The Dragon and the Little Bird

The first leaves had barely began to fall in the magic forest, when a hand-tall red bird came to challenge the magnificent green dragon to a fight. Frail but brave, she huffed her feathers and lifted her wings as if she were a big white crane. The scaley one laughed. Each of his scales alone was bigger than the puny fowl. He laughed so loud he was heard in all four capitals of China. He laughed so hard the air bursting from his mouth threw the bird against a rock, and she passed out.

Next autumn, the senseless tiny one was back. She was a bit fuller, but still diminutive compared to her foe. Another defeat. The same the following year, and the next, and the next, until one day the challenger was as big as the dragon. “Here I am again,” said the bird, as she took a stance. They battled, and people say it was the most wonderful fight ever fought in this or any other land. Through clouds, hills, and waves, the dragon attacked. He used his best moves. But the bird, who had already seen them all, avoided each blow. She even managed to hit her mighty opponent a couple of times. The combat continued for eight consecutive autumns until the dragon, old and wise enough to understand the state of things, asked for a pause. ‘Perhaps we should call it a draw.’

Stunned, the little bird bowed. “Thank you, Master Dragon. For only your kindness allowed me to become better each year, and to get a draw I surely don’t deserve.”

He nodded. “Were you never afraid?”

“Every single time,” the bird answered.

The dragon twisted his ancient beard. “Interesting. What’s your name, master bird? So people can tell your noble story through the ages?” And she said, “I’m the Phoenix.”

From that day forward, they became inseparable. The most dynamic of all harmonies.

Martial Arts and the metaphor for everything

Every ten years or so, I step down from a respected black belt position and build my way back up from white in another style. It took me a while to understand why. But age, despite what is said, comes with some lovely benefits, such as perspective.

Happens that the way up is really what martial arts is really about. The humbling defeats, the struggle against your own plateaus, the apparent mercuriality of the technique. In this long journey against yourself, going up the ranks in martial arts is the ultimate metaphor for life.

Today, for example, I got humbled by a lower belt who took a bad move I made and got me to tap. But on the same session I also pulled off some nice moves against a very competitive partner, tested some things against a beginner (moves that may be ready to be used against higher ranked opponents) and even made some progress against a higher belt (he still caught me, but I did did better than other times).

It was an hour of sparring, but taken the appropriate time to ponder, it was worth weeks of observations, thinking and learning. For at the same time I had the chance to experiment with old and new ideas against resisting opponents and experiment my real progress in a more realistic situation than if I had just tried to judge it by myself — in theory or in a demonstration situation. Fighting doesn’t allow for those. No vapor, no dissimulation, no self-judgement is allowed. And if the habit of coldly assessing your progress is scary, it’s also an extremely important skill to develop.

In life, we run away from these moments. We shy away from the circumstances that will determine our progress or not. Because it’s hard to swallow the idea that sometimes hard work just isn’t enough, or that progress is never linear, or that in order to assess your improvement you need to at the same time find ways to measure your absolute and relative moves, since your opponents are also trying to get better.

But more than anything, says like today show that if you want to keep doing that in the long run, you need to surround yourself of people you trust, and learn to have fun — even in defeat. Actually: especially in defeat. Cause those are the moments where the biggest insights spark in front of your face.

One of my favorite moments of today, for example, was a move I’ve been trying for months. Then yesterday my coach did it to me and by being victimized by it, I finally understood what was missing. And today I not only got it to work, but I made it work against a higher belt.

Fighting is a metaphor for everything. For every effort worth making, every journey worth journeying. Going back to the beginning helps you see it even more clearly, because when you’re smaller than the obstacles, the impact of your discipline and resolve are much easier to see.

Against the currents of social media, progress

It’s a normal behavior in everyone’s feed: we post our best moments. But combined with everyone else’s, we create an illusion that no one else struggles, which is the main criticism platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn often get. It’s true to jobs, beauty, travel… everyone seems to be living a life more perfect than yours. At this point, most of us know they’re all lies. Yet, we fall for the trap and, by doing so, create one more Unattainable expectation for ourselves.

Worse: since we know our perfect life is a lie, we link our moments of victories to a lie we know. To a farce we can’t hide from ourselves. And that eliminates any chance of joy we may have with our little wins.

In martial arts, it isn’t different. And this is me trying to break the cycle. Posting a photo of myself being killed by my training partner Bartek. The dude is a monster. So freaking strong. When he got me into his guard I knew I was in trouble. The moment he got his legs around my hips and grips on my arm, he man handled me into this position and from that point on, I spent minutes unsuccessfully trying to get out of it. Ultimately, he found a way to tap me, but I must say: the fact I could resist that long against someone that strong and powerful is also a triumph of technique that makes me appreciate what I’m learning in #bjj even more. And it also gives me an interesting puzzle to solve.

For days I’ve been thinking about how to deal with his potent game. Or, in the same vein, how can I break other partners’ guard or avoid spending my entire time under someone’s pressure. These bad moments, these unsolvable challenges (because my partners are also progressing around my solutions) are what drive me the most. In a fun way, I mean. The unattainability of the evolving puzzle can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s real. Which makes me appreciate even more the victories when they happen, and team where I belong. So here it is. A post about a bad moment. Which happens to be a great one too. Oss.

Me, being choked by a giant

The Samurai’s Apprentice

It hadn’t been one year, and the apprentice was already approaching his master. “Sensei, I really want to be a samurai. If I work hard, how long will it take for me to get my sword?”

“Ten years,” the master said.

The student nodded with all the respect he could summon. ”What if I work twice as hard, Sensei?”

The master though for a moment, stroke his beard and said, “then, it would take twenty years.”

The student was obviously confused, but didn’t give up. “And if I work three times as hard as anyone else, Sensei?” To which the master quickly responded, “thirty years, then.”

There was annoyance in the master’s voice, so the pupil decided to stop there and never bring that up again. He loved his work and what he was learning so, one way or another, he was happy. If it was going to take that long, at least he was going to enjoy it.

So he did. He trained hard. He ate the pain and the suffering that was given to him. But also learned to laugh and have fun with his own mistakes. After a while, he seemed to be even breaking his classmates drive too.

One day, he was caught cracking jokes with younger students in the break between lessons and was called into the masters chamber. He’d just completed half of the first 10 years he was told, too much to let is all get lost because of a few jokes. He braced for the worst, and walked in already displaying his guilt. “Sorry, Sensei,” he begged, “I should be taking my studies more seriously.”

The master stared. Pointed to the ground, and the student kneeled, then bowed as deep as he could. “I’m sorry,” he said. Though when his gaze was up again, a sword awaited.

“This is for you, Samurai,” said the old master. “You’re one of us now.”

This story was told to me by my #karate Sensei, who heard it from his own. It’s a reminder that martial arts is an expression, not an equation. And unless you let yourself relax, you will always be trying too hard.

I tell myself this story every now and then. For I have a tendency to obsess with my training, which eventually makes it feel mechanical and frustrating.

Thankfully I have these stories to go back to, readjust and move forward again.

The Supreme Skill of Fortitude

Not sure what’s cause, what’s consequence. But being raised inside of a Dojo, I always felt that fortitude was the most important emotional skill someone could develop. Because fortitude is the skill of all skills. The thick skin that allows you to face difficulties, learn from them and emerge better. Which applies to anything in life. To the ring, of course, but also for your career, your family life, your hobbies, the goals you want to give yourself.

Unfortunately, the world treats it as a gift from the gods. One of those things you’re born with or not. But if there is ONE thing fighting has taught me that fortitude is a highly developable skill. Just like your strength, your flexibility, your agility…

Former mega executive turned happiness student Pedro Earp talks about that beautifully in his recent post on LinkedIn. “Happiness fitness,” he calls it. Then goes about exposing yourself to discomfort as a paradoxical yet inherent part of building happiness. Somehow, if all we seek is comfort, happiness will keep getting pushed into smaller and smaller corners of life, until there’s nothing left to enjoy.About exposing yourself to discomfort as a paradoxical yet inherent part of building happiness. Somehow, if all we seek is comfort, happiness will keep getting pushed into smaller and smaller corners of life, until there’s nothing left to enjoy.

In Breathe – A Life in the Flow, legendary fighter Rickson Gracie spend most of his time talking about learning to be comfortable with discomfort. He even tells a story from his teen years about how, after losing a fight for feeling claustrophobic, he asked one of his brothers to roll him into a carpet and stayed there until he no longer felt panic. This may sound crazy, extreme. But our emotional connections are trainable. Our nervous system learns. Our brain adjusts. All we need to do is manage it just like we manage how wide our legs can stretch, for example. Which is constantly pushing it further, one inch at a time.

Photo: Rickson Gracie explains his breathing technique to Edward Norton’s character in the movie Hulk


My last one happened so fast. We were scrambling, my professor and I. Chaos for me. For him, tea time. Then my alarm blares: I know that move. He’s gonna dive, head to the mats and, upside down in the most unnatural way a human should move, will elevate my legs. Somehow, he will end up on my back, around my limbs, interrupting my neck and I will tap. But in that moment, that time only, I notice it first. I move—push his leg just a little, so it can’t catch mine. We roll into each other and my prize comes in the form of a grunt. His. I did it! Pride hasn’t settled yet when I realize it. My legs wrapped around his neck and one arm. Deadly, if only I can tighten it up a little bit. So I take a deep breath and tell myself: all at once, release the leg, replace with the hand. It was quick, I promise. But in that little time while I replaced my hold, he simply sits up. As if he had time for a coffee, a few emails and then “hey, I think he left the door open” kind of escape. My time to grunt. Can’t believe I let this opportunity pass. Lessons I heard so many times, from so many different positions, bounce back from the past. “Never let go of a grip before you get a new one.” Now my golden opportunity is gone. And, as I think all that, I feel an arm wrapping around my neck.

Image made with MidJourney AI as a nightmare in the yellow mats by #frankmiller


#bjj #brazilianjiujitsu #martialarts #midjourneyart

Is the book ready?

The holidays break was a great opportunity to polish my manuscript and add some of my recent learnings in #muaythai and #bjj into the story. Feeling pretty good about how they mix with the main character’s #taichi and #daoism background and the frighteningly real advancements in #artificialintelligence and #neuroscience

After the encouraging notes from the editor and a lot of trimming to keep the pace fast, maybe it will be time to talk to agents and publishers soon.

#fantasybooks #fantasywriters #fantasywriting #martialarts

The best style of fighting

Given the warrior origins of all martial arts, it’s natural that discussions often lan on what’s more effective than what. Most of the times debating effectiveness on the streets or in big competitions like ufc as the ultimate ring. Natural, but likely shortsighted, if you look at this field as an ecosystem.

In combat sports it’s crucial that athletes focus on a few high percentage techniques they can master while at their peek.

But since athletes are different, they need coaches that will know all the high percentage techniques to recommend them the few that work for them.

Since percentages eventually mutate once an innovator changes the game and turns an obscure low percentage into high, these coaches also need masters with a complete knowledge of the art, regardless of percentage in competitions, even if that takes a lifetime to achieve.

And those masters sometimes need a different perspective, a source they can go to to find other ideas for challenges they face, ideas that will trickle down the entire system, and often those ideas will come from other styles that were previously considered ineffective until one genius of that art showed how it can be done (as an example, take mma and how Machida made karate dangerous again, or Ronda made Judo badass once more… those two arts, at that time, were considered dead that by many “specialists”)

My point is martial arts is an ecosystem that relies on the deep passion of each individual like a natural biosphere requires each species to survive so everything can thrive.

Passion should be celebrated, not debated. For whatever tickles their fancy – competition, coaching, encyclopedic knowledge, cultural preservation… Athletes, coaches, masters of fashionable arts and the preservers of lost arts are all fundamental to this crazy thing we do and love so much. Therefore, the entire discussion of what’s the best style denotes either one’s small perspective on combat arts, a comercial bias, or just the fact that you haven’t grown enough into it to develop perspective.

Unfortunately, after 30 years in martial arts, I can tell that true perspective requires distance and experience– it’s not something you can build fast like a competitive edge, or easy, like watching people fighting from the comfort of sofa.

#martialarts #mma #bjj #karate #tkd #judo #boxing #muaythai #sambo #wrestling #taichi #kempo #wingchun #tkd #kungfu

Sports Data?

Who uses data and devices to improve their training? I’ve been using the #whoopstrap to monitor my performance. It’s interesting to see that the best indicator of a good day for me is how rested I am. Duh… but that isn’t totally related to the simple number of hours of sleep. It’s a combo. The hours, but also the quality of that sleep. How regular it has been, how much it compensates for the strain the previous day, but more than anything to what I had for dinner the night before (and what time). A late or a heavy dinner always correlates to a poor sleep and as a consequence a shitty performance the following day.

Case in point: 6h27 usually isn’t enough sleep for an 84% recovery. But because I had a light dinner last night, I had a highly efficient sleep. In the morning, my mind was clear, my body was rested and ready. I took one hour of yoga then 90min of Bjj. At 46 years old, I was the last to leave the mat. More than that, I managed to make a lot of things work. Things I tried before but was too confused to bring them to life in the middle of a roll.

Then I looked back at my own posts and compared the days I reported great performance and using things I had just learned with the days with efficient sleep. They are a perfect match.

All this may seem like common sense to you, but when you leave it to the “feeling” it’s easy to give it a blind eye. The data, on the other hand, is way more unforgiving. Almost as much as the partners that are going to try to choke me and rip my arms off if I am not on a good day.

#bjj #oss #whoop #sportsdata #martialarts

Curing writers block with martial arts

Recently I got stuck on my next novel (a story about kung fu and artificial Intelligence). First I blamed how busy I got at work and adjusting our lives to the East Coast. But truly it was because I got so into my survival journey as a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that, despite my thirty years training striking arts, writing about non-grappling ways of fighting just wasn’t happening. Not surprisingly, like so many things in the process of writing this book, the answer was hiding in the challenge. On not resisting the threat, but using its own energy against it. Suddenly, it all clicked. I made one of the characters be a BJJ fighter who helps the main character develop her ground game, just like I am doing with my own skills. And voila! Writing is furious again.