Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Building Brotherhood Part One: The Trials and Tribulations of Forming a Gang


"This shit wold be way easier if the world would just hurry up and fall apart."

That was the thought that jumped into my thoughts as I was rummaging through hand-written scribbles from a few years back. ChatGPT wasn't being especially helpful in synthesizing the thirty-eight divergent ideas I fed it. The best idea my AI sidekick could generate was a hybrid between Jim Jones' People's Temple Agricultural Project (of "Drink the Kool-aid" fame) and Scientology. 


You see, for the last fifteen years or so, I've been fascinated with the social dynamics of self-improvement. Specifically, how do groups positively influence people's journey to self-improvement. 

Part of the fascination has been fueled by evidence... I have a whole lotta anecdotal (and empirical) evidence that surrounding yourself with hard-working, motivated people super-charges your own self-improvement. The friendly competition and accountability is helpful, too.

Another part of the fascination is fueled by a strong desire for authentic connection with others, and the sense of belonging to a group of like-minded folks. Our modern world is a lonely, isolated place. Since the dawn of time (for humans, anyway), we've relied on a tribe of other people to survive. "Lone wolves" didn't last long in the harsh, unforgiving wilds of our primal past. Given each of us is the result of a long, unbroken chain of social animals, tribalism is etched into our DNA. Hell, the entire field of "social psychology" is dedicated to studying our innate social acumen. 

Anyway, this fascination with the social dynamics of self-improvement have led to the formation of a fairly long series of intentional and unintentional "tribes" I've either started or became a part of. Some have been centered around a particular activity, like the Runner's World Barefoot Running Forum, The Barefoot Runner's Society, BRU, The Hobby Joggas, BRUCrew, Fight Club, and El Diablo Combatives. Others have been centered around ideas, like Families on the Road and Cotton Underwear Nougat Troupe. Still others were specific to self-improvement, including Man Camp and The Lab. Some were really successful. Some weren't. 

 Each idea provided some insight on what works and what doesn't work; each idea has been a step towards solving a riddle... a riddle that would be wayyyy easier to solve if we had some external force that would force us to have to need each other. 

Like the apocalypse. 

But alas, we have to work with the world we have, not the world we want.

I. The Goal

The ultimate goal is to surround myself with a "gang" other men who have a strong desire to improve themselves in a variety of fun, exciting, and adventurous ways, have a strong sense of duty to provide and protect their families and communities, and also crave the camaraderie and brotherhood of other men who are striving for the same. Every member would bring their own contributions to the group by teaching what they know and learning what they don't. The men would set goals and hold each other accountable for accomplishing those goals. My specific contribution would be teaching a lot of the stuff that I've written about in this blog and others, like sleep and heath, physical fitness and diet, ethics and values, social skills, sex and romantic relationships, and personal growth. Basically, can teach men how to be better at being men. 

The most successful incarnation of this idea is the Man Camp, which this blog (and its grittier, more offensive predecessor), was really good. But it had two fatal flaws. First, it was mostly online. Second, it was designed to solve a specific problem (fixing "Nice Guys"), not to develop a particular type of man to be a better version of themselves. I'll elaborate on this point more, later.

It's worth noting, for readers who are unfamiliar with my ideas, that the idea of a men's only group is intentional and based on the science of gender in general and evolutionary psychology and biology in particular. The exact explanation of the rationale goes beyond the scope of this post, but if you really want to understand why we exclude women, you can read this post:

The Science and Logic Behind Our Philosophy: A Discussion on Feminism, Masculinity, and the Patriarchy

My hypothetical Gang of Men is still solving a problem, but it's a far more generalized problem than the Nice Guy issue.

II. The Problem We're Solving

Simply put, our modern society makes men soft, and modern society keeps us isolated. This isn't some conspiratorial plot hatched by evil masterminds in an underground lair; it's merely the natural cause and effect of progress and technology. We know this because we've seen this story before. Many, many times before.

Human history is cyclical. If we want to predict the future, all we have to do is look at the past. And any objective study of the past strongly suggests we're currently just creeping past the apex in our current cycle. It looks something like this:

Every society in recorded history prior to the modern day, and those before recorded history, have followed the same rise -> peak -> collapse pattern. EVERY one. And every one of those societies believed they would be the exception to that rule. They believed they would be too good to fail. And they were wrong. 

The cycle works like this: 

1. Motivated, hard-working people bust their asses to improve their society, usually through development and technological innovation. Early in our history, this involved inventions like the harnessing of fire, the smelting of bronze, and the wheel. In more modern times, this has included cell phones, traction control, and Door Dash. 

2. As the standard of living increases and life gets easier, more and more humans get lazy. And complacent. As the struggle to survive wanes, we start occupying our time with other pursuits and forget all the skills that we needed to survive before our society reached its apex. In other words, we get soft. We also start engaging in behaviors that sabotage our society by destroying the social fabric that holds the society together. Specifically, we see a precipitous decline in moral values, political corruption, automation of basic tasks, economic instability caused by greed, and a loss of a sense of identity. We tend to start believing in ideologies that divide us in ways that assure we start viewing our fellow community members as enemies, which threatens to tear our society apart.

3. An event or a confluence of events create a tipping point where the strained society snaps because the society has lost the ability to work together to overcome adversity. The society endures a rapid decline in the standard of living. This rapid decline occurs because too many people within the society have lost the skills and resiliency needed to survive real hardships. This is typically a time of great pain and suffering, death and destruction. Chaos and war are common. I like to call this process "The Voiding" because it's as if all of our progress is simply voided out. SOME people in the society do just fine; for various reasons they maintained the skills and resiliency needed to survive. These survivors either band together to form functional, successful communities OR become what amounts to despots and warlords. 

4. Over time, those who organized as successful communities overcome the terror of the despots and start building a new society. And the cycle begins anew.

I believe we're currently past the apex, which probably happened around the late 90's up to 9/11. Since that time, our society has been rapidly ripping itself apart. For me, the test to determine where we are in that cycle of human history was COVID. It was a major issue; to date about 7 million people have died from the disease. The economic impact has been calculated to about a 4% decrease in global GDP... which is about as bad as The Great Depression. The key, though, isn't the degree of the pandemic. It's our response to the pandemic. 

If we had a functional society, humanity would have come together to face the problem. That clearly did not happen. In fact, I'd bet a large sum of money that every person who reads this had a spike in their blood pressure as soon as I mentioned COVID because it triggered some emotional response that is caused by the divisions within our society. We're past the tipping point; we're in The Voiding.

The problem is the last few decades have made men weak and isolated, which has destroyed our ability to be resilient in the face of adversity. Take the average American man today and plop him out in the wilderness with nothing. He would be dead within three days, assuming it wasn't too cold or too hot.

I won't go into detail here about all of the qualities of modern American men that make them weak as fuck, because men who get it, get it. Men who don't, get pissy and defensive. I'm not interested in speaking to the "pissy and defensive" men; they're not the men who have that drive to provide, protect, and really put in the hard work to become the best version of themselves. They're not the men I want in my Gang.

Before I get into the specifics, I have to discuss what went wrong with the previous groups I've associated with over the years.

III. The Issues with the Previous Social Groups

Some of these groups were successful, especially for their intended purpose. Others were abysmal failures. But none really accomplished my overall goal of achieving my "Utopia" Gang. Here's a brief assessment of the groups, what went right, and what went wrong.

  • The Barefoot Running-Related Groups: These groups were specific to the niche of barefoot running. They were great for learning and teaching about barefoot running, and even running in general. They were kinda good for learning about lifestyle stuff, like minimalist living. Ultimately, though, the limited topical specialization limited their usefulness for personal growth. And, quite honestly, I eventually got tired of the barefoot running fanatics and snake oil salespeople who preyed on the fanatics.
  • The Hobby Joggas: This was my social running group from Michigan. They were (and still are) awesome, as a training group who pushed each other, as a collection of friends who helped each other run ultramarathons, and as a fun social group to hang out with wen we weren't running. The biggest problem? They were specific to West Michigan. Once I moved, I lost them.
  • BRUCrew: This was a short-lived in-person and online group set up for functional fitness workouts and for "social challenges." The idea was to help members get fit and do social interactions that scared us, which would help us overcome social anxiety and introversion. It actually worked well (especially the online version), but lost steam as I got distracted with other projects.
  • Fight Club: This was my mma gym in San Diego where I learned to fight. I was merely a student here, though I did progress into a bit of a leadership role eventually. I loved Fight Club; my coaches and teammates were awesome folks who, for the first time in my life, gave me a feeling like I wasn't an outsider. These were my people. Even though I've been gone for almost five years, I still train under my coaches. The problem with Fight Club is the same problem as The Hobby Joggas... once I moved, I lost them.
  • Man Camp: Man Camp was the first real "Gang of Men" I intentionally started. Originally, it existed as a Facebook group and a blog. Eventually, I re-wrote the original blog (this blog you're reading right now) to make it a little less offense. Man Camp was based on the idea of fixing guys who fit the mold of Nice Guys, and was intended to fix bad, sexless relationships and teach men about the nature of women. One of my academic backgrounds was the psychology of sex and gender, so this is an area of relative expertise. For the right kinds of men, this group was extremely successful. It had two problems, though - it was online-only and it was pretty limited to fixing sex and relationship issues. Its mission limited its usefulness to help men get better at being men outside of that narrow focus. It did bring together a group of the kind of men I want in my corner. Several of this group's members will likely play a role in any new "Gang of Men' project that I develop.
  • Cotton Underwear Nougat Troupe: This was another kinda goofy short-lived online project that was supposed to bring men and women together to talk about sex and relationship issues. It ultimately failed because too many of the women who participated were new age hippies who were really life coaching (which is a bullshit industry filled with amoral grifters) and a too many men who were the "Nice Guys" I had tried to fix with Man Camp... but were militantly opposed to changing. The lone bright spot from this group came from having the opportunity for me to convince a... more mature... female friend to take the advice I gave in this tuber-controversial blog post to find a genuinely good man, for whom she eventually married.
  • El Diablo Combatives: This was my jiu jitsu and mma gym in Colorado. It was an attempt to re-create Fight Club. It ultimately failed because being a gym owner sucked. Aside from being bad at running the gym, I also wasn't willing to lower the standards of the students we would accept to pay the bills. It did, however, result in...
  • The Lab: The Lab was a bit of a social engineering project that developed because I had some folks at my gym who are really awesome people who shared a lot of my goofy Utopia ideas. We had a Facebook group and a blog, but we also met a few times in-person. The general idea as the creation of a Tribe of like-minded people who would help each other grow and provide support for each other. The idea was best summarized in this blog post here on this blog. Ultimately, I made three mistakes. First, the Lab was part of my gym, which was in the process of failing. Don't build castles in swamps. Second, the project was really ambitious, and none of the key players had the time or resources to get the project off the ground. Making things overly complex is both a blessing and a curse... in this case it was more of the latter. Third, I experiment too much to lead a project that requires a lot of focus. I like continuously tweaking my ideas, which makes it really difficult to build big projects from start to finish. The confluence of those three factors spelled doom for the project, though I still dream of making it happen one of these days.

So that's a summary of the social groups I've been a part of over the years. I threw all of these ideas into a giant Vitamix, hit the puree button, and got...

IV. The New Gang 

Earlier, I stated my explicit goal:

The ultimate goal is to surround myself with a "gang" other men who have a strong desire to improve themselves in a variety of fun, exciting, adventurous ways, have a strong sense of duty to provide and protect their families and communities, and also crave the camaraderie and brotherhood of other men who are striving for the same.

Basically, I'm working to create an updated version of "Man Camp" with all the lessons from my other experiences AND with an explicit focus on doing cool shit. Our world isn't especially friendly to masculinity these days, and there's a better than average chance we're going to need masculine men if my predictions about The Voiding are in any way accurate. We have real need for men to have the opportunity to learn how to be better men, and have the opportunity to prove themselves to other men they respect. 

Like I stated in the original quote at the beginning of this post, this process would be A LOT easier if our world were clearly falling apart. If we were cold, starving, and living in constant fear, it would be wayyy easier to organize a gang. But we're not there. Yet. I might be totally wrong about my dire prediction about The Voiding. But I'd rather start building a gang today instead of waiting for the grocery shelves to empty and the lights go out. 

Anyway, for those of you who enjoy reading, this idea isn't mine. It's merely a synthesis of a lot of other ideas. The ideas that form the crux of my proposed Gang of Men come from these folks and their works:

  • Jack Donovan ("The Way of Men" and "Becoming a Barbarian"), 
  • Jocko Willinck ("Extreme Ownership"), 
  • Sebastian Junger ("Tribe"), 
  • Mark Manson ("The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck"), 
  • Rollo Tomassi ("The Rational Male"), 
  • Leil Lowndes )"How to Talk to Anybody")
  • Tucker Max and Jeffrey Miller ("What Women Want"), 
  • Sam Sheridan ("The Fighter's Heart), 
  • Dave Grossman ("On Killing" and "On Combat"), and 
  • Gavin de Becker ("The Gift of Fear".)  

... among others. There are a lot of people smarter than me who have a lot of phenomenal ideas about the nature of masculinity, how society is vilifying those of us who crave what our grandfathers enjoyed, and long to  get back to our primal roots where men and brotherhood were one in the same.

For the last six months, I've been toiling away behind the scenes, playing with ideas and working out logistics. I've built a complex, intricate plan, then distilled it down to its simplest elements. Build more complexity, then do more distilling. Five or six such cycles later, I finally have a plan for the Gang of Men. 

To really be effective, I needed to add some elements. The most important aspect was defining the exact type of man the group is designed for, which are men who love doing "guy shit", long for brotherhood, have a strong desire to provide and protect for those they love, and have strong ethics. The type of men I'm looking for are the men who look around at other men today and feel a sense of disgust at their weakness. Or, as was the case for myself not too many years ago, you feel that disgust when you look in the mirror.

The group also needed an identity, which included a unique name. The group needed a clear focus. The group also needed a clearly defined set of values and an accompanying ethical code. The group also needed an aspect of gamification and other creative elements to leverage the psychology of motivation and play. There were other elements that had to be added, which I'll detail in future posts.

I also needed to eliminate some elements. Most importantly, I needed to be careful to exclude the kind of men we don't want. As I learned from the Man Camp experiment, not every man wants to improve, not every man wants to make a commitment to a group, and not every man understands the concept of honor. I also needed to eliminate the structural complexity, especially in the beginning. Finally, I needed to eliminate the hyper focus on relationships. While the new Gang of Men will feature a lot of my teaching on improving relationships, understanding women, becoming more attractive, and other such topics, the main focus is helping each other get better at being men.

I'll be sharing the details in future posts in the very near future, but here's a preview for The Valorians.


We are The Valorians, a brotherhood of modern men forged in the fires of adversity, bound together by a shared commitment to excellence, and driven by an unrelenting hunger for success. Our mission is simple yet profound: to elevate men to their highest potential, to imbue them with a sense of purpose and direction, and to equip them with the tools and skills necessary to overcome any obstacle and conquer any challenge.

We stand for strength, courage, honor, and mastery, and we believe that these virtues are the keys to unlocking the true potential of every man. We reject the notion that modern men are weak, passive, or unfulfilled, and we refuse to accept mediocrity as the status quo. Instead, we choose to embrace the challenges of life head-on, to push ourselves beyond our limits, and to forge a new path that leads to greatness.

We are the embodiment of the warrior spirit, the guardians of tradition, and the pioneers of a new era of excellence among men. We are The Valorians, and we are dedicated to empowering men to reach new heights of success, fulfillment, and happiness. Join us on this journey, and together we will transform yourself and you into the man you are destined to become.


"Valorians" was chosen because valor is the defining characteristic of the men of this new Gang. "Valor" means displaying courage in the face of danger. This is a literal virtue this new Gang will work to instill, but it's also something we will instill in a more figurative sense. Embarking on a journey of self-improvement AND doing so in the presence of other men is scary shit and requires valor. Ergo the name. 

Anyway, I'll be sharing more in the near future. If the idea resonates with you, stay tuned.





Saturday, October 2, 2021

COVID Adventures


Welp, both Shelly and I have tested positive for the 'rona. Given the pandemic has spawned so much goofy division among the public, it seems like a fun topic to discuss. There's a whole lotta irrationality and emotion tied to the pandemic. As such, I've gone to great lengths to base my own decisions based on logic and reason coupled with respect for others' choices and simply being a good citizen. And a decent human being.

Back Story

This is probably the second time we've had it. Back in May of 2020, we both got sick for about eight or nine days with almost the exact same symptoms we're having now, which are completely unlike any other illness either of us had. We were both tested at the time (with that "back of the brain" test), and the results were negative. But we have strong reasons to believe the tests were botched. The tester only swabbed our sinus cavity for about two seconds instead of the required fifteen, and the test validity at the time was relatively low. 

Anyway, that sucked. It was the worst illness I've ever had in terms of severity... a solid "8" on a scale of 10. I'm in excellent health, and it seriously kicked my ass. The symptoms came in reliable waves - around 9-11 am, 3-5 pm, and 10-12 pm. Symptoms were extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, low-grade fever, and chills. Occasional sneezing and runny nose. Occasional gastrointestinal distress. In between those waves, I had a cough and slight difficulty breathing. The symptoms were bad for about six days, then gradually subsided. After about eight or nine days, I felt pretty "normal."

I was teaching at the time, and this came at the end of the school year. Our school had been completely closed for about two months at that point. There were still widespread shut-downs, shortages of pretty much everything, and mask-wearing and voluntary social distancing was almost universal. Almost all people in our rural town were fairly cautious and some degree of fear was pretty universal. We re-opened our bjj gym shortly after we recovered, and pretty much went about our lives normally. We masked up in stores, but that was the extent of our personal COVID mitigation efforts.

School resumed in the fall on a heavily modified in-class and at-home hybrid schedule. Shortly after the year began when outbreaks occurred, masks were mandated. We had a fairly aggressive quarantine procedure, which resulted in me being quarantined three separate times. If we were exposed, we'd be quarantined, then tested. Each test came back negative, but I was out of the classroom for several weeks.

As teachers, we also had to deal with the extremes - parents and students who were irrationally paranoid about the virus, and parents and students who were in complete denial that it was a public health concern. I saw a whole lotta responsible citizenship and basic human decency fly out the window. And, of course, us teachers were often blamed for shit completely out of our control. The entire year really sucked; this played a significant role in my decision to leave the profession. 

Anyway, we were offered the vaccine early in the roll-out. Shelly in the first round because of her position in law enforcement, and me in the second round because I was a teacher. I'm a science geek, and had been sort of following the development of mRNA vaccines over the years. I understood the theory, which invalidates most of the dumb rumors people were spreading about the dangers. The school also modified their policy - if we were vaccinated and exposed, we'd only have to quarantine if we tested positive or started developing symptoms. Getting the vaccine would allow me to keep teaching, and it would help keep my jiu jitsu teammates safer. It was an easy decision. 

After the first shot, I had mild fatigue for eight hours. After the second shot, I didn't experience any symptoms. 

After getting vaccinated, we stopped wearing masks in all but healthcare settings (out of concern for the high-risk) or at businesses that absolutely required them (out of respect for fellow business owners.) I have a weird hearing-related issue (auditory processing disorder) that kinda requires me to read lips when there's a lot of background noise, so masks are a HUGE pain in the ass in social situations or noisy environments. We would social distance with people wearing masks out of respect, but otherwise pretty much went back to normal pre-pandemic behaviors.

The Considerations

All three of our kids attend public schools, which didn't have any significant COVID mitigation measures this year (they're now adding a few, like before school temperature checks.) Shelly and I both work with the public. And, of course, we still spend our free time rasslin' around in an enclosed space. We shop at Walmart and another grocery store weekly, we regularly dine in restaurants, and we occasionally travel. Needless to say, we're exposed to a lot of potential transmission vectors. 

Our entire family is active, healthy, don't have any preexisting conditions known to cause complications with COVID, and we don't interact with high-risk people other than the occasional people we encounter on the job. We've probably had COVID before, and our vaccines should still impart about 65% efficacy for prevention of transmission, and data suggests the vaccine dramatically limits the severity of the symptoms and potential for death. Needless to say, we don't really care about the danger of COVID to our family.

My biggest concern about COVID was the potential of missing work, which I despise. Testing positive would result in a ten day mandatory quarantine. I work as part of a team, and my employer is already critically short-staffed. If I'm out, the rest of the team has to pick up my slack. I hate that.

The Current Bout with 'Rona

Shelly was the first to show symptoms, which she assumed was a sinus infection. After two days, she went to the doctor to get tested out of precaution. She tested positive. Worried that I, too, might have caught it, I tried to limit my interactions with others as much as possible, especially with the few people I know who are not vaccinated or haven't contracted COVID yet. Even though I was asymptomatic and, due to the vaccine, only had about a 35% chance of contracting it, I didn't want to take the risk.

 I wasn't showing any symptoms until a few days later when I developed an occasional very mild cough one evening. Out of an abundance of caution, I went to the doc and got tested. The rapid test was negative. They did a PCR test, which was more accurate, but wouldn't get the results for about 24 hours. When I returned home, I took another rapid test (I had a few lying around), which was also negative. Even though I had those two negative tests, I still did my best to avoid close contact with others.

The next afternoon, I got the call from the doc; I tested positive. Aside from the occasional slight cough, I was still asymptomatic. Later that night, I started developing some shortness of breath, a low grade fever, a mild headache, and more coughing. Still the symptoms were a "1" on a scale of ten. I left work immediately and started what's going to be a painfully-long quarantine.

Beginning the next morning, I started developing the exact same symptoms on the exact same time schedule I had in May of last year - significant fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, low-grade fever, and chills. Occasional sneezing and runny nose. Occasional gastrointestinal distress. In between those waves, I have a cough and slight difficulty breathing. And some sneezing (that's new.) And I mostly lost my sense of smell this time, which is weird as hell. The severity, though, was significantly less than the bout last May. I'd call it a "4" on a scale of 10, with one bout two nights ago being a "6". 

The last 24 hours have been better; the symptoms already seem to be lessening in severity. The worst part is the fatigue, which just makes me really lazy for a couple hours. If I've experienced the worst of it, this was WAY better than the last experience. I could take a turn for the worse, of course, but the previous illness had a pretty linear progression. Should I end up dying of COVID in a few weeks, disregard this entire post. ;-)

Regardless, it's abundantly clear this bout of COVID is way less severe than the previous alleged bout in May of 2020. If COVID ends up being a regular seasonal illness that could be lessened with a yearly vaccine, I could handle this. Without the mandatory ten day quarantine, of course.

The Take-Aways

As it stands right now, today, this experience has confirmed a lot of my assumptions I've made since the pandemic started and progressed. Here are my thoughts.

Are vaccines a good thing?

Absolutely. This bout of COVID is way less severe than the previous bout, which could be a function of it being the second infection, could be the result of the vaccine, or both. The data suggests it did play a positive role. I'd totally get the vaccine again in the future simply because it made the illness way less severe. I was never really concerned about dying from OVID, but those who are high risk would clearly get that benefit.

I don't think they should be government-mandated, but I also think more parents should let their children touch hot stoves. Employer mandates are a little trickier; I'm generally a proponent of allowing private enterprises as much freedom as possible... including what they require of their employees. 

As far as the various conspiracy theories about the vaccines, the virus, or the motivation for various public health mandates, I think they're stupid. But I think pretty much all conspiracy theories are stupid. 

What about masks?

I'm not a mask-Nazi one way or the other mostly because the totality of the data only suggests a very minor overall positive effect. When weighed against the societal social cost of everyone wearing masks (psychological deindividuation) and my own personal problem with masks and communication, my stance is do what you want. If you're high risk, wearing a mask is a good idea. If you're really fearful, wear a mask. If you own a business and you're in either of those categories, go ahead and require masks in your business

Me personally? I'm still only wearing a mask in heathcare settings, businesses that require it, and when interacting with people who ask me to wear a mask. Seems like the decent thing to do.

What should we do About Schools?

Schools are a tricky issue. Until we can get the pandemic under control to the point where we stop having surges that overwhelm hospitals, I propose every school district puts the issue to a vote. Each parent with students in the district and each person who works in the school district in a capacity that interacts with students gets a vote. Students o18 or older get their own vote. Democratically decide what, if any, mitigation efforts districts will use, then mandate that. 

If parents want more or less cautious mitigation efforts, give them an online-only option. Many states already have online-only alternative schools, so this won't be difficult in most areas of the US.

Should we fear COVID?

Most of us? No. We now know enough about the virus, its effects, its complications, and its mortality rate to make informed decisions. And we're quickly developing more and more effective treatments. This round of 'rona is way better than the last round, to the point where it's merely like an annoyingly-bad cold. With vaccines, people have the ability to make this something we shouldn't fear. If we opt out of vaccination, we know the risks. Again, this comes from a "Yeah, go ahead and touch that stove" perspective. YMMV.

There are still some people who should absolutely be afraid of COVID, because a lot of people are still dying. Usually because of old age, obesity, or preexisting conditions. Even if they get vaccinated. This is why I still wear a mask in some situations... doing otherwise just seems like a real asshole move.


It's been a hell of twenty or so months. Regardless of our personal thoughts and feelings on the pandemic, it's disrupted our lives like nothing else most of us have ever experienced. Personally, aside from the two illnesses, it's forced us to close our jiu jitsu gym and led me to leave the teaching profession (but to a profession I've absolutely loving... so this one's not a bad thing.) But it hasn't really been too bad.

For wider society? Unfortunately, it's been far worse. About 700,000 are dead. Many more have experienced lasting long-term effects. People have a lot of totally irrational thoughts on the pandemic, usually fueled by emotion, and that emotion is slowly ripping our society apart. Hopefully accounts like this help some develop a degree of rational clarity to the pandemic, and help people start using a little more empathy and compassion with each other.

 Got any questions? Feel free to post them in the comments section; I'll answer them ASAP.




Saturday, September 11, 2021

Learning Jiu Jitsu By Reverse-Engineering Your Opponents

tl:dr - You can learn bjj by beating your training partners by figuring out their games.

Jiu jitsu is a hella fun, intellectually engaging art because it's stupidly complex. Infinite depth; infinite breadth. Further, there are limitless ways to "learn" how to do the art. Most people tend to fall into one of two camps - learn techniques or learn concepts. Both are effective; both have pros and cons. But what about other methods to learn jiu jitsu?

Qualifier - There is no one way to learn jiu jitsu. The technique people also learn a hell of a lot of concepts. And the conceptual folks learn a hell of a lot of technical detail. There are many roads to Rome, and all of us take multiple routes. The real key to long-term success is to find a way that keeps you going o class day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. After all, a two stripe white belt is just a no stripe white belt who never quit.

Anyway, years ago, I realized I MY preferred method to learn jiu jitsu was to reverse-engineer my training partners' games. It's probably important to note I'm an experimental psychology geek. It was a college major, I taught it for a couple decades, and it's the foundation of pretty much all the writing I do (including the sex and gender shit that populates the earlier posts in this blog.) At some point around mid-blue, I realized every roll was kind of like a puzzle to be solved. An experiment, if you will. Shortly after, I started seeing my training partners as a puzzle to be solved. Learning new stuff in class became less about "mastering the art" and more about "adding new tools to use to help solve the puzzles that are my training partners."


Same deal with rolls. The goal was never to win, per se. The goal was to learn. If someone was much better than I was, I learned how to defend their positional dominance and submissions. If they were close to my level, I learned how to play a complete game to beat their game. If I was much better than them, they basically became my sandbox to test out weird shit that I thought might work. 

In my last post about failing as a gym owner, I mentioned I don't necessarily like watching instructionals. Or drilling. While I play it off as being dumb and lazy, respectively, it's really an issue of discovery. Instructionals, to me, feel a bit like reading Nintendo Power. That comprehensive walk-through of Metroid kinda ruined the game. But I've always cared more about playing the game than winning the game. 

And drilling? This one's a little more difficult to explain. Back when I was a decidedly sub-par high school wrestler, I realized I could win more often than I lost if I drilled three or four techniques, then got really good at putting myself in a position to use those techniques to win. I was weak, under-sized, uncoordinated, and I was pretty bad at most aspects of wrestling. But I was reasonably smart and had a very narrow game, if executed properly, could beat slightly above average wrestlers. Of course I got destroyed by legitimately good wrestlers, but I wasn't usually a liability to the team most of the time. That was good enough. But it wasn't especially fulfilling. So my aversion to drilling is probably just an unconscious attempt to avoid being a shitty bjj version of the shitty one trick pony wrestler I was a couple decades ago.

So What Exactly Do I Assess?

When I'm rolling with someone, what exactly am I analyzing? These are the questions I try to answer, which lead to understanding their game:

  • What are their physical attributes? How strong are they? How flexible? How's their cardio? What are their relative strengths and weaknesses along these dimensions? The goal here is to attack their weaknesses while avoiding their strengths. If they're big and strong, I want to get into a war of attrition. If they're super-flexible, I want to play a tight, methodical smashing game. If they're cardio machines, I want to attack fast and hard. And so on.
  • How wide is their technical skill? Can they apply a lot of different techniques effectively? Or do they only rely on a few specific techniques? The latter is easy to deal with; you just avoid positions where they're at their strongest. If someone has a crushing top side control game, don't let them on top. If they're a phenomenal spider guard player, don't give them your sleeves. And so on. If they're good at a lot of stuff, that's a much more difficult (and satisfying) puzzle, which might require the next item...
  • How deep is their technical skill? Or, phrased differently, how good is their technique? The general goal is to avoid situations where they can utilize depth of skill. If someone has a wicked triangle game, stay out of their guard. 
  • Where are they most comfortable? Where are they least comfortable? Avoid the former. Try to get to the latter as much as possible. As you transition through the hierarchy of positions, note their response. Are they calm, or do they tense up? What's their rate of breathing? Do you sense desperation or panic when you end up in a particular position? The better someone is, the more subtle these signals will appear. But they're always there. 
  • What motivates them? This one's much more psychological, which for me means "more fun." Some people roll to win. Others roll to try new stuff. Others roll just because they love to roll. Whatever.  The real benefit of identifying motivations is figuring out...
  • What "breaks" them? We all have a point where we psychologically throw in the towel and accept that we're beaten. All of us. And finding my opponents' breaking point is THE single most satisfying puzzle to solve. You can always identify the people who have never actually tested themselves because they're deluded into believing they can't be broken. And they say stupid shit like "I'll never give up!", "I don't stop when I'm tired, I stop when I'm done!", or other dumb quotes people put on posters and memes. Why is this so satisfying? Because that's the area that, once identified, can lead to real, life-changing self-improvement. Every time you break, you develop strategies to push a little farther next time. This is how we build resiliency. And real resiliency is the hidden path to living a better life.

Sidebar - if you're one of these people who believe you can't be broken, I'd be more than happy to give you an impossible physical challenge that will break you. Sport psychology + sadism = happy Jason.

HOW do I Assess This Stuff?

I use a super-secret, patented strategy I call "technique-spamming." Basically, I throw out a lot of random techniques in weird, unorthodox combinations. Most of it conforms to jiu jitsu best-practices, but doesn't make a lot of logical sense. While this strategy can be used at any level, the better your jiu jitsu game is, the better it works. Not only do you get better at the actual techniques you're spamming, but you get better at interpreting your opponents' responses. Which is an important part of learning using this strategy. 

The theory is pretty simple - jiu jitsu is normally a well-choreographed dance. One person does X and the other person responds with Y. Technique-spamming means when one person does X, you do 32. When faced with the unexpected, we have one of two responses - react automatically or pause to think. Either response gives me a great deal of insight to all of those elements I discussed above. The goal is to get people to pause and think. That's the limits of your opponent's game. That's how you "win." That's how you solve the puzzle.

The "reacting automatically" response is a little complex. The less technically-sound bjj players may not respond with good, fundamentally-sound techniques. They may react with what we universally call "spazziness", which is really just a combination of strength and explosiveness with little or no rational application. It's a panic response. This is common with white belts.

Slightly more skilled bjj players may respond to technique spamming with a fundamentally-sound response. In the dance that is jiu jitsu, this would normally elicit a counter-response, which would then elicit a response to the counter-response, and so on. It's what we call "chaining." In my methodology, I respond to their response with another spammy technique, which disrupts that choreographed dance. THAT usually results in a spazzy response. This is common with newer blue belts.

The more technically skilled a bjj player is, the more they respond to technique-spamming chains with fundamentally-sound technique. Purple belts might require four or five exchanges before I find the "end" of their technical knowledge. Usually by purple, people stop responding with spazziness and will just stop and think. Either way, I still find the outer limits of their jiu jitsu game.

It's worth noting a universal phenomenon. The closer you get to "beating" your opponent, the more they will rely on their best "A" game. This is the reason you don't see weird, fancy shit in black belt competitions. Further, people who have been training for a few years will always have a desperation technique they will use when everything else fails. It might be some kind of escape, or maybe a submission. But once I find their desperation move, I know I've found the outer limit of their game. 

Some people take a really, really long time to "solve." Their technical knowledge is both deep and wide. They can deal with spam chains eight, nine, even ten moves deep and are really good at attacking the weaknesses of your spamming techniques. These people are incredibly fun to roll with because they represent a really, really difficult puzzle. These puzzles can be solved, but it might take many, many rolls. What usually makes these puzzles even more difficult is they're usually really proficient at learning MY game.

Then of course, there are the opponents who are simply unsolvable. These are the opponents who have so much depth and breadth to their games, you can't find the end of their technique chains with spamming because they'll always submit you along the way. Nick Oliver, one of my coaches from Fight Club in San Diego, is one such person. After probably hundreds of rolls, I've never found the end of his ability to respond to by spam chains. There's always more depth and breadth. There's probably quite a few people I roll with who also fit this category, but I don't roll with them enough to really make that determination.

So What are the Pros and Cons to Technique Spamming and Reverse Engineering?

There are some serious pros and cons to this strategy for learning bjj. 

  • The biggest "pro" for me is it's fun as hell! Experimentation and discovery is deeply intrinsically motivating for me, thus I find this way of doing jiu jitsu endlessly motivating. I don't do this to win medals, earn belts, get external validation from friends, family, or strangers, or to make money. I do this because I love the experimental process. Anyone who's been at this sport for any real length of time will say the key to improvement is simply showing up. For me, this is what has kept me showing up. And will continue as long as I can physically do the art.
  • It really helps understand scrambling and the "gray" area between techniques. Technique-spamming involves a whole lotta unorthodox positions and techniques, which really helps when it comes to scrambling. I'm old and slow, yet I can usually hold my own in scrambles with much younger, faster kids simply because so many of my rolls involve what amount to controlled scrambles.  
  • It naturally leads to innovation. Spamming techniques, unconsciously, leads to discovering and refining weird stuff that works, but isn't normally taught. 
  • It's weird. For those who are fiercely independent, creative types who love the unorthodox, you'll love this strategy. It's basically all improv.

There are some important "cons" which will likely be deal-breakers for many. Principally, if you have any kind of ego, you will hate this strategy. Specifically...

  • It does require an actual foundation of real skills. This is probably the deal-breaker for most, but if you try this too early in your jiu jitsu progression, you'll develop a lot of really bad habits. And it likely won't be very effective. I didn't start experimenting with this method effectively until early purp, an only after a whole lotta mat time with really, really good coaches.  
  • You suck against new, skilled opponents. The majority of legitimately good black belts rag doll me for the first dozen rolls. Competition black belts rag doll me indefinitely. Even if I ignore this strategy and go right to my "A" game, I don't spend enough time honing it to really do halfway decent against those who are legitimately good.
  • You get complacent with catch and release. I don't generally submit opponents unless a) they're preparing for competition, or b) they have annoying egos. I do A LOT of catch and release because I don't care about winning so much as I care about experiencing. That means advancing and maintaining positions over finishing submissions. When I actually HAVE to finish submissions, it takes conscious effort.
  • Newer people often assume you're not very good. For this strategy to work, you have to let people work. I pretty much always roll at about 10% above the skill level of my opponents. People with a few months under their belt who I haven't smashed usually assume I kinda suck because they sweep me, escape my submissions, and even submit me. Normally this isn't a huge issue because it usually does only take one good "A" game smashing to correct the record, so to speak. But I have had two or three white belts who actually started bragging about dominating me, which resulted in the aforementioned smashing, which caused them to quit the gym.
  • Focusing on this strategy makes you a shitty teacher. How jiu jitsu occurs in my head is way more tactile and proprioceptive than it is intellectual. Techniques or even concepts are really just formless blobs of feelings in my brain. Or "schemas", as we call them in psychology. When I teach, I either have to try to recall the steps I was taught in the past, or I need to try to interpret the those blobs into intellectualized steps. Either way, it's not smooth. Or entirely clear. I can talk about the details of jiu jitsu technique from an intellectual standpoint, but I can't really teach it. I am very good at answering questions, however. Questions put clear boundaries within those mental "blob" schemas in my head, which makes it much easier to describe. 
  • This is terrible for tournament performance. I'm 0-9 in competitive matches. If you're a medal-chaser and your ego is tied to a need to winning or any other kind of external validation, this isn't the strategy for you. It's worth noting, though, that this strategy actually works well for mma training, probably because it forces you to get comfortable with chaos.

Nap time in a tournament


So there you have it. Reverse-engineering using technique-spamming. That's how I do jiu jitsu.I'm kind of curious if anyone else ever uses anything like this. If anything here sounds familiar, leave a comment! I'd love to connect.




Monday, September 6, 2021

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Jiu Jitsu Gym Ownership and How It Changed My Life: A Rambling Tale


tl:dr - I own a jiu jitsu gym. The gym closed. It was a humbling experience that taught me many lessons. If you don't care to read about the back story, scroll down to the "Realities of Ownership" section.

The Back Story

Welp, my wife Shelly and I officially closed the doors of our jiu jitsu gym. We opened our doors, so to speak, almost exactly two years ago. And it's been a hell of a ride. Lots of lessons learned. This post will shed some light on those lessons, and hopefully be useful to others considering opening a jiu jitsu gym.

First, a brief history on our jiu jitsu backgrounds. Shelly and I started jiu jitsu around nine years ago. Shelly started before I did. We had spent the previous six years heavily invested in the long-distance running scene (ultrarunning, for those who are familiar.) We had been traveling around the county teaching people to run barefoot and living the life of hobo mountain running hippies. We temporarily (so we thought) settled east of San Diego. 

Bored of running, Shelly decided to try something new - boxing. She had passed an mma gym (San Diego Fight Club, what we would later learn was the oldest mma gym in San Diego) on her way to Target one day, and decided to stop in an investigate. That's where she met Charlie Kohler, the guy responsible for getting us into this crazy sport. Long story short, Charlie convinced Shelly to try jiu jitsu, and Shelly convinced me. Our temporary stay turned into seven years. Eventually we grew tired of the traffic, crowds, and goofy politics of California, and decided to move to Colorado's Western Slope. Prior to leaving SoCal, I shadowed Charlie for about a year to learn the ins and outs of gym ownership in the event Shelly and I decided to open a gym of our own some day. 

Our Fight Club MMA Team, circa 2016

When we first arrived in Western Colorado,  we were busy settling in. I went back to full-time teaching high school psychology and world geography (I had worked as a substitute teacher and security guard in schools while in SoCal.) We had bought a house. Our kids were starting new schools. Shelly started a new job, too. Basically, we were busy AF all the time. We started training with a group in our small town, but could only make it to weekend open mats. After a few months, they changed their schedule and eliminated the open mat, so we tried a new gym that had opened a few months prior. We were pleasantly surprised to find this gym's culture was almost exacly like our gym culture at Fight Club... basically we dicked around a lot and tortured each other. 

After a few weeks at the new gym, the owner pulled Shelly and I aside after a night class and dropped a hell of a bombshell - he had a family emergency that would require him to move out of town at the end of summer (it was currently January), and asked if we were interested in buying the business. Despite having had some conversations about opening a gym some day, we were totally unprepared. We spend weeks discussing the issue. Weighing pros and cons. running financials. Making projections. And so on. The only guiding principle? Before leaving San Diego, I promised Charlie if we opened a jiu jitsu gym, we'd do it the Fight Club way.

Like most other opportunities that have fallen in our laps, we eventually decided to just take the plunge. We agreed. For the next seven months or so, we worked on making the transition of ownership. At the beginning of September 2019, we officially took over and opened El Diablo Combatives. If you get the joke, yeah, that was intentional. Anyway, things were going fairly well for the first six months. Stressful as Hell, but we were turning a VERY modest profit, expanding our membership, and developing strategic relationships with important groups around our community.

The Original EDC Location, Formerly Gracie Fighter

The COVID hit in march of 2020. We were forced to close for three months. We lost 75% of our membership. Then our building got sold and we were forced to move to a tiny 400 square foot room in a decrepit building. Another 25% of our members quit because this building's manager required everyone to wear masks as they entered the building. Then THAT building got sold and we were forced to move again

The Second Location: Our 400 Square Foot "Gym"

At this point, I was at a serious crossroads. We were losing money, but not much. The group of hard-working, fun people we had remaining was a really great group, and we had a phenomenal coach (Mike Gorski, who I would best describe as John Danaher, except with a personality.) We needed a place to train. Unfortunately, we didn't have many options. Or ANY options, really. Then, with two weeks left before we had to move out of our tiny room, we found a great 3,200 square foot space that reasonably-priced. But still more than we could afford with our current membership. I couldn't bring myself to close our doors at that point, so I threw the hail mary and signed a one year lease. 

That's probably the worst decision I've made in the last twenty years. A few months into the new lease, it became apparent COVID wasn't going away. We were bleeding cash and the gym was turning into an ever-growing time suck. With the help of our uber-talented members, I tried a few desperation moves to diversify our student base, which I documented in the "tribalism" posts that preceded this one. But ultimately, the overhead of the business proved to be too crippling. So here we are - closing the doors of our public gym.

Our Third and Final Location

The Realities of Ownership

If I were to sum up the experience of owning a jiu jitsu gym, I'd say it fundamentally changes your relationship to the art. The one universal I've heard from other gym owners is that jiu jitsu played a particular role in their life before owning their own gym. Afterward, that role died. Always. the MAJORITY of the people I've met who own gyms regretted their decision, but a minority actually loved how ownership changed their relationship to the art. The following discussion might help you figure out which group you're in.

The Good

  • Owning a gym helps you get new people interested in the sport. You get to decide on the marketing and target audiences, which allows you to focus on particular groups who would benefit from this awesome sport. This is one of the most fulfilling aspects of gym ownership.
  • You help people improve. Not only their jiu jitsu games, but their life in general. This sport can be life-changing, and when that happens, it's awesome to see. This is also an incredibly fulfilling aspect of gym ownership.
  • You can make you community safer. The more people who can protect themselves, the more the sheepdogs of the community can focus on those who can't protect themselves. Martial arts in general and jiu jitsu in particular are great for self-defense mostly because it teaches you just how vulnerable you can be. Live rolling destroys that "I can handle my shit if I need to" delusion prevalent in the general population, which makes people make smarter situational decisions. Owning a gym places you in a position to make that happen.
  • It gives you a sandbox to experiment with new innovations. This is MY favorite part of gym ownership. Have a goofy, out-there idea? YOU CAN TRY IT! My love of experimentation is probably a major reason I'm kind of a shitty gym owner... I hate the status quo and the constant tweaking hurts continuity, and a lot of people need consistency and predictability.
  • You get to talk about the business aspect of BJJ. I love this aspect, too. The psychology involved in the history of martial arts businesses, the marketing, the issue of motivation, etc... that's my jam. Mike Gorski and I used to talk about the business of jiu jitsu for hours and hours.
  • You meet amazing people. We started with some phenomenal people, and we added more over time. Just genuinely great human beings. And you get to help those people find a positive, productive role on the team. I loved this part of gym ownership.
  • You get to do jiu jitsu all the time! From the time I started running the gym until COVID closed us down, I rolled for 169 straight days in either morning classes, evening classes, or open mats. That works out to around 650-700 live rolls.

The Bad

  • Have to do jiu jitsu all the time. Those 650-700 live rolls over six-plus months took a hell of a toll, both physically and mentally. Because we didn't have many higher belts, I often had to assume all kinds of roles. Sometimes I had to be the practice dummy for lower belts to practice basics. Sometimes I had to people the training partner who fed our blue belts the right defenses so they could work on chaining techniques. Sometimes I had to be the enforcer who smashed the young kid who was too spazzy (it's worth noting I'm 45.) Regardless, you often don't have the option to sit on the sidelines, especially if you don't have many higher belts.
  • It hurts your bjj game. My own personal progress in jiu jitsu slowed to a crawl over the last two years. While I roll all the time, I never really have a chance to work on *my* game because I'm always helping others work on *their* game. The worst part of this, for me, has been the development of bad habits that only become apparent when rolling with people significantly better than me. 
  • It can hurt your bank account. Obviously a financially-successful gym isn't going to have this problem, but far too many jiu jitsu businesses operate in the red. Or fail to turn enough profit to make a living. Gym ownership is a really tough business model, and those who are successful are rare. For me, this was humbling because my other business operates on an extremely high profit margin.
  • You get pretty cynical about people claiming they want to learn jiu jitsu. If I had a dollar for every people who expressed interest in training, and even seemed excited to start, then never showed up, I'd have enough cash to keep the gym open.
  • You become a full-time janitor. Sweeping, dusting, cleaning windows, toilets, and mats... it's shit you need to do ALL. THE. TIME. I used to clean the mats at Fight Club occasionally. I thought I was prepared forA this aspect. I was not. I had no idea ho quickly gyms get *really* dirty and gross. In two years, I'm pretty sure I could knit a dozen sweaters from short curly hairs swept off the mats.
  • You get flooded with solicitations. Every channel you set up to allow potential new students to contact you will be flooded with solicitations from a bazillion people and businesses trying to sell you their shit. Some are legit. Some are scammers. All are annoying. Just be ready for that.
  • You will be contacted by con artists. Shelly used to work in a property crimes division of a major police department in SoCal. As such, she's well-versed in common scams. That was useful because, especially in the beginning, we were contacted by A LOT of con artists who were inquiring about membership. Almost every one followed a similar pattern - they would claim to be interested in signing someone else up for classes, then would offer to send a check or other form of payment. They send too much, then request a refund. The initial payment, of course, was not legitimate. Be ready for this con and others.
  • It's difficult to stay healthy because you roll all the time against everyone. Luckily I've been doing this long enough to be able to have the skill to protect myself from serious injury, but the bumps, bruises, and tweaks add up. At the end of those 169 consecutive days of rolling, I couldn't wash my hair. I couldn't throw a baseball. My left arm was numb about 50% of the time. I couldn't touch my toes or really walk down stairs. I had to shrimp out of bed in the morning. I didn't really realize any of this until I had those three months off when we had to shut down for COVID.

The Ugly

  • You might be unwittingly making criminals more dangerous. Jiu jitsu is great for self-defense because it teaches you to control another person's body. Unfortunately, that skill set can also be used to harm others. Especially rapists. While we've always gone to great lengths to cull anyone who appears to have sociopathic tendencies, sometimes it takes a minute for those traits to come out.
  • It forces you to either sell out or go bankrupt. The McDojo phenomenon happens for a reason - it makes money. The shittier the jiu jitsu you teach, the more you'll appeal to a greater population. Out of principle, I simply cannot do the "jiu jitsu for everyone" thing. This art ISN'T for everyone. Had I taken that approach, I would have been way more successful financially. But peddling a shit product ain't the Fight Club way.
  • Collecting money is a HUGE, frustrating pain in the ass. No matter what systems we put in place, a percentage of the members simply wouldn't pay. Initially, our breakdown was basically this: A third of our students paid on time every time without any issue. Another third had to be reminded often, but not all the time. The final third never paid, had to be hounded every month, and would do anything and everything to avoid paying. Over time, we eliminated the entire last third, and eventually that middle third. The problem, of course, is that initial third wasn't enough to pay the bills.
  • You have to deal with shitty human beings. Jiu jitsu (and mma) attracts some genuinely terrible human beings. Per the point above, we did a pretty good job of culling the worst of the worst immediately, but some people put up good facades and slip through the cracks. Eventually you have to deal with those people. And it's never pleasant.
  • It's hard to avoid the drama of the sport. Like any other endeavor, there are drama queens in this sport. This sport has a decent amount of adults, usually male, who act like middle schoolers. And they bring the exact same sort of drama. And they're a huge pain in the ass.
  • It hurts your family and social life. Running a gym takes A LOT of time. Time you'd normally spend with friends and family. This is even more significant if you also work a day job. For me personally, this was one of the worst parts of gym ownership. 
  • It can kill everything you love about the art. Like I said in the beginning, owning a gym will change your relationship with jiu jitsu. Per the "good" section, there are things I loved about gym ownership. But there were also a lot of things I really did not like. But fundamentally, gym ownership reframed jiu jitsu from something I did an an escape to something that I needed to escape from. That's always a bad place to be.

The Qualifier

 It's important to understand this list isn't universal; it merely represents MY experience with gym ownership. I've met a few people who absolutely LOVE running a jiu jitsu gym. Their personality is well-suited to deal with the social aspect, and they have just the right business acumen to attract and retain the right students. 

My advice? If you want to open a jiu jitsu gym because you think it'll just be more of what you get as a student, you're going to be disappointed. And probably overwhelmed. And the experience might ruin jiu jitsu for you.

But if you understand that a jiu jitsu gym is a completely different, unique experience with a lot of novel challenges, and those challenges excite you, odds are good you're going to love gym ownership.

What I've Learned About Myself

Owning a gym has also taught me a great deal about myself. And how jiu jitsu fits into my life. Here are a few of those lessons:

  • I get too much joy out of antagonizing the people who make jiu jitsu their identity. Which includes making fun of the Brazilian/ Gracie family worship. For those who know me well, they know I have an antagonistic, trollish aspect to my personality. In this sport, I get an irrational amount of joy poking fun at the culture of the sport for the people who are ***really*** into jiu jitsu. Especially the people who worship all things Brazil and/or all things Gracie. I don't wear my gi jacket casually. I don't bow to pictures of old, dead men. I don't eat acai bowls. I don't say "oss". And I tend to make fun of the people who do. <shrug>
  • I don't like teaching classes. For me, this was a... disappointing... revelation. I've been a teacher for two decades. Burnout aside, I'm pretty good at it. But I've discovered I really don't like teaching jiu jitsu classes. I'd much rather be a student in this setting. This probably has something to do with jiu jitsu being my escape, and probably part of the reason I really didn't enjoy the gym ownership experience as much as I thought I would.
  • I love working with individuals. Even though I really don't like teaching classes, I love working one-on-one or with small groups. Especially in Q&A sessions. This'll probably lead me to teaching private lessons at some point in the future.
  • I love *talking* about jiu jitsu. Philosophy, strategy, tactics, history, business, concepts versus techniques... I love talking about all of it! I love talking about jiu jitsu as much as I love doing jiu jitsu.
  • I don't really care to follow competitive jiu jitsu. This isn't a surprise; I've played a lot of sports I don't really follow. I don't know many of the top competitors. I don't know the results of the latest IBJJF World Championships or ADCC tournament. But I also don't know who won the last Superbowl or who won whatever the hell they call the winner of the NBA championship.
  • I really hate drilling. Yes, drilling makes you better. A LOT better. But I still hate it. It feels too much like eating salad without copious amounts of cheese, dressing, and bacon.
  • I don't like watching instructionals. Mike Gorski had a superhuman ability to watch, break down, and apply information from A LOT of instructionals in a disturbingly short period of time. I tried his strategies. And I just couldn't get into it. While I find the breadth of the sport interesting, I'm just not very motivated to learn a lot of different techniques from a lot of different sources. It took a while for me to figure out why, but eventually I concluded...
  • ... I don't care about improvement as much as I should. Of all the things I've discussed in this post, this might be the idea that sounds the most ridiculous. At some point in the past, somewhere around the early purp days, I realized improvement in jiu jitsu occurs as a function of time on mat. Of course, every black belt with their salt says the secret to improvement is to just keep training, so this shouldn't have been much of a revelation. But it forced me to realize something else - the key to "keep training" is to really understand what motivates you to train in the first place. And I learned discovery is a HUGE motivator for me. I love viewing jiu jitsu as a problem, and I love solving that problem. And the pace at which I solve that problem doesn't matter. I'm motivated by the process of the problem-solving, not the end results. I don't give a shit if I beat someone. I don't give a shit about winning tournaments. I don't give a shit about getting that next stripe or belt. All that stuff will happen as a natural byproduct of what really motivates me - solving problems.
  • But I'm competitive AF. I ***love*** hard, intense rolls. I love bringing out the best in my training partners. I have a competitiveness that relentlessly drives me... though the goal isn't to win, per se. The goal is to make my training partners the best they can be. Or just to make them work harder than they thought they could. I love making people suffer to beat me, then celebrate when they successfully overcome that suffering. In that sense, I'm competitive AF.
  • My preferred method of improvement is solving the puzzle of training partners. I've known this for a long time, but running a gym has really highlighted just how important this is to my intrinsic motivation to keep doing jiu jitsu. Back in the Fight Club days, I always had at least a few training partners who could kick my ass. Or the training partners closer to my level would go to different classes. There was always something new about my training partners' games. As a gym owner, you're responsible for all of your students' progress. As such, you know what improvements they're making. So there's no real mystery to their game as they develop, which means there's never much of a puzzle to solve. I loved it when my students would watch Youtube vids and implement something new and different in their games; it gave me a new puzzle to solve. 
  • I really miss our San Diego Fight Club team. A year after moving to Colorado, Shelly and I went back to San Diego for a week and got in A LOT of rolls with our old training partners. Then, a few months back, Nick Oliver, one of Fight Club's black belts and a long-time friend and training partner, came to Colorado to hold a seminar. Shelly and I spent hours talking jiu jitsu and learning technique. It was a powerful reminder of the kind of jiu jitsu we did at Fight Club (grinding, technically sound), how we learned it, and how we rolled (hard, technically-sound, and a playfully sadistic.)
  • My real motivation to keep doing jiu jitsu is a love of actually doing jiu jitsu. In terms of jiu jitsu, what would it take to continue to make this art fulfilling? I've concluded if I did nothing but open mats, I'd be happy. While I like learning and I like teaching, it's the actual live rolling that I truly love. 

Nick Oliver, Charlie Kohler, myself, and Dave Hisquerdo: My Three Mentors


The Future

El Diablo Combatives the public gym is closed, probably permanently. But I'm keeping the business entity alive. As I move forward, there's two realms I plan on exploring:

Private lessons for law enforcement. I've recently entered the law enforcement profession, and I'm absolutely loving it! I kinda wish I would have gotten into this field years ago. Better late than never, though. One of the most valuable assets I bring to our local agencies is an expertise of jiu jitsu in general and experience with the practical application of jiu jitsu in a security setting in particular. Basically, I plan on teaching bjj to cops in a way that supplements their current arrest and control procedures. 

This will be done in a private law enforcement-only setting to alleviate some of the issues that prevent many cops from training at a public gym. The two greatest concerns I've encountered is a) fear of injury, and b) fear of training with people they may encounter while on duty, or people they may have arrested in the past.

Writing. Back in the day, blogging was one of my favorite pass times. Since moving to Colorado and running the gym, I haven't had the time or mental energy to write anything more than the occasional blog post. Specifically, I want to write much more about jiu jitsu. I've been doing this for close to a decade now, and I've learned a great deal from people significantly smarter than myself. Their wisdom needs to be shared with the world. I'm a bit rusty, though, as evident by this post. :-)

Like pretty much anything I've experienced in life, this has been a great learning experience. Yes, I ultimately failed. But I'm okay with that. When I'm lying on my death bed, I will be able to take comfort in the fact that I wasn't afraid to give this gym ownership thing a shot. And I gave that shot everything I had for two years. It just wasn't my thing and I wasn't especially good at it. And that's okay. I'm coming out of it with some great friends, a shit-ton of cool and interesting experiences, and a newfound understanding and appreciation for what jiu jitsu means to me.


Just kidding. Fuck that shit.





Thursday, March 4, 2021

Getting Your Needs Met: How Do You FInd the Right People, and are Tribes the Answer?

In my last post, I outlined why it's important to learn to ask for what you need, and how to go about doing it. I didn't address an important point in that post, though:

How do you get your needs met if you're surrounded by people who, for whatever reason, can't or won't meet your needs?

Not everyone possesses the emotional maturity to engage in healthy relationships where each member of the relationship feels safe and secure enough to voice their needs openly and honestly. Or worse, not everyone cares about our best interests. That's usually why the problem starts in the first place. It certainly did for me.

My Early Life Experiences

I grew up in a pretty weird environment. Both sides of my family had some significant dysfunction that went back at least a generation or two, yet nobody ever talked about it. Appearing "normal" was important. I think this was intentional; it was their attempt at killing the cycle of generational shittiness in order to give my generation of offspring a chance at a life better than they experienced. For the most part, they succeeded. Except in the realm of expressing needs. 

I learned from a very young age that expressing my needs came at a steep price - it indebted me to the people I asked. It was kinda like asking a favor from the mob. They'd grant it, but then you owed them. When they came to collect on the debt, it would be fine if I could fulfill their request. But if not? 

That's where things routinely turned pretty dark. People, especially the women in my family, would start negatively gossiping to other family members or friends of the family. The goal seemed to be both getting me to comply with the request and/or punishing me for not fulfilling the request. I was made out to be a bad person in the eyes of my family, and it hurt. A lot. I'm kinda prone to depression, especially seasonal affective disorder. If this kind of thing happened when I was experiencing a bout of depression, my mind went to very, very dark places. Which was made infinitely worse because I couldn't express that to anyone.

Needless to say, it was a cycle I needed to break for self-preservation. I naively tried actually fixing the dysfunction years ago, but that turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. The only workable solution was to severely limit interactions, which is lonely and royally sucks, but it's better than the alternative.

To the point, though, it taught me to avoid asking people to meet my needs. Instead, I developed a lot of shitty passive-aggressive strategies to try to get my needs met without actually asking for them. If I didn't verbalize them, they couldn't be used against me. That's the "Nice Guy" problem I mentioned in the last post.

Luckily, it wasn't too difficult to fix this issue. It WAS incredibly difficult to take the first step; I still vividly remember the first few times I directly asked Shelly to meet some of my needs without resorting to my old subversive tactics. But experiencing her joyfully acting to fulfill those needs was powerful. It was a "Holy shit, I can't believe this actually works like this" moment. Almost immediately, the problem mostly disappeared.

Why mostly?

Because I had to learn another important lesson - how do you determine WHO you can trust to share your needs with and who do you need to avoid? Learning that lesson was a little more tricky.

Authenticity is the Key

Shortly after discovering that "Nice Guy" pattern, I started analyzing the relationships in my life. I quickly realized some people fell into the "safe to share my needs" category and others fell in the "unsafe to share my needs" category. The difference between these two? The former were all people Shelly and I met and befriended AFTER we started trying to live as authentically as possible. And by "authentically", I mean letting our inside selves shine by not erecting a facade of, well, "normal."

Like attracts like. And the "likes" we attracted were the kinds of people who could and would meet whatever needs we expressed without some ulterior motive. They were emotionally safe, and this safety created wonderful, lasting friendships. 

Once I kinda discovered that there were people out there who could and would willingly meet whatever needs I had, all those "unsafe" relationships started to feel really, really toxic. SO I started gravitating towards the safe people and away from the unsafe people. And every aspect of my life improved remarkably. 

The Tribe

At some point in this process, I realized there was incredible mutually-beneficial value in curating a group of people who all cared about each other unconditionally. That realization slowly grew from an abstract idea to the "Tribe" plans I've been planning and developing, which I'm documenting on one of my other blogs

The basic idea - We have a lot of needs, many of which are social in nature. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors got these needs met by their tribe. That's why we're hard-wired to have these social needs today. But we don't have tribes today. We have a lot of individuals living individualistic lives. We get our "tribe" needs met by rooting for sports teams, identifying with political parties, or maybe joining a church. And the loneliness of these topical connections causes a whole lotta needs to go unmet. It's no surprise so many of us are riddled with depression and anxiety.

So I set out to create a Tribe. Or as close to a "tribe" as we can get without sacrificing the benefits of modern society. Brandon, one of our Tribe Members and co-founder of this project, provided us with some excellent criteria to decide who we wanted in the Tribe, which I describe in detail in this post.

Our Tribe is a little bit unique in that it is formed around that authenticity idea in the last section. Our current and future Tribe Members come from our jiu jitsu gym Shelly and I own. When we're at the gym, both of us are our authentic selves. And people either love us or hate us. There's not a lot of middle ground. So we attract people who tend to be like-minded, which creates an awesome foundation for the Tribe.

Specific to the point of getting your needs met - the kind of people we want for the Tribe are the precise kind of people who either already understand the reciprocal nature of healthy relationships or, in some cases, have the capacity but need to learn how to ask for help. Like I was back in the "Nice Guy" days. 

Reciprocal Rings

A researcher by the name of Wayne Baker developed a concept known as a "Reciprocal Ring", which is a tool groups can use to develop equitable reciprocity within a group. It basically teaches people how to use the group to get their needs met. And it's a tool I plan on utilizing for our Tribe. It works like this.

You gather the group together. One person expresses one need they have to the group. I can be a physical need, social need, emotional need, spiritual need, financial need... whatever. The group then brainstorms how they can, collectively, get that need met. Then they actually do it or make a plan to do it. This continues around the group until everyone has expressed a need. 

Done repeatedly, this quickly evolves into what amounts to a group "Pay It Forward" virtuous cycle where group members quickly build trust in each other that allows them to rely on the group. In short, the collective group becomes a powerful resource to get any and all needs met for each individual within the group.

But What If You Don't Have a Tribe?

I'm fortunate in that I've had an incredibly supportive wife who I could rely on to openly express my needs, which has given me the opportunity to be able to curate a Tribe of reliable, emotionally healthy friends. Not everyone has that resource available to them. In that case, it's important to learn to recognize emotionally-healthy people. 

For people trapped in some cycle of emotional fuck-upedness, that can be really difficult. If all you've known are emotionally-troubled people, you don't know what healthy looks like. Worse, we tend to be drawn to the people who make us comfortable. And if all we've ever known is emotionally-damaged people, those are the people we'll be drawn to. 

There are a lot of guides out there that will explain what an emotionally-healthy person looks like. Lifehacker, one of my all-time favorite websites, produced a nice article explaining 15 good traits to look for. As much as I like their list, I also have some criteria I use personally, usually by asking questions. These questions determine if they're:

  • Honest
  • Competent
  • Reliable
  • Kind
  • Able to persevere after setbacks
  • Willing and able to accept blame when they're at fault
  • Compassionate
  • Modest and humble
  •  Have the ability to control their emotions

So what are the questions? What behaviors help me determine if an individual "fits" this ideal?

  1. How do they treat service workers, especially retail workers, receptionists, and restaurant servers? Do they tip well?
  2. How do they treat animals?
  3. How do they treat children and the elderly?
  4. How do they treat people who have poor social skills?
  5. Do they get angry frequently?
  6. Do they do random acts of kindness, especially when nobody appears to be looking?
  7. Do they brag excessively?
  8. How do they handle failure?
  9. Are they excessively gullible and fall for conspiracies, multi-level marketing schemes, etc.?
  10. Do they try to control others?
  11. Are they prone to excessive jealousy or envy?
  12. Do they have a victim mentality?
  13. Do they intentionally hurt people, physically, emotionally, or mentally?
  14. Do they blame others for their lack of success?
  15. Are they passive-aggressive?
  16. Do they engage in revenge fantasies?
  17. Do they routinely make other people uncomfortable?
  18. Do they have confident body language?
  19. Do they talk on the phone in public or in the presence of others without trying to excuse themselves.


And, of course, there's the gold standard hack for evaluating others - simply pick a particular trait, then ask someone how often they see that trait in others. It's based on the idea of psychological projection - we frame the motives behind other people's behaviors within our own motivational framework. A happy person will see happiness in others. A manipulative person will assume everyone is trying to manipulate them. A compulsive liar will assume everyone is lying. A genuinely kind person will see kindness in others. And so on. 

Taken together, these strategies can be super useful when it comes to identifying the kinds of people who can and will gladly help fulfill your needs versus the toxic people who will not. Surround yourself with the former and life gets a whole lot better. Surround yourself with the latter and life ain't so good.



We all deserve healthy relationships where we can feel safe expressing our thoughts, feelings, and needs. We all deserve healthy relationships where we will have those thoughts, feelings, and needs heard and acknowledged. Surround yourself with those kind of people, and follow my advice from the first post on getting your needs met

You deserve it.