Our Women’s Self-Defense Seminars aren’t about survival – they’re about success.
We teach all our students that learning self-defense for success is critical. It’s especially true when you’re living in one of the largest cities in the world.
One of the hallmarks of our school’s practice is self-defense and assault prevention in a safe, cooperative environment…free from antagonism.
The goal is to share these empowerment strategies with as many women 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.
We define black belt in all sorts of ways – commitment, courage, humility, humanity. And across the world you’d be hard-pressed to find two people who agree exactly on what it means.
Is it a perfect technique? A demonstration of mental toughness? An ideal of perfection?
It is all of those things, but ultimately it cannot be contained by them. At the end of the day, each of us defines black belt for ourselves.
As black belts, just as human beings, we are all much more than just the sum-total of our past experiences. And the martial arts is a great reminder of this fact.
We make mistakes, we forget important details, we miss opportunities, and yet somehow we’re able to continue to practice.
We hit personal goals, have peak experiences, do more than we though we could, and yet we keep raising the bar to keep satisfaction just out of reach.
We are not the mistakes we’ve made or the experiences we’ve had. We are not our successes, any more than we are our failures.
We are whatever it is we tell ourselves we are.
And interestingly, this doesn’t begin at black belt…it begins at white belt.
At the moment we start our training, we have a chance to step away from thoughts that have defined us in the past and reformulate who we want to be.
We get that gift and that responsibility by “beginning anew”; it’s by virtue of shifting our thoughts about what defines us that we start to reconfigure who we might be.
So in this way, becoming a black belt is no different than the rest of our training. You define it for yourself, just as you’ve done all along.
As you know, some people choose to define it as a “tough fighter” or a “tournament champion” or an “alpha male or female”. If that’s it for you – if that’s as far as you want to go with it – then I think you’re missing a great opportunity for a bigger shift.
It’s not just chance to stand at the doorway and peer through. It’s a moment when we can cross the threshold.
So we can say, “Black belt for me means I’m becoming a better father.” Or “black belt for me means that I am going to be self-confident person, I’m not going to let dark thoughts dominate.”
Or “black belt for me means independence – I no longer need to allow the negative things that others say into my sphere”.
Or “black belt for me means emotional control, where I don’t lash out with my moods or my temper”.
So the big question today for our graduates is…who – and what – do you tell yourself you are?
Because that determines quite a lot about how the world shows up for you.
Are you meeting challenges the way you say you are, or are you falling back on old familiar ways?
Are you keeping first things first – prioritizing your most important values and principles – or are they subordinated to your conveniences?
For us at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we are always working to be a force for good in the world. To recognize and remember that being present, aware and compassionate has a real value in our daily lives, irrespective of the currency or attention that our culture may give to them.
That’s who we choose to be at the end of the day, and the martial arts is how we’ve chosen to enact that. We may not hit the target 100% of the time, but we are always aiming at it.
The choice we ask you to make today is to decide in advance who and what you want to project into the world. Then let that guide your decisions and actions and interactions.
Considering this deeply is one of the best ways to shape your life, to make a contribution, to live well, to leave a legacy, to impact others.
If you want to be a force for good – or anything else – then make decisions from that place and your actions will inevitably show your intention.
It is not, as you know by now, very easy. Challenges abound – staying mindful, regulating your mood and emotions appropriately, treating others the right way. There are shortcuts and false promises all around, and your past exerts a powerful gravity on your present.
But the amazing thing is that this process is open to all of us – in particular, this approach to martial arts supports you. We support you.
Now maybe the notion of black belt is the first time you’ve considered looking at yourself this way, or maybe it just further supports your investigations in this area.
You can decide what you want to be, just like you can decide what kind of black belt you are. But try to remember that your martial arts practice is a chance to joyfully and frustratingly update your definitions on a regular basis. And that’s something of value for everyone.
A friend of mine, who I haven’t seen in years, contacted me on Facebook. He asked me a question I’ve answered dozens of times as an instructor:
“I’m 40…can I really start training at my age?”
My unqualified response is – of course – yes. It’s never too late.
But there are a few important caveats for anybody who’s beginning (and these aren’t bad reminders for those of us who have been practicing for a while either…)
First, know that starting is usually the easy part.Staying takes work. In fact, it may take your 40 years of living to be able to do it. Now that doesn’t only mean that it’ll be physically demanding all the time, because you’ll have peaks and valleys. But managing the discipline, focus, new choices and thought models always asks something of us.
Next, it’s true that choosing your school can be the most important decision you make. This is true no matter how old or young you are. When it comes to the longevity of your training its important for you to look at the long arc, and the values of your school play a big role here. For someone who’s over 40, a “sport” approach to martial arts that favors athleticism, flexibility or speed might not be the best fit.
By the way, don’t envision yourself as a 40-year-old doing Martial Arts. Instead, try to picture yourself as a 50-year-old doing it. And then as a 60-year-old. Why? Well, this thinking can help you prepare yourself mentally for a marathon rather than a sprint. Lots of the benefits of martial arts training accrue over the years; even if all you want is some self-defense basics, you might find that a few good things done repeatedly over time become great.
And don’t think of yourself like this:
When this is more like what you’re going for:
Now, whether you’re 40 years old or not, if you’re considering martial arts – Jiu-Jitsu or Kickboxing or anything else – there are a few other things that really are worth mentioning:
1. Find a place that isn’t solely committed to training fighters. In fact, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that we recommend you find a school that isn’t at all into fighting or competition.
2. Watch a class. Pay attention to the pace and the faces of the students. Are they being aggressive and competitive or are they being playful and having a good time? If someone accidentally gets bumped or bruised (it happens from time to time), does his or her partner care? This will give you an indication of the temperament of the school.
3. Meet the instructor. Make sure they’re someone that has time for you. Ask them if they think you’re too old or too out of shape or too whatever. If they do, move on. Someone else will be willing to give you the attention that you deserve.
(And remember that not all black belts are great teachers, and not all great teachers wear a black belt. So you don’t need to obsess about what degree black belt or where it’s from, etc. First find out if they care about safety and about people.)
4. Some practitioners train like they have something to prove, rather than something to improve. Don’t do this. If you’re a younger person, you shouldn’t need to be one-upping your classmates. If you’re an older person, make sure you’re not pulling an “Al Bundy”, trying to relive the glory days of when you were a star athlete in high school.
5. Start slow and pace yourself. You’re excited to learn. And to know more. And to “get good.” But just relax and settle into a rhythm of 2-3 classes a week and you’ll get there faster.
6. Keep in mind, if you are over 40, that there will be a lot of students younger than you…and who will be your “senior” when you’re on the mat together. Give them that respect. Listen to their coaching and their guidance. Chances are, if their instructor has coached them well, they’re probably right.
If you’ve found the right place for you, you’ll have people you can trust. You’ll be able to assimilate with the culture of the school and you’ll do just fine.
Don’t forget that its important to enjoy your training above all. Not in a short-term, instant-gratification way, but in a deeper, more mature way.
I think you’ll agree with me when I say that it can be incredibly profound and rewarding. It can teach us lessons about life and our relationship with others that are hard to get anywhere else. It can help you get into and stay in the best physical shape of your life.
Earlier I mentioned that starting might seem challenging. So just get it over with. The next, and most important, step is delving deeper into the practice, learning more about yourself and getting fitter as you go.
I like learning new things, so being a good student came naturally for me. Plus having a teacher for a mom helped. I got to see all the work she put into her lesson plans; I got to see first hand how much her students meant to her.
(In fact, when I was little sometimes I would get jealous of how much time she’d spend focused on her students. She always talked about what a great job teaching was, and how it might make sense as a career for me one day. Always the good student, I’d have my answer ready: “Not interested but thanks anyway, Mom.”
At the time I thought she meant it was a good option because of the schedule and the pay and the benefits. But it took me a while to understand that she had experienced something very profound – that changing the lives of others changes yours, too. More about that in a moment.)
So I had a good model early on. And since I had always thought of myself as a good student, once I began in the martial arts, I naturally continued to think of myself that way.
When the instructor would demonstrate a technique, I made it my job to focus on the steps, listening and applying what was said.
Giving it all in class, I was perpetually pushing my body to do more – more pushups, more sit-ups, more of whatever exercise we were doing at the moment – because my teacher told me to push myself.
I mean, I had to live up to being a good student, right? That’s what I thought being a student meant, do what you are told, learn what is being taught, follow the directions.
You give your teachers your time and focus and in return they give you knowledge and skills.
So I always thought of it as an exchange. If I held up my end of the deal, they had to hold up theirs.
Put differently…that my teachers owe me something if I do what they say.
But as I progressed in the martial arts here, I realized that I wasn’t being taught in that way. It wasn’t just an exchange of attention for information.
There was something else going on. Something behind the information…
…something in the philosophy.
The funny thing about being a student is you can hear the same message over and over again, but once you change something inside yourself the message seems to change, too.
You can take away a new lesson:
That being a good student doesn’t mean blindly following the lessons, but being open to change.
That the teacher’s job isn’t to give you skill or knowledge or anything else; in fact, it’s your job to be open and take what they share and apply it.
That our teachers don’t owe us anything, but what we owe them is being open to growth, to change.
That we need to be open to what they’re sharing so we can focus on creating something new.
That when we pass what we’ve learned along to the next group of students who come along, we’re doing for them what our teachers have done for us.
I’ve come to believe that a truly great teacher wants to help their student surpass them. They want to help the progression of change and knowledge. So to be a good student we need to let go of feeling like we’re owed something and focus on what we can give.
And not only that, but looking internally on what we can give up so we can hear a different message, so we can create a deeper understanding of the lesson.
The practice of helping others out rather than expecting something from them, makes a great difference. It also might be at the root of my mother’s enjoyment of teaching and what she hoped that I would understand.
And above all I have come to believe that this synthesis of doing and understanding, of working hard and staying open, is truly what it means to be a good student.
Ms. Nova Parrish is a California native who has been in Brooklyn since 2010. She started at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a student and has been a dedicated staff member since 2012. She is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and brown belt in both Shotokan Karate and Muay Thai Kickboxing. She feels grateful for being able to share all the martial arts has given her with others.
Some people train hard, some train smart. Your goal should be to train both hard and smart.
Why? This is the best way to insure positive gains both in your life and in your martial arts training.
Put another way, this two-pronged approach prepares you for high-performance living.
Virtually all aspects of Martial Arts training are measurable; therefore, you can manage your progress and development. Flexibility, strength, endurance and skill level are all areas of growth you can watch, measure and keep track of.
As it turns out, there’s no “secret sauce” or magic bullet. The progress and results you experience as a practitioner are a direct reflection of the effort, energy and hard work you put in.
We all need to stay focused on making positive and progressive little steps forward, which eventually lead us toward bigger and better gains. The incremental approach evens out some of the difficult challenges we can face on a day-to-day basis by reminding us that forward progress happens in pieces, not in big jumps.
It’s been said that “to get more heat from a fire, you must first put more wood on it.”
Think for a moment about what that means. By allowing sufficient time to warm-up and focus your mind, body and spirit, you’re increasing the likelihood that you’ll make that incremental progress.
Once you’re warmed up, you’re in a place where you can start to relax your body and pay closer attention to your form and detail. (Details always make the difference between an effective technique and an ineffective one.)
In my experience, anyone can “train for gain” by understanding the concept of “progress versus perfection”.
Simply stated, before we can ever be great at anything, we must be willing to start the learning process. Part of this process is making mistakes, correcting them and practicing the correct skill, over and over again.
Earlier I mentioned “incremental progress”. A big part of this is understanding the ratchet effect. Essentially it means that in the course of training, we sometimes take three steps forward and two steps backwards. It can be frustrating in the short-term, but when we consider longterm gains we understand that we are still ahead of where we began.
Finally, “training for gain” means developing your finer sense skills. Keep in mind you magnify your ability to grow by listening to your instructors and success coaches.
Be coachable, be curious and eager to learn and improve yourself. Most importantly, keep your goal clearly in mind, “train for gain” and you’ll always get better, one day at a time.
Those of us who are active in the martial arts know from experience that this is true – motion influences positive emotion. In other words, our minds are profoundly influenced by what we do (and don’t do) with our bodies.
What this means is that it’s possible to go from feelings of anxiety and frustration to ones of calmness and positivity with the help of a great martial arts class.
For example, when class starts with 10-15 minutes of proper warm up, it lays the foundation for what’s to come. But more importantly, it also serves to prime everyone emotionally through calisthenics and basic body mechanics.
(This is also why we like to see students arrive for class about 10-15 minutes early – to get themselves mentally and physically ready for a great class. Another benefit of early arrival is being around other positive, energized and highly-motivated peers.)
We know that when you combine physical movements and a powerful philosophical base, you have a dynamic combination. Add in the pragmatic elements of self-defense, and the martial arts delivers the complete package.
Developing a consistent habit of training puts your mind on the right track. Like any other habit, it takes time, effort and energy at the beginning, but the rewards are well worth it. The next time you feel a little tense or your emotions are on the dark side, remember that a body in motion both improves and influences your emotions.
Practice uchikomi, do a few bridges, drop down and do some push ups and sit ups. Or even better – come to class. In just a few minutes, your body will begin to warm up and feel much better, and soon your emotions will be out of the driver’s seat and back in the passenger seat. Your mood will improve and you’ll have more energy for the things you care most about.
Why bother to set big goals? Well, one reason is because larger goals give you a much broader
frame when measuring your progress and growth.
Focusing only on small, immediate goals helps in the short-term, but in the martial arts we’re always thinking long-term as well.
Another reason is that setting your sights on large scale achievement provides a motivational boost.
Engaging in the pursuit of a worthy goal or objective on the mat or off gives a powerful structure to your time and energy.
We need that structure so we don’t end up spinning our wheels.
The truth is that the only way most of us see real results is by taking serious action. When you have an exciting goal to reach for, it’s much easier to take action.
Some people get nervous about large goals. After all, the bigger the goal…the bigger the obstacles.
But remember there are countless stories of people overcoming the odds and the obstacles that get in their way.
Why? Because they were determined to succeed no matter what obstacles interfere.
Most truly worthwhile achievements are usually very difficult to accomplish. In the grand scheme of life, tougher goals tend to toughen us up. And it’s been said that the tougher that we are on ourselves, the easier life will be on us.
Many people love training for Black Belt and beyond in the martial arts because they understand that it’s meant to be a challenging goal.
It brings challenges of skill, will and desire. In the pursuit, we become stronger and stronger…mentally, physically and emotionally.
A person with a strong will can go much farther in life than someone that is quick to give in to obstacles and setbacks.
So don’t be afraid to set bigger goals and take a broader vision. The next time you encounter an obstacle and are tempted to give up on your goal, consider that what you become in the pursuit of that large goal is often as important as what you get at the end.
If you’ve done it for more than a few weeks, you know that training in the martial arts is more than just getting fit, learning a few techniques and hoping for the best.
Hidden in the practice are a series of problem-solving routines that help us to untangle not just what to do in stressful self-defense situations, but how to handle the problems and challenges that show up in our lives day to day.
Asking questions is an excellent way to expand your knowledge base in the martial arts classroom…and it’s a great habit to develop if you’re interested in your personal growth off the mat as well.
Whenever you ask a question, by definition you’re moving outside the range of what you already know. And if you’re asking yourself good questions, you’re activating your creative, problem-solving side.
So what’s the best way to start asking yourself these good questions?
Well, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that your brain will always present an answer to any question you ask yourself. The answer may not necessarily be true, but your brain “feels” obligated to respond to your questions, and will do its best to present you with some kind of answer.
The bad news is that if you’re asking the wrong questions (or the right questions in the wrong way), you can end up without good answers. Here’s an example.
“Why am I always failing?” can easily lead to an answer like, “Because I can’t understand this stuff.”
“How can I succeed in this venture?” primes you to consider more creative and useful answers.
Sometimes, especially if we’re stuck with a problem we can’t seem to get rid of, “why” questions can lead us in circles. So one approach is to replace our “why” questions with action questions:
* How can I do this?
* What do I need to do next?
* When do I need to finish this?
* Where do I need to be right now?
* What do I need to learn here?
*Who can I ask about this problem?
*What can I do differently?
Reframing the problem illuminates the path out of it. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to ask “why” questions…just that if we’re really in the trenches with a relationship issue or a dip in motivation, we need to solve the trouble first, then circle back to figure out where it came from.
So… what do you ask yourself in every situation? What is your overall attitude towards your life?
So work to developing a few “subconscious” problem-solving skills. Adjust your questions for better answers. You’ll find it can be a great benefit when it comes to working through issues in training as well as the rest of life.
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.