This Surprising Lesson from a Legend: “Just Don’t Lose”

“My father told me not to think about winning, but to focus on not losing.”

This kicked off the BBJJ staff “Q&A” with the legendary Royce Gracie back in January.

What happened from there revealed a lot about how that early Jiu-Jitsu mindset could create amazing results that we’ve experienced as practitioners.

After all, that was why we were there. While we live our lives as martial arts instructors, we always show up to these seminars as humble students.

And we were there to learn not just techniques and tactics, but also to gain a deeper insight into the origins of Jiu-Jitsu: the historical, physical, philosophical elements that make up the core of what we do.

So it was fascinating for us to hear him begin with this credo from Grandmaster Helio Gracie.

He continued on: in “winning”, he advises, the focus is to take, to dominate, and as a result this sort of narrow focus can limit the practitioner’s depth of field. It is, he said, somewhat of a finite approach.

Creativity, on the other hand, is what’s needed when it comes to facing a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. 

This focus on “not losing” provides a more open space for the individual – a field with no bounding lines and more creative possibilities.

In the training, he went on, we should strive to not worry about beating another person, or even dealing with our own internal, personal challenges. Instead the goal should be to keep our attention on not letting other people – and the challenges they present – overwhelm us.

This message was ultimately a very simple one: to stay focused and aware, true to ourselves, our goals, and to stand unwavering.

As a student, this resonated with me immediately. It’s a link to the philosophy we share as instructors at BBJJ. There’s a powerful mental shift from needing to win, take and dominate, versus just allowing oneself to stay disciplined and not give up or give into temptation.

The success, the so-called “win”, can flow very naturally from an open, disciplined approach, without interruption or distraction.

Also, I understood that these words affect our attitudes very differently.

Having to “win” can produce a very narrow scope on the world. Over time there’s a fear of losing that “winner” status, which comes with an insatiable need to be “on top”. And when we’re faced with a loss or defeat, it’s traumatic.

The win-lose paradigm makes not getting your way pretty hard to recover from.

On the other side, with the attitude of “not losing”, we can still focus on a plan (not losing doesn’t imply a desire to fail, after all) but without some of the baggage. It’s a lighter touch.

Confidence and calmness tends to arise, even when faced with defeat or challenges. The mind doesn’t see it as the end, a terminal defeat, but rather just the next lesson or step on the journey.

For myself and my fellow instructors, that journey is symbolized by “black belt”. For us, the only true way to lose or be defeated is when we give up on ourselves, when we allow frustration or impatience to rattle us and change our course.

So yes, challenges do come up – times get hard. But we learn to navigate problems not by focusing on beating them, but in not letting them beat us. In that conviction not to be bested by the slings and arrows that come at us, we develop a powerful, flexible set of tools to manage ourselves.

I may be mistaken, but I believe this was the core of Royce Gracie’s message to us: the work of Jiu-Jitsu, of all true martial arts, is NOT meant to be easy. It’s also not only about winning, at least as most of us have come to know it. But with a strong belief in not giving up, in approaching our problems creatively and with flexibility, anything is possible, and the world becomes just a little bit more brighter.


Sensei Daniel Declet has been a martial arts practitioner under Shihan Gene Dunn since the age of 6. Now a third degree black belt in Shotokan Karate and a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, his goal is for all students of all ages to find the endless possibilities through consistent martial arts training in their daily lives.

4 Workouts You Can Do Anywhere

Our core philosophy at BBJJ Martial Arts is about fostering growth by providing the supportive, collaborative conditions that allow students at all stages of life to train well for the long haul.

But with holidays coming, lots of us are planning to be away from the dojo.

So…a quick quiz:

Q: What do you do when you can’t get to training?

A: When you can’t do what you want, you have to do what you can. 

Sometimes when you can’t train you can still grow and improve by focusing your training energy elsewhere when you’re not at home to train.

What should you do? Well, it depends. Here are a few ideas to get you started without over-stressing yourself or other people:

#1 Use Equipment: Two things you always have room to pack are a jump-rope and a resistance band. 10 minutes on the rope a day and you’re cardio will improve…guaranteed!

(And a small resistance band can be attached to hotel furniture or trees outside, providing you with opportunities to work the core, upper body and lower body as well.)

#2 Bodyweight Exercises: If there isn’t a gym nearby (or time to get there), use yourself as resistance. You’ve seen dozens of pushup and sit-up variations in our classroom. With a chair or some well-placed end-tables, you can do a wide variety of squats, dips, sit-ups and pushups.

#3 Run: If all else fails, run. You can always use your time away from the dojo to concentrate on cardio. Every hotel, cruise-ship or vacation place has somewhere to run, even if it means wind-sprints in the hallways. Stairwells are a place for stair-runs or -walks, and even plyometrics for the adventurous (just be careful!).

#4 Rest and Recharge: Remember that a little rest is a good thing sometimes. If you’re training as hard as you should be regularly (3 times per week), then a trip out of town for 3 or 4 days can be a chance to rest and recharge. You’ll be reinvigorated when you return.

Above all, plan ahead and be creative. Worse than doing nothing on a vacation or a break is doing something that will set you back in training. You don’t need to take unnecessary risks, or endanger the physical or mental relationships you’ve built so far.

Reading and studying may not seem like the best substitutes for being on the mat, but they can give you a well-needed perspective on the work you’re doing in our classroom.

So…what do you do when you’re on vacation or away from the dojo?

So Pain Is Inevitable…But Suffering Is Optional?

friends-jogging-in-bridge

I just recently ran my third NYC Marathon, and once again had an incredible experience.

But running this one made me realize something very profound. It wasn’t because it was the hardest or the most grueling of the three. In fact, I think it was the best (if not the easiest) overall.

Of course, I could list tons of factors for why this race felt so great:

The weather…it was such a gorgeous day.

A great playlist…the tunes kept me dancing through the boroughs.

Training itself…I felt prepared for the long distance.

The support of people…the love and energy of friends, family, spectators.

In my experience, though, all of these add up to the one essential key factor in having this great experience:

…staying positive.

This time around, I focused on the people, on the weather, dancing to the beats rather than the little aches and pains here and there. I didn’t let them become a bigger issue and take over my mind. I focused on the end, rather than how much longer I had to run. The feeling I would have when crossing the finish line rather than how many more bridges I still need to cross.

And yes, there were moments of exhaustion and ‘Oh my god, two more hours…’ or ‘…my knees hurt’, I just tried to bring my mind back to the present as quickly as possible – to distract it – with positive thoughts.

But that’s just part of the story. 

See, a few months ago, while training for the marathon, I listened to an audiobook by Haruki Murakami, an avid runner: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

He starts the book with this quote: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

It resonated with me, at first just because of what it means for our physical bodies. But when I talked to one of my coworkers about this quote, he made the immediate connection to our mental wellbeing also.

He said: “It’s just like life in general.” I understood that there is pain in the things we  go through every single day, but it is we who chooses how we process that pain. Do we explore it and absorb it, or do we turn our pain into suffering?

Shihan Dunn and Professor Glick always remind us to be a “good finder”. In other words, you can suffer and worry about situations…

Or you can try to stay positive, stay in the moment, stay present, so you don’t miss out on the good things around you that can actually help you through those difficult times.

I recently started to catch myself thinking about this quote whenever things get hard. It brings me back to the present, helps me to take a deep breath.

What’s more, it’s not only happening in training (when I feel unsatisfied with how I performed), or with teaching on the mat (when I feel that I didn’t give everything I could have to inspire students). But I see it also in my personal life when something unpleasant crosses my path.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t let myself feel the pain. This isn’t a way to dull the experience. After all, pain is real in the moment it occurs.

Instead, I try to not dwell in it. I no longer follow threads like “Why is this only happening to me?”…which is something that would pull me deeper into it or which could start a domino effect of negativity.

I’ve come to believe that feeling pain, then working through it to find a solution, is a very important part of the learning process. It’s part of the self-study that comes with martial arts training. We learn how to explore the difficult things we face on a regular basis.

It’s true that it can get foggy sometimes. And yes, it seems sometimes that you’ll never be able to find your way out.

But training in the Martial Arts teaches you that everything takes time. You’re not a master in a day. In fact, Shihan Dunn reminds us regularly that it takes 10,000 repetitions to mastery.

What this means of us is that it takes practice to become more positive and to learn to see the light at the end of the tunnel. To become solution-oriented, rather than problem-oriented. Progress doesn’t happen in a day, it happens daily.

Through practice the period of suffering gets shorter. You start to realize that there is something you can do about the pain – you can get help, talk to someone or do something a little differently the next time you face a similar situation.

Eventually the pain will go away, the sun will rise again. And you’ll have to do it once again. But in the end, the difference isn’t in what happens, but the understanding of what happens: pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.


Ms. Sonja Hofstetter was introduced to Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by a dear friend and started training in October 2013. She holds a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a Purple Belt in Thai Boxing and also trains in Shotokan Karate. She is dedicated to the mission of BBJJ to help students reach their fullest potential, overcome obstacles and achieve their goals trough training in the Martial Arts. She is inspired by Shihan Dunn, her Professors and instructors and their unique and individual approach to training and teaching.

From Negative to Positive

Imagine if you had the ability to only remember the positive things that have happened to you. What if your brain was conditioned to magnify all positive information, and shrink the negative stuff.

Guess what?

You do have that ability.

The choice about where to focus is yours. It is totally up to you to decide which things you prefer to absorb and experience. When you choose to absorb the positive, you’ll find yourself in a better, more positive mood more of the time.

And as a bonus, you’ll be in a more productive state of mind.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 3.27.52 PMOn the other hand…

If you choose to absorb the negative, you’ll probably tend to have a negative attitude. You’ll be more primed to notice and pay attention to the negative stuff, so your overall actions and appearance will attract more negatives into your life.

So…

You can choose to have a positive and optimistic view of the world and people in general, or you can take the negative and pessimistic route.

Spending time with negative people or doing negative things rarely raises you up.

On the other hand, if you choose to associate with positive people who are inspiring to you, you’ll find that it’s much easier to connect with the exciting, motivating opportunities that show up daily in your life.

By choosing the positive, you automatically shrink the negatives.

If you’re wondering how to do it, here’s a good place to start: Surround yourself with other positive people and stay involved with positive activities. It’s much easier to think and act like a positive, proactive, evolution-minded person if you’ve got support.

That’s why we believe that a solid routine of responsible Martial Arts training will keep you traveling in a positive and progressive direction. It brings you into contact with motivated, focused, proactive people who share some of the same goals, and gives positive support during challenging times.

So start small. Emphasize the positive. Shrink the negative. Train hard. Start now!


Learn more about the training at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Want to get started with us? Here’s how (click here). 

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.

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S WORK? HERE IS MINE. 

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.

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.

10th Anniversary Contest

Now is the perfect time to join us on the mat at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Celebrating 10 years and looking forward to the next 10 years. #bbjj10

Black Belt Seminar with Chie Swain

Thank you to all the attendees at Sensei Chie Swain’s seminar at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Clinton Hill! As a bonus, Sensei brought a few (not-so-surprise) guests – husband Mike, daughter Sophia and son Masa. It was truly an honor to watch the precision, clarity and beauty of a master instructor. Enjoy the photos and feel free to share!