Mat Chat with Shihan Dunn

As a young martial artist coming up through the ranks, I really tried very hard to be a tough guy. I thought it was the most important thing. I fell into the whole trap of posturing, of ego and of trying to impress other people. And then on top of that, I fell into the trap of embracing a culture of violence which, in the long run, did damage to many of my relationships. I found myself over and over in circumstances which hurt me and the people around me.

The martial arts culture I was a part of had no means of addressing this issue. It actually embraced the violence which it was created to protect people against. This is why I had to struggle with it for so long, because while I had direction in my technique and strategy in sparring, I was had no direction at all in how to manage myself as a human being in the world. I constantly felt that I had to demonstrate my toughness wherever I went. I can remember not wanting to drain my ears because I wanted them to get all gnarly, specifically so that others would know me as a guy not to be messed with. And believe me, that was not the limit to what I was willing to do to be the tough guy.

So now, as I look back from a more seasoned, a more mature vantage point, this one of the reasons I’m very adamant about martial artists following Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum: walk softly and carry a big stick. As a student and as a human being, it is a much safer way to move through the experience of learning what it means to be a martial artist.

When I was younger and when people would come up to me and on the street and ask me, “Do you train? Are you a fighter?”, I’d think to myself, “Yeah…I’m the man!” It was the realization of this plan for toughness I had created for myself. It was their validation of me. Now when people come up to me on the street and ask, “are you a fighter? Were you a fighter?”, I literally run away. I say, “No, you got the wrong guy” and I get out of there as fast as I can.

This actually happened to me this morning. Someone came up and asked me this question and I actually – as politely as I could – disengaged and walked away. And when I asked myself, “why is it that I do that?”, I understood something very significant. I realized that it’s because inside I’m a little embarrassed at how I used to be. I have re-prioritzed – there are things more important to me than being tough. And I no longer wish to be associated with what it means to be “the tough guy” – the violence and the aggression and the offensiveness. Furthermore, I understood that I’m also very embarrassed about my peers in the martial arts, what they are actually representing and teaching to their students.

I know that a lot of people are conditioned to want to talk about the fights, and they want to talk about hurting other people, and who can beat up whom and do the most damage to whom – all these kinds of conversations that I don’t want to be a part of anymore. I am sharing this from my own experience, twenty years later, because that is what we as teachers and black belts have signed up to do: to pass on the things we’ve learned so that other people don’t make the same mistakes. In the jiujitsu world, so many brilliant instructors teach so that their students don’t make the same technical mistakes as they did – they genuinely want their students to be better than they were. But it’s troubling to me that they don’t see the importance of correcting their own personal mistakes so that their students can learn from those, too.

I have learned that it is enough to be a nice person, a gentle human being, and know how to protect yourself and your family. That is good enough. And it’s going to take you a lot further than trying to find validation from strangers or peers about how tough you are.

Val Grysko – What Black Belt Means

What the path to black belt means to me? Well, it’s simple. This path means to get better. Not better than others, but better than you was a year ago, better than you was 3 months or two weeks ago, or even to become better than you was yesterday. Become better in both ways, mental and physical.

This is not only about try to kick harder, or throwing a fast punch.It’s, also, about self confidence, self reliance, and self discipline. It’s not about how to fight someone, it’s about how to try to avoid the fight by knowing how to protect yourself. The black belt path is, also, about how to use your limits and get most possible outcome of it. For instance, I could not perform high kick by any of my legs. I was upset, angry and frustrated. Now, still,  I can’t perform high kick by my left leg. But once I realize that’s not the problem for me, I can do something else with it. So, as a result I am using it for something else. Burn kick, for instance. Still, I am performing a lot of stretching to be able to perform high kick.

The words that could describe my journey to where I got now are: fun, interesting, amazing, exciting, addictive, joyful and most importantly healthy and helpful. Also, I would like to mention, that I like every of the four schools I have visited so far, it’s not to say that I like one more than the  other. It’s to say that I like to train in different locations, meet new training partners, as well as, train with those people that I haven’t seen for a while. indeed I am trying  learn  a different training style, and get new partners for training. Also, I am trying to invite some people to attend my “home school”, and… learn, train and progress toward the black belt.

3 Keys to a Complete Martial Arts Life

If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, you must develop healthy habits. Just as with Jiu-Jitsu, 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. You can be the most talented practioner in the world, but 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.

So start early. And if you’ve been neglecting one or more of these areas, start right now. 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.


goal-settingThe major reason for setting any goal is for what it makes of you to accomplish it. It’s not getting a black belt that makes a difference – it’s becoming one.

What it makes of you will always be the far greater value than what you get. That is why goals are so powerful – they are part of the fabric that makes up our lives. And goal-setting is where we create our goals.

Having a goal is powerful, partly because it provides focus. It gives us the ability to hone in on the exact actions we need to perform to achieve everything we desire in life. Goals are GREAT because they cause us to stretch and grow in ways that we never have before. In order to reach our goals we must become better. We must change and grow.

Also, goals provide long-term vision in our lives. We need powerful, long-range vision to help us get past short-term obstacles. Life is designed in such a way that we get to look long-term and live short-term. We don’t have to be OK with how things are right now; we can imagine a time in the future when we are different because of the decisions and choices we are making in the present.

We can dream for the future and live in the present.

Goals aren’t what you already have or what you have done, but what you want. Have you ever really sat down and thought through your life values and decided what you really want? Have you ever taken the time to truly reflect? They may live right on the surface, or they may be buried deep from years of others telling you they were foolish, but they are there.

Next, allow those you trust to hold you accountable. This is where a good teacher or trusted advisor comes in. They hold your feet to the fire so that you remember why you first began the journey. When you most want to quit, they are there. And accountability puts some teeth into the process. If a goal is set and only one person knows it, can there be support? Many times, no. It’s not impossible to do it on your own, but it is much harder.

So take the time to put these pieces together. You’ll be putting yourself in a position of power that will catapult you toward a richer, deeper, more connected life.

Commitment: Ms. Nova Parrish’s Journey

What does commitment mean to me?

Well, the simple answer is keeping my word, whether to myself or others. Before I started training I did not think much about commitment. I also was not committed to as many things, so there wasn’t much to think about. Since I started training that word has become a constant both in my vocabulary, and my thoughts. My definition of the word hasn’t changed, but I have, and therefore so has my approach to it.

I started training because I wanted fitness and self-defense. I’m 4’11” and recognize most people are bigger then me. I wanted to feel like I could protect myself. Little did I know by starting at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu there was a transformation ahead of me. I started in the basic class like everyone and I remember watching the advanced class and being in awe of the speed, control and fitness I saw. I wanted to be there so much. So as I started to progress and get closer to that class I was asked what kind of black belt did I want to be. I had no idea.

Honestly, I hadn’t thought much about it. At that point I was happy with letting my life take me wherever it wanted to go. I had no drive or direction. I knew though that the question of black belt wasn’t just, “do I want to be one”, it was “who do I want to be when I receive one”. This led me to think about what direction my life was taking. Since I wasn’t committed to anything I had nothing to work towards. Now I did – a black belt. I wanted it because I wanted something to work towards. Something that was in line with my beliefs. Something that would help me become the person I wanted to be.

Now when I think commitment, I think black belt.

At the time I was working a retail job I didn’t like. I had more bad days than good ones. One day, I was walking home from a good day at work. I was trying to figure out what had caused it to be such a good day. I realized that it was because nothing bad had happened. I decided I was not ok with this. I decided I was not ok with defining good days as “nothing bad happening”. I wanted to be in control of my good days, to create them, not let them happen to me. I wanted to define my good days as positive things happening and helping others. I knew what made me happiest, my time at the dojo. So I started spending more time there. I recognized my commitment to the dojo was also a commitment to the philosophies of BBJJ, to black belt.

The main philosophy of our dojo is a Japanese word, kaizen. The definition is “good change”, but to those of us who train it means constant and never-ending improvement. I made a commitment to this idea. The change in me was small at first, in little almost unnoticeable ways. First, it was just my commitment to going to class, showing up was enough for me back then.

Then as my training grew more complex it became a commitment to improve techniques, the calisthenics I did, eating habits and also, although I didn’t realize this at first, my attitude. I have always counted myself a positive person, I find the brighter side of life a more enjoyable place to live in. Despite this, there were areas in my life where I didn’t bring that attitude with me, and one was my family.

When I started training I didn’t have a  positive relationship with my dad. Since I had committed myself to kaizen I recognized I needed to improve this part of my life if I wanted to stay committed to this concept. I reached out to Professor Lynch and Shihan Dunn and, with their guidance, for the first time in my life I saw him for the person he truly was and loved him for that.

This reconciliation with my father never would have happened had I not begun training. Training led to re-evaluating my thoughts about commitment and deciding to be committed to kaizen. This caused me to honestly recognize what areas in my life I needed to improve.

I believe the months of training before I did this were mentally preparing me to be open to this change. It was like seeing sunshine for the first time, never knowing you lived in the dark. I saw everything in my life in a different light. When he passed away last year I was at peace. I had said everything I needed to say and got almost a year of happiness with him after over a decade of pain. I thank my training for this blessing.

Sticking to my commitments isn’t always easy. In fact there are times I stumble and fall. But I’m not committed to being perfect, I’m committed to not letting a mistake stop me. My mantra has become, if you fall 7 times, get up 8. So by committing to kaizen, to black belt, I have committed to creating the life I have always wanted. It all started because I walked into BBJJ. It changed my life for the better and has continued to do so everyday since I decided to commit to it.

The Journey From White Belt to Black Belt


We believe that the two most important belts in the Martial Arts are black belt and white belt.

White belt represents the courage to begin something new, and the willingness to be a student.

Black belt represents honest, integrity, humility, perseverance and generosity.

It also represents a single-minded determination, a willingness to persist in the face of obstacles.

Those obstacles can be external – like family, a work schedule, the other demands on our time. They can also be internal – a negative or self-defeating inner monologue, feeling dissatisfied or uncertain about our progress.

The journey from white belt to black belt is the process of personal transformation, and learning how to do battle with your own weaknesses.

In the early phases of training, black belt can seem far off; so far off, in fact, that many people fear trying to reach it. But every new black belt reminds every student of the reward that discipline, focus and commitment bring: not just a new belt around your waist, but a deeper and more involved way of living in the world.

Our martial arts mission is “black belt and beyond”, because the journey for our recent graduates is just beginning. Now that they have become black belts, they’ll find themselves with the task of being black belts…daily.

No matter where you are in your training, commit (or recommit) to the journey of black belt as a way to push yourself beyond your anxieties and fears.

We ask students to set the black belt goal early on as a way of understanding the bigger mission of the martial arts. It is not just an experiment in goal-setting – it’s also a way to commit to long-term progress and results. Black belt frames the journey of personal growth in a positive and proactive way.

Congratulations to our new graduates. Thank you for inspiring us!


Goal-Setting Prep for the New Year

For the martial artist, this time of year is a time to reconnect to those goals achieved and those in progress. It’s a chance to commit and recommit to the attitudes, behaviors and disciplines we’ve been working on throughout 2014.

Start to envision the next year ahead. Not just planning, but preparation:

What are you planning to read?
How can you become a more complete martial artist?
What kind of shape are you going to be in?
What one or two tweaks will you make to your training regimen?
How can you create a deeper sense of abundance?
Are you in the habit of giving?
How about your career and relationships – what will they look like?
How can you create the disciplines for better self-control?
What will you be studying or learning?

the-next-levelWhere do you want to be in another one, three or five years? Without a plan, you risk falling into the plans that others have made…and they might not have much planned for you at all.

What do you want the next 12 months to look like? More of the same, or will you make adjustments to get you to the next level?

One way to start the process is to write your goals down. Then refer back to them often, especially during the first few weeks of the year. Keep them where you can review them. And when it’s appropriate, share them with the people you trust so they can hold you accountable.

The journey to black belt through the martial arts is the ultimate goal-setting process, and one that informs and improves all the others in your life. Becoming a Black Belt is a long-range goal, but you have to begin by creating clarity for the start of the journey. Planning for your next stripe or belt – creating a training schedule, building your skills, eating right – is a great way to outline for success.



Here are ten choices that ultimately lead to this phrase of regret, and how to elude them:

1.  Wearing a mask to impress others.

If the face you always show the world is a mask, someday there will be nothing beneath it.  Because when you spend too much time concentrating on everyone else’s perception of you, or who everyone else wants you to be, you eventually forget who you really are.  So don’t fear the judgments of others; you know in your heart who you are and what’s true to you.  You don’t have to be perfect to impress and inspire people.  Let them be impressed and inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.

2. Letting someone else create your dreams for you.

The greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are; the second greatest is being happy with what you find.  A big part of this is your decision to stay true toyour own goals and dreams.  Do you have people who disagree with you?  Good.  It means you’re standing your ground and walking your own path.  Sometimes you’ll do things considered crazy by others, but when you catch yourself excitedly losing track of time, that’s when you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.


3. Keeping negative company.

Don’t let someone who has a bad attitude give it to you.  Don’t let them get to you.  They can’t pull the trigger if you don’t hand them the gun.  When you remember that keeping the company of negative people is a choice, instead of an obligation, you free yourself to keep the company of compassion instead of anger, generosity instead of greed, and patience instead of anxiety.

4. Being selfish and egotistical.

A life filled with loving deeds and good character is the best tombstone.  Those who you inspired and shared your love with will remember how you made them feel long after your time has expired.  So carve your name on hearts, not stone.  What you have done for yourself alone dies with you; what you have done for others and the world remains.

5. Avoiding change and growth.

If you want to know your past look into your present conditions.  If you want to know your future look into your present actions.  You must let go of the old to make way for the new; the old way is gone, never to come back.  If you acknowledge this right now and take steps to address it, you will position yourself for lasting success.

6. Giving up when the going gets tough.
There are no failures, just results.  Even if things don’t unfold the way you had expected, don’t be disheartened or give up.  Learn what you can and move on.  The one who continues to advance one step at a time will win in the end.  Because the battle is always won far away and long before the final victory.  It’s a process that occurs with small steps, decisions, and actions that gradually build upon each other and eventually lead to that glorious moment of triumph.

7. Trying to micromanage every little thing.

Life should be touched, not strangled.  Sometimes you’ve got to relax and let life happen without incessant worry and micromanagement.  Learn to let go a little before you squeeze too tight.  Take a deep breath.  When the dust settles and you can once again see the forest for the trees, take the next step forward.  You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going to be headed somewhere great.  Everything in life is in perfect order whether you understand it yet or not.  It just takes some time to connect all the dots.


8. Settling for less than you deserve.

Be strong enough to let go and wise enough to wait for what you deserve.  Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been to stand up taller than you ever were before.  Sometimes your eyes need to be washed by your tears so you can see the possibilities in front of you with a clearer vision again.  Don’t settle.

9. Endlessly waiting until tomorrow.

– The trouble is, you always think you have more time than you do.  But one day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to work on the things you’ve always wanted to do.  And at that point you either will have achieved the goals you set for yourself, or you will have a list of excuses for why you haven’t.

10. Being lazy and wishy-washy.

– The world doesn’t owe you anything, you owe the world something.  So stop daydreaming and start DOING.  Develop a backbone, not a wishbone.  Take full responsibility for your life – take control.  You are important and you are needed.  It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday.  Someday is now; the somebody the world needs is YOU.

A Thankful Thanksgiving

thankfulIf your home is like most, your Thanksgiving Day will be very busy, with either traveling to where you want to go or preparing your home to have others over for the day. Either way, that can be very hectic and emotionally trying, which doesn’t lend itself to preparing your heart to be reflective and thankful. In fact, Thanksgiving weekend is the most traveled weekend in America. Airports are full, and don’t always provide much room for contemplation of your good fortune.

This means all the more that if we want to be the kind of people who are characterized by thankfulness, then we must make sure that we focus on it, and not just on Thanksgiving Day, but at all times during the year.

Here are a few key words as well as some thoughts that are simple and practical to apply; something you can use right away in your quest to become more thankful:
Time. Set aside time regularly to be quiet, to reflect. We live in the fastest-paced time ever. From the moment we awake to the moment we collapse into bed, we have the opportunity to go at full speed and never slow down. If we schedule time every day in which we can be quiet and reflect, we will free our hearts and minds from the tyranny of the urgent and rushed.

Thought. Give thought to the many blessings that you have. Living in a consumer culture, most of us are fully aware of what we do not have and how we absolutely must have “it.” But how often do we reflect upon that which we already have? Take some time each day and think of one or two things you have that you may typically take for granted, and then take a moment and give thanks for those. In fact, I make it a part of my reflection time to review a list of things that I’m thankful for.

Generosity. Be generous toward those with less and not envious of those with more. We tend to look at others who may be wealthier than ourselves and think, “I sure wish I had what he does.” That kind of thinking breeds envy and jealousy rather than contentment. What can we do to break that cycle? I would suggest being generous to those who are less fortunate than yourself. Go to work at a food bank, and not just during the holidays—everybody works there then—but on a regular basis during the year. That will remind you of how good you really have it.

Ask. Ask a friend what they are thankful for. You will be amazed at the answers you receive and you will create a meaningful bond with your friends as you focus on this powerful question.

Acknowledge. Lastly, tell those you love how thankful you are for having them in your life. So many times we neglect to take the time to craft the words to express to those closest to us what their presence in our lives means to us. Take the opportunity of Thanksgiving Day to write them a note, or sometime during the day put your hand on their shoulder, look them in the eyes and tell them. Let them know what they mean to you, and in return you’ll begin to create the possibility of deeper, richer, more fulfilling relationships with those you love.

Of course, we should do what we can to make the most of the day we call Thanksgiving, but wouldn’t it be a shame if the only time we reflected on our blessings was that one Thursday in November? And the answer is, of course! So let’s do our best to be aware of the many great gifts that we have each and every day of the year. As we do so we will see our hearts soar and our minds more and more at peace as we regularly remember and remain aware of our good fortune.