First workout in Puerto Rico

First workout in Puerto Rico: It was great to be back on the mats in a new land here today. We drove into San Juan with friends to work out with Nicky Ryan, Ethan Crelinsten, Oliver Taza and teenage standout Big Dan Manasoiu to work out with our Puerto Rican friends and get things started. It’s great to get acclimated and active early and show people our Jiu jitsu philosophy and technique. Soon the rest of the squad will arrive and we will get to work opening a training facility and getting everyone to their Jiu Jitsu potential. Adelante y hacia arriba!!


Driving

Driving: An odd thing about my life is that I have not driven a car in thirty years! When I moved to NYC in 1991 I opted never to buy a car since they are not only unnecessary but a real burden in Manhattan. When I traveled For events I was driven everywhere, in Manhattan I mostly used subway and taxis for special occasions. My old Californian license expired more than two decades ago Not only have I not driven in thirty years, but cars themselves have changed enormously since that time. I learned to drive in a pathetic old British car in New Zealand with an anemic 47 horsepower engine! When I drove in California it was in my brothers Chevy Camaro which had an engine with slightly more than 200 horsepower - impressive for that time - to me it seemed like a rocket ship compared to what I was used to Nowadays it seems just about every car has more than 200 horsepower and weighs half what that old Camaro weighed. And many have three times that horsepower!! Re- learning to drive is going to be interesting!! Here I am playing around with an electric Moke - popular here in the Caribbean Islands. Looking forward to my Puerto Rican drivers license test!! Wish me luck - I think I’m going to need it!! Especially with Gordon Ryan as my driving coach!!


New York

New York: My life is probably a lot like yours. It’s been filled with moments of success followed by failure, of joy following sadness. Cycles of up and down, good and bad. Through all of that there was one constant in my life - New York City. Whenever I traveled around the country and the globe there was always a special feeling of happiness when I returned and saw that unmistakable skyline. Washington may be America’s capital, but New York is the WORLD’S capital. It attracts the best and most driven people from around the globe into a concentrated mess of industry, innovation, eclecticism and evolution. It either builds you up or smashes you down. This was reflected in the many incredible teachers and students I had here in New York over quarter of a century. I had many great teachers and many great friends, but in the end, New York was the greatest teacher and friend of them all. It taught me the power of motivation allied with diversity of inputs funneled into a common purpose toughened and refined by open competition. The city has changed a lot in my time here - I’ve changed a lot too - but my changes aren’t complete yet - there are some projects ahead - and they won’t be done in New York City. No change is permanent, the future is always uncertain, plans can change in the face of changing circumstances and you can always come back from where you’re going, but for now it’s time to move on in order to move forward. I will soon be moving with some of my students to Puerto Rico to try a new philosophy of teaching and refining our beloved art that I hope can widen our reach and contribute something significant to the continued growth of Jiu jitsu.


You can always come back to Jiu jitsu

You can always come back to Jiu jitsu: Life is complicated and often it creates times when you have to leave Jiu Jitsu for a time to engage in other priorities. It’s natural to think that the time off will be disastrous and then if you ever tried to return you would have lost all your skills and have to start off at the bottom again. My experience is that this is not the case. That in fact, the skills of Jiu jitsu are difficult to learn - so difficult in fact, that they are hard to forget!! What I find is that you quickly lose that fine sense of timing and pace that comes with constant training, but the deep underlying core of your game remains for a long time just waiting to be reactivated. Your first sessions back you feel slow and out of breath, but the timing and pace control that was lost easily also comes back easily - and then you are right back in the saddle!!Look at the example of one of my early black belts, Steve Williams, from a time long before the squad - he took many years off to engage in other life projects, moved around the country and came back recently to the basement - here he is competing in F2W this weekend in high level competition and looking like he never took a day off! So don’t worry about the pressures of life interrupting your training - that hard won knowledge and skill of yours is buried deep inside - it’s not going anywhere - just look at the example of Mr Williams


The parable of the banker

The parable of the banker: Back in the late 1990’s when I was working as a bouncer in NYC I strangled a couple of thugs unconscious one night during a brawl. When things quietened down an older gentleman with a thick Russian accent approached me and asked if I would be willing to work in his club. Bouncers are always looking for extra gigs in case they get fired or have to lay low for a while at their main gig so A few nights later I went to check it out. It was a strip club way downtown in the financial district by the old World Trade Center. The financial district is a hive of activity in the day time but a ghost town at night, bringing in an odd assortment of powerful suits alongside derelicts. It was a small club of mostly Russian strippers catering to boozy traders and dealers - a very easy gig compared with my normal work. One night I had to toss a fellow out who had gotten a little too touchy feely with one of the ladies and caused a commotion. He went without a fight and I stayed at the door as he lingered in the street outside. We struck up a conversation as he seemed a decent dude and he talked about his work which if his story was true, he was very good at. He said to me, “There is only one skill I need to win in my game - I need to be able to look at a stock and see its true value, as opposed to its publicly agreed upon value. If I can see that most people undervalue it I will buy and I win, since it’s true value is much higher and will be revealed in time.” As he walked off i wondered if a similar line of thought would apply to Jiu jitsu. Are there moves out there that are undervalued by most and whose true value would later be revealed so that anyone who invested in them early would profit? A few years later I started my study of leg locks for exactly this reason - they were priced at that time far below their true value. As you learn you might ask yourself, are there OTHER such moves out there waiting for someone to reveal their true value? Are the reasons why we currently consider some moves unworthy of study sound, or just a reflection of our limited thinking? The banker did very well with this approach - perhaps you can too.


Night shift

Night shift: When I first came to live in America in 1991 and settled in to study and teach at Columbia University in NYC I began working nights as a nightclub/bar bouncer. I lived in two very different worlds. By day the academic life of books and research and by night sex, drugs and rock and roll. It seemed there were two populations to the city - the day shift comprised of responsible, hard working and industrious people who made the city the economic powerhouse of the nation; and the night shift comprised of pleasure seekers, drifters, scam artists and thugs. I remember the words of Travis Bickle often running through my head as I worked the front doors and dance floors of the Apple, “all the animals come out at night...” As time passed I came to see that the city did not have two populations. Rather, it had one population that had two sides to them - the day and the night - and that hard working doctor, lawyer, city employee by day could be a very different person at night. We all have that duality of light and dark inside us and one side needs the other. The night was in a sense a release valve for the pressures of the day. Interestingly, Those people who got consumed by the night life and spent most of their time there used the day as their release valve, since too much time among that crowd created its own pressures. Here I am in my tiny Harlem apartment room in the early nineties...day shift over...night shift about to begin...


Symbols

Symbols: I am often asked why I sometimes present students with a knife or sword after a significant achievement. I believe strongly in the value of symbols in our lives as a means of clarifying, representing and reminding us of ideas that are important, and I believe blades have a good deal of symbolic meaning in martial arts. Bladed tools and weapons were one of the first great instances of technology taking mankind from our primitive beginnings at the bottom of the animal kingdom and taking us out of the common food chain as dominant over other animal species. Naked, we humans are among the most feeble of animals, but with spear in hand, we among the most formidable. Just as Jiu jitsu is a technology that takes us from feeble helplessness in the face of confrontation to a formidable adversary for even much stronger and more aggressive tormentors. Knives, like Jiu Jitsu, are morally neutral. They can be used to perform good deeds, save lives - and they can be used for murder. Like Jiu jitsu they are only as good or bad as the person using them. Steel, the basis of blades, goes through a metamorphosis from clumps of iron ore and through knowledge, refinement and extreme pressure, is forged into beautiful shining steel, just as we begin as unpromising, clumsy white belts and are subjected to pressure and knowledge that transforms us into black belts. Steel requires maintenance, just like the skills of Jiu jitsu. Even the finest steel will lose its edge and rust if poorly cared for, just as your skills will soon deteriorate without continual training and care. Blade steel must seek to satisfy inherently conflicting demands between toughness and hardness - this is the true riddle of steel. Softer steel is tough and won’t chip or break with rough use, but because it is soft it won’t hold a sharp edge for long. Hard steel holds an edge well but chips or even breaks due to its brittleness. So too with our training. We seek hard training for realism, but softer training for longevity and technical development - finding the right compromise between those two is our riddle. And so every time you see a beautiful blade you are reminded of these Jiu Jitsu themes


Early days in NYC - Mom and Dad visit

Early days in NYC - Mom and Dad visit: When I first came to NYC from New Zealand in 1991 (I had visited in 1988 but less than a month) it was to study Philosophy at Columbia University. New York is of course, an expensive town and the small financial stipend I got from Columbia as part of my scholarship needed supplementation, so I began working in bars and nightclubs as a bouncer. A few years later my dear Mom and Dad came all the way from New Zealand to see me - I had told them I did some extra work around town but did not tell them what it entailed I had arranged to see them and visit the Statue of Liberty and the old World Trade Center - I lived in Harlem at the time and arranged to come downtown and meet them to be the guide. I canceled work the night before because I was worried there would be a night of fighting and I would have to show up to see them with black eyes, cuts or broken nose! All went to plan until at 11pm I got a phone call from a bouncer friend imploring me to replace him for a family emergency at the last minute and take his spot - he had helped me in the past so I had to do it - but the promotion he was working for was legendarily violent even by early 90’s NYC standards! I showed up in the middle of a giant brawl and we fought continuously until beyond closing time at 4am! The whole time all I thought about was not getting hit in The face Finally the night came to closing time and I started to relax and say “I made it!” When a last scuffle broke out trying to get people to leave - I got hit in the back of the head with a thrown bottle and cut Luckily in those days I had hair!! When I woke up the next day I had a big lump, bruise and cut - but hidden underneath my hair so all was well!! Here I am with Mom (Mum for my NZ and Aussie readers) and Dad admiring old New York with a clean face and telling them about how safe i was in NYC studying at University


Rrecovery and return to greatness cannot be stopped

No matter how much destruction is brought to the body and property; as long as the spirit remains strong, recovery and return to greatness cannot be stopped


5:30am another night done

5:30am another night done: Here is an old photo taken at the end of a long night working nightclub security back in the 1990’s. Like most bouncers I worked at a few clubs that provided steady gigs for a period of time, along with numerous others where I would do freelance work replacing someone who couldn’t make it, got hurt or recently left. You can tell this was at one of the more action packed venues by the short hair (always better for fighting) and football jersey (excellent for fighting - totally rip proof, bare forearms to facilitate strangles and prevent people gripping sleeve cuffs and interfering with strikes, easy to wash out booze and blood), ultra baggy pants with robust leather belt for mobility while staying firmly in place and preventing someone pulling your shirt over your head in a melee and blinding you - low riding pants are never a good idea in a full out brawl - it’s hard enough to fight other people without having to fight your own pants at the same time! Next to me is a tall bar stool - if a fight went to knives I would immediately smash the stool into the floor and now it provides two long and strong sticks - an excellent improvised counter to knives which saved me on several notable occasions. I’m waiting for the promoter of the event to finish counting his cash - he used to make a lot it from his cut of Moët champagne sales at the bar. As such he was an obvious mark leaving the club with the money - I would escort him to his ride back to Brownsville Brooklyn and then I was done - I would walk home and spoil myself with a big old cheeseburger with lettuce and tomatoes at a local 24 hour diner - sometimes the patrons of the club that I had been fighting earlier in the night would also be there and usually it would be straightened out but sometimes we would fight again Then I would get some sleep and get ready to go and teach Philosophy at Columbia University- sometimes with cuts, bruises or black eyes from the night before Crazy times in my early days in America, but it was these early experiences that created my first interest and experience of Jiu jitsu and had a huge impact on how I perceived the value of the art.