Monday, November 7, 2016

Jiu-jitsu Vacation

I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel all around the world, because of Jiu-jitsu.  I love to travel & experience new places, and of course I love being on the mat.  So, of course, the first thing to go into my suitcase is usually my gi.  I always encourage my friends & students to do the same.  I have developed friends all over the world through this amazing art who I still keep up with!  As I am getting ready for my next Jiu-jitsu trip overseas, I thought it would be a good time to discuss training while away from home.

While it is definitely growing, the Jiu-jitsu community is still fairly small, so when you meet a fellow Jiu-jitsu practitioner, there is an almost immediate connection.  Even though we may live in different states, different countries, belong to different teams, have different lifestyles, we still have the commonality of Jiu-jitsu that links us together.  By taking advantage of the opportunity to train when you're traveling, you will expand your horizons, pick up new ideas & perspectives, and almost certainly meet some amazing people!  Whether you're traveling for work, a weekend getaway, vacation, or maybe visiting family over the holidays, there's almost always an opportunity to fit in a couple hours on the mat.  Even though you're away from your home academy, you can still keep your skills sharp & maybe even pick up a few new ideas.  Here are a few tips that can ensure that you make the most of your visit.

1.  Plan Ahead.  If you know when/where you will be traveling, a quick Google search will usually yield some results on potential training locations.  However, check with your instructor first.  Chances are, they may have some local connections or recommendations for good places that you can go train.  It's always best when you have someone that can point you in the right direction, and possibly even make an introduction for you so that you have a known point of contact in the host academy.

2.  Call or Email.  It's always a good idea to let the host academy know that you're coming.  Usually a quick phone call is sufficient.  Make sure to let them know that you are a Jiu-jitsu student visiting from out of town & ask if it's ok for you to attend training & what would be the best class for you to attend.  You may be asked to pay a small mat fee, so make sure that you inquire about that also so that you're prepared.

3.  Training Attire.  Depending upon the length or your stay & how many times you plan to train, you may need to pack more than one gi.  You want to make sure that you have a clean gi to train in.  It is highly recommended that you avoid colored gis.  Some academies have restrictions on certain gi colors, but you can never go wrong with white.  Also, be aware that some academies may have restrictions on wearing patches from other teams/academies.  Some may even require you to rent their particular academy gi to get on the mat, so again a little pre-planning goes a long way.  Check the schedule to see whether the class you are planning to attend is gi or no-gi & plan accordingly.

4.  Be Punctual.  Make sure that you show up on time, or preferably a little early for the published class start time.  You may have to take care of some logistical things, such as signing a waiver, etc. and give yourself time to get changed out & ready for class.

5.  Introduce Yourself.  You are the outsider, but there's no need to be stand-off-ish.  An extended hand & a smile will usually do the trick to break the ice.  It's been my experience that most Jiu-jitsu people are very friendly & helpful, as long as you come in with the right attitude.  Let them know you're in town visiting.  Often they can recommend good local spots to check out also!

6.  Follow Protocol.  Remember, you are a guest, so please learn & abide by the host academies rules & protocol.  Some academies operate very informally.  Others are very regimented.  If it's not what you are used to, do your best to follow along or ask if there's something you're unfamiliar with.  Many academies will have their rules/guidelines posted in a conspicuous location or even on their website.

7.  Keep an Open Mind.  Chances are, you will find more similarities than differences from your home mat.  However, each academy will do things slightly differently.  Some place more emphasis on self-defense.  Others are more sport oriented.  Some spend more time on technical drilling, others focus more time on sparring.  You may see techniques demonstrated in a slightly different manner than you are used to.  Remember, sometimes there is more than one right way.  Just try to keep an open mind & do it their way while you're in their house.  With the right attitude, you're almost guaranteed to walk away with a few new details.

8.  Train Smart.  No matter how cordial the environment may seem, you are still the outsider, and when it comes to roll time, there are sure to be a few students who will want to test you, especially if you are an upper belt.  Expect to have some higher intensity rolls.  It's a great chance to get in some good competitive training, but just make sure that you maintain a good attitude.  You're not there to prove anything to anyone.  Along those lines, make sure that you don't go too hard, or be too stubborn to tap when you need to and risk injuring yourself or someone else.  If you are the upper belt, its usually a good idea to let your training partner set the pace for the roll.  Be aware that some academies have different restrictions for what techniques are allowed during rolling.  If you have any questions, ask.

9.  Hygiene.  Practice good personal hygiene before & after training.  Not all academies have the same cleanliness standards.  Make sure that you take the opportunity to shower as soon as possible after training & be sure to thoroughly wash & decontaminate your gi & equipment.  You don't want to bring ringworm or staph back with you from your trip.

10.  Have Fun.  Training at another academy while traveling can be a very rewarding experience, as long as you are prepared & have the right approach.  You will likely come back with some great memories & maybe a few new friends, so make the most of the experience & enjoy your time on the mat!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Total Committment

As I said in my very first post, this space is a forum for me to use to keep everyone updated on everything that is going on with the academy as well as an exploration of my own personal journey in Jiu-jitsu.  This entry will serve as both.

It has been almost four years ago that this little Jiu-jitsu academy in Denver, NC got its start.  If I’m being honest, I was a little reluctant in the beginning to even pursue the idea.  I was a fairly new brown belt at the time, and was very focused on my own training.  When I was first approached about starting a Jiu-jitsu program at what was at the time a Tae Kwon Do academy, I rejected the idea.  I didn’t want to take time away from my own training to teach, and I had so many other things going on that I couldn’t commit much time to the program.  However, upon the request of Luis Togno (my instructor at the time), I reluctantly agreed to start an affiliate club on a part time basis.  I was teaching classes one night per week, which was all the time that I could commit to at the time.  After a chance meeting in a Wal-Mart parking lot, I became friends with Luke Amos, who was a Jiu-jitsu purple belt new to the area.  We began training together some, & eventually, he began to help teach at the academy & we began running Jiu-jitsu classes for adults twice a week.

A lot has changed since then.  My instructor tragically & unexpectedly passed away.  As painful as it was, it led me to begin training regularly with my new instructor Steve Hall & the Fight to Win team.  Changing teams wasn’t easy, but it has definitely led to major growth in my Jiu-jitsu.  The academy became a Fight to Win affiliate & slowly continued to grow. I saw the opportunity to expand the program and did so.  We added a kids program, and started to slowly add more classes.  I started to realize the vision of turning this small part time operation into a full time Jiu-jitsu academy.  In August, of 2013, I officially took over all of the business operations & became the sole owner.  Then, on December 9, 2013, I finally achieved the goal of obtaining my black belt in Jiu-jitsu under Royce Gracie & Steve Hall.  This was a major accomplishment for me personally and for the academy, as we became the first Jiu-jitsu academy in the Denver area with a black belt instructor at the helm.   My vision for the academy was always to start small & grow slowly.  As the team has grown, my passion for running the academy has grown along with it.  I have been very excited to see where it has come in just a few short years.

Now, we have reached another major milestone.  As I announced at our Spring Seminar this past weekend, we are moving to a new, bigger, & better location.  Work is being done now to get the new spot ready, & I am hoping that we will be moved in & running classes there by the beginning of June.  We will have more mat space so that we have room to grow as the team continues to expand.  There will also be some schedule changes coming up as well so stay tuned for that. I am very excited about the new place & all the possibilities that it holds for the future of the academy.

And now, for some more big news that will have a major impact on me personally as well as on the team. One of the things that I have learned in my years of training is that you can't do a technique halfway & expect it to work. In order to properly execute a takedown,  sweep, or submission, you have to go after it with 100% full commitment, and you must have confidence that it is going to succeed. If you hesitate because you don't believe in the move or are too worried about the consequences if it fails, you are almost guaranteed that it will.  I feel that the same is true with running the academy. In order to make it succeed, I have to commit to it 100% & believe in its success.  It is with this in mind that my family and I have made the decision that I will soon be stepping away from my full-time job as a law enforcement officer in order to teach Jiu-jitsu full-time. This is obviously a huge move for me personally, and while it is a little bit nerve-racking to make such a major change, it is more of a feeling of excitement than one of apprehension.  I believe in myself & my team, and I truly see a huge potential for the future of the academy.

My plan is to be running the Jiu-jitsu school on a full-time basis by the time we move into the new facility. This will mean big things for the school, including more opportunities to train as we will now be adding daytime classes to the schedule.

I'm sure that there will be some growing pains along the way, but I am very excited for the future.  I am completely committed to making this successful. I hope that all of my students & training partners are just as committed to continuing their growth and development in Jiu-jitsu. Together, we will all help to keep the team moving forward.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

There is an "I" in Team....and it's You!

One thing that's certain about practicing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is that we're all in it together.  One of the very unique aspects about our art that differentiates it from other sports & even many other martial arts is that you can't do it by yourself.  Sure, there are certain drills that you can practice on your own, but most of what we do requires a partner.  The beauty of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu training, and what separates it from many other martial arts, is the "aliveness" of the training-the fluid interaction between training partners during live sparring or "rolling".  This is what helps us to develop the timing, sensitivity, and reaction that are essential for mastering the art.  Therefore, it goes without saying that if you want to excel at Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, you must have good training partners.

There are basically three types of training partners that everyone needs in order to maximize their success.  First & foremost, you need those who have more time on the mat, more experience, and more technical expertise than yourself.  These are your resources for developing your Jiu-jitsu to a higher level.  They push you in live sparring, showing you the weaknesses & holes in your game.  They are the people that you look up to & try to mirror your game around.  You feed on their experience to help your development.  In sparring, these people can be a nightmare for you, especially when you're already tired. You know that you will likely spend most of your time sharpening your defenses as they are the proverbial hammer to your nail.  You will probably tap a lot.  But each time you tap, you will be learning. This person may be your instructor, or simply one of the upper belts in the class.  In either case, don't avoid training with them.  Seek them out & take advantage of them.  They are an invaluable resource!  This is even more important if you are one of the upper belts in the class.  As you grow & get better, it becomes harder & harder to find those who really push you. Seek out those who are technically superior to you & grow from their experience!

Secondly, you need those training partners who are at your level.  These are the people that you match up well with in sparring for good, back & forth matches.  Sometimes you catch them, sometimes, they catch you.  You both push each other forward.  With this person, you have the freedom to open up your game a little more, always being aware however, that if you make a mistake or leave a big opening, you will probably pay for it!  These are the training partners that help you to clean up your fundamental techniques & develop your "go-to" game.

Finally, you need those who are below your technical level.  Often, these are the ones that are overlooked by the upper belts.  Sometimes, the more experienced students will avoid the newer students or view training with them as a waste of their time. They may even develop the attitude that they are doing the person a favor by training with them.  I believe that this is the wrong attitude.  Even very experienced students can gain from training with those below their level.  With this person, you have the freedom to experiment & "play" Jiu-jitsu.  You don't worry too much about getting yourself into a bad spot, because your experience will help you to defend & get out of trouble if you make a mistake.  So this is your chance to fine-tune newer techniques & practice those positions where you aren't as comfortable.  Whenever I'm trying to learn a new technique, I always try to apply it in live situations on the lower belts first, then work my way up to sharpen the technique & timing.

The advantage of training in the academy is that typically, all of these types of training partners are readily available to you.  In addition, at each level, there are people of various sizes and varying levels of physical attributes (strength, flexibility, endurance, etc.).  Each of these adds a unique element to your training.  So, the bottom line is this:


The academy isn't defined simply by who the instructor is, or the physical structure of the building.  More importantly, it is the interaction among the people who share the mat together on a regular basis & strive to learn from each other.  It is the collective experiences of those who are training together & the shared relationships developed that is what makes the academy so special.  So, whether you are the newest white belt, or the most experienced black belt, you are essential to the team.  It is the newer students responsibility to take advantage of the upper belts experience. It is the upper belts responsibility to help develop these newer students into training partners that will push them in the future.  So, the most important thing that you can do is to show up to train. Develop yourself & in turn help the entire team grow.  See you on the mat!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Favorite Student

While perusing one of the popular Jiu-jitsu forums the other day, I came across a thread asking the question, "Who is your favorite student?".  After pondering that question for a moment, I began composing a response.  I have copied my post below.  If you would like to see the original forum thread, you can view it here.

"My best student isn't anyone in particular....I'm not naming names. In fact, it's not necessarily any one person, more of a hypothetical. Anyone in my gym has the potential to be my best student, and from time to time is... here's who they are:

My best student is the guy (or girl), who comes to class consistently, not necessarily every class, but as often as they are able to, at least a couple times/week. They show up to class on time (or even early) with their (clean) gi & all of their equipment.

They go through the warm-ups and give their best effort on every movement & technique. During class, they pay attention to the instruction & drill what is taught as much as possible during the allotted time. They don't add to, or try to change what was taught by the instructor, but will be a good partner, (not trying to resist or defeat their partner's technique, but not trying to be a dead fish either), and will give their training partners good feedback. They will train to the best of their abilities with anyone in the gym. If they are a higher level then their partner, they will help them along the way to the best of their abilities. They ask relevant questions at appropriate times. They are always working on something. When the instructor asks, "are there any questions?", they are the first to raise their hand.

During sparring, they will have a goal in mind, understanding what they are trying to work on, and will give themselves the opportunities to practice their weak areas, as well as their strengths. They are not rolling to "win", rather to learn & improve and to help their partners improve as well. They understand that it is their job to make their partners better and, in turn, their partners will make them better. They will leave their ego at the door, tap when necessary, always keeping themselves and their partners safe from injury. They pay attention to the other students around them and watch their spacing. They understand how to flow and how to set an appropriate pace and intensity level based upon their partner, the length of the round, and the goal of their particular training session.

They are typically the first on the mat and the last to leave. They greet everyone who comes on the mat, and are the first to extend their hand to make a new student feel welcomed. They support their school, their instructor, and their team. They help out around the academy, doing their best to make it a safe, clean environment. They are not afraid to pick up a mop at the end of class and help to clean the mats. They hold themselves and their teammates accountable. This means picking up the phone, sending an email, or a text to that student they haven't seen in a while & encouraging those who need it to get back on the mat.

If they compete, they respect all of their opponents, but they have confidence in their own abilities. They step out on the mat to win. They have victories & defeats, but they always carry themselves & represent their academy with class & character, and thank their opponent for the opportunity. They are humble in victory, gracious in defeat, and they try to learn from their mistakes. They put both wins & losses into the proper context & don't hold on to either very long.

They are always a student first, and are committed to their own learning & advancement. They keep an open mind, and are open to learn from anyone. They place trust in their instructor, but also take responsibility for their own learning. They put in their time outside of class, reading, watching competition & instructional video, studying and analyzing positions, drilling, getting in extra reps before or after training. When possible, they attend seminars. Although they set goals for themselves, they don't worry about when their next stripe or belt promotion will come. They just show up & train. They have good days & bad days, but regardless they just keep coming back & getting on the mat.They understand and appreciate the history of the art & where it came from, and they respect their roots and those who came before them. They are proud of & appreciate their lineage. One day they may become instructors themselves, and they will strive to make their students better than they were.

As an instructor, this is my "best" student. As a student this is who I strive to be."


It appears that I'm starting a blog....

Everyone seems to have one these days, so I guess I might as well too.  So, welcome to the first edition of the BJJ, Inc. Blog.  This is a space where I will share news about my Brazilian Jiu-jitsu academy, my thoughts, observations, and insights on my own training, and the world of grappling & Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in general.  My hope is that it will be insightful & beneficial to others who are on the same journey that I am, and keep everyone up to date with what's going on with the academy.

First, as a way of introduction, my name is Jon Plyler.  I am, first & foremost, a student of the amazing art of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.  I am also the owner & head instructor at BJJ, Inc.-Fight to Win Brazilian Jiu-jitsu of Denver, NC.  We are a part of the Fight to Win Brazilian Jiu-jitsu team out of Charlotte, under the leadership of my instructor, Steve Hall.  After many years of training, I had the honor this past December of receiving my black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu directly from the legendary Royce Gracie. 

My academy is located in Denver, NC, a relatively small town just north of Charlotte in the Lake Norman area.  We have a great group of students, both kids & adults, and are growing everyday.  I also have the privilege of having both of my kids on the mat training with me regularly.  For more information on the academy, please check out our website.

Obviously, training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a major part of my life, both personally & professionally.  Every moment that I get to spend on the mat is precious to me.  It is an amazing privilege to share what I have learned with others, and to watch them develop the same love for Jiu-jitsu that I have.  It has been an amazing journey so far, and I am very excited about the future.  Thank you for being a part of it.

Left to right, myself, Royce Gracie, & Steve Hall