Sunday, March 24, 2019

Why they tapped; Happy birthday Master Robson Moura!

If I submit somebody, I want to know why they tapped. Of course if you put your arm across the guy's nose, he's gonna tap, because he doesn't want to get his nose broken. But you don't need jiu-jitsu for that. If I tap somebody, I want to know I submitted them with my jiu-jitsu.

Yesterday was Robson Moura's birthday. He turned 41, as he himself shared on social media. Turning 40 is exciting. It's like crossing the River Styx in the sense that nobody has ever come back. And then you get to the other side and realize that YOU'RE NOT DEAD. You're just as hot as ever, maybe hotter. Same goes for 41 and 42 and so on, up until about 49 when the shit starts to get real. AARP starts sending you Membership ID cards in the mail even though you never actually asked them to and you kind of wish they would stop. Or so I hear.

Turning 40 is like crossing the River Styx: Nobody ever comes back

At 41, Robson's jiu-jitsu is hotter than ever. 

Take the fire, the intensity, and the surprise (but always happy) endings you saw in his old fights when he was "a mean little guy" (as he says) and add to it the depth and maturity you get from 30 years of playing, training, teaching and fighting jiu-jitsu and you get something that is really beautiful to see and even more beautiful to feel, if you are lucky enough to get to train with him.

"I was a mean little guy."

I got to attend a Robson weekend recently at Synthesis BJJ in Rochester, and there was an open mat the evening before the seminar. We started by playing King of the Mountain, and I was playing for a while until I realized I was an IDIOT to be training when I could be watching Robson train. It would be like if Elvis were in the corner singing Love me Tender and you had your headphones on singing along to Miley Cyrus on the radio. Something like that.

And after he trained for a really long time, he finally went and talked to some guys over by the wall, and I went back to the game, and I was way better than I was when we started, just from watching Robson move.

I got to train briefly with Casey, the owner/instructor, who told me that I felt way better than the last time we trained, and I told him it was all from watching Robson train. I walked in the door in a not great place with my jiu-jitsu and by the end of the evening I was moving in a way that felt good to me.

And I think that's why I keep coming back for more. It's a question I've asked myself more than once because, like Robson, I want to know why.

I've put almost 100 k miles on my car since I started following Robson, not to mention the miles on my body. It hasn't been easy and it hasn't been cheap and I am, essentially, a cheapskate. I hate spending money unless it's on shoes I don't need.

I didn't want to attend my very first Robson seminar because I was too cheap. I was a blue belt without any particular ambitions. I was doing okay with my jiu-jitsu and I had fun. That was enough for me and if I had never met Robson, it probably would have continued to be enough for me. But my instructor called me and I picked up, because I thought he was calling me about going out to dinner. Instead he said: I have one spot left for the seminar. Are you in or out?

70 bucks well spent: My first Robson seminar

I didn't feel like I could really say, right there on the phone, No I don't want to attend this seminar with your 7 time world champ buddy, so I pretended to be glad he asked and I took the spot.

And the rest, as they say, is history. It's not that I realized right away that Robson's jiu-jitsu was the truth. I didn't. I didn't have the tools to realize it, any more than a three year-old child can tell the difference between the Mona Lisa and Spongebob. But I loved the moves, they were so cool, and I loved the feeling of being respected. I thought Robson was going to walk in and act like he was way cooler than us; instead, he was kind and patient as we bumbled through our first real introduction to inversions, and he was respectful in the way he taught the moves to build on each other in what he called a "flow."

"If I don't teach the moves in a flow, you won't remember anything," he said. "And you wasted your money."

He respected our time, he respected our money, and his moves were really, really cool.

It was enough to get me hooked. I just wanted to get a better understanding of what the hell he was doing. It was like a whole new world to me. I had sort of discovered the top game as I was getting close to blue belt and I thought the top game was the truth.

It kind of is the truth - if you can get there. But what if you don't make it to the top? What if you make it to the top and you lose the position? What happens then? You cry on social media about how the ref screwed you?

My teacher Ricardo has a response ready for what happens if you end up on the bottom: Don't get there.

It's great advice, and it applies to every part of life. Credit card debt? Don't get there. Cute guy with no job? Don't get there. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I've heard Robson give the same advice, although he tries to express it as gently as possible.

"People say 'I have a problem escaping from side control.' I say 'Man, you don't have a problem escaping side control, you have a problem retaining guard.'"

Which brings us back to the whole point of this post, which is "Why?" Why did the guy tap (or not?) Why am I ending up in side (or, as the guys at the seminar complained, "Casey's side? Casey's knee on belly? Casey's mount?") And yes, Casey is a beast, but that's not the point, at least it's not the point right now. The point is the why. 

Question: "How do I escape from Casey's knee on belly?"
Answer: "Don't get there."

Why are you ending up with Casey's knee on your belly if you know you can't get out? Or here's another one: Why did you get involved with that guy when you KNEW he had a girlfriend? Why did you take a family trip to Jamaica when you already have three mortgages?

Or, if you're Robson, Why did the guy tap?

There's an easy answer to Robson's question. The guy tapped because you're Robson Moura.

And by that I don't mean "and therefore you have superpowers." I used to believe he had superpowers and I was a huge fan of those superpowers.

But one of the great gifts jiu-jitsu gives you is the gift of growing up. I have a theory that if you never really have a childhood,  you can never really grow up. Jiu-jitsu gives you a childhood and just when you're getting used to it, jiu-jitsu gives you an adulthood.

The child Me saw Robson as a superhero for a long time and as we all know, superheroes can't lose. But then I saw him lose at Abu Dhabi (by one advantage) and that was the end of my jiu-jitsu childhood.

I grew up, fast, and I finally understood that Robson Moura doesn't have superpowers. He's not magic, he's not a jiu-jitsu god or any other kind of god, he's a man, and everything he's done, he's done with good old-fashioned blood, sweat and, I'm guessing, tears. I don't know because  although I've seen him sweat and even bleed, I've never seen him cry. But I bet he has, because everybody cries, sometime, and when he did, I bet he knew why.

He's a 140 lb man who made up his mind when he was ten years old to conquer the world. In the 90's, the jiu-jitsu world was inhabited by macho top guys that would make the toxically masculine men in the Gillette ad look like soy boys.

Robson made it to the top in that world and he has stayed on top in this world. His jiu-jitsu is more incredible than ever, and both his association family and his family family are growing and thriving, and it's extremely difficult to find anyone who will say a bad word about the guy.

In a world where stars rise and fall before anybody really even learns to spell their name, where there are lots of phenoms and very few legends, why is Robson Moura still the legend that  has other legends acting like fanboys around him?

But if "Why?" is the question, I think it's also the answer. What I mean is, Robson taps people because he cares why he's tapping them, and that makes his jiu-jitsu better and better. He's not just cranking it on and hoping for the best. He's applying technique and when it doesn't work, which, let's be honest, is not that much of the time with him, he asks himself why, comes up with the answer, and fixes it. 

"Why?" is the question of an intelligent man but also a courageous man because there's always the possibility that you might not like the answer.

"Why did the guy tap?" "Because he didn't want you to break his nose."

For some people, that answer is sufficient. A lot of people, most people, don't even bother to ask the question because they simply don't care. What matters to them is they got the tap. They got their hand raised by the ref. They got to the top of the podium.

And I respect that. I do. I'm not dissing those people. If all you want is the tap, or the belt, or whatever, then do what it takes to get it and live long and prosper.

You may or may not achieve legend status and you may or may not care.

But I think the whole key to Robson's jiu-jitsu, what makes him, not just special, but unique, is that there is always a "why" and the answer is never "Because I didn't want you to break my nose." Every move, in his jiu-jitsu and his life, has a why. His jiu-jitsu is passionately logical and logically passionate, like Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk united, in one body, one mind, one heart, co-captains of a magnificent 140 lb. starship that may occasionally sustain a loss but will never know defeat because loss is part of life but defeat is a state of mind that doesn't exist in Robson Moura's wild and wonderful and slightly weird universe. Instead, there is always another fight, always another galaxy to explore and conquer.

Passionate logic and logical passion united in a 140 lb. starship

There's always another why and always another because. And that's why Robson Moura, and his jiu-jitsu, are so fascinating, so ageless, and so badass.

But the why is never "Because he has superpowers." That's a fairy tale for children, and as much as I love fairy tales, Robson Moura has helped me grow up and see that in real life, there are no superpowers, there is no magic wand, there is just you and your desire and your hard work and, as Robson would remind me, your belief in yourself.

Why did the guy tap? Because you worked for it.

His perspective is always unique

Go hang with Casey Lamb and his awesome team Synthesis BJJ
107 Norris Drive Suite D
Rochester NY

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Love (and jiu-jitsu) in the time of social media

Today is Valentine's Day, and whatever your relationship status, you have to at least give a thought to this thing called love.

Love, like jiu-jitsu, is deceptively simple. When you first step on the mat, it all seems crystal clear. Just get the submission. Check.

Just find a guy (or gal), fall in love, and live happily ever after. Check.

But the deeper you go, into love and jiu-jitsu, the more time you spend on this big round blue mat called the Earth, the more you realize that it's not simple at all.

We are taught that the point of love is the diamond ring. The point of jiu-jitsu is the sub. And that's true, kind of. But if we could just eliminate all the foreplay and go right to the sub, how fun would that be? Not very fun, just like skipping the champagne and the candles and going straight to the condoms isn't that fun. (Guys, I see you shaking your heads, but just bear with me).

On the other hand, if we spend our entire time on the mat chasing, or running, or hiding in turtle (my personal specialty), and we never get to the sub, that's no fun either.

In life, love and jiu-jitsu, we need both. We need it all. We need to chase, we need to run, we need to submit, we need to get submitted. We need to pass, we need to pull, and we need to be stuck in those weird in-between positions that we don't know how we got into and we don't know how to get out of. We need to take chances, even risks.

Who was it that said "You can't win unless you're willing to lose?"

The first lesson I learned from my teacher Ricardo Pires was "Don't get there," and it's a lesson I still live by.

Student: "Ricardo, how do I get out of an armbar from the mount?"

Ricardo (big sunny smile): "Don't get there."

Student: "Ricardo,  how do I escape the back?"

Ricardo (big sunny smile): "Don't get there."

It's 100% true and 100% legit. Until you learn to not get there, you will never get anywhere.

In the same way, most relationship problems can be boiled down into those three simple words: You got there.

Whatever it was you did or didn't do, you made a mistake and you got there.

Maybe you slept with the guy on the first date and he blew you off. Maybe you never slept with the guy at all and he blew you off. Maybe you asked the guy out and from then on, he expected you to do all the work (real life example from a friend's life). Maybe you paid the check and from then on, he expected you to pay for everything (real life example from my life).

Maybe you overestimated yourself and you got injured. Maybe you underestimated yourself and you got injured anyway. Maybe you hung around sitting by the wall waiting for him to ask you to roll except he never asked you to roll and then you ended up rolling with the awkward guy and you got injured for nothing (I'm speaking metaphorically here, at least mostly).

There are a million examples of what it means to get there.

But before you kick yourself, ask yourself one question: Did you die?

Yes, the submission is important. It's important to know where you're going and where you're coming from. What it is you want out of life, love and jiu-jitsu? What is it you definitely don't want?

At the same time, life, love and jiu-jitsu involve a certain amount of trial and error. It might even be said that trial and error are the fun part. 

It might even be said, at least at a certain level, that getting there is the whole point.

All of jiu-jitsu (and life and love) can be boiled down into three simple acts: learning, unlearning, and making it up as you go along.

We have to learn the moves. We have to learn to not get there. But there may come a time when you decide to throw it all out the window and get there.

Jiu-jitsu isn't about the moves just like love isn't about the diamond ring. It's about something you have inside. The moves are the brushes you need to paint your picture, the software you need to write your book, the piano you need to sing your song. But the moves aren't the song.

You are the song. That thing inside you is the song. And you can't be so focused on winning that you're afraid to sing your song. You can't be so worried about what people say or think about you that you're afraid to be yourself, or if you don't know who that is, that you're afraid to find out.

Everybody puts so much pressure on themselves they forget to be who they are. - Saulo Ribeiro

I don't think love is a thing between two people. I think love is the song, and it's only audible to people who are on the same wavelength. And when you find someone who can hear your song, who can see your light and feel your warmth, then that's what we call love.

Somebody was saying to me the other day that there was no point in doing whatever it was because nobody would understand or appreciate it. And I can totally relate to that. At the same time, when you stop singing your song, when you stop shining your light, that's when the darkness definitively wins.

We live in a time where it seems like people spend all their time shooting others down. You can't make the most innocuous comment, or post the most innocent picture, on social media without someone ripping you to shreds.

A while ago some guy inboxed me in response to my profile pic to say that since I was a "ginger" that meant that I was a c--t with no soul. I mean this is a perfect stranger who took time out of his day to say that.

To actually have a thought, or be a person, or have a passion, is the hard part. The easy part is sitting behind a profile pic like a sniper shooting at the people who are making an effort. And it is so tempting to just give up and give in to the haters, in life, love and jiu-jitsu. It's so tempting to curl up in turtle and stay there.

But you can't wait until there's someone around you think you will appreciate your song to sing it. You can't wait until the attack stops to escape from turtle. You can't wait until the snipers go to bed to shine your light into the world. The snipers never sleep because destruction is their only reason for existence. If they stopped trying to destroy, they would disappear into the darkness that spawned them and it would be as if they never existed. You can't let your past injuries, your heartbreaks and your failures, keep you from taking a chance, in life, love and jiu-jitsu.

Besides being an amazing jiu-jitsu fighter and teacher, Master Ricardo also married his childhood sweetheart and they're still going strong. 

When I asked him what his secret was, Ricardo replied: Treat every day like it's the first date.

When your first love and the love of your life are the same person

That's the difference between Professor and Mestre. Your professor can teach you moves. Your Master can teach you how to live.

The best relationship advice I ever gave to anybody was: Don't come to me for relationship advice. It would be like asking Wile E. Coyote for tactical advice, or asking Judas Iscariot how to win friends and influence people.

Wile E. Coyote: Don't ask him (or me) for advice

But I can tell good advice when I hear it, so I'm just going to pass along Ricardo's advice in my own words.

Whether you're on or off the mat, treat every time like it's the first time. Shine your light. Sing your song. Go for the submission even if you think you have no chance. You might surprise yourself.

And even if you don't, even if you fail in the most ignominious way possible, at least you lived. You trained.

You loved.

Love is like a submission. You can't force it, because it will resist. You can't chase it, because it will escape. All you can do is play your best game, be your best you, and be ready to grab it in the split second it appears.
Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. It's not something you see. It's something you feel. If you can't feel it, maybe you're fighting too hard.

"Stop fighting and start feeling." - Robson Moura

Sunday, February 3, 2019

From innocence to awareness: The path from white belt to black belt

The path from innocence to awareness

I've heard many instructors say that your job as a colored belt is to help lower belts get to your level.

But there is some disagreement on how to do that.

Some instructors seem to believe that the best way to help new students is to baby them. Others believe that the best way to help students improve is to beat them up.

I believe, from what I've seen in my 10 years plus on the mats, that we need a little of both.

Jiu-jitsu is a rite of passage. It's supposed to be hard. At the same time, we don't want to kill anybody.

For those who are a little hazy on what a rite of passage is, it's a ritual used in some tribal societies to mark the passage from childhood to adulthood. It's a kind of test. It's arduous and often extremely painful.

I was just listening to someone, I forget who, talk about a ritual involving bullet ants, which have a sting of horrendous ferocity. Apparently this particular tribe has a ritual where the inductee has to stick their hand in a glove filled with these ants and they have to withstand the pain without screaming (don't you wish members of Congress had to go through this?)

Stick your hand in here, little boy...
(Tell me again how jiu-jitsu is hard?)

The point is, it's very hard. If it weren't hard, it would have no meaning. Just like jiu-jitsu.

According to Joseph Campbell, the purpose of a rite of passage is to destroy the child's ego so that the adult ego can rise from its ashes. Why do we need to do that? Because life, love and bjj are going to do it anyway. The idea is that if a child can become an adult under controlled circumstances, it will be better equipped to withstand the uncontrolled circumstances of life when they occur, which they will.

So in other words, the purpose of a rite of passage is not to punish. It is to provide the new adult with weapons and strategies to get through this thing called life.

The problem being that the destruction of the ego is not fun.

Ego is simply the Latin word for "I." In other words, to destroy the ego means to destroy the self, or what we thought was the self.

Boundaries, limitations, strategies, pride, belief systems, ethics, morals, self-esteem, all go into the Cuisinart of the soul at white belt to come out on the other side at black belt as a kind of human smoothie. That which is solid survives. That which is weak is destroyed.

Cuisinart of the soul

So for example, let's talk about strategies. Your strategies on the mat usually mirror your strategies in your life. So, if your strategy in life is to remain detached, you may very well have issues closing the space in jiu-jitsu.

According to my teacher Ricardo Pires: "If you want to submit the guy, you take away his space. If you want to escape, you create space."

So if you're one of those people who need a lot of space, you might find you're better at escaping than you are at submitting and, since this happens to be called submission grappling and not escaping grappling, that could present a problem.

But there are a lot of things like that. You can see it in yourself and you can see it in your teammates. 

The point is, jiu-jitsu doesn't tolerate failed strategies. In life, you just go on to the next relationship, or job, or whatever, and tell yourself it wasn't meant to be. In jiu-jitsu, you will eventually have to come to terms with the common denominator: you.

We don the white belt as a bride dons a white gown, as a symbol of innocence and purity. Interestingly, white is also considered the symbolic color of perfection. Meanwhile, black is the color of power, authority, and mystery. Black is actually the absence of color - the color of a blank slate that has yet to be written on.

Black is the color of a blank slate
It means that when you step on the mat, you're already perfect, like a diamond waiting to be cut. The diamond does not become better or worse when it is cut: it simply reveals itself.

Meanwhile, the black belt does not signify, or should not signify, completion. It signifies openness. Black is the color of the universe, inside and outside yourself, that has yet to be explored.

Ricardo Pires has said that "Black belt just means you're ready to learn."

Jiu-jitsu has been described as a lifelong learning process, but perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a lifelong unlearning process.

Think about it. How often are you actually learning new moves in jiu-jitsu class and how often are you learning new ways of doing things you already know, or seeing details you had never noticed even in old moves?

I think I could be on the mat with Ricardo teaching side control every day of my life and still learn something new. Part of that is that Ricardo, like most other jiu-jitsu teachers, needs for you to ask the right questions. He's like a genie in a bottle who will fulfill your request to the letter, but nothing more. It's not because he doesn't want to help. It's because so much of what Ricardo does is instinctive. Not only has he never put what he does into words for others, he's never put it into words for himself, and has probably never even thought about it on any kind of conscious level. Only when you ask the right questions can he attempt to come up with an answer.

One of the last times I visited Ricardo in Fort Lauderdale I asked him about the correct position of the body in side control.

His response: "I know this is going to sound weird but it's like this part of my body, I don't know what it's called, [the soft part under the ribs] reaches out and grabs the guy's heart."

It's like this part reaches out and grabs the guy's heart.

I still don't really know what he means. I don't know how to grab anyone's heart. The best I can manage is to annoy people with my bony hips. But here in Ohio, if you mention Ricardo's name in any jiu-jitsu gathering, you are sure to elicit an enthusiastic response. Large, scary-looking men go all googly-eyed when they talk about Ricardo, like teenagers in love. It just goes to show that Ricardo's feeling is real. If you know him, if you have trained with him, a part of him did reach out and grab your heart, and if you are reading this, you know what I mean.

Ricardo was the person who taught me the phrase "jogo bonito," i.e. "the beautiful game." He was talking about soccer, which he played professionally early in life, and went on to compare it to jiu-jitsu.

When I asked Ricardo to define the beautiful game in jiu-jitsu, he said it was a game that was aggressive and submission oriented. He doesn't care whether you're a passer or a puller as long as you're playing to win.

But the idea of openness is central to Ricardo's thinking.

"Why try to knock down the wall," he says, "when there's an open door a few feet away?"

He was referring to the futility of trying to force submissions. Like everyone who's good, Ricardo prefers to take what his opponent gives him - after giving his opponent sufficient incentive to give him something.

Ricardo's mantra is "Control, pressure, submission." According to Ricardo, that's the order in which every submission occurs. Control is when you put the person in a box. Pressure is when you start closing the walls of the box. The submission comes when the person sticks an arm, a leg, or a neck out of the box.

When I started to train with Robson Moura, it seemed that he didn't follow that mantra, and I didn't understand how that could be. But as I got deeper in, I realized that Robson was following the same mantra, just in a different way. Robson's box is that there is no box. The person has a false illusion of freedom and safety. Meanwhile, Robson is travelling at warp speed within the box, like an atom bouncing off the walls of a Rubik's cube, while his opponent is limited by the natural laws that apply to everyone but Robson, who treats gravity like everything else that he doesn't find useful - he ignores it. The control is there, you just don't see it; the pressure is there, you just don't feel it. And next thing you know, you hear tapping and it's coming from you.

Robson's box is that there is no box

Awareness, then, is not only seeing the open doors for yourself, but seeing the open doors for your opponent - and closing them.

The open doors are there, and not just for Ricardo or other black belts. There are open doors around each of us, all the time, on and off the mat. The open doors are there from the moment you step on the mat. It's just that if you're a normal person, you don't see them, and if you do see them, you don't trust them.

Black belts don't necessarily trust the open doors either. They know that every open door may be a trap. Black belts trust themselves and their ability to deal with whatever is on the other side of whatever open door presents itself to them, whatever opportunity pops up to challenge them.

It could be said that the path from white to black is all about learning to recognize open doors and trust yourself enough to walk through them. The first open door is the one you walked through to get in the dojo, and every new dojo you walk into.

When we walk into a dojo for the first time, we really don't know what lies in store. Even those who have some knowledge of what Brazilian jiu-jitsu is (as opposed to moms and dads looking to enroll their kids in karate), have no idea of what their minds and bodies will go through on the path to black belt.

Kind of like life. Kind of like love. And I get that there are probably many who would disagree, people whose lives and loves and jiu-jitsu journeys have been all blue skies and smooth sailing and open doors. But I think for most of us, that innocence that we bring with us onto the mat the first time gradually dissipates and gives way to awareness: the ability to spot open doors but also the ability to avoid running into walls.

But awareness comes at a price. The only way to truly learn to defend armbars is to get armbared. The only way to learn to defend chokes is to get choked. A lot. And each time you get submitted, your ego will get crushed, just a little, until there is nothing left of the child ego you brought with you onto the mat the first time. 

In its place, there is only a beating heart and an open door.

In place of the ego, an open door

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Where you're coming from: The pass

In the pass and in your life, 
before you know where you're going, you need to know where you're coming from. 
Ricardo Pires

I know where I come from, 
I know where I am, 
I know where I'm going. 
Erberth Santos

This post by Erberth Santos immediately made me think of the words said to me years ago by my teacher Ricardo Pires.

Erberth, as you probably know, has a reputation for being jiu-jitsu's "bad boy." His behavior both on and off the mat has been criticized. His early experiences with jiu-jitsu were complicated by prison sentences.

Although Erberth came from humble beginnings, where there was never enough money to buy gi's and pay for tournament registration, he himself said that his life of crime had more to do with excitement than survival.

"'I was hunting adrenaline, not money to survive. I did it because I was running with the wrong crowd, and that complicated everything' - he said." ('Estou vivo' - 2014

Adrenaline junkie Erberth Santos

Now, Erberth is one of jiu-jitsu's most exciting competitors, known especially as a ferocious passer.

Check him out here:
Pass the Guard with Erberth Santos

And I think, in light of Master Ricardo's words all those years ago, that it's interesting that both men place such a high value on the connection between past and future.

Ricardo himself is a formidable passer. His style is completely different from Erberth's, and not just because of the decades separating the two men in age. Where Erberth is explosive, like fireworks going off in your hands, Ricardo is overwhelming, like a tide rising inexorably to cover the land in side control.

With either man, one thing is for sure - you're going to get passed.

I asked Ricardo to explain his words.

"The pass is a change," he said, "from one position to another, and anytime there is change, there is risk. And that's not just in jiu-jitsu, that's in life, in business, in everything else. You get vulnerable every time you take a forward step."

What does that have to do with where you're coming from?

"You have to know who you are, what are your strengths, what are your limitations. I always say 'If I know my limitations I can achieve my goal.' For me, I used to have a very athletic passing style; stand up, go back down, I could do it all day. Now, I can't do that anymore. I have to secure the legs, be sure I'm passing. There's going to be only one chance to pass. And it's exactly the same in business."

You're only going to get one shot. Make it count.
(Passing advice from James Bond and Ricardo Pires)

By now, we should all be used to the idea that all of life is jiu-jitsu. Hell, I've been talking about it for ten years. But what is the pass, in a business sense, in a life sense?

For the answer, we can go back to Master Ricardo's words: the pass is a change. It's a step forward, a step from a not-so-awesome position to a better position. It's conquest: of an opponent, of a situation, but most of all, of yourself.

All of jiu-jitsu boils down to the self:  Conquest of the self. Control of the self. Transcendance of the self.

Your opponent is just there to test your self-control. He (or she) is not important except as a human litmus test of your jiu-jitsu, and your jiu-jitsu is you. Jiu-jitsu doesn't change you - it is a catalyst to bring your best you to the surface. And yes, it can also bring out your worst you, or your middle-of-the-road you, depending on how much resistance you put up.

But even at maximum resistance, jiu-jitsu will win. Jiu-jitsu will enter you and become part of you and work through you in all phases of your life until you see every situation as jiu-jitsu, every challenge as a fight, and if that sounds warlike, so is life.

Life is conquest. That's it. And if that's not politically correct, neither is life. Neither is love. Neither is jiu-jitsu.

All of conquest involves some form of a pass, from one position to another. Every pass is a change. All change makes you vulnerable.

And that's why you need to know where you're coming from. You need to embrace your vulnerabilities, your fears and your weaknesses, look them in the face, know them as your own, and then, as Ricardo Pires said to me all those years ago, block them.

Know your weakness - and block it. - Ricardo Pires

Erberth said in a long-ago interview that on the fifth time he was arrested in a short three-month span, the police told him that if they caught him again, they would teach him a lesson.

The rest, as they say, is history. At 24, Erberth Santos is one of the undisputed kings of jiu-jitsu, and if people don't like his personal style, they're kind of stuck with it.

Love him or hate him, jiu-jitsu is stuck with Erberth Santos

The truth is, you can't see inside a person. You can't see inside their past, and even if you could, it wouldn't be the same as living it. 

Ricardo told me that when he was little, he decided he wanted to have a paper route. He took the newspapers around in a grocery cart that was actually bigger than he was. Now, Ricardo runs a jiu-jitsu business and a real estate business. At the risk of annoying him, it seems to me that Ricardo is always pulling a cart that is bigger than he is - and likes it.

Ricardo's cart is always just a little bigger than he is

That doesn't mean he doesn't care about conquest; quite the contrary. He's out to conquer the world just like everybody else. It's just that with Ricardo, one world is never enough.

But in every world, Ricardo's motto is the same: Stay on top. Stay in control. Don't lose position. And most of all, Stay in the game.

Stay in the game, Deborah. Always stay in the game.

Robson Moura came from a favela where he had to step around dead bodies to get to the store to buy bread. He learned to step very carefully and I think one of the hallmarks of Robson's jiu-jitsu, and his life (at least as far as I can observe), is that he steps carefully and he's good at dodging social and professional bullets. He's precise, he doesn't make mistakes, and if he does, he does it so sneakily that the "mistakes" end up turning into submissions anyway and everybody thinks it was Robinho's plan all along.

Robinho: He doesn't make mistakes
Check out some early Robinho: Robson Moura vs. Muzio de Angelis

And Erberth - whose words, along with Master Ricardo's, inspired this post - found himself, early in life, at a crossroads, where one path led to prison and making his mother cry, while the other path led into the unknown - the world of competitive jiu-jitsu. As it turned out, Erberth still managed to make his mother cry but with tears of joy. And yes, Erberth is still Erberth; explosive, unpredictable, unmanageable, a cross between a shooting star and a land mine, taking medals the way he used to take motorbikes, an uncomfortable presence in the polished world of modern jiu-jitsu.

A cross between a shooting star and a land mine

Erberth passing from guard pull

All of these men had to pass in their lives before they learned to pass on the mats. They had to pass, not just from one situation to another, but from childhood to manhood before it was really time. On the other hand, it could be said that all of life is just a pass - from one position to another, from one you to another, and that, just like in jiu-jitsu, the right time to pass is when you're stuck in the guard, no matter how old you are. The time to pass is when you realize that if you stay where you are, you die. And the only decision to make is what to take with you and what to leave behind.

The time to pass is when you realize that if you stay where you are, you die.

The one thing you know you're stuck with, the carryon bag into which everything else must be shoved, is yourself. You: your quirks, your fears, your demons and your angels, those things that make you laugh and those things that make you cry. The people who love you and the people who hate you, and the people who you can't tell which is which. Your strengths, your weaknesses,  your rainbows and your clouds.

All that you can't leave behind

You can't change who you are because you can't change your past. You can't change your future because there is no such thing. The future is a chimera, an abstract concept that is always just outside our grasp. There is only now. The moment you are living in, the moment you are reading this post in, the moment you got stuck in a moment that you can't get out of.

Now is the moment to know where you're coming from - your fears, your monsters, but also your joys and your gifts. Now is the moment to know where you are and who you are and most of all, what you want, from this life, in this body, on this Earth. And when you know those things, when you can look at yourself and your past, your fears and your desires, with your eyes open, then and only then can you begin to get a glimmer of where you're going, in the pass and in your life.

And pass.

"When the guy pulls guard I want to kiss him." - Ricardo Pires

Iconic Robson pass:
Robson vs. Baret Yoshida

And love is not the easy thing
The only baggage you can bring...
Is all that you can't leave behind

"Walk on" from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind - U2