Enter The Danny: Final Round


"Above all, the Way of the Samurai should be in being aware that you do not know what is going to happen next, and in querying every item day and night.  Victory and defeat are matters of the temporary force of circumstances."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

This should have been up last night, but Courtney and I had a date to celebrate her passing her CCRN exam, and I just didn't feel like interrupting a rare night together to come type this up!  By the way, the place we went for dinner was great.  If you live in Lubbock, Gilbert's Bar & Grill has a reservations-only dinner on Saturday nights.  It's served family style to your table, and you don't order, they just bring out platters of fantastic Chinese food.  Try it out.  Let us know if you're going, because we may want to join you.

Well, I made it.  A month of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons, and here I am at the end of it.  If I do say so myself, the final lesson of the month might have also been the best one.

Tony started the class with an interesting lesson and exercise.  He asked us what we do once we get our opponent into a mount or control situation.  "What you do in practice is what you're going to do in a fight.  If you hold back, you're training your mind to hold back when you compete.  You should always look for the opportunity to end the fight."  To emphasize this, we worked on two things during class: arm submissions and grip.

To illustrate the importance of grip, Tony had two of his assistant instructors and three of the absolute top students from class come to the center of the room.  Then he made them each hold two tennis balls, and sent five of us out to wrestle them.  Now, none of these guys were slouches - they still held their own, but you could tell that it was much more difficult for them to find their game than usual.  I wrestled Gabe, an assistant instructor, and held out for much longer than I could have if he'd been empty handed.

We spent the rest of class working on arm submissions from the side control position (think of a classic wrestling pin, where one arm controls the head, the other is hooked beneath an armpit, and your chest is on top of theirs).  A submission is the fastest way to end a match, but you won't get one if you can't maintain your grip on your opponent's arm.  Even if they are able to maneuver their way out of the submission, as long as you hold on to them you can work them into another.

At the end of class, we repeated the exercise where we grappled against the top people in class, making sure to stay mindful of what we'd learned.  This time I was up against Chris, the other assistant instructor.  He's a pretty fast guy.  I stood in front of him, though, and it was like things just clicked.  I passed his guard and quickly got down and into the side control position.  From behind me, I heard Tony give an impressed, "Yes!  Gooood..."  That was right up there with the guys shouting encouragement to me the other night as one of the top moments of the month.

We got back with our partners, and ended with wrestling again.  I was pretty evenly matched with Rob, a Tech student, and we kind of reached a stalemate for a while where we both had the other locked down.  Then I made my move, locked him down beneath my legs, and pulled his arm through for an arm bar.  My last match of the month, and I won it by submission.

I got in the car, turned it on, and "Staying Alive" was playing on the radio.  Damn right, BeeGees.

I'll have the month-end wrap up posted in the next day or two!

Enter The Danny: Round 11


"Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate.  Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this.  A real man does not think of victory or defeat."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

Here we go, next to last lesson!

My partner last night was Warren, a Tech student who is studying IT.  We started talking about that before class, and he asked me some really good questions about the work that I do.  When it was time to line up for the beginning of class, we both stood up and noticed that we're pretty close to the same height (although I'm guessing that I'm about 40 pounds bigger), so we decided to train together.  He's been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for about three years.

"What night are we up to, mate?" Tony asked as he walked down the line at the beginning of class.
"Very good," he said, with a smile.
That made me smile, too.  I think he's surprised (as am I) that I've stuck with class for the entire month.

As class began, Tony raised a good point about the nature of training.  When each class focuses on a couple of individual techniques or positions, it's easy to start thinking of each of those things in isolation.  But a fight is not a series of isolated movements, it's a fluid thing, filled with constant transitions.  To build confidence in our transitions, we worked on two main things last night: escaping when your opponent is in the mount position over you, and then quickly moving yourself back into an offensive position.

The mount position is basically the worst place you can be if you are on the bottom.  (Behave yourselves, Ali and Roy.)  You're flat on your back, and your opponent is seated on top of you, free to do whatever he wants.  If his knees are high enough under your armpits, you won't even be able to use your arms.  You can't use your strength to get out of it, because as long as he has good balance and center of gravity, he's not going anywhere.  Maybe, while reading that last sentence, you figured out what has to be done in order to escape - disrupt your opponent's balance.

Here is a thing that still amazes me about this class.  So many of the things we learn don't rely on strength at all, just  physical principles.  If you perform action X, your opponent's body will have reaction Y.  One of the escapes we learned last night started by bridging your hips into the air and pulling forward on your opponent's hamstrings.  You don't even have to pull hard, the guy will fall forward every time.  Every time!  From there, we learned different ways to attempt to open space between yourself and your opponent, so that you can either work your way out or work your way into a more advantageous position.

One more lesson, and then I'll post my wrap-up this weekend.  I also have an exclusive interview with Tony Bonello coming soon!

Enter The Danny: Round 10


"To give a person an opinion one must first judge well whether that person is of the disposition to receive it or not....  Praise his good points and use every device to encourage him, perhaps by talking about one's own faults without touching on his, but so that they will occur to him.  Have him receive this in the way that a man would drink water when his throat is dry, and it will be an opinion that will correct faults."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

First things first - I'm pleased to tell you that Zach Haney, my classmate at Blackbelt Universe, won his fight in Arlington this weekend!  The fight went three rounds, and he won by a submission in the third round.  I'm happy for him, and also kind of amazed.  Not amazed that he won, because he's really good, but just amazed at the stones that it takes to fight in front of that many people.  I've only spoken with Zach a few times, but he's a really mild, thoughtful guy.  The dude wears glasses!  But he has the courage and the drive to put his skills to the test in that kind of venue, and that's really impressive to me.  I guess it all comes with training and experience.

I used to perform on an improv comedy troupe in college, and was often asked how we came up with ideas on the spot.  The answer was just that we spent a lot of time practicing together.  Even though there's a widely known (and just as widely attributed) quote, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," it never really occurred to me to be nervous once we stepped onstage.  It all comes with practice.

Here is how last night's class started: Tony announced that we have focused heavily on technique for the past few weeks, and that this class was going to be much more physical.  Well, crap - I kind of felt like we'd already been pretty physical!  He demonstrated two lockdown moves to pin your opponent with, and then set us loose to practice them.  Usually that means that each partner runs the move on each other a few times before Tony shows the next thing, and we end class with sparring.  Last night, he told us just to wrestle until one of us either held the other in one of the finishing positions for three seconds, or until somebody submitted, and then he set us loose.  Ten minutes of demonstration, fifty minutes of grappling.

I started class with Clayton, who I hadn't seen before, so I thought he was a beginner like me.  Wrong.  Clayton has been doing this for a while, and just started coming again after recovering from a broken finger.  Sometimes when Tony sees that partners are too unevenly matched, he'll assign you to work with somebody else, and that's how I ended up working with Jay again.  Jay and I fight at about the same level.

For last night's practice, Tony wanted us to start with one partner standing, and the other on the ground with his legs up and on guard.  If you are the standing partner, this is actually a fairly difficult position to work your way inside of.  Jay and I rolled for a few rounds, and then on one, I quickly dived in, brought his legs up to my shoulders, locked them in, and went into what I now think of as my go-to move (that I mentioned on night 8), where I flip my opponent over and fall into a headlock position.  Unfortunately, this also twisted Jay's neck more than was good, and he had to sit out for the rest of class.  I checked on him at the end, and he's OK, but I felt pretty bad about it.

This left me partnerless, with about 30 minutes of class left.  I just stood there looking dumb for a minute (something I'm pretty good at), before somebody else asked if I wanted to practice.  It was Andrew again (*sigh...*), and his partner Joe needed a minute to rest.  This set the pace for the rest of my night - I moved from partner to partner each time somebody else needed a rest, and ended up fighting four other guys besides Jay.  It was exhausting, but along the way, a really cool thing happened.  Tony was occupied with wrestling one of the other instructors, so these guys started instructing and drilling me themselves.

After Andrew and I fought, he complimented me, and said I'd improved even since last week.  He said that I was especially good at finding gaps and getting hooks under them.  He told me, though, that instead of trying to force my way up with my elbows when I'm down, that I need to put that weight on my opponent and tire them.  I tried it on him in our next round, and it worked!

Then I fought his partner Joe, a burly guy with short dreadlocks.  He is really good at nailing down your legs so that you can't escape, and then executing whatever moves he wants to.  After we fought, he told me some things that I could try so that I could free my legs.  I tried it, and it worked!

Next, Nick and Anthony, two brothers who train together a lot, took turns working with me.  These guys were much smaller than me, and are lightning fast.  Joe's game is strength, these guys focus on movement.  I fought Nick first, and then Anthony.

Here's where it got really cool.  I was wrestling Anthony, and all of the other guys I'd practiced with gathered around to watch.  They were cheering for me, and shouting encouragement!  They were calling out reminders of things they had taught me so that I'd remember to try them during the fight.  Ultimately, I lost, but Andrew helped me up off the mat, and they all patted me on the back and told me it was a good match.  It was maybe the best part of this month so far.

The bruise on my chest has faded, but here's how my biceps looked when I got home last night.  I still have no idea how the bruises formed in such a strange pattern.  I know this picture is weird - it's two pictures side-by-side.

Enter The Danny: Round 9


"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times." - Bruce Lee

Two and a half weeks ago, I really didn't think I'd be at the point where I'm at right now.  With only one week left to go, I'm nearly through with the whole month!  Every time I think I'm getting pretty well acclimated to class, something switches up, and leaves me sore all over again, but I'm learning to weather it better.

Speaking of switches, last night's class was a much different experience from the others.  One of our classmates, Zach, is competing in a professional MMA bout this weekend in Dallas!  Tony and Nate both traveled with him to be in his corner (it's so weird to use that phrase in its actual, originally intended sense), so our class was led by Chris and Gabe.  Gabe is another of Tony's assistants, and Chris usually teaches the children's class that meets right before ours.  Both of them have trained in martial arts for a long time.

I think that a lot of guys either only want to be there if Tony is teaching, or they just decided to take a long weekend, because the class was about half the size that it usually is.  This was actually kind of nice, because there was more room to work in.  Also nice?  Gabe and Chris left the two fans in the wall turned on so that there was some air moving while we worked out.  I've been trying to work with different partners as much as I can this month, so that I can get to know more people and experience a variety of experience levels.  I ended up working with Chad again last night, though, simply because the class was so small, and most of the guys who were there were at a much higher level of experience than us.

As I mentioned in my last post, Chad is a great training partner.  He offers constructive hints to help improve your technique, he acknowledges good moves, and he encourages.  One of his long-term goals is to open a non-profit women's self defense school.  I like training with him.  Last night, however, I think he may have been better off working with somebody besides me.  Obviously, if you were ever to bust out your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu moves in a street fight someday, you'd have no control over the size of your opponent, but in a competitive environment, you go up against guys in your same weight class.  I'm going to guess that I'm about nine inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than Chad.  When you're just running drills for most things, it's no biggie, but some of the things we were doing last night were making him stretch waaaaay farther than he should have safely had to do, just so he could get himself positioned right.  Poor guy.

The things we worked on last night were mainly more moves from the full-mount position, aimed at getting a submission.  There was a wrist bar move, a choke hold with your opponent's neck between your arms, and a move where you shift your weight off of your opponent only to trap his head beneath your leg.  The last one is the one that Chad should have been able to practice with somebody closer to his size, because it kind of required him to be both near my head and leg at the same time, and it just wasn't happening.

Still, it was a very good class.  Gabe and Chris like to spend a lot more time working on single things, until everybody in class is up to speed.  With the smaller class size, they were easily able to make their way around the room and spend time working with each individual.  For sparring time, after Chad and I went for a while, we all switched, and I rolled with a guy named Andrew.  I already know Ali will make fun of how gay this sounds, but the dude had a seriously charming Latin accent.  Also, seriously intimidating arms.  We wrestled a couple of rounds, and I told him I was afraid I was slowing him down, and he just smiled and said, "We're both where we need to be, man."  I'm continually surprised by the lack of ego that is in this class.

Today I took the kids swimming, and wondered why the ladies in the chairs on either side of mine gaped in horror when I took my shirt off.  Then I remembered the baseball-sized bruises on my chest and left bicep, and the mat-burn on my right shoulder.  I'm starting to think of them as badges of honor.  I understand how people can get so into this now.

Enter The Danny: Round 8


"Shida Kichinosuke said, 'At first it is an oppressive thing to run until one is breathless.  But it is an extraordinarily good feeling when one is standing around after the running.'"  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

At the beginning of each class, Tony has all of the students line up against the wall of the gym, where we bow to him, and he bows to us.  Then he makes his way down the line, bumping fists with each of us and collecting our attendance cards.  Sometimes he'll crack a joke or two with some of the guys.  Last night when he bumped my fist, he asked, "What night are we up to?"  Night eight.  "Are you learning anything?"  I think so!  "Learning how to tap, right?"  That one made me laugh.

Yesterday, Lubbock broke a weather record - the most days over 100 degrees within a single year.  The previous record was 29 days, set in 1934.  Yesterday was the thirtieth day so far this year, with many more unfortunately predicted.  As I mentioned in the first post of Enter The Danny, Blackbelt Universe has no air conditioning.  Yesterday's class might have been the sweatiest hour of my life.  No exaggeration - I weighed myself before and after class, and there was nearly five pounds difference.

My training partner last night was Chad, the same guy who I worked with on Night 4.  We spent the class working on further techniques from the half guard, including knee bars and working your way out of the guard and into a full-mount position.

Sparring time started earlier than usual last night, and went later, so that there was about 25 minutes of sparring in all.  Tony usually has us switch partners partway through, but he was practicing with one of his assistant instructors last night, so Chad and I spent the full time together.  I've definitely still got my weaknesses, but I'm also beginning to discover a few very reliable strengths, namely my height and my legs.

I've always had pretty strong legs, and I'm finding that I can break my way out of nearly any hold as long as I can get them under me and stand up.  Sometimes that's much harder than it sounds, but that's where the height comes into play.  The extra height gives me some added leverage that comes in handy when I'm breaking loose.  I've even kind of developed a go-to move using that advantage.  As long as I can reasonably control my opponent's legs, I can get to a standing position, flip them into a prone position, and go into the neck hold that I had success with on night 4.

When both of us had wrestled so much that we couldn't go any more, we got a drink, and Chad complimented me on my improvement over last time we'd worked together.  Then he told me to look at the results of the June tournament on the website when I got home.  "The name at the bottom, in last place?  That's me.  But I get better every time I come, and you are, too."


Enter The Danny: Round 7


"There are times when a person gets carried away and talks on without thinking much.  But this can be seen by observers when one's mind is flippant and lacking truth.  After such an occasion it is best to come face to face with the truth and express it.  The truth will then be arrived at in one's own heart, too."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

Except for a brief, disastrous stint on the eighth grade basketball B-team, I have never played team sports.  I was on the swim team through junior high and high school, which technically still made me part of a team, but it's still a solo endeavor.  For a guy who spends a healthy amount of time inside his own head, it's a perfect sport, because when you're in the water there's nothing to do but think.  You can't talk with your teammates, the scenery consists entirely of the feet of the swimmer in front of you, and the repetitive motion and breathing puts you into something almost like a trance state.  There were times I wrote entire papers in my head during workouts, and then put them down on paper once I got to school.

This was an aspect of sports that really appealed to me, the introspective part.

Last night I told a lie to my parents.  It was a panicked moment where I wasn't sure what to say, and I used the first believable thing that came to mind.  The thing is, even as I told the lie, I knew that I couldn't sustain it, and that I'd have to tell the truth eventually.  Here I am, 35 years old, still letting nerves get the best of me when I talk to my folks.  They had invited us over for dinner, and then offered to keep the kids while I went to class.

In class, I partnered with Jay again.  He's a good guy, I like him.  The class focused on the half-guard position.  Take your right foot and put it up on your left knee, so that your legs make a 4.  Now imagine that you are lying down and you have a guy's leg trapped in there.  That is the half guard.  We spent the first part of class working on what you can do next if you have somebody in your guard, and the last part working on how to shut those things down if you are the guy on top.  I'm not going to spend a bunch of time describing them.

At the end of class, when it was time to wrestle, I can't really describe what happened, but Jay and I both really switched it on.  Like I said, he's a nice guy, but there was a point when I looked into his face and it was just a mask of aggression.  Even though I couldn't see my own face, I suddenly felt it in detail, and knew that it was a mirror of his.  And then, I don't know - I just went inside.  My mind was both in the fight and a thousand miles away from it.  I knew in that moment that I needed to tell the truth, and how I was going to do it.

Both of us won a couple of falls, and then we had to quit from sheer exhaustion.  On the last one, he put me into an arm bar, and it hurt.  Telling my parents I'd lied to them hurt, too.  There was no tapping out of it.  I'm not entirely sure where the situation is right now.  But I am glad that I had the chance to look inside for long enough to strengthen my resolve.

Enter The Danny: Round 6


"In addition to having spoken sufficiently it is the highest sort of victory to teach your opponent something that will be to his benefit.  This is in accordance with the Way."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

TGIF, man.  Or thank goodness yesterday was Friday.  TGYWF.  Each time I do one of these blog projects, I reach a point where I'm around halfway through, and I look at the rest of the month stretching out ahead of me, and I think, "Why am I doing this?"  Yesterday was that day with the current project.  I think that doing classes three days in a row may have been pressing my luck a little bit.  Sometimes your body sends you reminders that you are not in college anymore, and throwing yourself into combat for three days in a row makes those reminders come at a faster pace.  Somewhere in the middle of last night's class, I realized that my right hand had a tremor in it that I couldn't stop, but I think I may have just been a little dehydrated.  Today I feel like I've been to the evil chiropractor, the one who manipulates your joints to cause you maximum discomfort.  He's not covered on most plans.

This has actually become a sort of day-after game for me, counting the places where I hurt.  Today, it's both shins (from Muay Thai on Thursday), the arch of my left foot, heavy bruises on the insides of both forearms, and screaming joints in my right arm (more about that in a minute).  Also, I forgot to take off my wedding ring before class last night, and it ended up tearing the skin between my fingers.  Here's a lousy picture of it.  (It's the spot with the skin flap hanging off, which really doesn't make it look as painful as it is.)
The wedding ring injury may actually have been a subconscious effort to emulate Ali, so that my blog can get as many followers as hers has.

Tony was absent last night, treating a minor injury, so we had a guest instructor, Nate, one of Tony's assistants.  Nate seems like a very good guy, and is very gung ho.  He decided to focus the class period on working your opponent into a submission from the side control position.  Side control is pretty close to what you would think of as a classic wrestling pin, where your opponent is on their back, and you are laying across their chest with your arms locking down their head and arms.  To keep it short, we basically spent the next 45 minutes learning and performing various ways to move from that position into the arm bar.

The arm bar.  The reason why my right arm is full of quivering nerves today.  There are variations on how it is performed, but it comes down to trapping your opponent's arm between your legs, while your legs are across his chest, then leaning back and bending his arm backwards at the elbow joint.  He'll either tap out, or his arm will break.

I trained with Jay last night, who I found out is the one dude in class older than me.  We partnered well together, I think.  Both of us know that we're going to be breaking out the Icy Hot when we get home, so we only took things as far as they needed to go.  What impressed me is that he's been doing this for only about six months, and he had really good technique.  I'm learning that this is something that you can become pretty decent at if you stick with it for a while.

We also shared a pretty good silent laugh and a look that said "Fuh-huh-huck that" when Nate was demonstrating a move which included the instruction, "Now just whip your leg over like this, and bend it into this shape..."

We sparred pretty evenly at the end of class, and then Nate had everybody switch partners.  I finished class with Kyle, who is only a little shorter than me, and shaped like a big, muscular triangle.  I started out OK!  Before long, though, I was inescapably pinned, and struggling hard.  Then I had an idea.

"*gasp...* What would you do if you were in this situation?"
He stopped, thought for a second, and then thoughtfully explained and showed me different alternatives that I could use.  And then I kicked him in the nuts and put him in an arm bar.

Not really.

Enter The Danny: Round 5


"To open one's mouth indiscriminately brings shame, and there are many times when people will turn their backs on such a person."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

Two words: Muay Thai.
One more word: Oooouuch...

Before I get to last night's class, though, I have some domestic matters to talk about, namely my conversation with Courtney this morning.
"You made me sound all heartless in your blog, like I'm Nurse Ratched or something!"
"That was our conversation, though, nearly word for word!"
"OK, but I wasn't unsympathetic to you.  I reassured you.  And I'm not a tough love nurse.  I just keep it real."

I promised I would clarify that on the blog.  Courtney Holwerda is not heartless, but she will keep it real.  And also she's a very good nurse and wife and supporter.  (That part is from me.)

Class!  Like I mentioned a few days ago, I had something that I couldn't get out of on Monday, so I shuffled my classes a bit this week, at Tony's invitation.  Last night's class was Muay Thai, or kickboxing.  I feel like I'm running out of ways during the project to share the following piece of information: it was hard.  The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes I've taken so far are difficult because of the amount of physical effort and endurance that they require.  Muay Thai is much more of a cardio workout.  Think about the classes offered at your gym - I'll bet one of them is a kickboxing class, and I'll also bet it has nothing to do with actual fighting, which leads me to the other immediately apparent difference between the two disciplines.  No blows are thrown in BJJ, it's all grappling.  Muay Thai is pretty much entirely punches and kicks.

I've been working with a trainer this summer, and one of the things that he sometimes talks about is the benefit of just making your body stay in motion for 30 uninterrupted minutes.  Just keep in motion.  It's harder than it sounds.  That's what the first part of last night's class was.  We all put on shin guards and gloves and partnered up.  The class started with light sparring, where one partner throws punches and kicks at the other partner's hands, just as a warm-up.  Then we moved to a footwork drill, where one partner went to the edge of the room and worked the heavy bag (sidenote: working the bag has made it clear to me that I throw punches like an anemic seven year-old girl) while the other partner sidestepped around a square ring until reaching a corner, at which point you ran to the center, threw three punches, and stepped back out to move on to the next corner.

The next part of class built on that basic footwork drill.  Four people stood in the center, facing the four corners.  When you reached a corner, you'd run in to the center, throw punches into their hands, and then simulate knee strikes.  Then we did that same thing, but we had to do a pushup each time we reached a corner.  Then we did that same thing, but we had to do a pushup and recover from it by leaping into the air each time we reached a corner.  Car.  D.  O.

Now we came to the part of class where the drills were more focused on technique.  One partner stayed gloved up while the other grabbed pads that strapped onto the forearms.  They looked like these.
The gloved partner then did combination drills of punches and kicks, at Tony's direction, before we switched.  My training partner, JD, wore the pads first.  Then we switched.  I had assumed that wearing the pads would be a bit of a rest.  They'd absorb the blows for me, and I could just stand there and catch my breath.  Wrong!  Maybe you've heard the famous line from John Milton, "They also serve who only stand and wait."  Well, they also workout who only stand and hold the pads.  I quickly learned that just because you're wearing thick pads doesn't mean that you don't still have to brace yourself against strikes from the man in front of you.

Then we took off those pads and picked up something that looked like a padded riot shield, made to protect your front.  The unpadded partner practiced force kicks, where you both kick and push at the same time.  I was standing there with my mouth open like a dope, and the first kick shoved the shield into my face and made me bite my tongue.  This is why I chose tonight's Hagakure quote, and also leads to the lesson I took from tonight:
If you are in a situation where you are likely to be struck, it is best just to keep your mouth closed.

Those are words to live by.

Class ends in much the same way that BJJ classes do, with sparring.  Tony's only rule (aside from fight clean and don't go too hard on each other) is that you can not exchange head blows unless you are both wearing mouthguards.  Neither of us was wearing one, so I got to stay pretty for another day.

You know when you're playing with a little kid, and you wave a hand off to one side of them and say, "See this?" and then you swoop your other hand in and tickle them with it, and say, "You didn't see that!"?  This was my experience, except instead of waving a hand, JD was punching me in the ribs and gut, and instead of tickling me, he was surprising me with kicks to the shin.  And the thing about kicks to the shin is that even with a shinguard on, and even if you manage to guard against the kick a little, they still hurt a lot!  My whole left shin is purple today!

My one really satisfying moment was when I landed what I thought was a pretty solid uppercut right beneath JD's ribs, and his feet left the ground for a second.  My satisfaction was fleeting, because it turned out that his feet were leaving the ground so that he could kick me in two places at the same time.

Back to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tonight before I'm off to apply hotpacks for the weekend.

Enter The Danny: Round 4


"It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream.  When you have something like a nightmare, you will wake up and tell yourself that it was only a dream.  It is said that the world we live in is not a bit different from this."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

"I don't want to go to class tonight."  You would think that speaking these words to a nurse, a giver of care and compassion, would elicit some sympathy.

"Why not?"  Courtney is the kind of tough-love nurse who forces rehab patients through the hard times.

"I'm still scared about wrestling at the end of class."

"OK.  What's the worst that could happen?"

"I could get choked out again."  To be fair, I only nearly got choked out, but I was fishing for sympathy, which is no time to hold back.

"And if that happens, then what?"

"Then I guess I'd come to, and class would go on."

"Has anybody else been choked out while you've been in class?"

"Not all the way, I don't think."

"Well, then."


To motivate myself a little more, I told Blake that he could join me tonight, and watch class from the spectators' area, the glassed-in office at the front of the school, where there are seats and a ping pong table.  He'd briefly been in there before; a couple of months back when I was working out the details of the project, I'd stopped by the school with all of the kids while I was on the way to someplace else.  Just to make sure he'd be OK for the hour, he brought along his DS and a comic book.  When we walked in, Tony and his wife Kathryn were sitting in front, so I introduced Blake again.  "I remember this one," Tony laughed, "He's one of your fifteen children!"

It occurred to me after my last entry that I'm sure that people who have trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for any length of time will read my descriptions of what we do in class and cringe at how poorly I describe it.  I think I can do a pretty good job with last night's lesson, though.  We primarily worked on controlling your opponent's legs and then passing his guard.  What was really exciting about last night's class, though, is that I have finally found a technique that I think I am really good at.

I've been sitting here trying to think of how to describe this maneuver, and I can't, so I'll just say that it involves trapping your opponent's legs, moving him into a position that is so uncomfortable that he'll have no choice but to flip into a turtle position, and then rapidly looping your elbow around his neck and dropping your weight to the floor to force him into a submission.  It wasn't the only move we practiced last night, but it was the one that I was best at.

Blake came through the gym on his way to the bathroom as this move was being practiced on me by my partner, and gaped in horror for a second.  I gave him a smile and a thumbs-up, and he took that as a sign that I wanted him to start a conversation with me.  "Daddy!  I played ping pong with another boy, and then we took turns playing a game on his dad's phone, and then..."  I waved him along, and he got out of the way.

The end of class was approaching, and I knew it would be time to wrestle.  My partner last night was pretty skillful, so I replayed the "what's the worst that could happen" talk in my mind in preparation for what the next few minutes held.  But then we started to grapple, and before I knew it, I found myself in the position we'd just practiced!  I locked down, forced him over, and trapped his head.  What's next, what's next?  Right, drop your weight to the mat.  I did, and he tapped out!

I know that I'm coming dangerously close to sounding like I'm gloating here, and I promise that's not how I mean it.  For what it's worth, that was the only fall that I won against him, and he nailed me down pretty quickly on the next two.  But I still had a moment of real pride.  I had used a thing I learned in class, and it worked!  I didn't get choked out!  The guy bumped fists with me, and said, "Nice one."  I work for a bank, so my life just doesn't have many bro moments, you know?  That fist bump made it worth it, and so did looking back at the office and seeing Blake's face excitedly pressed against the glass.

Enter The Danny: Round 3


"When one's own attitude on courage is fixed in his heart, and when his resolution is devoid of doubt, then when the time comes he will of necessity be able to choose the right move."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

I have been struggling this week with anxiety.  I've tried to play it off for laughs in my blog entries, but having the collected negative energy of two different countries directed at you takes a serious psychic toll.  But there was something else, too, and it took me a while to realize what it was.

I was afraid to go back to class and fight.

You may remember in the last post, I mentioned that class ended with some free wrestling time.  I went a few falls with my training partner, and then made an excuse about only having a babysitter until 7:30, and quietly stepped out the back.  I wish I was making that up to be funny, but it's what really happened.

I've been in exactly one fight in my life, not counting plenty of sparring with my brother.  I was thirteen years old, and we each hit each other one time, realized it hurt, and called it a draw.

I'm afraid to engage, and I really don't know what to do once I have.  I feel like I missed that week of guy school.

My training partner yesterday was Ryan, the Tech student who I mentioned talking to at my last lesson.  He's a sharp guy, an exercise science major, and considering joining the Army when he graduates.

The main focus of class was on footholds.  It was a really interesting area, because it was much less strenuous than some of the other things we've done, but also much different in other ways.  The other techniques that Tony has taught since I've been coming to class have been locks and holds.  As he put it in class last night, "This is not a locking move, this is a pain move."  The goal of these moves is to make your opponent tap out.  From a standing position, you trap your opponent's foot beneath your arm, and then fall to a sitting position.  From there, you can do a whole variety of really wicked things that hurt a lot.  Did you know that there's a spot on the back of the calf, where your muscle joins to the Achilles Tendon, that if you apply pressure to it with the bone in your forearm will make even really strong guys groan in agony?

Poor Ryan, man.  He's very good, and ran the moves on me flawlessly.  Then when it was my turn, it took me some time to get it, and Tony was cool enough to spend some time working with me individually.  What this meant for Ryan is that he got several footholds in a row performed on him by one of the world's premiere martial artists.  I'd be surprised if he isn't walking with a limp today.

But here's where I started to process the fear.  I didn't wonder if this was going to hurt.  I knew it was going to hurt.  Tony told us that right at the beginning of class.  He demonstrated it on one of his assistants, and you could tell the exact moment when the sting kicked in.  And I knew that in a few moments, I'd be letting Ryan do this to me.  It's like when you know you're going to get a shot at the doctor's office, and you just have to reconcile yourself to it.

I was not afraid.  And it did hurt.  I've been sore after the other classes, but it was that good kind of sore that you get after a really hard workout.  I'm sore today, but it's the kind of sore that you get when somebody has been working you over.  Which brings me back to the wrestling at the end of class...

Ryan and I wrestled a couple of falls.  He pretty easily shut me down, but I like to think that I was kind of holding my own towards the end of it.  Then Tony told us to switch partners and practice with somebody else.  Everybody paired off, and the only free person I found was Ronald, a huge bear of a guy.  In pretty much no time at all, he had me in a choke submission and nearly blacked me out.  I couldn't even reach the mat to tap out, so I was just kind of flailing behind me, trying to tap out on him.  When Tony told the group to line up for the end of class, I told Ronald that I hoped I hadn't hurt him too much.

My throat is killing me today.  I still wish that I had a better handle on what to do when it comes time to wrestle, but I'm learning to accept that I've only been doing this for a very brief time.  I'm not over the fear, but I'm learning from it.

Little change in plans for next week!  I've had something come up on Monday that I'll need to attend.  However!  Tony has extended an invitation to me to attend some of his other classes, too, so I'll be doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on Wednesday and Friday this week, and a Muay Thai class on Thursday.

Enter The Danny: Round 2


"When the time comes, there is no moment for reasoning.  And if you have not done your inquiring beforehand, there is most often shame."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

In all seriousness, I don't know if I can complete this project.  I know I'm only two lessons in, but it is seriously kicking my butt.  I went to the gym tonight, and I kept having to grab the rails on the treadmill to keep from falling, because the muscles in my thighs are so blasted that I can't run in a straight line...  Courtney thinks that I will see it through to the end, if for no other reason than because I have committed to it on the blog.  We'll see.  She does know me pretty well after nine years of marriage.

Blackbelt Universe was closed on Monday for, as Tony put it, "another Yank holiday."  (Have I mentioned he's from Australia?  That bit of context probably makes that statement funnier.)  That worked to my advantage, because my legs still hadn't fully recovered from Friday's lesson.  I woke up yesterday feeling good, though, and ready for lesson two.

Before class, I spent some time talking with some of the other students.  There were two main things I learned about most of them.  First, that I am at least 10 years older than most of these guys.  Second, almost all of them have trained in other martial arts disciplines in the past, and have been studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a while.  One of my fellow students, a senior at Texas Tech, asked how long I'd been studying, and smiled widely when I told him that it was my second lesson.

"Your second lesson EVER?"
"What made you decide to start?"
So I explained to him about my blog, and how I came to be taking this class.
"Is this like something you're getting paid for?"
"Nope, I just do it for fun."
"Nice.  Well, if I can help you with anything, just ask.  Most of the guys who've been here a while are happy to help."

First Lesson I Learned Last Night: I have grown really good at inadvertently stepping on people's toes, as evidenced by the great Century Egg Fiasco.  Before my first lesson, I asked another employee of the school if I could set up my video camera to record myself during class, and was told that it would be fine.  I set it up again, and about 10 minutes into class, Tony walked past it, noticed it, and was not pleased.  I apologized, deleted the footage, and turned it off, but I could tell that he was still upset over it.  Lesson learned - ask the dude in charge.  I really felt like a jerk, upsetting him like that after he'd been cool enough to let me do a month of lessons for free.  I apologized again after class, and he said we were good.  All of this is to say that there will be no more videos, I'm afraid!

So far, both of the classes I've attended have focused on starting from the butterfly guard position.  Here's a picture of what that looks like.  The mannequin on the right is in the butterfly guard position.
One thing I'm finding out is that these techniques are really hard to describe succinctly.  What we mainly worked on in last night's lesson were techniques for the person in the left position to control the legs of the person in the butterfly guard.  It's still amazing to me that some relatively low-force movements, using only your body's weight and the natural mechanics of your opponent's body can completely immobilize somebody!

Second Lesson I Learned Last Night:  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a lot like chess; one of the best strategies you can employ is to try and control the inside.  Something that Tony comes back to again and again when he's demonstrating techniques is that if you can get the inside position, you have a real advantage over your opponent.  Conversely, you want to try your best to keep him from getting inside.  There's a real mental discipline in this, to be completely aware of your position relative to your opponent's position at all times.

Third Lesson I Learned Last Night:  The third thing was more of an insight into my own mind.  I'm hardly unique in this, but I feel completely off my game in situations where it seems like everybody except for me knows what's going on.  You know how sometimes you'll be visiting at a church you haven't gone to before, and maybe there's a certain song that they sing every single week, so they don't bother to print the lyrics or the hymn number in the church bulletin?  Everybody around you is belting out every word, and you're just kind of mumbling along?  That is how I feel in this class.  The maneuvers that Tony shows us are all really effective, but once I get two or three moves into the sequence, I feel completely lost.  This is the same reason that nobody has ever been able to teach me how to do the Texas Two Step, the single easiest dance in the world.  I'm not sure yet how to overcome this one.  I look around me at the other guys in class, and they all seem to know just what to do, and I feel like I'm really slowing down my training partner by not being there along with everybody else.

My training partner last night was named Jason.  He took things much easier on me than AC did last Friday!  When we reached the end of class, instead of dismissing us, Tony told us to practice and wrestle.  I just stood there dumbly and stared at Jason.  "What do we do?" I asked.

"Have you never wrestled before?"
"No, man.  I was on the swim team in high school."
And then we both laughed at how ridiculous that sounded.

Fourth Lesson I Learned Last Night:  I'm having to retrain my mind into a mentality that is entirely new for me.  I've almost always been the biggest kid in class, the biggest person in the group, the tallest guy in the room.  Because of this, I learned early that if any kind of physical trouble went down, I would always draw the blame, simply because I was the biggest person there, so I've always really consciously tried to avoid physical confrontation, and to use the least amount of force possible.  For the first time in my life, I'm in a situation where grappling with somebody is not just accepted, it's expected.  It seems sterile when you're just running the moves in a drill, but to put them into practice is something completely different.  I must convince myself that this is not just OK, it's what I need to be doing.  This is going to be hard.  I really don't know if I'm going to finish this month!

Sino-Holwerda Relations


Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Some of the sites I will link to are in Chinese.  I find that Google Translator does a pretty good job with most of them, but not all.

Last week, after the explosion of angry interest in my blog from Taiwan, I posted a message that I hoped would lay things to rest.  The next day, I said that I'd spoken my last about it, and announced my new project (Enter The Danny - second installment tomorrow!)  That night, I was contacted by Dan Bloom, a semi-retired American journalist who has lived in Taiwan for many years.  He let me know that this story was no longer just about what had been printed in my blog or on CNN.  It had gone viral in Taiwan.  It was in the newspapers.  It was being talked about online and by politicians.  It was on national TV!

With Dan's help, I got a letter printed in the Taipei Times.  As I type this, it has been viewed over 4,200 times.  The tone of it is a little more abject and conciliatory than what I honestly felt by that point, but I figured that maybe by falling on the sword a little bit, I could stop the by now very steady stream of hate mail that was coming to my inbox.  Most of it was variations on the same theme ("you are a fat, ignorant American slob."), but a few seized on the fact that Blake had been in the video, and told me that I was raising my children to be stupid racists.  All because I didn't like a goddamn rotten egg.

The letter seemed to stem the tide of Taiwanese anger.

This weekend the story reached mainland China, an additional 1.6 billion people.  Events played out pretty much the same, with two interesting new additions.
  1. My name transliterates to Hao Wada.
  2. China's largest egg producer demanded an official apology from me and from CNN.  CNN apologized.  I'm done apologizing.  I have offered an apology and an olive branch, and the rest of the world can choose to accept it or not.
I posted this to the comments section of the original story on CNN (which, let's face it, does about as much good as spitting in the ocean).
I'm not sure if should wade into the middle of this.  If I may, though, here is some additional information about my experience with pi dan, which this article does not make clear.

I am not a reporter. I have a personal blog where I post stories about my family, and about silly projects that I embark upon. In April, I had a month-long series called Project Gastronome, in which I tried a different food each night, either something unusual or something that I had never tried before. Century eggs were only one food of the many that I ate over the course of the month.  If you view my blog, you will see that I tried foods from many different cultures, including several other Asian foods which I enjoyed very much.

Around the same time, CNN solicited submissions for their "most revolting foods" iReport. The iReports section of their website is made up entirely of user-generated content, not content from professional journalists. I think there's been a lot of misunderstanding about that. Having just tried the eggs, and not having enjoyed them, I decided to submit the story as an entry.

Where this whole thing took a turn for the worse is when CNN published this compilation article, and included ONLY foods from Asia. Taken in isolation, my story may not have been the best piece of writing in the world, but I doubt it would have ignited any cultural furor. However, when it was first on a list that quickly came to be seen as an example of Western prejudice...

Many have made the point that I ate the eggs "incorrectly."  I was fully aware of that, even when I tried them. If you visit my blog and view the video, I even say that exact thing. This was partly because, as has been said, I didn't know the correct way to prepare them. But it was also simply because I thought that eating them that way would just be funny. Simple humor? Sure. But that's all it was - humor.

This whole incident has become like a game of Telephone, where the story changes more the farther it goes from the source. Again, if you return to the source (my blog), you will notice that I never once say anything insulting about China, Taiwan, or any other people or cultures. My only "offense" was trying another country's delicacy and deciding that I didn't like it. I agree that CNN's presentation of the list was lacking in sensitivity, but I hardly deserve the scorn that's been heaped upon me.  It seems to me that the true ignorance lies in never trying new things, so I'm not bothered by those of you who have tried to label me with that word.  I'm a husband, a father, and somebody who enjoys trying new things.

Peace to all of you.
Which brings us to today.  Boy, I took the long way here, huh?  I received two email messages from reporters wanting to follow up with me.  The first was from the China Branch of the Voice of America network.  Here's the thing - I'm kind of tired of talking about all of this by now.  But this is Voice of America!  Have you ever read about their history during the Cold War?  It's an institution!  I agreed to the interview, and received a phone call from Xiaoyan Zhang, a reporter in Washington, DC about an hour later, during my lunch break.  I had asked her before hand if she would mind giving me a sampling of the questions she'd be asking, because I didn't feel like setting myself up for a hit piece.  She assured me that she was not out to get me, and that she wanted to present my story fairly.

I have never been more self-conscious about the answers I've given to questions.  Some flowed easily, like when she asked how I had researched century eggs and decided to try them (I didn't, they were an impulse buy when I saw them on the shelf), or if I had ever expected so much reaction to all of this (no, I thought I was doing pretty great when I got more than five comments on that blog entry).  Others were stickier, like when she asked what else I knew or liked about Chinese culture.  I didn't want to give some stupid reply, so I said the first thing that came to mind, "Well, I really enjoy Chinese cinema."  Such as?  [Don't say kung fu movies, don't say kung fu movies...]  "Um, kung fu movies."  I covered pretty quickly, though, by saying that as a citizen of the USA, a young nation, I'm impressed and respectful of China's rich sense of heritage and tradition, and how that is a part of people's lives there.

Xiaoyan was very friendly, asked me if she could use a photo of me from my blog, and said that she and her coworkers had actually enjoyed my video very much.  My first interview with an international media outlet was complete, which was a very strange feeling.  I just spoke to a news service that goes out worldwide, and it's just another Wednesday at the office.

The story ran this afternoon, complete with audio.  Unfortunately, Google Translator does a pretty poor job with the translation, as does Babel Fish, but it gets it close enough that you can cipher it out.  The audio is in Chinese, too, except for brief snippets of my voice that you can hear before the translator begins to speak.  If you know anybody who's fairly fluent, and who wouldn't mind sending along an idea of what the audio says, I'd be most appreciative.  I was pleased to see that they used one of my favorite pictures of me for the story!

I was more suspicious of the second journalist.  They claimed to be from Beijing's second biggest paper (Mirror Evening), but they were mailing me from a Yahoo address.  I forwarded the message to Dan Bloom, who assured me that the paper was legit, and that the reporter probably uses a Yahoo address to keep his editor from reading his mail.  He did mention that the paper is essentially a mouthpiece for the Communist Party, but that he felt like it was still a safe discussion to enter into.  I emailed answers to their questions, which were pretty much the same battery of questions that I've seen for a week now.

And, for now, that's where it stands.  I think I'm pretty much done with media requests, and will be declining any further interviews.  I'm bored with defending myself, and need to adopt the habit that I've heard celebrities talk about: never look for what people are saying about you online.  Especially when it gives you search results like this one.

Enter The Danny: Round 1


"Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall there was this one: 'Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.'  Master Ittei commented, 'Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.'  Among one's affairs there should not be more than two or three matters of what one could call great concern.  If these are deliberated upon during ordinary times, they can be understood.  Thinking about things previously and then handling them lightly when the time comes is what this is all about."  From The Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai

Friday was an excellent day.  The bank I work for had an examiner from the Fed onsite this week, performing our IT and business continuity audit.  On Friday morning, we had our exit meeting with him, and his recommendations were all very minor.  It was a very good exam!  What, you may ask, did this have to do with the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lesson I took on Friday night?  Here's what...

We celebrated with a big BBQ lunch.  Lots of fatty, meaty, potato salady goodness filling my entire gut, putting me into something less than top fighting form.

The schedule showed that the night's class required no gi, so I put on some shorts and a t-shirt and drove there. 

MISTAKE #2:  Just because the class does not require a gi does not mean you can wear any stupid thing you pull out of your dresser.  It turns out that if you spend an hour grappling on the floor while wearing baggy shorts and boxers, your nuts WILL get stepped on.  Probably more than once.

Blackbelt Universe is in a building that used to be a dry cleaner, so the front part is an office, and the back is a large, open room.  The floor is covered in wrestling mats, and there is equipment around the perimeter of the room, such as punching bags and shelves full of gloves and headgear.  Tony's wife Katherine manages the place, and she welcomed me and showed me around.  When I arrived, the children's class was finishing up.  The back part of the building (being a former dry cleaner) has no air conditioning, but a large garage door at the back was open, letting a breeze in, and there were two large industrial fans in the wall, moving air into the room.

Then the kid's class ended, and the first instruction Tony gave was to turn off the fans.  Class hadn't even started, and I was already dripping!  I introduced myself to the man standing next to me, AC.  If you've never met me in person, you may not know that I'm 6'6" tall.  AC is taller than that.  Also, I'm not sure about this, but there's a good chance that his entire body is just one enormous muscle.

MISTAKE #3:  Maybe it was some ingrained idea that I needed to match myself with somebody close to my size, but I chose AC as my training partner.  To be fair, he was very patient, very cool, and very instructive, but he was also very strong and very good at jiu-jitsu.

I learned so much in one class that I can barely start to list it all here.  The whole practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu centers around holds, locks, and submissions, not strikes or kicks.  You get in close with each other and try to control the others movements.  You want to control the distance between yourselves at all times.  The more you can reinforce your body by putting it in contact with another part of your own body (for instance, putting an elbow against your knee), the more you are able to brace against your opponent and restrict his movement.  We began with a technique to control an opponent's legs while pinning them to the ground.  It really worked!  "I'm pretty good at this," I allowed myself to think...

Then, Tony told the person on the ground to defend themself on the next practice round, and here's a video of how that worked out for me.


From there, we spent the rest of class expanding on the first technique.  You've got your opponent's legs controlled, what do you do next?  Tony showed us a series of techniques that could be executed in sequence.  When done correctly, you never lose the upper hand, and you progressively contain more and more of his body with your own.  I'm going to do an awful job of describing this, but essentially you pin his chest by holding it down beneath the ribs while you use your other hand to control one of his legs.  Then you sort of walk your feet back while forcing his leg to the ground, lock his head between your knee and arm, pin his hips beneath a leg, and then wrap up his arms.

The reason I describe the whole sequence is so that I can tell you that when you watch it demonstrated in slow motion by an expert instructor, it looks really easy.  Maybe you even let your mind wander a bit, and think about how hot it is, and whether the kids are being good for the babysitter.  But then the instructor finishes, and you go spar with your partner, and it's HARD.  You know how in basic training, military recruits have to do stuff like strip and reassemble a rifle a thousand times in a row, so that when they really have to do it in a crucial situation, they can do it without even thinking?  I totally get that now, because when you have to actually perform these moves, it's nearly impossible if you are in your head, which is where I spent most of the evening.

Actually, AC's armpit is where I spent most of the evening.

Class ended, we all lined up and bowed to Tony, and then he ran down the line to bump fists with us before dismissing us.  I thanked AC for being patient with a first-timer, put on my shoes, and stepped outside.  At 7:20 PM it was 95 degrees outside, but I was so hot that it felt like stepping into a deep freeze.

My legs are useless columns of jello today, which was especially evident when I went to the gym this morning.  It was awesome.

There's no class on Monday, because of July 4th, so my next lesson will be on Wednesday.  I wonder if Blake would want to practice with me...

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity


I've decided that since the Jiu-Jitsu class meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I'll actually be posting my write-ups on the days following the lessons.  That way I can get home, get the kids to bed after the lesson, and not stay up until all hours getting finished.  I think this will let me write better posts, too.  All in the name of quality, dear reader!

In the meantime, I would like to show you something that aired on Taiwanese national television yesterday.  It doesn't matter if you can't understand the language.  It's only about a minute and a half long, and you'll see why I wanted you to watch it.  I just want you to keep two things in mind as you watch.

  1. Oscar Wilde once said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." 
  2. This aired on NATIONAL TELEVISION.

There's another quote that's been attributed to everybody from Mark Twain to P.T. Barnum, "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right."  Unfortunately, I can't tell if they're spelling my name right or not.