Month: November 2012

Yeah, thats great, kid. Playtime is over.

I have recently been reading a book about play and how it is important to human’s life.  This is the book I have been reading, Play: How it Shapes the Brain – Stuart Brown M.D. It is actually a very scientific and well researched book on something that you would not think was very academic.  Anyway why am I discussing this random book, more importantly why did I bother to read and what does it actually have to do with BJJ.  Well for me I found the concept of the importance of play intriguing.  Having worked in an office since leaving school, back when old skool was original.  I’ve not really done much of what the book describes as play.  I always did things for a purpose, my training, reading, there was nothing that I actually did for just the hell of it.  I always pushed myself to do the best I could and this probably wasn’t the healthiest  looking back and it definitely isn’t trying to do this now.  As I have tried and I have ended up damaged or ill.

But looking at my BJJ with “play goggles” on I am now starting to see aspects of this as my playtime.  In the book they gave a list of the properties of play:

Apparently Purposeless (done for its own sake)


Inherent attraction

Freedom from time

Diminished consciousness of self

Improvisational potential

Continuation desire

Thinking about the above and the fact that, “Playful interaction allows a penalty-free rehearsal of the normal give and take necessary in social groups…”  Has helped changed my view on my BJJ training. Due to my years of head down and suffer through it training style, I know this has had an effect on my motivation to train, as I used to see it as something I should do.  Yes I enjoyed my training, no matter how painful it was, but that was always afterwards. Once I had got it out of the way.  Yeah pretty negative words to describe something I “enjoyed” doing. But during my training I did tend to clock watch, which was definitely wrong the wrong attitude to have. (I know now)

The thing I have now realised is that, it is the free rolling I enjoy the most.  This fits totally into the description of play.  This also explains a reaction I had to an experience I had whilst rolling.  One partner I was with was heavier than me and was determined not to use any skill, just to use his weight and strength to “win”.  He in no way was trying to learn or try things out in a safe environment, he just wanted to get what he thought of as a win.  It had ceased to be about having fun for him.  I found this extremely frustrating, because it took away all the fun and enjoyment, for the both of us.  But the other thing we lost out on is learning.  This is a really good point the book makes “Play also promotes the creation of new connections that didn’t exist before, new connection between neurons and between disparate brain centres”  I know that I need to do the drilling and the learning to enjoy the “play”.  But the the play promotes and improves the learning of the techniques you drill.  So playing improves my learning, what an awesome concept. Being able to look at my training from a different perspective has definitely given me a fresh insight and a new motivation.

The best thing I have learnt from this book is despite being an old munki I can still enjoy doing something for the fun of it and not because there has to be a reason or a specific outcome from it and this I have found is very liberating.  It also is infectious and having fun does roll over into other aspects of your life too, which I have found beneficial.  After all you’re never to old to have some fun.

Keep on munki-ing

For those of you that want a bit more of an insight into the “Play” book here is a talk from the author from a few years ago.


Beware you are now entering Thoracic Park

I have had some problems previously when I’ve been stacked when been rolling, which has been a sore cervical and thoracic spine.  Just so you know which bit of the back I am talking about I have stuck a picture below.

Sections of the Spine

So I hope this clears up the technical sectional names I used.  Yeah I would not give up my position and end up balancing across my shoulders, so I was putting a lot of pressure on the muscles there.  I knew it wasn’t my neck (cervical spine) as I had pretty good mobility there.  So I looked into it a bit more and the thoracic spine or T Spine ( if you’re down with the kids), loses mobility/flexibility as you get older, also if you do a lot of upper body exercise, sit at a desk or computer a lot.  Well I ticked all of those boxes so I figured I should do something to improve the situation.

I looked into this further to see what I could do at home and everything sent me in the direct of a foam roller.  I discovered that there are different types of these.  You can get a standard foam roller from £10-£20 (on the Left) and you can get the harder Trigger Point “The Grid” ( on the Right) for about £34 both on Amazon.

My Foam Rollers

The foam roller is softer and The Grid as you can see has a solid plastic tube for the core. They both have pros and cons and can be used for more than just thoracic mobility, but I’ll cover the other uses another time.

So what fun things did this Old Munki get up to with his roller? A good starting/base exercise with the foam roller is below:

Overall this has helped the most, as it improved my spinal flexibility and I continue to it use as the basis of my ongoing thoracic mobility maintenance programme.  I’m not being pompous here, but as an Old Munki I have to have a general wellness programme (diet, mobility,exercise & supplements), to help me maintain mat time and an overall healthy body.  But generally mobility is a good idea at any age.  I do use some other exercises to give me a full range of flexibility in the thoracic area.  Theses other exercises don’t need a foam roller but work the rotational movement of the T Spine.  I also found out that the T Spine is the segment of the spine that we should be using to rotate and twist, not the lumbar spine. Another technical fact, the lumbar spine has a maximum rotational range of 13 degrees; the thoracic spine can rotate 35 degrees.  No it makes sense to maintain this, “use or lose it” as they say.

This is called a side lying thoracic spine rotation.  You can see from the clip how to do the basic exercise. However it may not be clear that your legs should be at 90 degrees.  Also whilst you are doing this tense your abdominal muscles in order to help keep your lumbar spine from rotating. You should definitely feel the rotation in your chest and upper back if you have any stiffness in your T Spine. Do ten rotations on each side, holding for a couple seconds at the end of each rep.

This is a good video explaining how to do a quad position thoracic extension and rotation.  It may not seem like much but I’ve found it to be just as effective just like the previous ones.  I personally have found these few exercises extremely helpful in loosening up my T Spine mobility. To the extent that when I have rolled since I have been really strongly stacked and I have been either able to roll out or work the position.  Then afterwards not be in any muscular discomfort. Which for an Old Munki is a personal bonus!  I should point out that I don’t tend to do these every day now, just a couple of times a week to keep things moving.  I hope this journey through thoracic park will be helpful for you with any T Rex Spine issues that may crop up for you.  Let me know if it’s been helpful or useful.

R-R-R it’s not just for Pirates!!!

I know its a crap title and there is nothing about pirates in this blog, but hey suggestions are welcome.  So from pirates to one of the greatest minds of all time Steven Hawking.  He said in his speech at the Paralympics ” we are all different, there is no such thing as a standard run of the mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.  What is important is that we have the ability to create…  This certainly can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics…  However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at..”

I personally found these words very profound as they seem to reflect on my life extremely accurately.  I have always considered my creative talents to be more physical than artistic. My brother is really good at music, art and even DIY.  But he isn’t very athletic, but that appears to be where my talents have always lay.  I have done various martial arts from a teenager and I have been a weights room since leaving school.  I have unfortunately never really carried anything through.  I’d get my blackbelt and move on that’s why various martial arts.  But as I get older I really want to succeed at something. However it is harder to do as much volume of training as I used to.  My job has much more stress and responsibility than when I was younger. I have a mortgage and responsibilities, the true sign of becoming an old munki. Not like the younger days when I didn’t have a care in the world and I could work and still train seven days a week and pick skills up quickly. Recovery what’s that? More training is what you need.  That was the nineties.  Now in 2012 I’m actively planning my training and fitting in recovery days. Otherwise I start to feel the effects of continued  overtraining and I can safely say they are not good.  So what are the symptoms of overtraining? Yes admit it I have tweaked the nipples of your curiosity.  Well there are some different symptoms of overtraining.  You are not likely to show all of these symptoms but if you are showing some it may be worth doing some self evaluation. I should say even if you do have some of these symptoms it does not automatically mean you are overtrained. This is where  you have look at your performance on the mat and consider if it is impaired or has plateaued. Or if everything you are doing on the mat feels like climbing up Mount Everest.  I have listed below some of the identified signs of overtraining these are:

  • Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy (Yup have had that)
  • Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
  • Pain in muscles and joints (Thought this was old age)
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Insomnia (This was the killer for me)
  • Headaches
  • Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
  • Decrease in training capacity / intensity
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased incidence of injuries. (This was awesome – see pic below)
  • A compulsive need to exercise

Overall improving conditioning requires a balance between overload and recovery (GAS Principle). Too much overload and/or too little recovery may result in both physical and psychology symptoms of overtraining. For me I suffered lack of energy, insomnia, decrease in capacity, injuries but I still felt I had to keep training. The other stuff I thought were the symptoms of becoming an even older munki.

If you have the suspicion that  you are overtraining, I would start with the following: Rest and Recover. Reduce your mat time or  allow yourself a few days of rest. Spend some time with the family or catch up on your series link on your Sky Plus. Hydrate. Drink plenty of fluids and alter your diet if necessary. Give yourself some quality food you are worth it.  If you get thirsty have a drink, not pop or fruit juice but slip some water in there too.  A good general recommendation is to drink enough fluid so that you’re not thirsty for long periods of time. A good way to tell if you are dehydrated is the colour of your pee pee.  There is a chart here that shows you the colours and how they relate to your level of hydration. Get a sports massage. This may help relax you mentally and physically it also feels good.  Both Mrs Munki and I get these on a regular basis to get rid of muscle knots as well.

A good but technical and scientific explanation can be found here from the American School of Sports Medicine.  If you geek out on the technical stuff this will nibble your banana.

I fall off the recovery wagon occasionally and push myself too much, but I keep trying to listen to my body and manually plan my training week.  By taking my recovery seriously I’m making sure that I am physically capable of achieving the mat time I need in a way that an Old Munki can handle.  Hopefully making BJJ the thing I can succeed at. Go Stephen Hawking!!! (Pirates & primates are cool to!)

This is what happens when you don’t listen to your body!

The Stone Age (Paleo) Diet – No it’s not about taking ages to eat stones!

Diet in any sport is taken seriously and BJJ is not different what you put in, helps with what you get out. Whether you are competing or just enjoying the training diet is important.  So something I have had some positive personal experience with recently is the paleo diet.  I really don’t like calling something a diet, as this implies it’s a short term fix for weight loss.  Where as when you look at this way of eating its meant to be as much a part of your lifestyle as your training or anything else you would do to stay healthy.

Paleo/primal is not just a low carbohydrate diet it is a way of eating that is meant to be in tune with your physiology.  It’s based on the fact that human physiology has not really changed since the stone age.  So we are not meant to digest refined sugars, wheat, cereals and legumes.  There is individual research around aspects of the diet, along with a lot of anecdotal evidence from individuals on how it has benefitted them.  A good source of this is the Robb Wolf website, that can be found here.

So lets follow up with the question I always get asked, if I don’t eat bread, potatoes, pasta, milk and rice what do I eat?  Well funnily enough I have managed to find these exotic things called meat, vegetables, fruit (bananas hmmmm) and nuts.  I eat as much as I want when I feel hungry.  It is all about identifying a diet that suits you.  If you are doing a lot of training you are going to need more carbs, (sweet potatoes, yams, green vegetables, fruit), but this is just fuel for your training.  Your protein intake helps your body repair and feel full.  Also eating more naturally means you get all the micro nutrients too, vitamins, minerals, fibre etc, which help with recovery and the natural processes of your body.  Now before you start throwing banana skins at me in protest, this does not mean you can never eat chocolate, pizza, beer etc ever again.  It just means that you consider the impact of eating these things.  You know beer has an impact doh who hasn’t had a hangover, possible headaches and lethargy from chocolate (been there)to name a couple.  You’re all big munkis so you make the decisions on how it affects you and your training.

If you are competing or just enjoying your training you want to have plenty of energy to do it. You also need to recover from sessions quickly so you can get back there (especially when you are an old munki it’s the recovery thats the frustrating part!). This is where the fuel you put in keeps you engine running well. You can see on any Google or You Tube search on just “BJJ Diet” the number of articles and clips that come up and how important your food lifestyle is.  that is why after looking at various different ways of eating I thought this was the best option for this aging munki, to keep me fit and training into the future.

This wasn’t meant to be a massive explanation of paleo eating, but more of a starter to get you interested in a nice meaty main course. So I hope it has achieved my aim. I may be a convert, but I was convinced by researching the subject to understand it for myself.  To get you started on this I have put some links at the bottom of the post that can give you a lot more information and see if this is for you.  If you have any questions how it works for me, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.


Loren Cordain – Founder of the Paleo Diet

Robb Wolf – Massive font of knowledge

Primal Britain – A UK view on the subject

Modern Paleo Warfare – Some awesome food, from the UK and funny too!

Strength & Conditioning because your worth it

I know much of this post is already well known by a lot of people but following some personal experiences I thought it may be worth revisiting a few points.

Look at the actual application of strength and conditioning in combat sports/BJJ as the main example. We all want to be a strong munki, this is the obvious benefit that an appropriate and relevant strength and conditioning training can bring to a combat athlete as stated on the tin, there are the other aspects, like injury prevention, rehabilitation and psychological and mental focus.

As a simple Munki I’m just going to look at it very simplistically. So why have an actual program? A truly periodized program that has been needs assessed and is worked out with the athlete and if appropriate the athlete’s technical trainer it can only really be a benefit to them both. Recovery, quality of training, staying in one piece!

However going off personal experience and various forum posts I have read, it seems that in the UK the role of a strength and conditioning coach is a grey area and it appears a misunderstood and sometimes maligned aspect of training. I can understand this with the title of Strength & Conditioning Coach thrown around so much, almost as much as a used banana skin.

Every athlete wants to be faster, strike harder and hold their position, well the basis of this is being stronger. Not bigger, as like a bodybuilder, but stronger like a competitive weightlifter. Like combat athletes competitive weightlifters have weight categories too, but are able to lift way more than their own body weight in an explosive way.


Zoe Smith 58 kg Division, GB 2012 Weightlifting Squad – with 80 kg on the bar.

So why can’t the same principles be applied to combat athlete. They both need strength, speed and flexibility. (Studies done at the Montreal and

Barcelona Olympic games showed olympic weightlifters to be second only to gymnasts as a group in flexibility.) All very useful traits to a fighter.
Now you may be thinking this is an over simplistic view (remember simple Munki), but strength and conditioning is just about giving the athlete improved tools, which then allows them to be more effectively moulded by the sport specific technical training.

So how is this achieved? One essential component of the prescribed athletic enhancement program is the incorporation of appropriate levels of predetermined (per individual munki) levels of stress, yes I said stress!! Yes, physical training, working and life in general exerts stress on the body. Not just Mrs Munki shouting at me to tidy up.  Applying these stressors correctly and in an appropriate order is what benefits the athlete. This is why the strength and conditioning coach has to work with the athlete, so they can work within the athletes other stressors (technical training, work, real life).

The different levels of applied stress prescribed by the S & C coach are both crucial and necessary for the “adaptation” of the body to take place. This adaptation it what developers the athlete’s various physical (strength/power) qualities.

The original model of periodized training, was developed as part of the Eastern Bloc training in the 1960s however the adaptation process is derived from the “General Adaptation Syndrome” outlined by DR Hans Selye.

**SCIENCE WARNING** Just wanted to provide a warning as I drift off into some technical stuff.


Figure 1

For the athlete the model shown in Figure 1 starts with the initial Alarm Phase, which would be the application of an appropriately intense training stimulus, this counts as stress to the body (the progressive overload principle). This results in a disruption of the homeostasis (equilibrium) of the body, so initially the athlete’s performance will decrease. The body then responds to the applied stimulus (Resistance Phase) by recovering and repairing itself working its way back to the initial equilibrium (homeostasis). The Resistance Phase includes a period of “Supercompensation, where the body adapt’s to resist the stress more efficiently. This takes it above the previous baseline so it can better manage the initial intense overload should it occur again. So this is where the athlete’s performance will increase. The “Exhaustion” or “Detraining” Phase follows with a reduction to the body’s level of homeostasis. This could be due to continuing the intensity of stress for too long and not allowing appropriate in cycle recovery. ****End of Science Bit*****

The S&C practitioner has the responsibility to manage adaptation and incorporate the appropriate levels of programmed stress (exercises) to be performed by the athlete’s for whom they are responsible. To do this in a safe and controlled way, that does not impede their technical training and improves performance but also helps to prepare the athlete against training injuries. This is just a very short comment by an Old Munki, that I hope makes you think about your own training and possibly challenge any negative existing perceptions you may have about strength and conditioning and the specialist coaches.  I hope you found it interesting and it didn’t drive you bananas.injuries.

Foot Note

For a full explanation of the Hans Selye GAS principle you can go here

Fun or Freakin Hard Work – Hows your Training?

Keep it playful is the title of Ryron Gracie’s own blog on BJJ.  Having read his thoughts on the subject I do have to say at my age, working full time and daily responsibilities  it does make sense.  I started BJJ as something to enjoy to give me both a mental and physical challenge.  I know I’m never going to be the next ADCC or World Jiu Jitsu Champion, but that was never a goal when I started, having fun was.  Now I am not saying I won’t want to compete at some point, that is definitely something I want to consider.  But there is no rush to that, it will happen when it feels right and I am happy to do it.

Now in the years I have been weight training and doing other combat arts, it has not always been for fun.  I have enjoyed it when it was over. I felt better and looked better, but sometimes the training was painful and not at all enjoyable and something I looked forward to.  It was more something I endured because I had to and I am sure we have all experienced that at one time or another.  I guess it’s all a matter of perspective?

Now I am an older munki I want to do something that will benefit me in the long haul and provides some motivation to do other things, like weight training and running.  As come on, throwing big weights around is not fun at the time if you are doing it properly.  You know the benefits and stuff, but that’s all after the hard slog.  So that is why I dipped my toe into BJJ.  It’s not been off to as great a start as I wanted, injuries, life issues, blah blah blah.  But it has helped me understand what I actually want from BJJ, yeah I am now officially a wise old munki! OK not quite but for me this is a good thing.

I am enjoying learning the history of the sport, about the Gracies, the Machados etc. Getting to know who the main achievers are and why.  I am also enjoying and appreciating how you can learn from watching others roll.  This wasn’t a concept I had ever considered before, I had heard other people talking about it, but never really been able to apply it in my head.  But having watch some high level guys and you notice a couple of things that they regularly use, the bulb finally started to glow (and yes I an kinda proud of my little hairy self). I now know I can get this insight from those around me too, but that was a big step for me.  Gaining an understanding of the principles and their application is my next target.  I know this is not easy, but hey hunting down your bananas if far more rewarding than having it handed to you on a plate.

Oh and one thing for next year, I want to train abroad.  I am going to Las Vegas and New York towards the end of 2013 and I would really like to get a couple of privates in and attend a couple of classes if I can.  I think that would be great fun.  I have pretty much decided where I want to go in Las Vegas, that would be the Cobra Kai Jiu Jitsu. Sim Go seems well respected and a good guy and I want to keep my experiences positive, whilst getting my head properly into this game.  I found a video of the gym and it looks good too.

You gotta love the music too!

 But if anyone has any suggestions for New York City, if it has recovered by then.  I was thinking of Marcelo Garcia and as I am only going to be there for a few days I can only attend one venue.  That is if his place has recovered from Sandy by then. But I am open to suggestions.  So I will obviously let you know this trip goes.  But you have to have some nice fun goals to work towards, don’t you?

I’ll leave the last word on this to Ryron Gracie “Don’t let something that is supposed to be fun hurt you, tap out”