Lessons for Difficult Times

Sometimes life throws us something completely unexpected, and we lose all sense of where we are.

It can be a moment of tragedy – like when somebody dies, you lose a job, you get into a car accident – or just a creeping sense of hopelessness shows up from out of nowhere.

So what does the Martial Arts teach us about these moments?

Which “classroom lessons” do we look to when the world around us seems to be falling apart?

In my experience, the moments when everything is collapsing are the most fertile ground for our practice, provided we draw on the right resources. We’ve actually been preparing for this by training ourselves during the non-traumatic times.

Finding your center once you’ve been knocked out of your orbit happens in stages. Here are a few of the ways you can manage times like this:

• Look for your strengths: Identify the things you love, and the things you love to do, and reconnect with them. Those times when we feel weakest and most out of sync are a chance to revisit what we know well.

In both Jiu-Jitsu and Thai Boxing, when you’re off balance, you have to recompose your guard before anything else. Returning to your strengths can mean focusing in on the positive habits that are a part of your life, or seeking out the support of those who’ve provided you with strength and counsel in the past.

• Stay focused on high-value activities: Avoid the temptation to get caught up in low-value activities that lead you to the lowest common denominator. What are the most effective principles?

The more time you can spend in areas in which you feel productive, effective and meaningful, the faster you can return to your baseline. Sure, there are time when you’ve got to just “cope”, but once that period is through, it’s time to return your attention to the things you care most about.

• Revisit your model: Seeking out a mentor or a model during challenging times can be a way of reorienting ourselves. If there’s a road that’s already paved, it helps to get on it and stay on it, especially if your car feels like it’s just idling.

Just like in the dojo classroom, we often need that commonsense advice when our thinking becomes cloudy. With some mindfulness we can expand outwards in moments of difficulty, instead of withdrawing inwards.

When things are crumbling, the decision to face ourselves can be difficult, but the training we do has embedded answers in us. When we’re willing to deal with our pain, challenge, struggle head-on we actually have a chance of overcoming it.

Read more about our cooperative method at The Martial Arts Mind.

Not a BBJJ student yet? Check out the easiest way to start by clicking here. 

Training With Purpose (Or Feeding Your Ego?)

Thanks to Ilya K. for this amazing essay. As a deeply committed practitioner at BBJJ, he understands both the challenges that come with learning the art of Jiu-Jitsu and the struggle to “swim against the grain” and absorb the cooperative philosophy of our classroom. His words capture the trickiness of navigating the path as the beginner becomes the intermediate student, and learning the importance of the culture of sustainability. Hope you enjoy reading it!

I believe that it’s not until we reach blue belt that even a mild understanding of Jiu-Jitsu fundamentals sets in. Once we reach this milestone, our training becomes a little easier, facial expressions become softer, and our breathing becomes more controlled. Only after that can we actually begin a real lifelong study of Jiu-Jitsu.

Before this phase, when we can relax and observe what is happening around us, we’re usually doing a poor imitation of what we’ve seen others do, while simultaneously feeding our own egos.

Sasae-trainingThe truth is, contrary to what a beginner might glean from the media depictions of this martial art – physicality, toughness and sometimes near-violence – most Jiu-Jitsu happens in the mind. If you practice already, you know this. If you cannot control your thoughts, intentions, and emotions, your progress will be minuscule, regardless of how much strength you use to dominate or oppress your partner.

As white belts, we all enter a school with wonderful intentions of growth and progress, and it is a martial arts school’s responsibility to imbue these aspiring warriors with the right mindset.

The most beautiful aspect is that this mental training is so subtle, that you don’t even know it’s changing you for the better.

In the absence of this guidance, the white belts are left to themselves with nothing to do but imitate what’s in front of them. More often than not, it is the glorified brutality of MMA or the adroit movements of a higher belt. Naturally, one would be infected with a desire to be like them. And that’s where the problems begin.

Just as plants require extra nurturing at the seed stage, the young students must be given more attention than any other belt. It is in their healthy progression that lies the eventual success of any school.

Here’s why…

The purple and brown belts will show up for class, and they will use the scissor sweep and they will do the kimura when the time is right. But on the other side, the white belts generally have no idea what’s going on, so they are left to utilize the only tools they know: passive hostility and force.

No one really wants to roll with a white belt, because they don’t know what they are doing. The reason why they don’t is because no one showed them how. A cycle of self-destructive aggression sets in, which often ends with the white belt dropping out.

Luckily for me, a great mentor and guide has appeared in my life at the right time.

I was fortunate enough to get the necessary guidance at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from the founder and owner of the 5 schools in that borough, Gene Dunn. Through a very technical yet gentle approach, Gene Dunn and his staff offer not only the necessary grappling and physical know-how, but – most importantly – they have a set curriculum of mindset training with weekly messages.

The entire idea is based on educating every student properly, so we can each become better human beings through the art of Jiu-Jitsu.

Through this process, I have learned that Jiu-Jitsu is a gentle art, not a way to destroy someone

For example, every class ends with the student creed, during which we affirm our intentions of growth, respect, and discipline. Over time this begins to sediment into our very core, and we have no choice but to “roll” responsibly and consciously. Any other way brings destruction rather than creation. Furthermore, at the end of every class we are reminded of the fundamentals associated with the Jiu-Jitsu black belt lifestyle, whether it is how we eat or how we treat our friends and relatives.

Training under Gene Dunn has had a tremendous impact on my life. I have grown as a man, I’ve become more accountable, more giving, and more aware of the consequences of my words and actions. The most beautiful aspect of training at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that this mental training is so subtle, that you don’t even know it’s changing you for the better. You don’t realize how you’ve grown until you find yourself in a different environment, surrounded by more challenging circumstances.

BBJJ-trainingThere was a time when I was frantically huffing and puffing, and there was also a time when I would use aggression and speed to attempt anything on the mat, and there was a time when my face would turn red and my teeth would grind in futile exertion. I don’t do that anymore, because I’ve realized it is not the way and creates nothing but distance between myself and my rolling partner.

The way to this state is not an easy one, and can only be achieved with the proper mindset planted early on. For example, as we understand in class, submissions cannot come before position. That is something that any higher belt doesn’t need to be told, but to a beginning practitioner it would appear as nonsense, because all they want to do is execute that choke they saw online or in the latest MMA fight.

The root of all pain and suffering is ignorance, and it is our job as Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to eradicate this ever-present force from the mat, whatever school we are practicing at.

Furthermore, the concept of mutual respect and growth must be put above all other aspirations for a beginning practitioner. Without these fundamentals all training is a waste of time. It is equivalent to climbing a ladder, and seeing that it was leaned against the wrong wall the entire time only when you are almost at the top.

Through this process, I have learned that Jiu-Jitsu is a gentle art, not a way to destroy someone. We must always be mindful of what we are doing on the mat. Are we there to destroy whomever comes into our space, or are we trying to learn, understand, and help our partners?

The root of all pain and suffering is ignorance, and it is our job as Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to eradicate this ever-present force from the mat, whatever school we are practicing at. It is our job as higher belts to guide the beginners and to have the humility to ask them to relax, to explain the techniques, and to guide them to a higher level of understanding. If we are not willing to do that, then the color of our belt is just an accessory on our gis.

I wish to extend my utmost gratitude to Gene Dunn and to his entire staff for working with me and shaping me into the man that I’ve become. Thank you!

Ilya K. is a blue belt at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the founder and owner of Aida Shoes

Shihan Dunn’s 5 Simple Steps To Classroom Success


There are dozens of ways to approach your martial arts progress, but what we’ve found over the years is that the key is to drill down and get SIMPLE.

So with simplification at the fore, let’s delve into the 5 things you need in order to see in-the-dojo training success.

#1 – Set a Specific Goal

So…you’ve heard this in the classroom before, but there is a real power to actually taking the time to outline your goal. Setting the goal of becoming a highly-skilled, well-conditioned, well-discipline black belt Martial Artist is very motivating.

It’s one of those things that brings energy not just to the pursuit of the goal itself, but to your other activities as well. It brings out the best in everyone and, with the kaizen principle in mind, keeps us on a path of positive self-development and constant improvement.

So start with these questions: where are you in your journey of personal excellence? Where do you want to be in the next 6-12 months?

#2 – Set a Plan for Execution

Don’t forget: every important goal in life, especially that of becoming a Black Belt, needs an action plan to make it happen. The goal without a plan has no shape, no way of being realized.

You need to concretize not only the what, but the how. So your plan might include your training days, your nutrition plan and/or extra fitness and conditioning.

It could also include other habits that need attention – your daily rituals or associations, for instance. Those things matter, and you need to take them into account if you want to feel major changes in the classroom.

Now that we’ve covered the first two steps in the process,let’s take a look at what else you need to put in motion to see classroom success at its highest level.

#3 – Take Action

In other words, you have to now DO what you’ve planned. As tough as it can be to sit down and think of the goal, write it down and create a plan, setting your plan into action can be equally challenging.

Here’s the good news…

Well-directed and well-thought-out actions always lead to positive, progressive results. The more actions you take, the better the results you create.

This is true whether it’s a specific physical goal you’ve set, or a more general plan to improve your communication or your leadership.

#4 – Study & Analyze Your Results

Everyone needs progress check points and measuring rods. The better you measure your results…the better you can manage them.

Let me explain…

Sometimes you’ll see results and realize you’re headed in the right direction. Sometimes you’ll see results and realize you’re going the wrong way. But by giving yourself an occasional check-up, you can easily determine if your plan is working.

Sometimes, the plan is good, but you simply need MORE action. Other times you need to take BETTER actions. Or maybe you’ll find that there’s something else – your nutrition, mental state or stress-level – that’s impacting you.

From there you can adjust and move forward with a better strategy.

These first four steps we’ve laid out have been designed to orient you and point you in the right direction when it comes to success in the classroom.

We believe firmly that the better oriented you are in the dojo, the easier it is to manage the ups and downs of life outside the dojo. It’s one of the reasons Martial Arts training is such a powerful tool.

We’ve got one more step in the process to share…

#5 – Continue what Works and Change what Doesn’t

In other words, follow the kaizen principle. If something is working well, the challenge in the classroom is to maintain it – to keep doing the little things that allow you to feel better, stronger, smoother, more focused.

And for the things that aren’t, it’s all about little tweaks. Nothing too major, just the little course corrections that help to nudge you back in the right direction.

Simple advice, yet you would be surprised how many people need this simple and powerful reminder. If something is working for you, keep doing it over and over. If something isn’t working, simply change your approach.

Always keep your most important goals fresh in your mind and take some action everyday until they’re where you want them to be.

Do these 5 Steps make sense? Please leave comments or questions below!

Something from Nothing

It’s possible to begin at the very bottom and get to a much better place. This is, literally, one of the central lessons of Jiu-Jitsu in Brooklyn or anywhere else in the world. The message is that anyone can learn the techniques and strategies to stay safe when faced with danger.

Of course, it’s easy to just say that anyone can do it – it’s a much different enterprise to actually create the conditions for people of all ages and stages to succeed.

So there are a few important prerequisites – a safe environment, a caring and knowledgeable instructor, a supportive community, some clear goals. When those are met, we can basically create something from nothing.

Where before we were scared, now e can feel empowered.

Where once e were uncertain, now we can be decisive.

Where we used to be weak, now we can be strong.

Provided that we don’t sacrifice our values in order to ascend the ladder, this is what “success” looks like in the martial arts.

(We still have to constantly be vigilant about guarding what’s most valuable to us. It’s important to beware of what we become in the pursuit of what we want.)

The first step in learning Jiu-Jitsu comes with the vision of what we’d like to become. To imagine all the possibilities and outcomes of the journey we’re undertaking.

Sometimes this sits below the surface, which is why having a mentor in the martial arts can be so important – to anchor a realistic vision of where we’re going. That’s one of the biggest “keys” to getting started.

Some people want to have it all laid out at the beginning, but this just isn’t how it all works. If we want to see it, we have to believe it. Setting a goal in Jiu-Jitsu means committing to the journey, both the parts we can imagine and predict…and those we can’t.

On to the next step: we have to believe that what we’re starting to imagine is possible for us to achieve. We get glimpses of this when something goes right for us in the class or in training.

Or in the classroom, we watch one of our peers execute a technique or movement very well and it inspires us to do it ourselves. We say, “if one of us can do it, any of us can do it” – that’s a way to support the belief.

We can also be our own evidence. In other words: if we’ve overcome a challenge once before, it means that we can do it again.

If we did it 6 months ago, we can do it now. This is one of the best ways to get away from negative thinking or “being in the valley”.

The moaners and groaners love to look at failure and use it as evidence, but those who push through trouble tend to use their own successes as evidence that they can get through the next thing.

It’s a powerful skill to develop – creating the discipline to envision a broad goal, and then to believe that what others have done is also possible for us.

The seeds of that success are in the language and experience of Jiu-Jitsu. With the vision and belief (or goals and motivation, in the language of the dojo), e can actually turn nothing into something and have something of real value in our lives.

Women’s Personal Protection March 16th

Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu continues its tradition of using the martial arts as an empowerment tool for women all over Brooklyn as it presents a new edition of its Women’s Personal Protection Seminar on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The event is free, and is specifically geared to women who have had no prior martial arts experience.

Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu presents these seminars on a quarterly basis, teaching women of all ages and stages self-defense success strategies to stay safe in their communities. The Women’s Personal Protection sessions incorporate ways to increase alertness, focus and safety, as well as basic physical strength and conditioning.

The Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu organization feels strongly that the attention on “self-defense” classes for women need to be based not exclusively on survival, but on success.

“We believe that there is much, much more available for women than just surviving a threatening or uncomfortable situation,” says lead instructor Gene Dunn. “Success when in danger implies control, confidence and empowerment. That’s what we’re working on.”

This echoes the school’s overarching mission: physical fitness, self-defense and assault prevention in a safe, cooperative environment free from antagonism. Their goal in presenting the Women’s Personal Protection Seminar this March is to share those empowerment strategies with as many people as possible.

“Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is fully committed to empowering women of all ages and stages, which is why this seminar is open to all women regardless of ability or experience,” says Dunn.

The sessions will be free to members of the local community, in keeping with the instructors belief that martial artists have a responsibility to the communities they inhabit.

They are designed for first-time self-defense students and will teach participants techniques to address the most common threat scenarios women face. Providing women in these communities with the ability to be smart, aware of their surroundings and prepared to defend against an attacker is top priority in the seminar.

If you are a woman or have a woman in your life, it is imperative that they attend this seminar to learn life-saving techniques.

To register CLICK HERE or email info@brooklynbjj.com.


by Shihan Gene Dunn
Yesterday I told the karate class that my life’s work is to teach the martial arts. And it’s my life’s work because what the martial arts has given to me is priceless. I can only tell the horror stories of my childhood to give you perspective, so you can see the arc for me and what it really was like.

The reason that we believe in the martial arts is because we know that it can give you something that’s amazing: confidence, a relaxed nature, and the strength to be friendly when you feel vulnerable, among many other benefits.

All of these things are making my own life better and are making the people in my life a pleasure to be around. In fact they’re making the world, in a little way, a better place to be in.

We want to do that with more people – thousands of people, actually. If we can replicate that experience and those benefits, then we can really do something to effect change in our community. We can make a real difference.

When I wake up in the morning, I ask myself, “am I really being effective at inspiring people to live more fully through the martial arts?” And one of the only true litmus tests for me is if the school is growing. In other words, are there more students around to receive the message?

This is not my pitch. It’s not a call for more money. It’s me telling you that the only way that I can tell that my life matters is if this idea – confidence through serious martial arts practice – is expanding in the world.

And so we need your help. We need you to share this work and your training so we can help people become more confident; become courageous in the face of their vulnerability; to live with less anxiety; and to provide them with a pathway for success in their endeavors.

It might be sharing it with your friends – or bringing someone to the class. Or maybe just by talking about it wherever you do that, in person or on Facebook. When you do that, you have a chance to actually make a difference. You help expand this work, you become a part of it.

We are not used car salesmen. In fact, we’re not selling anything. We really do love you as students, and we believe that this work is a way to do something great for humanity.

This is our way of giving back – it’s our way of making a difference.

Shihan’s Recommended Readings

A complete martial arts practice is not just about what you learn on the mat, but what you experience in your everyday life outside the dojo. Experiencing relationships, art, books – it all influences your black belt journey.

To help expand your learnings, Shihan Dunn has some recommended books for all students to add to their reading list:

The Alchemist

The Alchemist tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams. Learn more about the book here.

It Starts With Food

It Starts With Food outlines a clear, balanced, sustainable plan to change the way you eat forever—and transform your life in profound and unexpected ways. Your success story begins with the Whole30®, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s powerful 30-day nutritional reset.  Since 2009, their underground Whole30 program has quietly led tens of thousands of people to weight loss, enhanced quality of life, and a healthier relationship with food—accompanied by stunning improvements in sleep, energy levels, mood, and self-esteem. More significant, many people have reported the “magical” elimination of a variety of symptoms, diseases, and conditions in just 30 days. Learn more about the book here.

No Excuses!

Most people think success comes from good luck or enormous talent, but many successful people achieve their accomplishments in a simpler way: through self-discipline. No Excuses! shows you how you can achieve success in all three major areas of your life, including your personal goals, business and money goals, and overall happiness. Learn more about the book here.

Let Shihan (@ShihanDunn)  know what you think about the books. He would love the feedback. Oss!

Three Keys to a Complete Martial Arts Life

If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, you must develop healthy habits. And just as with Martial Arts, there are no shortcuts.

A successful martial arts lifestyle incorporates three key components:

  • Your physical fitness. You can never out-train bad nutrition, poor rest/recovery habits or poor energy planning. If you neglect your physical health off the mat, you’ll soon pay for it.
  • Your emotional fitness. Are you working on managing your emotional state? Your attitude and temper need attention. Disciplining yourself to approach each partner, each drill, each technique with an open mind is part of achieving emotional balance. Integrate this practice in your daily life – in your family, at the workplace, during your commute – by reflecting on the classroom lessons.
  • Your mental fitness. This is all about your focus and attention. How are you training yourself to listen better? Being mentally fit means that you’re becoming a better communicator. It also means creating the self-discipline to make hard choices you know are good for you. Mental toughness, perseverance, non-quitting spirit…these are all part of your mental fitness.

In the dojo is great, but now is a good time to commit to improving these three areas off the mat. Start simple: increase your water intake, or start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s time to eliminate fried foods, junk foods or sugar.

Martial arts brings balance, and so should your habits. Your training in the dojo should be improving your mental, physical and emotional energy, not detracting from it.

By developing good health habits, you’ll be taking important steps toward black belt-level martial arts: you’ll think clearer, have more energy and perform better than ever before. You’ll be a better parent, spouse, friend and martial artist.