Let’s Repair The Damage

I don’t know how racism is going to get fixed.  But imagine it is going to take some compromise and some willingness to receive feedback and implement it. There are a lot of uncomfortable conversations ahead of us. When we have those conversations are we going to be willing to listen and change the way we behave to one another? That’s the only possible way I see growth and change happening. 

Here’s the deal. If I say something offensive (and I’m sure I will because I’m human), I hope that you point it out and give me feedback and give me the opportunity to repair the damage.  I hope to be the type of person that can hear feedback and use it as an opportunity for growth. Without that we are just going to create more and more damage.  We should all of us be willing to see the damage we create and try to repair it.

Recently Greg Glassman, the founder and CEO of CrossFit, has created a lot of damage with his offensive words. He has been made aware and given the opportunity and has failed to repair the damage.  He has not only damaged our personal relationship but CrossFit’s relationship with the public, the crossfitters, the affiliate owners, the employees, the sponsors, and, most importantly, the black community, that now more than ever needs allies.  

I have been a part of the CrossFit community for over 15 years. I have opened gyms, taught seminars, trained countless people that have gone on to open gyms and train countless more people.  The methodology of CrossFit combined with efforts of many good people has saved lives, created jobs, forged communities, friendships, and families. I hope that the good that was done is not undone by Greg’s thoughtless words.  The people I have worked with in the CrossFit community have been committed to improving the lives of everyone they come into contact with which is why Greg’s words are so shocking and hurtful. My heart goes out to all of us that were hurt by his words.   

I hope that CrossFit can repair the damage. Regardless, I must in good conscience take a stand against the company that has brought so much to my life and been a part of my identity for many years. I stand with the affiliates, athletes, and employees of CrossFit that are affected by this and, more importantly, I stand for the black community that deserves far far better than this. Black lives matter. They more than matter. They are essential. 

I remain committed to being of service to those that wish to improve their lives through fitness. More importantly I remain committed to being a good person morally and ethically and standing up for what it right and not remaining silent when something is wrong. I hope that the relationships I have made over the years remain strong and that we can move forward with the common goals of community and health and equality.  

Stupid Shit

Racism is stupid. However it is real and it is insidious. It has never gone away but it was downplayed for a while.  We thought maybe we had overcome a lot of it, but, as current affairs illustrate, we definitely haven’t come as far as many of us thought.

Let’s talk about racists.  There are a lot of them.  The easiest racists are the openly racist racists that know they’re racist.  For a long time they were mostly underground, but lately have been emboldened to speak openly about their racism.  They perpetuate hatred and stereotypes and are potentially dangerous in that they often also feel their racism justifies violence. The obvious racists are bad and still are probably a minority. 

The more difficult group of racists are the unknowing racists.  This is a potentially much larger group and can still be divided into two sub groups.  The unknowing racists that don’t care and the ones that do.  The ones that don’t know and don’t care are going to be extremely defensive about being called racists.  They will swear up and down that they aren’t racists.  They claim only to be sharing “facts” which are thinly veiled stereotypes or propaganda from biased sources.  This group of racists will largely try to gaslight you, call you a libtard, blame Hilary, and deflect a lot of the criticism.  They are also quick to pull out their black friends for proof of non-racism.  Again these racists will often stop short of overt racism but are quick to respond with “all lives matter” and “what about black on black violence?” to discussions of race.

The other subset of unknowing racists are, at first glance, indistinguishable from other racists, but the difference when you drill deeper is one of ignorance, not of malice. A lot of people repeat racist shit just because they do not know any better. It sounded funny or they did not really know how offensive their statements were. Even in this day and age it happens. But once confronted with the truth they capitulate. These people can turn around. It is our job to educate these people and help them understand. This is the maybe the best place to start.

Beyond the people, the “bad apples,” the bigger problem is institutions. We need to first acknowledge that their is an underlying problem in institutions that works on many levels. We have actual laws and rules that are stacked against black people, we can change those. However, the bigger problem is the “bro-code.” The code amongst those in power that group together and have unwritten codes of conduct that govern rules of engagement with black people. These rules also govern how they follow orders and turn their head to abuses of power and it is all protected with a code of silence where they do not rat on each other. Even the good apples when they join these groups can be pressured to go along with things that would otherwise be unconscionable. We have seen it before throughout history. The refrain of “I was just following orders,” will be heard over and over again as the recent abuses come to light and those responsible are held accountable for their actions.

The social pressure helps explain but does not excuse the bad behavior. But it can help us understand how people that we know to be good people can get caught up doing bad things. What the bad actors want to do is appease us by sacrificing a few bad apples, but that won’t change the system and we will be back where we started. We must figure out how to dismantle the insidious brotherhood. This is so hard because it is under the surface and lurks in the shadows. There will always be like-minded individuals that will abuse the power of the state to subjugate others. We must resist. We must oversee those in power because we now see how corrupt it has begun while we have relaxed.


Something I have noticed about jiujitsu is not unique to jiujitsu.  It’s part of many organizations.  It is related to the rules that are spoken and the ones that are unspoken.  

The written rules

Brazilian Jiujitsu is a martial art where you are divided into a hierarchy based on your belt color.  There are understood rules of conduct that apply to where you are in the hierarchy.  For example, where you line up at the opening or closing of class is based on your rank. There are clear rules on what belts can teach, what moves are legal in competition, what moves you need to know to advance to another belt, what rank belts can promote others. These rules provide a strong framework for how to navigate. Every organization needs rules. And organizations with a hierarchy definitely need some delineation to help understand the hierarchy itself: who reports to whom, and who has to defer to whom, are important rules to maintain order and allow those of higher ranks to have authority over lower ranks to the extent it is necessary in an organization. 

The unwritten rules

In jiujitsu we also learn other rules of conduct that aren’t always written down but are understood and you’d better learn them too if you want to get along.  For example, if you and your friend are rolling and come too close to another pair of athletes rolling, it is understood that the lower ranked belts have to stop their roll and move away.  Certainly the rule will have to be spoken at some point usually by an annoyed higher belt that tells the lower ranked belts to get up and move.  This rule is a simple tie breaker and it makes sense because often matches between higher belts are a little more intense and have a little more at stake. And also it is more likely that higher belts might be training for an event and that lower belts are not as invested in the outcome of their roll.  A less known and less defensible unspoken rule is that lower belts should not ask higher belts to roll and a the related rule that if a higher belt asks you to roll, it’s considered bad form to decline the invitation. This rule doesn’t seem to have any logic behind it other than maintaining the hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy.  There is no real reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to ask to roll or decline from rolling with anyone for any reason.  This is more so with female athletes.  Male teachers should avoid situations where they are asking to roll with their female students and especially creating situations where they feel that they are powerless to decline.  Furthermore, it is important that everyone feel empowered to ask to roll with whomever they want.  This is also tempered by the fact that the instructor should try to pair up good matches by size, ability, and gender.  

The myths

There are myths that also abound in the jiujitsu culture.  For example, the classic myth that students should never wash their belts because all their power and knowledge will wash away is ludicrous but people still say and, worse yet, people believe it.  You should wash your belt because it gets sweaty and carries germs, not knowledge.  There are other myths as well like a higher belt should never tap to a lower belt, a good blue belt could beat any regular person in a street fight.  

The shit they don’t tell you 

The shit they don’t tell you, is stuff that happens that is slightly more subversive.  Every BJJ school has a few “enforcers” — those guys that are the first line of defense when an outsider comes in.  Usually when someone comes into the school with a chip on their shoulder, the instructor will have their go to enforcer roll with the outsider to test them or humble them.  Sometimes the enforcer doesn’t even know they’re the enforcer, sometimes its just a guy you can count on to go 100 percent and not give anybody a light roll.  Sometimes the enforcer is someone whose personality is well suited to the job and all it takes is a knowing glance from the instructor to signal that person to do what they love: lay a smack down.  

The brotherhood

Jiujitsu is often referred to as a “brotherhood.” We share the love for this art and we have each other’s backs.  School’s have a tight knit culture.  There are lots of fast friendships within the school and lots of socializing outside the school and although schools often have rivalries with other schools, but when it comes down to it, it’s always jiujitsu against the world.  So when two new people meet and find out they both do jiujitsu, it is easy to become friends.  When schools have rivalries it is easy to that spill over into social interactions in real life and on the internet, but when a non-jiujitsu person says something bad about jiujitsu, all the jiujitsu people rally together.  
None of this is me saying there’s anything wrong with jiujitsu.  It’s me saying that in an insulated, male-dominated, testosterone-driven, sport that is based on physical dominance, where a top-down hierarchy exists there are layers to the rules and beliefs that people hold and that everyone knowingly or unknowingly subscribe to.  The important thing is to look at the organizations that you are affiliated with and understand what rules are you subscribing to.  Take a hard look and try to understand the unwritten language of the world you’re in.  On it’s face we can say this organization is good because of the forward-facing rules that are there for everyone to see.  And we can look at the individual level and say, all the people are good people.  But a bunch of good people in a good school can still have a few people that fall for the myth that they shouldn’t wash their belts and that could lead to a staff infection.  

Can we extrapolate this idea to other institutions and brotherhoods where the written rules say one thing and the unwritten rules say something else?  Take another male-dominated, brotherhood with an emphasis on physical dominance and power and combine that with top-down hierarchy and you have a good recipe for abuse of power and bad decisions. It’s a great way to get good people to do bad things.  

Buying Dumbbells

I’ve had a lot of questions about buying dumbbells lately.  Seems like an easy question to answer but it’s surprisingly difficult and requires a little bit of planning to make sure you get the best set for you. 
First and foremost we should consider what kind of home gym set up you are planning to build or add to. 

  1. I don’t want a home gym, I just want some dumbbells so I can do some exercises since I can’t go to the gym. 
  2. I want a few pieces of home gym equipment so I can continue to workout hard at home. 
  3. I have a home gym and want to expand it.  

There are also a few styles of dumbbells that are out there. 

  1. Self-contained adjustable dumbbell systems.
  2. Loadable dumbbell handles and plates.
  3. Single weight dumbbells.

As you can imagine you also have lots of choices and variety within these categories.  Let’s explore your choices a little more. 
Price is the third big factor.  You can almost always find used dumbbells at yard sales, craigslist, and going out of business sales.  The price will often be pennies on the pound for used dumbbells.  New dumbbells often start at around a dollar per pound and goes up from there depending on the material and the features. Purchasing online also incurs a shipping cost which can be substantial as it is based on weight.  So your best bet is to look locally for used and new dumbbells and for free shipping deals that most vendors offer on occasion. 
Let’s say your an occasional exerciser and now you find yourself unable to go to the gym.  You want a pair of dumbbells because you feel you are starting to soften up while in quarantine.  If you’re in this situation you probably want lighter dumbbells and will probably want some choices in terms of loading.  The self-contained adjustable dumbbells like the Powerblocks and the Bowflex SelecTech are expensive but good choices.  The benefits are that they allow you to choose your weight from 5lbs to 50lbs in 5lb increments.  You lift the dumbbell out of its stand and it is loaded to the weight you selected but the rest of the weights are contained in the stand.  The benefits are that they load and unload very easily and all the weights are not strewn around your floor.  For home users with limited space that don’t want tons of gear littering their house, these are a great choice.  The downside is that they are expensive.  I’ve seen a lot of people use these and they seem very sturdy but I would not trust them with a lot of high intensity workouts where they might be dropped on the ground.  But for home use, these are an excellent choice.  
If you are an avid exerciser and want to get a good high intensity workout at home but are limited on space and/or budget, the best thing is to get a pair or two of single weight dumbbells.  Men can get a lot of fitness with bells that range anywhere from 25 to 55lbs and women can often do well with a couple pairs in the 15 to 40lb range.  Rubber hex dumbbells are great because they are extremely durable and won’t scuff of your floors, but uncoated hex dumbbells are good too and so are round dumbbells.  
Finally if you have home gym you probably do not mind acquiring some more gear and also have other gear so you will want something to fill the gaps.   If you have a barbell and weight plates, getting a good pair of loadable dumbbell handles and some strong clips is a great way to expand the variety of exercises you can do without needing to clear out more space for a full set of dumbbells.  
Any way you slice it, you can’t go wrong from getting some good quality dumbbells and working out.  So best of luck to you.  

Control The Things You Can Control.

Have you been sheltered at home for ages? Are you starting to feel despondent? Hopeless? Worried? Anxious? Have you been watching the news and starting to get concerned about the state of the world? Have you started to worry about all the conspiracy theories that are out there?  Me too. 
What can I do about any of this?  Turns out I have little power to control a virus. I cannot control the news. I cannot control what people believe with regards to the virus or the economy or politics in general.  Shit! I can barely get my kids to pay attention to me and clean up the huge mess they’ve made.  However, I can still control my thoughts and my actions.  And that’s a lot. In fact, just doing that can a be huge, time-consuming challenge.  
What factors can I control about my health? I can control what I eat, I can control my exercise.  I can control my breath. I can control the amount of sleep I get.  I can control my exposure to screens. Even though I cannot congregate nor can I control the weather, I can still go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine.  I can control my hygiene. I can take hot and/or cold baths.  I can’t necessarily stop the flow of information, but I can slow it down and try to curate my experiences so I am not getting a lot of unwanted stimulae.  
I cannot control a virus that might come wafting through the windows of my house.  However, I can take control of my health and make my body the most anti-fragile, the most resilient, the fittest it can be.  I have spent the last two months exercising every day because I have no reason not to and I enjoy it.  I wish I could say I have been eating healthy as well, but I have not. I wake up every morning with the intention of taking control of my diet, but then my kids do not finish their delicious food and some other carb-laden goodies cross my path and the desire to “treat myself” overwhelms my defenses.
I, like most people, find it easy to make excuses for myself when it comes to eating. Then I thought about it and I cannot use the excuse of not being able to control what I put in my face. I’m doing 100% of the shopping and aside from some take-out and I’m cooking all the food that gets eaten in this house. Now, more than any other time in my life, can I really focus on eating better. So I have taken that back under my control. At least for myself, I have stopped eating sugar and processed carbohydrates.
While people may believe a lot of different things about health and nutrition it should be obvious that the more robust you are the harder it will be for this virus to take you down. The data supports this. The vast majority of the deaths from COVID-19 have a comorbidity. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/nearly-all-nyc-area-covid-19-hospitalizations-had-comorbidities-67476. That means your risk of being hospitalized is greatly increased if you have another underlying health condition when you contract SARS-Cov-2.  So take care of your health.  The types of comorbidities that are most common are hypertension, obesity, and diabetes these happen to be three of the most common chronic metabolic diseases that are directly the result of poor diet.  
Without getting too deep into the science, you should know that sugar and processed, refined carbohydrates wreak havoc on your body. As you overconsume delicious, cheap, addictive, unregulated amounts of sugar and processed carbs, your body becomes insulin resistant and starts storing lots of energy in the form of fat. Simultaneously, your blood pressure goes up and your triglycerides go up and your body becomes more inflamed. The next stop on this train is obesity, or coronary heart disease, or diabetes, or cancer, or alzheimers. When you stop eating sugar and processed carbohydrates, your body starts to heal itself. Look at the stats for how much added sugar Americans eat every year: 156 pounds per person on average! Look at the death rates due to Chronic Disease: Seven out of ten deaths in the United States are associated with chronic disease. Look at the ridiculous costs associated with managing these diseases: Seventy-five percent of the $2-trillion spent on heatlhcare goes to chronic disease. The easiest way to avoid being a statistic, is to eat a diet of whole, unprocessed foods and avoid sugar. Simple but not easy. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid buying things with a long list of ingredients. Buy fresh or frozen and cook it up yourself.
While the desire to eat carbs, stay up late and binge-watch shows seems irresistible, do your best to take control back. Get to sleep early and wake up without an alarm if you can. Make your room nice and dark and turn off all your devices. There are a lot of hacks to getting good sleep: start experimenting with them and find something that works for you.
Someone once told me there were three pillars to fitness: exercise, nutrition, and recovery. And like a stool you need all three legs to support the structure. If you neglect one of them your fitness will not be sustainable. Start with these three and once you have them under control, you can start to worry about other things.

I See Your Point

  • Is there an infectious diseases that is killing thousands of people? Yes.
  • Have there been other infectious diseases like this throughout the course of human history? Yes.
  • Will humans be able to survive and will our immune systems be able to deal with this threat? Yes.  
  • Will many people die because their immune systems are not strong enough or because the virus is too strong? Yes. 
  • Do we need to slow the spread of this disease because people are dying and it’s overwhelming the healthcare system? Yes.
  • Will wearing protective gear, washing our hands, avoiding human contact, and sheltering in place help slow the spread of the disease?  Yes.
  • Is the economy falling apart? Yes. 
  • Are millions of people unemployed? Yes. 
  • Do we need to get back to work so the economy can stay afloat and we can continue to live? Yes.
  • Are there people, companies, and governments that are conspiring to grab power and money? Yes.
  • Are there people, companies, and governments that are conspiring to do good for people? Yes. 
  • Is my government lying to me? Yes.
  • Is it preposterous to think that all these groups can coordinate a large scale conspiracy on a massive scale? Yes. 
  • Is the media extremely flawed and divisive and filled with bogus information? Yes.
  • Is there good information out there? Yes.
  • Should I question the news I am getting? Yes.
  • Should I question what I believe? Yes.  
  • Is the average person doing their best to live their lives? Yes. 
  • Is it possible to want to do the right thing but still do the wrong thing? Yes. 
  • Is it possible that something is right for me, but wrong for someone else? Yes.
  • Is it possible something is right for a lot of people but wrong for a lot of people? Yes. 
  • Should I listen to health care professionals? Yes.
  • Should I listen to scientists? Yes. 
  • Should I stop watching the news and social media? Yes. 
  • Should I do everything in my power to make myself healthy and strong? Yes. 
  • Should I protect my family and those closest to me and keep them safe? Yes. 
  • Should I respect other people and their choices? Yes.
  • Do I want to go back to work? Yes.
  • Do I want to stay inside and avoid people? Yes. 
  • Can I agree with some of the things you say and do but not all of the things you say and do? Yes.
  • Is it possible to still love someone even if you disagree with them? Yes.
  • Is it possible we all want the best solution and that solution is going to have to be some sort of compromise? Yes.
  • Are we notoriously bad at compromising? Yes.  
  • Should we still try? Yes. 

Problem Solving, Part 2: Heuristics.

In my last article on Problem Solving I discussed what I called algorithmic problem solving. An algorithm is a finite sequence of well-defined instructions used to solve a class of problems. In jiujitsu you often learn a sweep, then you learn that if they post their hand, you do something else to complete the sweep. However, if your opponent posts their leg, then you do a different move.  Etc.  We have all learned a set of moves and counters and counters to counters.  That is algorithmic problem solving.  Much of jiujitsu is taught and learned this way. That’s great. But at some point you simply run out of storage to remember all the counters to the counters. Also in real time, it becomes impractical to read your opponent and react appropriately and quickly enough to be successful.  

In order to be successful in real-time training, we must rely on heuristic problem solving.  Heuristics are mental shortcuts that help us make quick decisions. Using heuristics is often a way to get a satisfactory solution when reaching an optimal solution is impractical. Take for example defending your guard in jiujitsu.  Most of the time you are taught if your opponent does one pass, you use this technique to defend it and if they do another pass you use a different technique to defend it.  While that has it’s place, what happens is  in real time your opponent switches attacks so quickly that it becomes impractical to try to read them and perform the correct defense in the moment. Instead you have to rely on some heuristics or “rules of thumb” to guide you and allow you to defend in a more general sense no matter what your opponent throws at you.  

Examples of heuristics in jiujitsu are things like:   

  • Never lie flat on your back. Always stay slightly on one side of the other.      Always posture up when you’re in someone’s guard   
  • Where the head goes, the body follows   
  • Never cross your ankles when you’re on someone’s back   
  • The person who wins inside position with the feet will win the battle for the legs.   
  • Try to make your opponent’s knees face away from you when you’re passing their guard.    
  • In order to break a joint, you have to control the next joint above it. 

When you begin to think of these rules that you’ve heard your instructor tell you, you can now recognize them as heuristics.  In jiujitsu students take a while to fully grasp these rules and implement them.  As a new student, it is comforting to learn precise techniques and exact rules for how to play the sport.  However, the further your develop, the more you get bogged down trying to remember all the various techniques and the more you have to start learning the broader rules and concepts and then you are able to fill in the various details from the library of moves in your memory or, potentially, make up new techniques on the spot to solve the problem.  Heuristics are the forest and techniques (algorithms) are the trees.  As you develop you realize it is important to balance heuristic thinking with algorithmic thinking.  Truly great jiujitsu practitioners employ both of these methods whether or not they realize it.  

Many moves begin off the grip. And new students struggle because the very first hurdle of a technique they want to use can be impossible to achieve against a resisting opponent that knows you want to get a certain grip. So the student tries and tries and is either lead into a trap by the more advanced student or they plow forward without the grip they want and hope for the best.  The more advanced student knows some basic rules of grip fighting: 1) the person that controls the grip controls the course of the attacks; 2) the best way to control the hand is at the wrist or cuff; 3) two on one is stronger grip than one on one; 4) keeping my elbows tight to my hips is the strongest position; 5) taking an opponents arm away from the centerline or across the centerline are the best strategic options.  

Knowing and utilizing some of these basic rules for grip fighting can lead you to countless ways initiate a solid grip fight with your opponent without an actual “technique.”  Instead of thinking about where your left hand goes and where your right hand goes, you simply try to improve your position by trying to implement some of these heuristics.  Thus you may score any number of good grips and advantageous positions that you can then start implementing one of your favorite techniques from.  Thus learn how to think and solve problems using both a rules-based approach and a technique-based approach for the best possible results.  

How Do We Go Back To BJJ?

I see a lot of prominent schools asking about this as well as other businesses.  It is a legit concern. Many of us need to get back to work.  We need to start earning again. CrossFit is sweaty and people are in close proximity but ultimately it may be possible for people to work out at a relatively safe distance from each other and avoid potential cross-infection.  
Jiujitsu is more troublesome because it requires human contact and you cannot help but breathe on each other.  It is potentially possible for people to wear masks but those offer minimal protection at such close quarters and will definitely get ripped off after a short amount of grappling.  Anybody that has worn wrestling headgear knows that wearing masks will be futile.  
Let’s assume that we open jiujitsu schools on a limited bases, the challenge for us and for businesses in general is controlling the spread of the virus much like it is now. With regard to the virus, we do not have a vaccine, people are still dying, and we have no evidence that we have herd immunity.  So what are we talking about?  We are talking about slowly opening things up and seeing how quickly the virus starts to spread again once we lift restrictions.  
Safety guidelines suggested not reopening until states showed a decline in cases for two weeks. No states have shown that but states have started reopening anyway. Probably the thing to do is watch them for two weeks and see how they are doing.  If cases start to spike again in those states then we are in serious trouble.  
Also Tanner Rice in California has reopened his jiujitsu school in defiance of the State’s s order to shut down. That will be a great source of data.  I doubt very much he will actually track how many of his members come back and how many catch the virus over the next month, but it would be great to see if they are adversely affected.  
Jiujitsu schools thinking of reopening absolutely must make the effort to track how many members are training and how many catch the virus.  That’s above and beyond the safety measures they take to try and minimize the spread.  Anybody can be carrying the virus for two weeks before they even show symptoms.  If someone shows ups six times in two weeks they could potentially infect the entire school before they show a symptom.  All they have to do is infect the teacher who might be there for every class and then the teacher could infect every other student over the following two weeks.  
I know our school is creating a plan where two training partners can work together and only with each other and sign out time slots where they can basically have the mat to themselves to drill.  That way they minimize the spread if one of them gets it.  Small groups of people that again do not intermingle with other groups is another way to reduce the risk.  So one teacher could potentially teach the same group of six people Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. And another teacher could teach six other people on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. As long as the groups do not cross over they can reduce the spread.  
What was once good natured ribbing about washing one’s belt will now be very strict guidelines on showing up with clean gear and sanitizing before and after rolling.  I don’t know how it will play out but things are going to be different for a while. I, for one, am eager to start strangling people again.  

Problem Solving: Solo Edition

When you learn math as a child, you start with basic counting, then addition, then subraction, you learn multiplication and division, and then on to higher level algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.  You build off previous knowledge and skill and use it as the base for more complicated problem solving and abstract thinking.  
It has been said by many people that the art of Brazilian Jiujitsu is high-level problem solving. Much like chess where you strategically advance your position against an opponent that is actively trying to advance their position against you. In BJJ, you must solve problems in real time and deal with a constantly changing landscape as your opponent brings their skills to bear on beating you.  
We can all remember when we were white belts going against purple belts and the experience was much like a fifth grader trying to take a high school calculus exam.  You simply did not have the tools be effective. The problems were too hard and you simply could not solve them fast enough for you to be successful.  
How do we learn to be problem solvers in jiujitsu? Initially things are very algorithmic and linear. For example, someone is mounted on you and you learn to bridge and reverse the position. Then you learn the elbow escape as another possible escape from mounted position.  Eventually, you learn to combine the two moves in order to maximize your effectiveness. This is basic problem solving.
Techniques are the movements or positions used to accomplish a task. You can think of each technique as solution to a problem. This technique is how your break the grip. This technique is how you open the guard. As you get more advanced, the techniques get more advanced and are often comprised of many sub-techniques. In order to get from one position to another you will have to go through several other positions along the way.  Thus, your ability to successfully get to where you want will require the ability to use multiple techniques to successfully overcome each problem along the way. For example, you have an opponent in your closed guard and you want to take their back. In order to get to your opponents back, you must be able to get your head higher than their head and reach around their back to their far lat and get a grip.  But before you can do that you must take their elbow past your center line.  However, before you can move their elbow, you have to break their grip. Now the order of operation is set: break their grip, pass the elbow across your centerline, get your head higher than their head, grab their lat, take the back.  Once you have the outline you have to solve each problem before you can tackle the next problem but if you solve each problem correctly, you can advance to your opponent’s back. 

Thus we can start to see how this thinking is a very linear algorithm: if A, then B; if B, then C; if C, then D, etc.  Once you’ve decided what you want to do, you figure out the problems that you will need to solve to get there and then proceed to solve the problems. 
How can we bring the same problem solving mentality to our solo drilling?  This is the important question to ask if you want to stay sharp while training on your own.  Initially, we learn by repetition. Whether it’s multiplication tables or armbars, we drill over and over again until they become reflexive.  The old axiom is “You do not practice until you get it right, you practice until you cannot get it wrong.”  However, we have all been in the situation where a move feels effortless in drilling but impossible to execute against a live opponent.  So drilling is not enough.
In addition to drilling, we need to practice our improvisational skills, our ability to problem solve in real time.  In drilling you know what is next and you are not trying to create new solutions but rather memorize old solutions.  In improvisation, you are trying to solve new problems in real time.  The difference between drilling and sparring is like the difference between playing your scales and sitting in the with the band.  
Solo drills are usually done in warmups. And the way we practice is through repetition. Sometimes we do 10 bridges, 10 technical stand-ups, and 10 sprawls. Sometimes everybody lines up on one end of the mat and shrimps down to the other end and gets up and walks back to beginning and then this time they do forward rolls. You keep drilling like this or in a similar manner for most of your BJJ career.  That’s fine for a warmup and is a good way to get your reps in. If you’re a white belt, then that is what you should be doing  However, eventually you want to move and think like a jiujitsu player.  
You have to stop thinking of reps and start thinking about the connection of movements and positions.  Let’s say you do a few shrimps and run out of room.  Do not just get up and walk back to the other side of the room.  Figure out what moves are going to enable you to get back to the other side of the mat. You can bridge and get to your knees and then forward roll, you can do a technical stand up and do low lunges or shooting drills, you can forward shrimp, or you can sit up and do collar drag drills, The important thing is that you do not merely do reps. Instead you should think of what movement connects to this movement or how can I move across the mat or how can I go from here to there using jiujitsu moves.  
Try to get from one position to another position, from your back to your belly and use the jiujitsu moves that you know.  There are dozens of ways to solve that problem of going from your back to your belly using moves you do in jiujitsu. For example you can bridge over one shoulder and go to your knees or you could do a backward roll and go to your belly just to name two ways. If your movement goal is to get from one side of the mat to the other likewise there are many ways to accomplish that using basic grappling moves. Thus your practice is now not about learning words, but rather about putting words into sentences.  You are developing the ability to link movements together to get from position A to position B. That requires you to do some creative problem solving and accesses that part of your brain that you use when you train jiujitsu.  The more you do this the more fun you have and the more interesting drilling and warming up becomes.  You can start to visual that may actually arise and you can start to shadow grapple the same way that boxers shadow box.  Thus now your brain can connect the movements to actual situations and then you can access these moves much faster when you find yourself in the situations you practiced.  
Go ahead and start to practice flowing from position to position.  Try to find several ways to get from A to B and then from B to C.  Things will start to open up for you and your solo training will be much more productive.  

I’ve Finished Netflix. Now What?

Some people are still out on the front lines caring for the sick.  Some people are still working to do the essential tasks of picking up our garbage, stocking our supermarkets, delivering food, and keeping our streets safe. Our debt to all of them is immense. My gratitude and thanks will never be enough. They will undoubtedly come through this quarantine experience changed.  We all will.  

However, those of us doing our part by staying home, have more choices in the way our situations will play out. After a full month of being quarantined it is starting to feel repetitive.  We need to focus on our personal goals. We need to rely on routines and habits to keep us making positive choices when motivation starts to ebb.  If you’ve continued to wake up early, workout, eat right, spend time with your family, take moments of quiet reflection, and go to bed early, then you have set up a good system for yourself to continue to make positive change.  If you are still struggling to find a routine, focus on that.  Keep your alarms set, cook healthy meals, and turn off the screens for a couple of hours and read, exercise, meditate, stretch, play music, make art, or indulge in your hobbies. 

I can’t claim to know what other people are going through, but I imagine one of the hardest things for people to do now and always is be alone with their thoughts.  Set the time on your phone for 3 minutes, then shut your eyes and breathe and sit still. Unless you do this often, it is surprisingly difficult.  Luckily we all have phones to distract us. Now we never have to sit and contemplate our thoughts because we have that distraction.  But be careful because those thoughts can sneak up on you, so before you go to bed make sure you alter your mind with some alcohol or marijuana that will help distract you.  Good you dodged those thoughts again. 
I know a lot of people have actually spent some time alone with their thoughts and they seem to be the ones that are at peace in this situation.  The blocking out of outside sensations and turning your attention inwards is a practice yogis call, “Pratyahara”  The path of the yogi is described as eight limbed path (“ashtanga”).  Of these eight limbs, the three I think are super important right now are the fourth, fifth, and sixth limbs. The fourth limb is “Pranayama” which is breath control it is characterized by various breathing exercises. The fifth limb is “Pratyahara” that withdrawal from the senses and turning your focus inward. The sixth limb is “Dharana” translated as concentration.

These limbs are somewhat sequential. First, you decide to breathe deeper. Then you start to ignore the outside world and focus your attention on inward on your breathing and your thoughts. Once you have accomplished that you can start to build the power of mind to concentrate. This happens naturally because your mind will want to wander. First the outer world will keep trying to overtake your senses: noises, smells, random itches, and other distractions will keep trying to draw your attention outwards. Furthermore, your own mind will try to wander and steal your focus away from your breath. Your mind will try over and over again to get you to be distracted.  But the more your fight the distractions, the better you get at concentrating.  

It is often a misstatement of the practice of meditation that you are trying to “clear your mind” or “empty your mind.” On the contrary, the goal is not to have no thoughts, the practice is to have the thought but not get attached to it. You see the distraction coming and acknowledge it for what it is, a distraction, and then let the thought go and turn your attention back inward. The better you get at this, the fewer distracting thoughts your mind starts to create and the faster you become at avoiding the attachment to the thought.  

It is through the breath that we find the easiest access to turning our attention inwards.  By slowing our breath down and focusing our attention on it we naturally stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system.  That is the part of our nervous system that is transformative, it creates the condition in the body where we rest and digest. Working out is a stressor on our body and it often upregulates us and stimulates our sympathetic nervous system. In order for our body to rebuild itself and adapt to the stress we must enter the parasympathetic state.  We flush the adrenaline and cortasol from our systems when we enter our parasympathetic state. Breath is our tool to affect state changes in the body.  Fast, shallow breathing can cause us to go into a sympathetic state and slow deep breathing can switch us off and allow us to go into a parasympathetic state.  It’s a user feature that many people do not know they have nor do they know how to use.  It reminds me of the time I bought a Chromebook to use as a beater laptop that I could write on, carry to coffee shops, and even let my kids watch videos on.  I had that for six months before I even realized it had a touch screen. In fact, I think it was my baby girl that was touching the screen that tipped me off.  
Well all of us have had these bodies for years but didn’t realize there were all the features we could access.  My hope is that over the course of the quarantine I get better at using this body of mine and likewise hope that I can help people use theirs better too.  Stay safe.