Martial Arts Philosophy: To Do “Our Best”

“We do the best we can with what we know, and when we know better, we do better.“
Maya Angelou

What does it mean to “do our best”? It’s a very personal question. After all, everyone’s best is different. In the martial arts classroom, we may all intend to develop ourselves in a positive manner, as the first line of our “Student Creed” goes. In order to have positive outcomes, we need to set positive intentions for ourselves. But to get the measure of “our best”, we have to have the habit of setting those intentions over and over. The creed acts as a guideline, and our teachers as our guides to constantly remind us that we are never the same person today as we were yesterday, and our work is never done.

It starts when we wake up. We begin the day at a crossroads, one way pointing into the direction of positivity and movement, the other towards negativity and stagnation. The clearer our intentions are for the day – what do we want to achieve, who do we want to be – the clearer our path. We can start with a good and healthy breakfast, exercising or some reading to set a positive mindset. This approach lets us experience the day, rather than feeling like we have to tackle it to get it out of the way. Our interactions with friends, family, coworkers and even strangers are filled with more understanding, kindness and love. When we’re in this proactive state of mind, challenges don’t appear as endpoints, but as problems with a solution to be found.

This sort of experience is created through mindset, but our body and spirit have to be in balance as well. These help us endure strenuous challenges and access our potential, whatever is happening for us in the current moment. We have to make the right choices with our lifestyle, nutrition and exercise habits, but that’s not all. We also need to be aware of those things that take a toll on our mental well-being. Surrounding ourselves with positive, like-minded people who also intend to develop themselves in the best way possible is a good place to start. Now that doesn’t mean that their life looks just like ours, or that their path is anything like our own. When we have the right mindset, though, this is a liberating thing: we often go through our lives thinking that our way is the only way, but as we look around we’re reminded that though the goal is the same, the journey for each of us rarely is. Moments that completely throw us off, make us doubt everything that we’ve accomplished so far, appear to another person as just a minor inconvenience.

That our experiences are different without being in conflict lets us recognize those differences as strengths. We can be each other’s biggest supporters. Someone else’s idea, one which never occurred to us, may be a valuable stepping stone, or a trail marker for a way back onto our path. Yes, our efforts are different and our “bests” are not the same. But those variations are a reassurance that we are not alone, that with the right intention we’re connected in the effort to become the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

Sonja Hofstetter
Instructor, Curatorial Research Manager and Archive Administrator
Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

BBJJ: Year One

Laundry was never one of my strong suits.

I always used to wait until I was completely out of some crucial piece of clothing to get around to it, and then it was a huge ordeal because I had to lug multiple loads downstairs and worry about whether there would be enough open machines, and spend way too long just moving everything from the washers to the dryers.

And then, oh god, the folding. 🙂

Since I started jiu jitsu, I’ve gotten into the habit of doing a load of laundry every morning. Things don’t pile up, I always have a wide assortment of black t‐shirts and jeans to choose from, and my gis… well, they could smell worse.

It seems like a silly thing, but it’s indicative of a big shift in my habits and self‐discipline. At first, I did it grudgingly every other day, because it was either that, skip class, or wear a dirty gi, and I really didn’t want to choose the last two. Now it’s just part of my morning routine – start a pot of coffee, walk the dog, take the laundry down, grab some breakfast, deal with my email, switch the load to the dryer, do a 30‐minute yoga routine, pull the laundry out before it gets overcooked, settle in for the work day. I’ve never really had a consistent routine like that until this year.

And it feels weird if I don’t have anything to wash.

It’s not just day to day habits that I’ve seen improvements in. Obviously my fitness level is hugely improved over where I was when I started. I’m also happier and more confident. I’d rather go out with friends than stay home and play video games. I see visiting a new BBJJ school as a chance to meet and learn from cool new people rather than the awkward and intimidating social scenario it would have seemed to me before.

I don’t even fight with my sister anymore, which I have for years – I’m able to just take the little jabs she throws at me in stride and keep the conversation flowing, which I feel is a perfect reflection of the mindset that rolling with training partners instills in us. If you’d known me a year ago, you’d know these are massive changes in my outlook and priorities.

And then there’s the training itself. I threw myself in the deep end without really thinking too much about it when I first started in the advanced program. I noticed after a couple of weeks of classes that I was often the only white belt in randori sessions, which meant I got a ton of time training with blue and purple and brown belts. Now I’m a big guy, but there are plenty of smaller blue belts here who are still able to choke me more or less whenever they feel like it. I love it, because it constantly reminds me that these techniques work, and that I’m still a baby who’s just figuring out how to walk in this world.

So I was honestly shocked recently when I had the chance to roll with some of the newer white belts and got
to see what that feels like from the other side. I knew I’d been improving, because I wasn’t getting
submitted as often and felt like I had a pretty good understanding of what was happening at any given
time during a roll. But then one of my Thai boxing training partners who recently started in the BJJ
program started going super hard trying to pass my guard. I was totally relaxed, able to keep him at a
comfortable distance, let him tire himself out a bit, and then was easily able to sweep and armbar him.

It was eye opening, because this is a guy who knows how to fight standing up, who’s in great shape, and
who was really trying to win, and the techniques came so naturally and worked so well. It was so cool to
see because I know that’s how I was at first (minus the being in shape and knowing how to fight parts),
and I know that’s about the level of challenge I present to a purple belt at this point. All this inside of twelve months.

I can’t wait to see how my perception – of myself and the training – changes in my second year of training.

Mike began his training at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2016. He is a fixture in both Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing at BBJJ Clinton Hill, along with his wife Rachel.

Martial Arts Philosophy: The Dojo Kun

The “dojo kun” outlines the most important precepts in Shotokan Karate, one of the world’s most practiced martial arts. Written by Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi, it is literally a list of rules for the practitioner, providing guidance and suggestions for how we can be the best version of ourselves and live a happier life. If we “break” those rules there is no punishment by law, but there is suffering. And we are the ones who suffer the most. Below is an outline of the five key philosophies of this deep martial arts practice.

Seek Perfection of Character

This line speaks to the essential principle of “kaizen” – we are always trying to improve. How we treat other people – and ourselves – is crucial for a life well-lived, and an area we can always work on. There is no “real” perfection here: it is more like something being whole, complete. And there is always room for being better, kinder, more loving, as we approach that sense of being whole.

Be Faithful

Faith means belief: believing in yourself, the Martial Arts and your teacher. We learn what we need to learn when we need to learn it. In the dojo, everything happens step by step. This is how we learn. We reach the top of the mountain only to see that there is another peak before us. What we’ve scaled is just one height of many. The only way to move in this way is with faith. To believe that our teacher is on our side and will help us through obstacles in training as well as in life. To believe that every obstacle in our way is only asking us to grow stronger, so that once we are through we’ll be more prepared for whatever comes next. To believe that by continuing to move forward, through consistent training, there will be improvement. Kaizen.


This means trying something new, the willingness to but aside our misgivings and fears. Not to grow stagnant in life or in training. To take risks. Work hard. Find our passion. Create possibilities. Have fun. Love. Be vulnerable. To step ourside your confort zone to truly experience what makes you, you.

Respect Others

Without respect for others, there is no chance at a complete life. If we close ourselves off to other ideas, we miss out on opportunities for improvement, togetherness, happiness. Violating this principle creates chaos: disrespect leads to arguments; arguments with no respect turn into resentment; resentments turn into war, individually and globally. Respecting others doesn’t mean always agreeing with them. In any relationship there will always be something we disagree with, but with mutual respect and understanding, solutions can be found or a new path can be laid out.

Refrain from Violent Behavior

This means verbally as well as physically. As in the previous precept, we have to be responsible for our part in our relationship with other people. Speak well of others, and with others. It is our work as Martial Artists to build people up and not put them down, to let them discover their own potential. People don’t remember what we say, but they remember how they feel when they’re around us. When we’re responsible in this way, we create the space they need for their own work. Of course, there is no room for physical violence either. Misunderstandings can be solved by talking to each other with mutual respect, by listening and being open. To learn to put aside ego and personal preferences is the way of the karateka: to begin to lessen the suffering in ourselves and in the world, we can begin with this one precept.

Every martial arts practice has its rules and outlines. These are time-tested and accessible, a guide not only for the karate practitioner but good counsel to every student who sets foot into the dojo anywhere.

Sonja Hofstetter
Instructor, Curatorial Research Manger and Archive Administrator
Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu


Do you have kids? Even if you don’t, you’ve probably still had the opportunity to watch as they see, hear, touch, and learn things for the first time. They progress at different rates in different areas.  One child walks “early” and talked “late,” whereas another may be just the opposite.  In either case they have to walk before they run, no matter when they start or how quickly they progress.

It seems, though, that their inclination is to run first, which often leads to great frustration.

As practitioners, it’s easy for us to watch them and liken it to our own Martial Arts training.  Most of us have had the experience where we feel like we’re just starting to run, but it comes with all those months (or years!) of walking, stumbling, misstepping, and falling down.

In fact, the students who are the most successful for the longest time are usually the ones that can learn with the “walk before you run” mindset.

The good news for us is martial arts are designed for that slow process of incremental growth.  We crawl in the beginning, and then when we can stand on our two feet confidently, we’re invited to reach a little beyond where we are. Maybe not to run, but certainly a brisk walk or a trot. It may mean working with more experienced partners, or it may mean more progressive techniques. It could be moving to a more advanced program of training.

But that still doesn’t mean that it is time to run just yet.  Next we show ourselves that we can walk consistently, and we build some confidence at the next level. Then we pick up the pace a little.

Just like with children, it’s natural for motivated, excited, progress-oriented adults to want to run right away.  But the “dark side” of positive progress is often frustration. In the martial arts, as in lots of other projects we take on for our personal growth and development, short-term frustration can lead to feelings of failure, which then lead to quitting.

What’s unique about Martial Arts is that there is a built-in additive system to keep our pace of progress where we need it – just out of reach.

See, the mindset of gradual advancement gives everyone the time and place to improve. Each protocol gives us room to correct and refine our shortcomings, and as a result to help us train for life.  Standing straight helps us develop a disciplined body and mind.  Bowing reminds us that we are in a respectful environment.  Keeping our uniforms clean maintains professionalism and displays a certain level of care.

Sometimes it’s hard to watch your kids fall down, even if its part of the process.  But its our experience that tells us that they will get through it, that the frustration will give way to success. So what do we do? We hold their hands and we prop them up and we give them the confidence to keep going.

Similarly, inside the dojo we get both the structure and the example. Our instructors have been through the process of working towards their Black Belts. In this way, it’s not unlike the parent – a guiding influence who’s been there before, seeking the best for us. That’s why, at times, it seems as though they are holding our hands and propping us up. The trust and guidance gives us the confidence we need when we fall.

We want to run, so we set the stage. We trip and fall, have to get back up, then we get started again. We make corrections and adjustments, ask for help, and keep exploring. This process, which runs all the way to black belt and beyond, works naturally for each of us. There is no “early” or “late”.

With good instruction, good conditions and a curious mindset, we finally find ourselves able to run, simply and genuinely. That’s progress.

Jason’s jiu-jitsu journey began at BBJJ in 2008. He’s credited his martial arts training with improvements in everything from temperament and patience to reaching personal fitness and relationship goals. 

Register Now for Our FREE Women’s Self-Defense Session!

Clinton Hill: March 29 at 8pm • Cobble Hill: March 29 at 7pm •
Dyker Heights: March 29 at 7pm • Bensonhurst: March 30 at 7pm


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 hope you can join us this month…see you soon!

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?


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.


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).