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Shedding a Shell

In the past few months I’ve been going through many changes. Not only in life, but also on the mat. But what I’m going to share in this post may change some of your thoughts about your own training and maybe even your own life.

Take from it what you will.

Looking back, it all started with the passing of my aunt. At the immediate moment, it didn’t resonate with me that she was gone. Forever. But over the following few months, it hit me, and dragged me down. The fact that she was gone and that the memories I had of her were the only things I’ll carry with me from now on. The realization that I would never see her again chained itself to me, and made me feel emotionally heavy. This feeling lead to other thoughts, and for the first time that I can remember in my adult life, I sat down and looked within myself.

To my surprise, I didn’t like what I really saw. I wasn’t being the best person I knew I could be and I wanted to change for the better. Below, I explain three changes I am working on in my personal life and also how I am applying these changes to my advancement of technical skills on the mat.

And to be honest, I’ve never felt sharper or more in tune with myself than ever.

Realization #1: I wasn’t telling those around me that I appreciate them.
Think about this sentence for just a moment and re-read it. When was the last time you told a sibling that you loved them? When was the last time you told your parents that you appreciate them in your life? Do you ever look your training partners in the eye and tell them that you truly appreciate their time? If possible, you should.

I wasn’t doing this. I was going through life and not acknowledging others’ efforts around me. I was so concerned with my own strife, my own troubles, and my own goals that I never acknowledged the efforts of those around me. Now that I am aware of this weakness, I tell people I care for them more. I try to let them know what they mean to me. I genuinely want to make them smile about themselves. I appreciate THEIR time spent with ME. Not the other way around.

When I applied this mindset to when I spend time on the mat, I found that my entire focus shifts to those around me. Entirely. I no longer worry about my own personal gains at practice. My own time spent on myself no longer matters. To me, if I can give the people around me my everything, they will improve. It’s only a matter of time until this reflects back to me.

Look around you. You will see people who have lifted you up. You will see people in your life that had such an impact on you that you wouldn’t even be the same person without them. Let these people know you appreciate them.

Realization #2: Acknowledge your faults, but also acknowledge your strengths.
For the longest time I had, and at times still have, a brutal self critic. You know that feeling you get when you feel you could have done a task or assignment better? That thing? I have that pretty bad. The worst part is, I would dwell on the shortcomings of whatever it was that I had done. I would always look at the negative and never even acknowledge the positives that came from my attempts.

This is a weakness you may never be aware of. For me, becoming aware of this type of criticism allows me to keep it in check. Acknowledge what you have done, in any aspect of your life, school, work, training, relationships, literally anything. Acknowledge what you could have done better, but most importantly, acknowledge what you did well. Maybe you pushed yourself and studied like never before. Perhaps you just got a new promotion at work. Maybe you just fell in love. Whatever it is, embrace it. Savor the moment and allow yourself to experience the good.

I apply this when I am on the mat by acknowledging my weakness in positions or techniques. I look at where I could have moved more efficiently or finished more cleanly. I look to how I handled my patience and emotion while training. I look at the level of gameness I approached the round. Think of how you could have improved not only your own experience, but that of your partner. Then grab a new partner and do it all over again.

I also acknowledge when a new technique works. Or when I pull off a slick transition or technique. Bask in it. Acknowledge that your hard work and new found mindset has pushed your technique to new levels. Allow yourself to be in the moment of success.

Realization #3: Medals and podium places do not define my judo and jiu jitsu skills.
This one was incredibly hard for me to come to terms with. First, let me explain how I looked at my judo and jiu jitsu before going through this new thought process.

I started training with my brother when I was 13 and I literally remember telling him, the day before my first day of training, “I don’t want to compete. All I want to do is practice.” A few months later I was fighting in practices and competing in tournaments. I was hooked. From that moment on, I took it as my personal role, among my brother and I, that I was going to be the competitor. I was the one that had to go to tournaments and win. I placed the pressure on myself. This isn’t to say that my brother did not compete as good as me, or any sort of thing like that. It’s to say that I wanted that label to be placed on me and me alone. So I competed everywhere.

I never took loses very well. I hated it. “Hate to lose, more than you love to win.” I believed. My mindset was so tournament driven that when I didn’t place first at a tournament, placing elsewhere didn’t matter to me. “If you’re not first, you’re last.” In hind site, it’s a terrible way to train and think. I’m glad to say that this way of thinking is slowly eroding away from me. But it’s difficult.

Tournaments and competition, according to my personal philosophy, is an experience that absolutely must be experienced at one point in a judo or jiu jitsu career. But the quality of the experience should be based on the experience alone, NEVER based the results of the tournament alone. Just because you do not win a medal or place on the podium does not mean that your judo or jiu jitsu is not podium worthy. It just means that you must work on competition judo and competition jiu jitsu. But your skill set as a whole should not be based solely on medals and trophies.

I still struggle with this thought, that only gold can justify what my technical skill set is. But there can be no happiness, in the long run, with this mindset. No happiness can be found here, it only leads to negative self criticism.

Allow yourself to lose, but never lose the lesson.

I feel myself shedding a shell, I liken it to shaking dust off. I’m not out completely, but I feel like I’m seeing the world in a different light. You only get one shot in this life, in a life you’ve never lived before. You will make mistakes. You will feel loss. You will be dragged down. But you will also rise. You will experience happiness.

You will find peace if you know where to look.

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World Champion Clothing Swap

Staying true to the reason why I started this blog, to capture memorable moments throughout my judo and jiu jitsu journey, I wanted to capture and share this unique moment.

About 2 years ago, while training in Japan, my brother and I ran in to 1983 Judo World Champion Hidetoshi Nakanishi. We were training at the world renown Tokai University, where Nakanishi Sensei is a coach, and after practice we were invited to have dinner with some team members. It was a huge honor and a great opportunity to talk to some elite level judoka. While there, Nakanishi Sensei joined us, and that’s when the party really began.

Through broken Japanese, a copious amount of hand gestures, and maybe a beer or eight, my brother found out that Nakanishi Sensei really liked the Portland Judo shirt he was wearing. My brother purposed a trade and to everyone’s surprise, Nakanishi agreed. I was instantly jealous that my brother had acquired such a souvenir. I had to get something too.

Nakanishi and Louie

Thinking about what I could offer as a trade, I immediately pointed to my shorts. I think I said something like, “These are expensive shorts back in America and I just bought them.” Everyone laughed and the focus went to Nakanishi. Without saying a word, he began to take off his shorts in the middle of the room. I took that as a sign of a trade and immediately dropped trou too. We ended up swapping shorts and I got my hands on a great souvenir and an even better story.

Hidetoshi Nakanishi

It’s stories like these that really stand out in my mind when I think about what judo means to me. More than the training and techniques, it’s the journey that is cherished.

1983 World Champion Hidetoshi Nakanishi demonstrates his signature ippon seoi nage.

You can also check out his book, Judo Masterclass Series: Seoi Nage.


Don’t Get Tired

“Don’t get tired.” This is a saying I tell myself. A lot. Rather than taking it at face value, let me explain what I actually mean. Now I’ll be the first to agree that we all have physical limitations and that our limitations can be pushed in every training session that we do. You will get tired, this is inevitable.

What I really mean is that you can get tired, just don’t show it.

Putting your hands on your knees, sprawling out on the mat, uncontrolled heavy breathing, and moaning and growing when one more round is announced will not quench your thirst any faster. Nor will mentally giving in to the fact that you’re fatigued stop your muscles from burning. I’m not saying don’t listen to your body. I’m saying be mentally strong and push through whatever challenge that is in front of you. I should really be saying, “Don’t get mentally tired.”

It’s my belief that these signs of fatigue are developed just as bad habits are. They develop from whatever environment you’re exposed to. The intensity and philosophy of the dojo you are training at also play a key role in the development of these poor habits. But how can we handle the reality of fatigue and break some of these habits along the way? I list a few tips below.

1. Push yourself further and be honest.
Are you really exhausted to the point where you have to sprawl out on the floor? If the answer is yes, sprawl out and catch your breath. Perhaps you’re severely dehydrated or injured. Take your time. On the other hand, are you just doing it because you’re used to seeing it done around you? It’s become acceptable behavior, a habit of yours, so you do it. Ask yourself, is this measure absolutely necessary? Unless your ill or injured, probably not. Don’t accept the fatigue.

Try this instead. Stand up, fix your gi, and just watch the next round. Stay mentally sharp and don’t give in to the physical or mental need to lay down. You’ll be surprised how fast you’ll get your wind back.

2. Control your breathing.
A friend recently put me on to this specific Joe Rogan podcast where he interviews Kron Gracie about his father’s unique breathing methods. And rather than start up Ginastica Yoga, I simply took away the fact that you should be conscious of your breathing while training. Simple right? But you may find yourself either holding your breath or breathing too rapidly, without even knowing it. So while your training, remember to breathe and actually focus on it. Control it. Breathing properly will stave off fatigue.

3. Build your mental toughness.
When others dread one more round after the final round was already announced, cheer for it. When you feel like you can’t do another round, do one more. When you feel that your out-skilled and out-classed, fight your best anyway. When you feel like you have to lay down, stand up. When you feel that you can’t take a beating, smile, you’re alive. If you aren’t on the mats to get better, in your own definition, why did you show up? Remember this when fatigue hits.

Challenge yourself to your own limits, not the limits of those around you. It’s you vs. you.


5 Habits of a Great Training Partner

While many may consider judo and jiu jitsu to be individual sports, I feel differently. Whether it be a judo dojo or a jiu jitsu academy, the quality of your training partners remains absolutely crucial in your development. But are you maximizing your potential to be a great training partner?

I complied this short list of 5 habits that I believe make up a great training partner. I make no claim that I do all these myself nor do I claim that these are the absolute best to execute. I simply believe that these habits are worth striving for.

1. You cater your ability.
Catering your ability applies to a wide spectrum of factors. Age, experience, gender, strength, weight, and general size are great examples. The speed, aggression, and mentality in which you approach the training session are also some others. How you apply these factors in your training will dictate your overall effectiveness as a great training partner. A great training partner knows his or her own abilities, is comfortable with them, and also knows how and when to apply them to the person he or she is training with. You wouldn’t train with a 225# professional athlete the same way you would train with a 115# teenager. You wouldn’t train with an absolute, day one beginner, the same way you would train with a 18+ year veteran. You wouldn’t train with a child the same way you would train with an adult. These seem obvious, right? You should first know your abilities, then, cater those abilities to your partner in a way that is mutually benefit for the both of you.

2. You finish your partner responsibly.
What does that mean, to finish responsibly? To me, finishing responsibly means that you are personally responsible for your partner’s safety while executing your techniques. Whether it be a judo throw, choke, or arm bar, you are responsible for the safety of others. This means being aware of how you throw, finish a choke, or complete an arm bar and catering these finishes to whomever you are applying them to. I find that the speed and control in which you do these motions often dictate their safety. Rushed, explosive, and haphazard techniques often lead to injury while smooth, controlled, and efficient finishes often end in a safe throw or submission. Be responsible, and finish others in a manner in which you would want to be finished, with technique and respect.

3. You show up to practice.
It’s funny to have this be #3 on the list, but think about it. Can you be an effective training partner if you stay home instead of go to practice? No. The fact that you attend class means that you are not only showing up to improve your own skills, but that you will be there for your partners. Whether it be drilling a technique, coaching and sharing advice, or just bringing a positive vibe to the class, you are making a difference. I often remind my students that without them, I would be without students to teach or train with. It is your attendance in class that makes up the atmosphere in which you practice. Don’t forget that.

4. Your hygiene is above par.
What’s the old saying? Cleanliness is next to godliness? I agree. A clean gi, trimmed nails, toss in a Tic Tac, some deodorant or a quick shower before class and you should be good to go. Dirty gis, greasy hair, bad breath, and body odor are often frowned upon. A good question to ask yourself is: Are you the type of person you yourself would want to train with? If the answer is “No”, make some changes. If the answer is “Yes.”, hit the mats. If in doubt, the cleaner, the better.

5. Your mentality matters.
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, your mentality matters. Your mental approach to the class will usually dictate your behavior in it. When you attend class with an open mind and the idea of fostering not only your own growth, but the growth of those around you, you will most often reap what you sow. If you attend with a close mind and selfish goals, you may end up picking up some bad habits along the way and you may not be helping those around you to the best of your ability.

There is a ton of other habits that can help you maximize your potential as a great training partner. What are some of your favorites? How do you approach practice and what do you try to accomplish when working with your training partner?

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Passion 4 Passion

As I get older I’m starting to realize a certain change coming over myself. I’m starting to realize people and their passion in life a lot more than I used to. For an example, check out this video of world renown pianist Valentina Lisitsa playing the piano. Sure she is incredible, but there is a certain way she hits the keys that, to me, is beyond just talent. She clearly loves what she does. It’s her passion. Can you see it?

For me, judo and jiu jitsu is my passion. My life, literally, revolves around both arts. I’m in the dojo 4-5 days a week and when I’m not there, I’m usually at my shop, Dojo Outfitters, meeting people who share the same love for the arts as I do. I’m surrounded by it, and I love it.

Last week I threw a huge event called Passion 4 Passion. I wanted to create an event that celebrates people’s passion in their lives. Whether it be break dancing, art, judo, or jiu jitsu, there’s something that draws us to do these things beyond just doing them. It’s in our body, mind, and soul.

The video below captures the entire event.

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Toshihiko Koga

Ippon Seoinage

If you mention the name Toshihiko Koga in different judo circles you’ll get varying responses. Ippon seoinage. 3x World Champion. 6 consecutive All-Japan titles. Judo icon.

Toshihiko Koga is all of the above. He started his judo career while in elementary school at the age of 6 along with his older brother. His older brother, Motohiro, also did judo and was internationally known as a game competitor. In 1985, both Koga brothers made it to the final in the same tournament, with Toshihiko emerging victorious over his older brother via juji gatame, a straight arm bar. It is said that at this time Motohiro told the 18 year old Toshihiko, “Over to you, little brother” and retired from judo, basically passing the torch to a then unheralded Toshihiko.

Toshihiko would then go on an international competition tear, winning the 1986 Junior World Championships in Rome, earning Bronze at the 1987 World Championships, and eventually overcoming a devastating knee injury to win Gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Overcoming injuries was something that Koga was known for throughout his judo career. This fact is a testament to both his grit and mental tenacity, qualities that cannot be taught but brutally earned through grueling practices. Watch the video below and see how Koga earned his 1989 World Championship title in devastating fashion.

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Uchimata, Inner Thigh Throw

Uchimata and Mochas

I recently came across a gem at a used book store and if you follow judo you may have heard of the Judo Masterclass Techniques book series. These books were compiled in the late 80′s and early 90′s and featured some of the top judokas writing about their respected tokui waza, or favorite techniques. They are fairly popular and relatively hard to get a hold of.

While uchimata has never been my strongest throw, I recently started adding it to my techniques after watching Japanese phenom Hidehiko Yoshida decimate opponents in competition with this throw. Enter the Judo Masterclass book written by 2-time World Champion Hitoshi Sugai. The book covers a wide variety of uchimata variations and happened to enter my possession the same day that I came across the video below, which features Japan’s most recent World Champion Shohei Ono and his path to championship Gold. Check out the technique that he uses to win his World Championship crown, it’s beautiful.

Love Queen and Uchimata? Prepare for your mind to be blown.


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