any gauntlets. I can understand that, and considerin the serious gender bias we have towards men I’d like to see us lower as many barriers to entry as possible, rather than raise more.

Although there were rules around the process (don’t hit the face, no wild wind-up swings) these were largely ignored. Although most people showed some restraint and control it wasn’t always the case.

I don’t want to hurt my training partners; they’re people I genuinely care about (even the ones I don’t like ;) I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of the martial arts psycho. Or even worse – the bully.

A day later I spent half an hour on the phone with my coach after he invited me to discuss what I thought about the gauntlet. I told him everything I felt, and at the end of it he declared that it wasn’t something he saw the club doing again.

Was I just being a pussy? Maybe. I joke that if I wanted to hurt people I’d have started kickboxing instead, but there’s always some truth to every joke.

For me, there are two take away points here that are worth highlighting. Firstly, as the owner of the business and (now) an Australian black-belt champion, Adam is under no obligation to consider my opinion, but he did. I appreciated that a lot. I feel like it’s “my” club and he certainly reinforced that. Secondly, it’s important to note that unless we try new things we simply won’t advance. If we didn’t try new grading styles we wouldn’t have the awesome Smash Sessions we have now, and if we didn’t adapt our techniques to consider new grappling styles or trends then we wouldn’t advance jiu jitsu. Making the decision to try new things means you also run the risk of making mistakes. You can’t be scared of making mistakes, but you have to be able to admit them.

Making mistakes and learning from them is jiu jitsu. Nobody does jiu jitsu better than Adam Metcalf, and The Academy of Mixed Martial Arts.

A novel approach to motivation

I tend to spread myself fairly thin sometimes, juggling multiple hobbies and interests alongside my work and family commitments. This is especially apparent with health and fitness. In the last few months I’ve trained Brazilian jiu jitsu and MMA, taken up ballet, learnt to skydive, lifted weights at the gym, competed in a handful of triathlons, run an unofficial half marathon and ridden the Freeway Bike Hike. Some of these were free, like my midnight run around the river, but for everyone hobby there’s a fee attached.

Unfortunately it’s hard to fit all that I want to do into the time I have available, and that’s meant that my gym membership has been dormant for probably close to a few months. In our household we typically have the family money cover health and exercise related expenses, and whilst my membership is only $25 per fortnight, it’s money that I was wasting. It doesn’t come out of my weekly allowance, which I spend on things like coffee, comics and Lego, so I don’t feel it personally.

Inspired by Nat and Lisa‘s hockey team, I now fine myself $15 every Saturday if I don’t lift during the week. If I want to avoid the fine all I have to do is a few sets in the gym and I not only get the exercise benefit, but I save myself some cash.

Emily J in Personal Loans

Hello,

Twice in the last two weeks I have had the distinct pleasure of dealing with Emily J in Personal Loans (All the details of our initial meeting are in this blog post if you’re curious). Initially she helped me activate and draw down on a personal 1 hour loan and just now she has helped me update the account from which repayments against that loan were being withdrawn. On both occasions I was greeted with a cheerful and emphatic welcome. In fact, her manner on my most recent phone call caused me to suggest that I had dealt with her previously and she was able to confirm that I had indeed spoken to her last. She clearly made an impression on me. At all times Emily kept me informed of the process and talked me through what she was doing. I interacted with her in real-time by emailing additional supporting documentation when I would have expected “please go away and call us back later” from a lesser agent. She proves that efficiency and warmth are not mutually exclusive. At the end of each interaction she asked if I had any further requirements, but I understood her to be genuinely interested, and not merely following script. If I needed more help, she wanted to be the one to provide it.

I asked how best to identify her and she said that Emily J in Personal Loans would be sufficient. Please investigate my history with the ANZ if that is not the case as I very much would like to see Emily’s work acknowledged.

An Australian accent is rare in customer support these days, and I applaud ANZ for recognising that short wait times and friendly staff are a necessary differentiator. It has never been easier for consumers to switch banks, and many times a decision to do so will be as a result of a direct interaction with a staff member. I’d expect that the feedback line of a major corporation is very much aware of this. The increasing availability of interstate and international banking options make it so easy for a consumer to jump from bank to bank, and in fact it was a disappointing interaction I had with a competitor several years ago, combined with positive interactions with your West Perth branch that caused me to become a customer.

Emily’s attitude today reminds me that I made the right choice.

I sincerely hope that Emily is utilised by the bank in a training role, where she might be able to help guide and influence customer support staff.

I’m happy to discuss my feedback further. If possible, I would like confirmation that this was received and an indication as to how this feedback will be used.

Thanks,

Matt Lambie

This email was sent to ANZ’s feedback moments ago. Upon reading back over it, I couldn’t help but see I’d written a blog article as much as I’d written a feedback email.

Update: a few minutes after sending the first email I received another email from ANZ’s West Perth branch following up on a meeting I had with Mathieu and one of their account managers. Seriously ANZ, you’re kicking some major ass right now.