Hello World!

Welcome to The Gentle Art and Life. This blog is intended to chronicle some of the myriad benefits received from training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as well as practical tips and guides for those trying to step up their game. Three main categories will be focused on: Mind, Body, and Spirit-as I find those to be three crucial aspects of the artist.

Just as I share my journey everyday with my brothers and sisters at the dojo, I hope to share any helpful knowledge I can with the world and further promote the great sport, lifestyle, and fighting system that has so enriched my life with self discovery, purpose, and direction. So read on and go train!

Rhett Whalen

The Discovery: 5 Things I Learned In My First 3 Months of BJJ

Professor Roy Dean introduced me to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I was 22 or 23 at the time, enrolled in college and studying something I really didn’t care about. I cared about lifting heavy objects, running through the mountains, and generally pushing myself to find my mental and physical limits.Professor Dean offered an Introduction to BJJ No-Gi course as an elective through the college. It proved to be the most important class I’d take in college as it directly rerouted the trajectory of my life. I knew I was strong. I knew I was fast. I knew I was smart. Then, I got smashed, choked, submitted, smashed again, and generally humbled by some totally unassuming men, the Professor included. I knew that I needed more! That was my final term in college. I decided to invest the rest of my tuition money in RDA. Roy’s motto is “Discover Who You Are.” Turns out that by taking that class I had only begun my discovery.

Here are some things I learned in those first three months of BJJ:

  1. I had grossly overestimated my combat effectiveness- Like most untrained men I had thought that I was much more skilled of a fighter than I was. Turns out I was about as good of a fighter when put on my back as a stoned turtle.
  2. Physical fitness does not translate into grappling ability– At 150 pounds, I could deadlift over 300 pounds and run 20 miles at 5000 feet above sea level. Alas, I didn’t know how to hip escape.
  3. True Martial Artists are calm, cool and collected- Contrary to popular belief, ‘seeing red and going crazy’ doesn’t get you far when facing a skilled opponent. Utilizing this technique, you will soon be seeing stars and going to sleep!
  4. Progression in BJJ, as in life, takes time, intention, and practice- I knew for sure that I would be a blue belt within 6 months. Turns out that the first thing I had to learn was how little I knew. Again, I was in my early twenties…
  5. My path is not the same as everyone else’s- Every BJJ practitioner develops their own game; not everyone will follow the same path. Some will play top, others bottom; some will be technical, others smooth and flowing. Likewise, life paths differ. Not everyone is cut out to be a college student. Some people will read and write to earn their educations, others will sweat and bleed.

Continue reading The Discovery: 5 Things I Learned In My First 3 Months of BJJ

3 Paths to Jiu Jitsu Wisdom

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third by experience, which is the bitterest.”       -Confucius

I was sitting on my girlfriend’s couch one blustery winter day reading a book called Pocket Peace:Practices for Enlightened Living by Allan Lokos, when I first read this  quote. As I read it I immediately started to visualize these three paths translated to learning on the mat and knew that I had to further explore this idea as I felt that I had experienced all three paths with similar results in feeling as those described. Note the irony; employing principles from a book called Pocket Peace, a book written by an apparent Buddhist, to better understand how to learn to choke and potentially disable people.

To define wisdom we must call on a most powerful resource of knowledge, Google. Google offers three possible definitions; for this purpose the definition “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgement,” will be used. With that definition in mind let’s take a closer look at these three paths to wisdom

  1. Reflection– To better understand reflection, let’s think of some synonyms; thought, pondering,deliberation, even meditation in extreme cases. With reflection comes visualization, a technique used by so many greatly successful people including but not limited too, throngs of successful athletes, business people, actors, salesmen, etc.                                                                                                           Confucius says that ‘reflection is the noblest path’ because it requires a person to actively seek out the answer to the problems they face by looking inward, theoretically before changes are necessitated by experiences that force a change in behavior due to an unwanted outcome. An easy example would be a person coming in before class, sitting on the mats and thinking their way through submission options from their favorite guard pass.
  2. Imitation– Both the highest form of flattery and according to Confucius the ‘easiest path’ to wisdom. Why figure out the problem for yourself if someone else has already come up with the answer, besides isn’t that what teachers are for? This is probably the most common form of learning done and is commonly seen throughout the animal kingdom.                                                Royce Gracie used BJJ to beat his opposition in the early UFCs including Kimo, a hulking Hawaii’an who was more like a wrecking ball than a martial artist, and even Ken Shamrock, who also successfully employed submission fighting techniques. Many people in the world of fighting began to imitate the Gracie fighting methods because of their apparent effectiveness- suddenly ground fighting and submission skills became a necessity in the cage.
  3. Experience- Of course we can never truly learn something without experiencing it’s function in action, but cultivating our evolution through negative experiences is what could potentially produce ‘bitterness.’ For instance, one of my most profound memories of starting BJJ was getting absolutely smashed by a big brown belt named Donald. I truly had no idea that a man could produce so much pressure and create such a helpless situation. Enter side control. Professor had taught us side control escapes, he had told us to get onto our sides, never flat on our backs. It would have been much easier to initially imitate Professor but no, this I had to learn from experience, and bitter this experience was!

The first six months of wisdom gain in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is overwhelmingly experiential and yes, much of it comes with a bitter taste; sore throats, sore joints, sore ego, bruises, gi burns, crushing pressure, and so on. Mixed in with that experiential learning is some imitative learning and as your training progresses experiential gains in BJJ wisdom should start to decline. At a certain point imitation seems to prevail. Once the student successfully imitates some very important movements and concepts they should be able to begin down the path of reflection. Eventually, the goal should be to be mostly reflective in gains of wisdom, but you see that just isn’t that easy.

The Fall: 3 Lessons Learned From BJJ Tournament Defeat

“There is no losing in Jiu-Jitsu. You either win or you learn.”

-Carlos Gracie Jr.

The first first few BJJ tournaments I entered were submission only events, a series put on by Sub League in Portland, OR. The instructors I had been learning from taught more submission artistry than positional dominance, which happened to cater directly to this tournament series. I won the first two qualifiers by submitting nearly all my opponents and took second in the championships! Additionally, I just received my blue belt before entering the second qualifier, and still pulled off a victory. Just recently, I competed in my first couple of points tournaments and did absolutely awful… Bummer, right? Yes, it is a bummer, but even more importantly it has been a great learning experience as can be most any adverse experience in life so long as you view it within the right perspective; the perspective of the student. So, here are some things I have learned:

  1. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a sport– Yeah, this seems quite intuitive, but what does that mean? In this case, certain predefined actions award points to competitors who perform them; of course, a competitor can win by submission but a points system developed out of obvious necessity.  Therefore, while sneakiness and craft may be used to set up and pursue submissions, they may not translate well into points!
  2. I am my greatest opponent– I am one tough bastard- which is great for me as long as I am not fighting against myself… Seriously though, the human mind is very interesting. I can feel so comfortable on the mat at the gym; staying one step ahead of my training partners, moving so intuitively,attacking aggressively- but then come tournament time, I can step on that mat and lose everything! The mind goes blank, action quickly withers into reaction, and all too soon the match is over and I really can’t recall what it was that I was doing… Just like your middle school football coach said, “It’s 90% mental!”
  3. BJJ competitors are generally cool people– There is a certain camaraderie we form as combat athletes, quite a deep one, that is hard to find in other sports and groups of people. Perhaps it is the appreciation for the hard work that you know the other guy puts in or the courage it takes to get on the mat. Or maybe, it is something less romantic, like being taught humility by your friends who are constantly trying to rip your arms off and sticking their balls directly on your forehead. Either way, I would say 95% of the people I have met through BJJ, including my competitors, have been very friendly, eager to share, and eager to learn; overall just great people to be hanging out with!

Obviously, I realized some techniques I need to work on, as well as some adjustments to my game plan that need to be made, like develop one for instance (See Lesson 2)… But that list is never-ending and I’ve got places to be. Overall, I would say that I have learned much more about BJJ by losing matches than I have by winning; loss forces examination and spurs growth in the true competitor.

If you have been considering entering a tournament, stop hesitating and sign up- the worst that could happen is that you may learn something!

Learn to Flow