Klaus - Blue Belt Advice
What motivated you to start training BJJ?
I was watching a lot of MMA at the time (Pride, K-1, UFC) and had done striking from a young age, so was keen to add some grappling instead of just having a big gap in skill. At the time I imagined I would step into the cage/ring and make a go of it. One of my fave fighters of that time was Frank Mir for his ability to hit unexpected submissions and use them to recover from danger.
What advice would you give to beginners who are just starting their BJJ journey?
Main thing that so many of us do is not being playful enough. When I approach it too seriously it makes my body too tense and that makes me gas out sooner, prevents movements from flowing like they should, and makes it less exploratory and fun for training partners. Luckily I had people point that out to me a lot along the way and that has really helped, though I can still fall into that trap if I’m not mindful.
What motivated you to continue training BJJ, even when it was challenging or frustrating?
My motivations have changed a lot over the years. At first I was very overweight and unfit, often couldn’t make it through warmups, so my motivation was to make progress on that. Next I wanted to compete. Along the way GSW started to feel like an important constant in my life, it remained after each failed relationship, Geoff and others always there to make me feel like I belong when other parts of my life end, so now my motivation is to belong.
Did you ever experience any significant injuries during your BJJ journey, and if so, how did you deal with them and continue to train?
My biggest physical obstacle wasn’t an injury but it may as well have been. I have struggled to keep my body from experiencing vasovagal syncope and presyncope, which basically means my blood pressure drops to zero and I struggle to stay conscious and not vomit.
For a while when I was training 4-5 times a week (3 at GSW and 2 at Lockdown) I was just in the habit of running to the bathroom during or after warmups, passing out/vomiting in there, waiting a few mins for my body to come back online then get back to training. It turned out when I finally saw a cardiologist that is the worst thing to do because I was teaching my vagus nerve to flip that switch faster each time and that’s why it was never getting better.
I had thought if I just keep pushing through and improve my fitness it will go away, not realising I was preventing it. In the end, the way I mostly fixed it has been to drink 1-2L of water about 30 mins before training, to focus on keeping my body relaxed, and breathe.
Were there any specific training partners who played a significant role in your development as a BJJ practitioner?
Yes, there have been dozens who have had big impacts on me. I think the people who have helped me most on the mats are the playful ones. Early on I would always try to roll with Darren and we would make Mortal Kombat sounds which really helped me to remember that it’s not a fight to the death.
Similar with Hotrod and Amy, people I could chat and joke with during rolls. More recently I have had really helpful rolls with Shano, Tony, Gareth and others. I find rolling with upper belts is the most useful because I don’t need to compete with them since they are too far ahead for that to work, and they don’t compete with me since that would be too easy, so that removes what is usually my biggest obstacle to progress (my ego) and lets me be way more exploratory, open and calm than I am with blues and purples. I think I’m getting better at being that way with them too but my competitive nature still gets in the way.
How has BJJ impacted your life outside of the gym, and what benefits have you seen from your continued practice?
Staying calm under pressure has translated really well for me in life. If I feel my body starting to tense, I access those lessons learned during rolling and everything starts flowing again.
How did you balance training BJJ with other commitments in your life, such as work or family?
At times I have been very devoted to BJJ, and at other times that has taken a back seat to raising my son. Lately I am attempting to find a balance. It’s a constant adjustment based on my son’s needs at different stages of development.
Did you ever go through a period where you felt like you weren't improving or plateaued in your BJJ journey, and if so, how did you push through it?
This has happened a couple of times. Usually I get advice from coaches and training partners that helps to break it. One thing that has really helped that I discovered by accident is to take a break. I think when I’m training a lot I can get too used to certain paradigms and just accept that they exist, which holds me back, whereas if I have time off I can come in fresh with more of an open and creative mind.
Were there any particular techniques or concepts that you struggled with as a white belt, and how did you overcome those challenges?
Probably a common one at all levels is getting stuck on my back in side control. I’m no exception to that. It still happens. I think when I have success against that is when I keep my hips active leading up to it to avoid that situation, since once I’m there it’s hard to get out. Sometimes I can bait them into mounting from there and I’m better at reversing mount than escaping side control, but basically my key for that whole situation is avoid it like the plague.
What role did competition play in your BJJ journey, and how did you approach preparing for and competing in tournaments?
The only time I competed was at Nationals in Auckland. I hadn’t trained enough and went in at my natural weight, went up against a prepared monster. I was very nervous and he got an easy trip on me and attempted a choke early. Despite that, I had moments of success, I had him turtled at one point and was working the position when time ran out and he won on points. I wasn’t really aware of how points worked in that competition so thought I would have got some points too but some good things just aren’t scored.
He deserved the win overall though for the early success. I can tell myself it could have gone differently if the clock didn’t run out but who knows, maybe he was aware of being up on points and would have pushed harder in a longer match too.
That experience was big for me, it was followed by months of hypothetical shower thoughts, and made me realise I could have probably picked a regional competition to start with, to get those jitters out of the way and get experience with the timing of adrenaline dumping, but it was a nice trip to Auckland and I got to experience being in the GSW team of competitors instead of just on the sidelines so I really cherish that memory.
Looking back on your journey, is there anything you wish you had done differently or advice you would give to your younger self starting out in BJJ?
I’m happy with how things have gone. I’ve done the best I could do at all times. I could say I should have done this and that, stayed calmer, gone easier on people who didn’t want to battle to the death, trained more at times instead of investing time in relationships that later failed, heaps of things, but honestly it’s all part of the journey we seem to go through. I don’t think it could have unfolded any other way and I’m proud of my achievements, friendships and memories.
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