Inverted Gear Blog

BJJ and Travel: The Easy Way

Traveling and training can be tough. Finding welcoming places to train can sometimes be challenging, but the real stress can come from trying work out the rest of your logistics: transportation, lodging, and ideas for things to do when you are recovering from a great training session.

BJJ camps solve this problem and are becoming very popular as a result. A good camp takes care of accommodations for you, so all you have to worry about is enjoying your time on the mat. Who doesn’t want to travel to cool places, meet awesome people, and gets lots of training in? I have been very fortunate to take part in about 5 of these over the last year. As I type this, I am in Wagrain, Austria for the Globetrotters winter camp, and I will be attending at least three more in the coming months.

I cannot recommend traveling to train enough. It energizes your training and sets the stage for some once-in-a-lifetime adventures. If you are thinking of trying one of these camps, here’s a rundown of some of my favorites:

  • BJJ Globetrotters. Christian literally wrote the book on BJJ travel, and now has turned his attention to organizing awesome camps all over the world. I have been following his blog for years. In 2015, I finally got to attend one of his camps: the first USA camp in New Hampshire. It was an amazing weekend. 80 campers and about 16 instructors shared the mat the town. I got hooked, so when Christian invited me to be an instructor at the winter camp, I had to say yes. There are camps coming up in the UK, Italy, Belgium, and the US. If this sounds like your speed check out bjjglobetrotters.com/camps.

  • Groundswell Grappling. Emily, Hanette, and Valerie have been running camps for a long time. They originally ran a girl’s only operation, but luckily for me and all the other guys out there, they have started to run co-ed camps as swell. I cannot recommend these camps enough. Their camps are smaller, very well structured, and encompass more than just technique. Plus, they always have great guest instructors (like yours truly). You can check out their website at groundswellgrappling.com.

  • R Dojo Camp. Reilly runs camps where he teaches an entirely new approach to no-gi grappling. Reilly has a sambo background and is one of the best instructors I’ve had the privilege to work with. If you are interested in adding leglocks to your game, you owe it to yourself to make it to one of his camps. Reilly does a great job at structuring the camp so every session builds on the previous one, you will walk away with a much greater grasp of not only leglocks but takedowns and dynamic entries as well, which are big holes on most BJJ curriculums. If he invites you play Tekken, don’t do it. He cheats. Learn more about this camp at rdojo.com.

  • Rollin’ in Costa Rica. This is a new camp that my friend Kevin is putting together, and I will be there as well. It will take place in beautiful Santa Teresa in Costa Rica. We will have 10 instructors and only 15 campers for our inaugural camp. If you are interested in hanging out beach side and picking the brain of some great black belts this camp is for you. Check out the site for more info: rollinincostarica.com.

Now these are just camps that I have personal experiences with. There are more options sprouting up every year. If you’ve attended a camp that I didn’t talk about, share your experience in the comments!

Read more →

Your Jiu-Jitsu Report Card

When you’re a kid, it doesn’t take much to determine your favorite time of year. For me, it was December. And since I’m still just a big kid, it still is. There’s Christmas, of course, but there’s also my birthday. It was also the end of the Chilean school year.

The only downside: report cards.

I dreaded it. I wasn’t a bad student, but when your sister gets straight A’s, it’s hard not to look bad. Even though I haven’t been in any kind of school for a few years, I still can’t help but feel like December is report card time. I look back on the year and think about what I accomplished. If I didn’t meet a goal—and this is perhaps most important to me—I try to figure out why.

My life goals have changed quite a bit since I was young. I’m not trying out for sports teams or hiding not-that-bad-really-mom-give-me-a-break grades from my parents these days. I’m trying to build a business to support my family. I’m trying to be a good husband and a good son. And I’m training my ass off whenever I can.

I’ve talked about jiu-jitsu goals before (you can catch up here if you missed it). Report card time has helped me to keep my training on track. From the day I started, winning a Grappler’s Quest was a big goal. Soon those goals became more training-specific and also started to include how I could help my own students achieve their goals. That’s not to say I’ve gotten straight A’s on my jiu-jitsu report card. I’ve come up short a few times. Based on my experience and the experiences of the people I train with, I’ve found that a failed goal stems from one of five culprits.

1. Did you train enough?

This is a big one, and while it may be obvious to some, you will be surprised at how many times people fail to realize how sporadic they can become in their training. Consistency is key. I’ve seen the pattern many times: a student gets on a great run of regular training only to get derailed and disappear for weeks at a time, making the bare minimum of appearances at the dojo. Jiu-jitsu is a long-term game, and missed training sessions can add up in a big way.

2. Were you doing what you were supposed to be doing during training?

Many times I see people that may go to practice, but they are really not there to push themselves. They might skip warm-ups. They might slack during drills. And they might avoid challenging rolls. Drifting into these behaviors is not unusual, but we have to occasionally check-in with ourselves to get back on track and to avoid having these missteps become habits.

3. Were you specific enough when you set your goal?

If your goal is not specific, you can’t track it. Saying that your goal is to “get better at jiu-jitsu” or “improve my armbars” are far too vague for you to measure it in any meaningful way. Your goal needs to be tied to a specific outcome, and you need a plan for getting there and evaluating your progress. “Improve armbars” might be better stated as “complete 50 reps of armbar drills every class" or "go for an armbar every roll.” This helps you move forward and keeps you on task.

4. Was your goal high enough?

Michelangelo once said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Aim high. It’s not bad that you didn’t achieve a certain goal this year. The more important part is that you tried and that you keep trying. For me personally, I set goals for years before I achieve them. And after years of trying they were much sweeter to make a reality.

5. Did you follow through?

How many times have you set a goal in January and never looked at it again? Write them down, put them somewhere you can see them, tell people about them, talk to your friends about their goals, and hold each other accountable. Remember that report cards come out more than once a year, so remind yourself frequently what you are trying to accomplish and review the plan you’ve made to get there. This will give you a much better chance to achieve your goals.

I hope that helps you achieve your jiu-jitsu goals in 2016. What are your goals? How will you achieve them? I’d love to hear what you’re working on.

Read more →

Cancer, Jiu-Jitsu, and a Lesson in Persistence

Tienes que ser persistente,” my mom always said. “You have to be persistent.” She drilled this phrase into my head while I was growing up. Little Nelson having trouble tying his shoes? Keep trying. Math is hard? Keep working. Can’t beat dad in chess? Don’t give up. I heard this phrase repeated to myself and my sister millions of times over the years, and now my mom has started using it on my nephews.

As any kid would, I hated this. I assumed that none of my friends had their mother repeating the importance of persistence over and over, so why did I have to keep trying? Couldn’t I just give up and try something else?

In October 2011, I was in Atlanta at Alliance HQ for an instructors’ workshop. I was going to stay an extra week to train and then fly to California for No-Gi Worlds. I had been training hard for it, motivated by a first round lost at Gi Worlds the June before. I wanted redemption.

That Wednesday, I got a call from my mom. She hadn’t told me the doctors had found something during her last check-up. A biopsy confirmed it was breast cancer.

I had to sit down. In her usual way, she told me she didn’t want me to come home. She wanted me to go to my tournament. She didn’t want the attention or to be a burden. Despite her protests, I caught the first flight home and was sitting at the oncologist’s a few days later. I still remember the doctor telling us the diagnosis: stage 2B breast cancer. While my sister, father and I were processing this, my mom was the first to react. She said “Let me know what I need to do, because I will not die of this. This set the tone for the rest of her treatment, it was gonna be a battle and she was ready for it.

My dad owns a truck company was still on the road. My sister was on her last year of post-grad. So I became my mom’s chauffeur and went to everyone one of her chemo and radiation therapies. I would teach my morning class, take the drive to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, bring her home, make sure she ate something, and go teach in the evening. Despite the gravity of the situation, my mom still encouraged me to compete. She insisted, so I planned to compete at Pans. I registered, booked a flight, and a few days before I left, my mom got really sick during one of her chemo treatments, she needed to be hospitalized. After some tests we got news of her white blood cell count.

It was at zero.

Tienes que ser persistente,” she said. “I’m going to beat this. You go to your tournament.”

I refused, but she made me promise to compete in the next east coast tournament.

After a few scary days of uncertainty, she pulled through. Her blood count returned to normal and was allowed to return to her normal routine.

A few weeks later, the New York Open rolled around. This my third time competing in it, and prior to my mom having cancer, the only thought I had about the tournament was that I had lost my first round by advantage my year and lost in the semis by 2 points in the following year. Close matches, for me, hurt more than having to tap out or getting dominated by points. I think it’s something about feeling so close to victory and questioning whether or not I could have given just a little bit more to turn the tide.

But not competing was never really an option. After all, “Tienes que ser persistente.”

I took gold that year (proudly holding a Tap Cancer Out t-shirt on the podium). That win still means a lot to me, but after being at mom’s side during her battle with cancer, the meaning of most of the things in my life has changed. Competition is still important to me, except now I see it more as a test, do I still have the persistence needed to get on that podium? Can I get through a grueling 6 week camp of double sessions? Can I battle through few 10 minute matches?

My mom is done with treatment and is back to her usual self. She truly is one of the toughest ladies I know, and every time I think about quitting anything, I hear her voice in my head.

Tienes que ser persistente.” Always.

Inverted Gear is a proud supporter of Tap Cancer Out. Check out their website to learn more about their mission and pick up some gear to support their awesome cause.

Read more →

Grade History to Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt: The Story of Dave


Last Sunday, one of my best friends was promoted to black belt. I was the one to tie the belt around his waist (you can see that here). Dave and I have been friends for over 15 years. He is the first kid I met when I moved from Chile to New Jersey. I was in 8th grade—Mr. Ferguson’s class—and I was assigned the seat behind him. Dave is the guy that explained to me what a first down was when I asked him what those sticks are during a freshman football game. He talked me into joining the wrestling team. And, most importantly, he convinced me to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Dave’s promotion got me thinking about how rare it is that both of us made it to black belt. I’ve heard all kinds of stats over the years about what percentage of people will make it to black belt. Some people say that 1 out of 10 people that start jiu-jitsu will make it to blue belt, and 1 out of those 10 make it to purple belt, and so on. Somehow, we beat the odds.

We both bounced around schools quite a bit at the beginning. We started at an MMA school in central NJ. We trained there for two classes until sparring became ground and pound practice: one guy in closed guard, top guy throws punches for a 2 minute rounds, bottom guy survives. We switched schools soon after. We spent some time at a very traditional Gracie school. When one of the purple belts asked if the instructor could show some x-guard sweeps, the instructor answered, Royler didn’t teach us that so we don’t do it. We were out of there soon as well.

Through all of this, I believe we may have given up on jiu-jitsu if we were taking the journey alone, but having someone to go through the crazy stuff with kept us on the path.

Even when Dave moved north for school and he trained at a different school, we kept training together. We visited each other’s schools during open mats and exchanged techniques, whatever our respective instructors showed that week. I think this was one of the periods where our games expanded the most.

We finally got settled and started training at Alliance NJ, as soon as it opened (I believe we were students 3 and 4). Many of the classes were Kevin (our instructor), Dave, our friend Andrew and myself. The four of us spent years not only training together but traveling together to tournaments up and down the east coast. If you want to hear about our epic Boston trip you can read about that here.

I owe much of my game to Dave, he has spent hours with me helping me figure out my game and showing me what he would do in certain situations when I had questions. Also, sparring with a smaller training partner for years has given me a much different game than most big guys: I play a much smaller guy’s game than most grapplers weighing more than 200 pounds. I owe much of that to Dave.

Thank you, Dave, not only for getting me to do this jiu-jitsu thing, but for always being there. I’m looking forward to continuing down this path with you. As for our blog readers, I hope that you can find a Dave in your training and in your life. You’ll be much better for it.

Read more →

Bobby Fischer Jiu-Jitsu

With Tobey Maguire doing the podcast rounds for his new movie Pawn Sacrifice, Bobby Fischer is reentering the public conversation. Well, maybe not the general public conversation. Chess isn’t the sexy Cold War sport that it used to be, but a few of us probably remember winding our way through the dusty stacks of a public library to find a hidden backroom where dozens of young children quietly hunched over chessboards.

Bobby Fischer was something of a hero at the time (and that legacy has been tarnished by his mental unhinging). Searching for Bobby Fischer, a film about child chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin—now a Marcelo Garcia black belt—was just hitting VHS and my brothers and I were giddy with chess fever. I, unfortunately, was never particularly good. My older brother never held back when we played, and I didn’t fare much better against children my age in the dingy corner of a Pennsylvania library.

I took to studying. I would sneak into my brother’s room to borrow his copy of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess and worked through the exercises in secret in the hopes that I could launch a surprise comeback.

That never worked, but some twenty years later I am thinking about that book again because of jiu-jitsu, and it has helped me to better understand how I train and how I can help my students.

Start at the End

In his book, Fischer begins by teaching endgame. Most of the pieces are removed from the board, leaving you to figure out how you could achieve checkmate with the handful of pieces available. The first big chunk of instruction is done this way. Fischer walks you through a variety of endgame scenarios and challenges you to find the right solution.

The logic goes that working backward from the end is not only more efficient, it’s more effective. If you start from the beginning, with every piece on the board, you can get overwhelmed by all of the different ways you can start. The problem becomes that you don’t know where you are trying to go, so no matter how you start, you almost always end up getting lost. If you an endgame that you prefer, you can build your game in reverse to steer the conflict in that direction.

I stumbled across this idea in jiu-jitsu by accident. I was trying to learn to wrestle, and my wrestling coach recommended that I start with the single leg because of how I played my guard. My shot was garbage, but I could initiate the single leg from my butt scoot and from my half guard, so I started to get reps in on finishing the single leg long before I could successfully change levels and shoot into a single leg.

Knowing that I could finish the single leg once I had it actually made me more confident in my shot. Working backwards from the single leg made the limitless possibilities of the takedown game less intimidating. I wasn’t trying to decide between a few dozen throws and takedowns. I knew where I wanted to go—the single leg—so I built my standing game around techniques that would lead me down that funnel and nowhere else.

I am not a Genius

When I first came to this realization, I thought I had come up with something original, but not only was Bobby Fischer talking about it decades before I was derping around a jiu-jitsu gym, but according to Tim Ferriss in his book 4-Hour Chef this is one of the reasons that Dave Camarillo has a small obsession with armbars. When he works with students, he teaches them the overall endgame of jiu-jitsu—getting the submission—and works backward from there. If you like armbars, these are the kind of throws that are ideal, this is the kind of guard you should play, and here’s how you should play your top positioning. If your endgame is a guillotine, that overall strategy could be radically different.

If you are working on a new jiu-jitsu skill, you could apply this approach to make that process easier. Start at the end, and work your way backward, the Bobby Fischer way.

But skip the part where you get weirdly paranoid about vast conspiracies. Stick to the jiu-jitsu.

(Photo credit to Evonne on Flickr.)

Read more →