Cleaning House and Moving On

I spent this past weekend moving out of the house my wife and I bought nearly 14 years ago. As I’m sure any normal person would, while I was loading a trailer in the rain, I naturally started thinking of Jiu-Jitsu…

It is amazing how much stuff accumulates over time. Trip after trip hauling stuff outside, I was in awe with how much my family has. I’ve spent enough time in third world countries to be embarrassed by the enormity of my possessions. Sorting through things I found objects I use daily, others I occasionally use, and some objects I haven’t seen since tucking them in storage 10 years ago. Some are still useful, others are not.

As I started relating this to Jiu-Jitsu, I realized stepping away from one house to live in a new, completely different house that this is similar to progression in Jiu-Jitsu. I am a completely different Jiu-Jitsu player than I was 8, 5, even 2 years ago. When I started my BJJ journey, I was a guard guy. I had long, strong legs and held close guard like my life depended on it. I went for armbars and triangles from the bottom, and that was my entire game. 8 years later, I can’t remember the last time I used closed guard. 80% of my submissions were triangles. Now, I triangle someone once in a while, but more frequently attack elbows, shoulders, knees and ankles.

Just like the useless, sentimental stuff I had packed away in boxes, some of my BJJ techniques from long ago are no longer useful. Techniques I used to use all the time worked great on white belts, but would get me quickly submitted against the guys I train with now. Other techniques probably shouldn’t have even worked on white belts, but I got away with them because I was strong and athletic and the other white belts were as clueless as I was. Most of these techniques I threw out years ago, and a couple I still break out when I’m training with beginners. Some of my junk got tossed during this weekend’s move, and just like the back-up techniques, I’ll pack some back in storage another 10 years, just in case I need it someday.

Other useless items weren’t even hidden away unfortunately. We had some things sitting out in plain sight that have no value or practical use at all. We are used to having them around, so they stay. Sentimental or not, we need to cut some of these things from our life. In my Jiu-Jitsu game, there are these things as well. I developed bad habits years ago on the mat that still haunt me. I still do them because they are comfortable. To a certain degree, they define me, regardless of how many times my coaches chew me out about them. I’ve been told thousands of times never to lay flat on my back, but I still do frequently. I frequently turn the wrong way, grab the wrong arm, and get caught in basic submissions. The difference is that while once naive about these things, I now know imediately that I once again screwed up. Still, the habits remain. Now that I am moving, these impractical things have been once again brought to my attention, and I’m committed to purging them from my life.

And the triangle, my bread and butter move as a white belt…IT’S COMING BACK!!



Kimura Control Series with Jake South



If you have trained or competed in Utah very long in Utah, you’ve likely been submitted by Jake South via some form of this slick Kimura series. With every version, you feel completely safe until you are suddenly and unexpectedly swept into danger of a simultaneous reverse triangle, armbar, and body crusher. I can drill this 45 minutes with Jake, know it is exactly what he’s chosen to submit me with for the day, and Jake will still get me with this series 10 times out of 10.

Jake is a super technical 4-stripe brown belt at Unified Jiu-Jitsu in South Jordan, Ut. Thanks for your help Jake!

Jake’s last MMA opponent knows all too well how effective this series is!

Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu Belt Test

by Arlo Gagestein


I had the honor of spending last Saturday at Drysdale Jiu-Jitsu in Las Vegas for a belt test and promotion ceremony. Several of my teammates were testing and a handful of us from Utah went out for the festivities. Witnessing the test brought back a flood of memories from my last promotion a couple years ago. After successfully demonstrating proficiency on a wide range of techniques, each person being promoted has to roll for an hour straight.

Now for those of us who frequently roll and hour or more, this might not sound too bad. The catch however is that you get ZERO rest, and every two minutes a new opponent jumps on you with the primary goal of breaking you down and wearing you out. If you notice the number of people in the above photo, it should be no surprise that there were plenty of fresh, well-rested opponents to keep those testing fighting to catch their breath.


As I jumped from one body to the next, I remembered the despair of being 30-40 minutes into my test with a seemingly unending supply of energetic teammates attacking me over and over again. You are exhausted, it hurts to breath, your limbs are useless, and you are repeatedly being beat by people with years less experience than you have. Let’s start you fighting for your life against the black, brown, and purple belts, then let every blue and white belt in the gym kick you while you are down. Welcome to purple. It doesn’t take long to begin questioning, “What am I doing here?” “Do I really want to continue suffering through this?” “How bad do I want this belt?”

There is a Rickson Gracie quote that I absolutely love and that defines Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for me.

Where there’s discomfort, there’s fear, in these very tough positions, you’re in a little piece of hell. And through this daily suffering, you learn to survive in these situations. You have to find comfort in uncomfortable situations. You have to be able to live in your worst nightmare. Jiu-jitsu puts you completely in the moment where you must have complete focus on finding a solution to the problem. This trains the mind to build that focus, to increase your awareness, your capacity to solve problems. Sometimes, you don’t have to win. You cannot win. But that has nothing to do with losing.”

“Sometimes, you don’t have to win. You cannot win. But that has nothing to do with losing.” In the helpless, hopelessness of a belt test; 40 minutes in with 20 minutes of hell to go, you learn what this promotion means to you. You have dedicated yourself to the art, to the endless pursuit of progress, chasing a destination that never arrives. In this moment, survival is everything. Everyone in this hour thinks about quitting. Everyone questions themselves, but I’ve never seen anyone give up. I’ve never seen someone in the dark tunnel, chasing the colored belt, quit. The rougher the ride, the more abuse they take, the more satisfying the victory of completion.

My hat goes off to everyone who was promoted last Saturday. I know you suffered worse than anything I can remember. You too have probably already forgotten just how bad it was. The sweetness of promotion erases a multitude of beatings. Beatings we are programmed to forget, so that in a couple years,  when the time has come, we’ll once again silently wait in the mat’s center, ready to battle all who approach.

To my teammates from Mori Training Center, thank you. Your determination and dedication to the art makes me better. I admire and value your friendship and support more than you will ever know. Together we suffer, and together we grow.



Kneebar from Back Control with Arlo Gagestein

The Arlock is by far my favorite submission. 9 out of 10 times, when I beat someone better than I am, this is how I do it. I’m constantly trying to figure out weird ways to submit people when and where they aren’t expecting it, and this kneebar does exactly that. So, take the back, relax, and surprise some people this week!

Caffeineated Jiu-Jitsu


Great news for caffeine addicts everywhere!


Eur J Sport Sci. 2016 Feb 10:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]

Caffeine improves muscular performance in elite Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athletes.


Scientific information about the effects of caffeine intake on combat sport performance is scarce and controversial. The aim of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of caffeine to improve Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ)-specific muscular performance. Fourteen male and elite BJJ athletes (29.2 ± 3.3 years; 71.3 ± 9.1 kg) participated in a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled and crossover experiment. In two different sessions, BJJ athletes ingested 3 mg kg-1 of caffeine or a placebo. After 60 min, they performed a handgrip maximal force test, a countermovement jump, a maximal static lift test and bench-press tests consisting of one-repetition maximum, power-load, and repetitions to failure. In comparison to the placebo, the ingestion of the caffeine increased: hand grip force in both hands (50.9 ± 2.9 vs. 53.3 ± 3.1 kg; respectively p < .05), countermovement jump height (40.6 ± 2.6 vs. 41.7 ± 3.1 cm; p = .02), and time recorded in the maximal static lift test (54.4 ± 13.4 vs. 59.2 ± 11.9 s; p < .01).The caffeine also increased the one-repetition maximum (90.5 ± 7.7 vs. 93.3 ± 7.5 kg; p = .02), maximal power obtained during the power-load test (750.5 ± 154.7 vs. 826.9 ± 163.7 W; p < .01) and mean power during the bench-press exercise test to failure (280.2 ± 52.5 vs. 312.2 ± 78.3 W; p = .04). In conclusion, the pre-exercise ingestion of 3 mg kg-1 of caffeine increased dynamic and isometric muscular force, power, and endurance strength in elite BJJ athletes. Thus, caffeine might be an effective ergogenic aid to improve physical performance in BJJ.


Testing; fatigue; strength

[PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Ninja KB Swing – Version 2

So, at Ninja Headquarters, we really enjoy having a good time. Sometimes we have ideas that don’t turn out like we anticipated, and sometimes things actually work out every bit as well as we had hoped! With that, here is the follow-up to our first Ninja Kettlebell Swing post (See Version 1 Here!):

Today was our first attempt, so we started light. You can expect heavier ninja swings in the near future!

Jiu-Jitsu, Cops, and Schemas

Written by Jeff Moore, ‘The Ginja Ninja’


I’ve written about the psychology concept of schemas before.  They’re basically shortcuts our mind creates to make life easier so we don’t have to think out every single action we do every single time we do them.  As we regularly complete a complex series of tasks over and over, our mind does us a huge favor  and simplifies the complex task in to a “prepackaged” simple action, i.e. a baby learning to walk.

I hadn’t considered the application of schemas to jiujitsu until a cop buddy of mine was prefacing a series of techniques with a schema-related concept prior to teaching how some techniques flow in to other techniques, e.g. the armlock from guard transitions to the triangle choke, and the triangle transitions to the omoplata, and back again.

To illustrate the concept, he began describing a situation in which an aggressive suspect made a move to attack.  He told me he instantaneously and instinctively drew his firearm and leveled it at the attacking suspect a half beat before his conscious mind realized he’d done so.  His swift action caused the suspect to stand down, and no lethal force was used.

Years of repetition had enabled John to instantaneously perceive a threat, perceive it as potentially deadly and in need of potentially lethal force, remove his pistol from his holster, properly aim the pistol at the threat, and then pause before squeezing off a round to reassess the threat.  If he had to think through each of those steps, his actions would have been significantly slower and his life and subsequently the suspect’s life could have gone very different paths.  His schema, based off countless training scenarios and real world application, worked well.

Well, it works the same in jiujitsu, but with obviously much less dire consequences.  The reason people get really good at jiujitsu has everything to do with schemas!  A lot of factors go in to making a jiujitsu technique work against a resisting opponent.  Awareness is huge, as two people grappling certainly can create a fairly tangled, confusing web of limbs.

nogi grappling

For instance, to pull off an arm lock against a resisting opponent, I have to consider what my left arm is doing, what my right arm is doing, where my left leg is, and where my right leg is.  I also have to consider where each of my opponent’s respective limbs are.  Furthermore, I have to consider where my opponent’s limbs are in respect to my own limbs at any given moment.  Body positioning, weight distribution, and body angles all have to be considered.  Timing of technique, knowing when to apply the technique, knowing when to not apply the technique, and knowing how to even get in the position to execute the technique are all factors.  Finally, doing all of these things instantaneously while simultaneously being aware of your opponent’s attempts at defending as well as possibly what your opponent is trying to do to you in return makes a seemingly simple technique infinitely complex to a beginner.

Through years of drilling, practice, and live application, the complex series of tasks necessary to arm lock somebody gets prepackaged in to a nice little schema.  It becomes automatic.  It is my “Arm Lock Schema.”  Put in a slightly different situation, I have a “Triangle Schema,” and then a slightly different situation from the previous, and my “Omoplata” schema activates.

John was just teaching us to loop those schemas together, ultimately leading to the real life ninja shit of the Arm Lock/Triangle/Omoplata Schema. 

Resolving to be More Functionally Unfunctional

by Arlo Gagestein

With the coming of the new year, many lives are filled with often fitness related resolutions. I too have some gym goals for the year (see, even fitness professionals do it!). Like most resolutions, time quickly erases them from our memories, and next year we find ourselves re-evaluating and either recommitting, or deciding the goal wasn’t worth the effort and we should pursue something new.

Last year I hit some goals and missed some goals. I did finally run a trail marathon in September, so check that one off the list. However, running is on my New Year’s list again this year. Everyone who knows how much I despise running will be very proud to know I have thus far stuck with my goal with unwavering resolve this year. On January 1st I ran 40 seconds on the treadmill, and yesterday I hit 45 seconds.

The only thing more shocking than running on my list is my second and infinitely more important goal for 2016. I am going to do more biceps curls. Depending how well you know me, this may or may not seem like a big deal. Let me put it in perspective by disclosing that in the 11 years I have owned my own gym, I have done bicep curls less than a dozen times. Part of it stems from my belief that doing exercises for aesthetic reasons only is silly. I have always been a firm believer that if I train for performance, my sex appeal should remain sufficient without adding “curls for the girls” (besides, I’m happily married already). Also, until now, I have believed that biceps curls were far from functional. Complex, multi-joint movements are more similar to actions our body does in real life and will do much more to improve athletic performance. If I’m doing chin-ups, pull-ups, and rows, my biceps shouldn’t need extra attention. Even some complex movements such as the bench press, the supposed “king of upper body exercises”  haven’t seemed particularly functional. When in sports will a person lay on their back and push something off of themselves?

Over the past couple years, everything I though I knew about sports performance has been destroyed. My world has been shattered. I have been both enlightened and confused to the point of tears that my sport of choice, and in my opinion the MOST FUNCTIONAL martial art, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, is from a training standpoint, largely UN-FUNCTIONAL! It all started with the bench press. When would I ever lay on my back and push something off of me? Oh wait…that’s Jiu-Jitsu. The stupid leg curl machine (FYI, hip extension is a much more important function of the hamstring than knee flexion)…? Hmm, resisting kneebars, finishing triangles and armbars, keeping a closed guard…yeah, again, Jiu-Jitsu. Bicep curls, the most un-functional single joint exercise known to man? Resisting armbars and finishing chokes. Yep, Jiu-Jitsu. Joint by joint, exercise by exercise, a fellow Meathead Jiu-Jitsu (if you haven’t heard of that style you will) practitioner and I went through the functional uses of non-functional exercises. I buried the knowledge deep within, content to fake ignorance and continue on in my functional training ways.

Then, I made two startling discoveries that will change the direction of my life forever.

1.  While doing chin-ups recently, I realized my biceps fatigued much faster than my back and were actually substantially limiting the number of chin-ups I could do. While this should give me plenty of reason to work biceps, it alone might not have been enough. Reason #2 however, made me realize what a desperate situation I’m in!

2.  In October, my physical therapist pointed out that I have horrible elbow range of motion. Unfortunately it is a bony restriction rather than tight muscles (or restricted fascia for those in the know), so it’s not going to be an easy fix.  For 6 years now I have been struggling to finish guillotine chokes and suddenly it all made sense. I knew I didn’t have the mobility to front squat worth beans, but didn’t make the connection to my Jiu-Jitsu game. Compare these pictures, the traditional selfie pose (1st photo) and me trying as hard as I can to bend my elbow (2nd photo):


My traditional selfie pose.

Straining for all I'm worth to bend my elbow.

I know, it’s the same, right. Now it’s about to get crazy. Check out these pictures of the guy who routinely catches me in a North South Choke:

The selfie pose.


Now, several things should be blatantly obvious. 1) He has much bigger biceps than I do. 2) My wrist is daintier though. 3) If my neck is wedged between his biceps and his forearm, I will go to sleep much faster than he will if his neck is loosely fitted between my biceps and forearm.

Now, not only is it a tighter fit, while caught in a particular choke last week  I thought I was okay until the above pictured arm flexed and I immediately had to tap. It was uncanny how much tighter the choke got when the muscle contracted. So, back to my resolution. Putting two and two together I immediately knew what has to happen. I need bigger biceps. Without full range of motion at the elbow joint, I need a giant mass of muscle to close the gap to effectively choke people out.

So, there it is. My main motivation for my most important New Year’s resolution to choke people. Is that wrong? Who cares, I’m gonna go work the GUNZ!!