Should You Train When You’re Really Tired?

I recently came back from Europe and just got clobbered by the 9 hour time difference. But I was really missing jiu-jitsu, so I made sure to get in a training session on my first full day back.

Was it an epic roll with 110% intensity?  Not so much…  It was a very controlled roll, focussing on just a few positions, with lots of discussion and analysis breaks.

Something is better than nothing.

After that workout I shot a video to help you decide whether you should train on days when you’re so tired you can’t see straight. I also covered some concrete examples of how to modify your training if you do decide to go to the gym exhausted.  And finally I shared a trick I often use to get me motivated on days when I just don’t feel like training.

The funny thing is that after getting up at 2 am, training at about noon, and editing the video that I was so tired I accidentally split the video up into two separate videos.

Oh well, if uploading two shorter videos instead of one longer video is the worst that happens to me today then I figure it’s still a pretty good day.

If you often find yourself  not getting enough sleep but still wanting to train then I think these two videos (part 1 and part 2) might be useful!

(By the way – I’m fully aware that some of my advice contradicts what I said a long time ago in my Dojo of the Rising Sun article –  that approach led to a pinched nerve in my neck because of overtraining. Today’s advice is informed by trying to learn from those mistakes once in a while and then passing that information on to you.)


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“If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

“If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

That’s a quote and a guiding principle from Roberto Leitao, a high ranking Luta Livre and Judo practitioner, that was shared with me by my friend Ed Beneville who trained with him.

Regardless of whether it’s a grip, a setup, a guard position, or an angle, if you don’t fully understand what’s going on then do everything you can to prevent it. Once you allow a match to go into an unknown area then you’re in trouble.

A smart opponent will try steer the fight to an area in which he feels comfortable and you do not. Don’t let that happen.

Even if you don’t know exactly what technique he’s trying to use, don’t let him take the next step.

Block, thwart and deny his every attempt to move the fight into unknown territory.

So that’s the general idea, and depending on the situation it’s either the best or worst advice I’ve ever heard.

Now when is this good advice?

It really depends on the context…

If you’re in an important tournament match, or in a sparring match with someone way above your level, or a real fight (knock on wood that you won’t need to go there) then this is the perfect time to apply “If I don’t know, I will not allow.”

Let’s say he’s in your closed guard and going for some weird grip that you don’t recognise: fight, fight, fight to prevent that grip. Maybe it leads to a guard pass that you’ve never seen before, or maybe it leads to a crazy submission – the point is you don’t know where it’s going and now is NOT the time to find out.

If you don’t know you don’t allow.

This principle can be expanded a little bit to include overall strategies…

It’s the old saying, “fight a boxer, box a fighter” applied to jiu-jitsu. Don’t let him to fight in his comfort zone, and instead take him into your world if you can.

Lets say that your opponent is awesome at the spider guard, so DON’T just blithely let him get his grips and then try to fight him. Don’t even go there; change the game instead.  Maybe pull guard on him. Or sit back and play the leglock game so he panics, abandons the spider guard, and gives you the guard pass.

Conversely, maybe your opponent » Continue Reading.

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Are You Willing to Go Back to White Belt?

Most people training in the martial arts have a goal to achieve the mythical black belt.

“When I finally wrap that black belt around my waist”, the narrative goes, “THEN life will be good, my wife, kids and dog will all love me, and I’ll never look stupid on the mats again.”

Ummmm, back up just a second…

A good black belt frequently has to go back to being a white belt, and deliberately put himself into situations where he’s going to look stupid for sure.

What do I mean by this?

In order to keep growing in the art at any level you need to learn new things.

And almost every time you add something big to your game then things are going to get worse before they get better.

Let’s say there’s this cool guard pass that your instructor has been telling you to do. You’re agree and think it would be a great fit with your game.

So you drill the move a few times and then try it out in sparring.

Things don’t go so well… You don’t pass the guard of your training partners… And you get swept and submitted multiple times.

Is it a stupid guard pass?  No, it’s just much more likely that you weren’t doing it 100% correctly.

Or let’s say that you start using a new submission from mount that you saw a world champion win the Mundials with. But when you try it out at the open mat suddenly you can’t finish even the brand new beginners with it.

These failures are happening because you haven’t yet learned the timing, the adjustments, and the fine details that make the technique work against any kind of resistance.

You might have a blue belt around your waist because you are blue belt level at doing a certain set of techniques. Those are your most reliable techniques, the core of your game.

By definition, a new technique is not one of your core techniques. So even though you’re an official blue belt you’re still a white belt when it comes to your new guard pass or submission.

And that’s OK. This is exactly how Jiu-jitsu is supposed to work.

In fact it’s an absolutely necessary part of getting as good as you can get.

There is a saying they get printed on coffee mugs that I completely agree with: » Continue Reading.

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How to Choose a BJJ School to Train At

I often get emails from people trying to decide where to learn BJJ.

They’re usually trying to choose between 2 or 3 different schools…

Should they train with the purple belt down the street, or the black belt across town?

Should they study at the Gracie Barra school, the Atos affiliate, or the 10th planet representative?

Should they choose the small school that’s friendly, or the big school that’s less personal?

Should they stay at the school where they started, or go to a new one?

Sometimes the answer is pretty simple…

If you want to start BJJ at age 60 then a hardcore MMA gym full of steroid douchebags probably isn’t for you.

If you’re hell bent on medalling at the Mundials then you’d probably better pick the school with the widest and deepest talent pool to spar with.

And if you specifically want to work on a certain aspect of your game then you might pick an instructor who is well known for that position.

However, the vast majority of the time, it all comes down to personalities. 

The better you get along with your instructor then the longer you’ll probably train at the school.

And the more aligned your goals are with those of your fellow students then the more fun you’ll have training.

Go and visit all the different schools in your area.  Pay the drop-in fee, get on the mat with the people, and experience the class first hand.

The bottom line is that if you sign up with a school then you’re going to spend a lot of time there.

Training, recovering from training, and interacting with the other students all adds up to a BIG time investment.  So it makes sense to spend a few evenings researching all the options available to you before you make that sort of commitment.

When you go to the school try to assess the head instructor.

It’s better train with someone you like and respect, than with a highly skilled  competitor with tons of medals who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your well being or progress…

Your training partners are just as important (sometimes MORE important) than your instructor.  So don’t underestimate the effect that the head teacher has on the rest of the students.

Like attracts like, so most of the time the personality of the instructor sets the tone for the whole rest of the school.

An asshole instructor is inevitably surrounded by a cadre of asshole acolytes.

» Continue Reading.

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Keep It Simple Stupid When Learning New Techniques

Have you heard of the acronym K.I.S.S?

It stands for “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  (It was later made politically correct by changing it to “Keep It Short and Simple” but that never really caught on, especially me.)

Anyway, K.I.S.S. is a good rule to live by when fighting, sparring and training.  You want to simplify as much as possible and not try to keep track of too many things at once.

There’s good science behind this: the more factors you have to consider the slower you make your decisions.  So keeping things simple actually makes you move faster.

But lets focus on how the K.I.S.S. principle applies when it comes to learning new moves.

Here’s my opinion: if you’re a teacher then you don’t want to load a student down with every last detail all at once.

And if you’re the student then you want to just focus on the next few things that’ll give you the best results fastest.

For example, if I’m teaching a complete beginner to throw a right cross I might tell them: “start with your fist glued to your jaw, then throw your fist in a straight line towards the target while you twist your body to generate the power.”

That’s it!  The subtleties of weight shifts, hand twists, foot pushes, non-telegraphic movement and so on will all come later, because first they’ve got to get in some experiental learning – learning by doing – before anything else makes sense.

Sometimes it’s more important for the student to get a quick result with a technique than it is to get it absolutely perfect on the first go.

If you have some initial success then it’ll boost your confidence in that technique and make you eager to learn the additional details to make it work even better.

Similarly if I’m teaching a triangle choke to someone for the first time I might tell them “triangle your legs around your opponent’s head and arm, then squeeze your knees, pull his head down and lift your hips.”

Now is that the most effective way of doing the triangle choke?


Are there many adjustments and tweaks that you can make to the triangle choke that make it much more effective?


For example, in the Youtube clip below Elliott Bayev does an absolutely brilliant job of breaking down some of these finer triangle choke adjustments.

So why not show » Continue Reading.

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MMA Weight Cutting with UFC Fighter Alan Belcher (And More)


I just released a new interview with UFC star Alan Belcher who has had some of the most exciting, edge-of-your-seat fights in the UFC.

In our chat Alan shares lessons learned from 26 MMA fights including…

The details of cutting major amounts of weight before an MMA fight His mindset while fighting Rousimar Palhares, one of the dirtiest and scariest fighter in MMA Lifting weights as physical therapy to hold his body together Exactly how he structured his UFC training camps and when you should be doing your heaviest training before a competition Tricks to use and mistakes to avoid when cutting weight Preventing overtraining by modulating the intensity and volume of your training sessions How dieting and cardio prevented him from actually training correctly How he prepared specifically to face a leglock expert in the UFC The crazy treatments he did to repair his detached retina And really quite a  bit more!

To listen to or watch this interview you have a couple of different options!  You can either

Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher) – the Alan Belcher episode is number 63! Or you can click play on the Youtube video below

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BJJ and Combat Sports Conditioning with Pshemek Drabcynski

I’m thrilled to bring you guys my interview with Pshemek Drabczynski. Pshemek was my very first ‘official’ BJJ teacher and I learned a ton from him.

He’s a BJJ black belt, a WKA North American kickboxing champion, and a physical conditioning guru.

In this episode we talk about martial arts specific fitness, getting stronger, improving endurance, eating properly preventing injuries, fasting and much more.

You can check out the interview one of three ways…

BEST OPTION: Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher).  Today’s interview is Episode 058. Directly download the episode as an mp3 file here Or click play on the Youtube video below

If you’re in the Orange County area and are looking for a personal trainer make sure to check out Pshemek at BestHomeTrainer.com

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A Musician’s Perspective on Studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

By Jeff Marder

I’ve been a musician for as long as I can remember, and have been playing professionally for over thirty years. My primary focus is playing keyboards, conducting, and doing electronic music design for Broadway productions, although along the way I’ve also played a lot of jazz, classical, and spent three years in Las Vegas playing keyboards on a Cirque du Soleil production.

Throughout my entire life, I always had a desire to learn a martial art. Aside from doing some wrestling in junior high school, I never pursued this interest as my schedule often interfered or I was on tour with a production. About three years ago, my schedule allowed me to begin taking some classes, so I began my journey at a local Krav Maga school.

While there, I signed up for a No-Gi Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class that was being offered. I was instantly hooked and immediately left Krav Maga to sign up at Vitor Shaolin’s academy in midtown Manhattan. I’ve now been training BJJ for about two years.

So many things about BJJ speak to me on an incredibly deep level; the camaraderie, the physical and emotional benefits, the competition, and the community. However, something that struck me about the learning process is just how similar it is to learning music. I’ve discussed this observation with several other colleagues in the music industry who are also martial artists and I find that we’re all in agreement. The purpose of this article is to share these thoughts with the hope that they might offer a fresh perspective.


Both BJJ and music each have their own respective vocabularies specific to their practice.

In music, we practice scales, arpeggios, and repertoire to learn the rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic syntax. Those specializing in western classical music must learn Bach Preludes and Fugues, Mozart Sonatas, and Chopin Etudes, jazz musicians must learn solos that were improvised by the masters note for note from recordings, and pop musicians need to have the experience of playing in a cover band to learn the building blocks of song structure, production, and arranging.

The BJJ equivalent would be the moves and positions that form the building blocks of the art such as the guard, shrimping, bridging, various guard passes, sweeps, and submissions. Trying to roll after just one or two classes feels a lot like being that guy who hangs out at » Continue Reading.

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Eye Gouging, Hair Pulling, and Theodore Roosevelt with Historian Daniele Bolelli


This is definitely one of my very favourite Grapplearts Radio Podcast episodes to date.

In it I talk with historian and martial artist Daniele Bolelli. When Daniele isn’t training MMA or giving lectures to students he’s busy creating episodes of his own podcast, History on Fire, which you should totally check out.

Our chat went all over the place, including from the rules (or lack thereof) in frontier rough and tumble wrestling, how Theodore Roosevelt lost sight in an eye sparring in the White House, the games Lakota Sioux children played to make them incredible warriors later on in life, and much more.

Oh, and after recording the podcast we went into Daniele’s incredible backyard and filmed a couple of MMA techniques which you can watch at the bottom of this page.

I hope you’ll enjoy this episode as much as I did, and still do!

To listen to this podcast you can…

BEST OPTION: Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher).  Today’s interview is Episode 053. Directly download the episode as an mp3 file here Or click play on the Youtube video below

A Few More Daniele Bolelli Videos…

As I mentioned, not only is Daniele a historian, but he’s also very serious about his MMA training.  Here are a couple of videos we shot right after the podcast…

First, from my new Self Defense Tutorials Youtube channel (which you should subscribe to, by the way) here’s Daniele defending Aikido as a combat sport… sort of.  Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean…

And in this video Savannah ‘The Savage Buddha’ Em jumps in to help Daniele demonstrate the elbow spear and how it sets up a devastating KO blow to the vagus nerve in the neck.

P.S. Sign up for my free BJJ Newsletter to be notified when other great podcasts are uploaded.  Click here to find out more.

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2 Easy Guard Passing Strategies


Here’s a brand new video I just shot…

It covers two quick tweaks that’ll make your guard passing game a LOT more powerful, both when you’re sparring in class, and also when you’re fighting in competition.

Passing the guard of a good player is one of the hardest things to do in BJJ. But here are two strategies to help you…

Guard Passing Strategy 1: Stand When Everyone is Kneeling, Kneel When Everyone Is Standing

The first strategy involves doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

If most people at your club pass the guard on their knees then it’s also true that most people are going to best a shutting down kneeling guard passes.

Conversely, if most people at your club pass the guard standing up then people are generally going to be pretty good at defending standing guard passes.

A person’s skills and ability to defend against certain kinds of guard passes are improved if they face those guard passes more often.

So then what’s the takeaway?

It’s simple…

If you’re at a school where most people pass the guard on their knees then start working on your standing guard passes…

And if you’re at a school where everyone passes the guard standing up then start working on your kneeling guard passes.

When it comes to tournament competition it’s a bit trickier, but if you do some reconnaisance you may find out that your opponent comes from a school that specialises in standing passes, which would tell you what style of guard passing you should probably use.

It’s a great argument for developing both standing and kneeling guard passes, isn’t it?

Strategy 2: Learn to Pass the Guard to Your Right

In the spirit of doing what your opponents aren’t good at defending, here’s another great strategy to add to your repertoire…

Have at least a few guard passes that go to your right side (i.e. to your opponent’s left side).

The reason this works is that many people – somewhere in the 60 to 70% range – primarily pass to their left hand side…

…which inevitably means that people are better at defending passes to their right side.

Think about it; are you more comfortable in your right sided half guard (with your opponent’s right leg trapped) or on your left (with your opponent’s left leg trapped)?

Most people are more comfortable on their left…

…so pass to their right (your left) and get a small-but-immediate advantage.

There are exceptions, » Continue Reading.

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Getting Your BJJ Black Belt at Age 62


I hope you’ll like this episode of the Grapplearts Radio Podcast! In it I talk with 62 yr old BJJ black belt Rabbi Mordecai Finley (the Wrassling Rabbi) about many topics including…

Starting BJJ at a later age and finally getting his black belt at age 62 How to pick the the right jiu-jitsu club Training with sciatica and after a heart attack The horrors of the Eastern Front in World War 2 and the extremes of human fortitude Interpreting the Torah Being Leonard Cohen’s Rabbi Awarding Blue Belts in marriage counselling And much more.

You can listen to this episode in one of several different ways…

Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher) and then look for episode 051 Directly download the episode as an mp3 file here Click play on the Youtube video below

Related Resources… Download the Roadmap for BJJ, our quick start guide for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for free.  More info about that book right here. If you’re thinking about starting and training BJJ in your 40’s, 50’s or even 60’s then click here to check out all our tips and articles designed to help the older grappler on the mats. Check out the most recent videos and articles on Grapplearts by clicking here.

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Blood, Sweat and… Sparta!!!

This may sound a bit weird coming from a guy who runs a grappling site, but I want you to ask yourself a question: why on earth are you spending hours and hours rolling around on the ground with men wearing spandex and/or pajamas?

Really… I mean it’s not the easiest of activities.  And it’s sweaty and sometimes it’s even painful…

Obviously there are self defense benefits to training, but if that was your only concern then you should just buy a gun! There are health and fitness benefits, sure, but wouldn’t it be easier to just hire a personal trainer a few times a week?

I think that a large part of the appeal of grappling is that it ISN’T a walk in the park!

We don’t train because it’s easy.  We train because it’s hard!

And the major milestones in your training – attending your first class, competing in your first tournament, getting your black belt – function as a sort of rite of passage, which is something that we’ve mostly lost in our society.

We have to remind ourselves that in bygone times rites of passage weren’t easy.  There was no guarantee of success.

But you need the possibility of failure to get the transformation and transcendence.

Let’s look at some historical rites of passage.  Not only is there the possibility of failure, but many of them were actually pretty brutal.

Did you see the movie 300?  Do you remember the flashback to King Leonidas killing the wolf as a teenager?  That was actually part of the brutal krypteia ritual that young Spartan men had to undergo in order to come of age.  And not all of them survived.

Old navy rituals for pollywogs (new sailors crossing the equator for the first time) sent many injured men to sickbay, but also marked an important transition in the sailor’s career. And not all Australian Aborigine adolescents who took off into the bush for months to do their walkabout returned.

Am I saying that you have to go out and assassinate slaves bare-handedly like ancient Spartan youths?


Am I saying that you should get beaten with boards and flogged with wet ropes like a sailor in the Royal Navy?

Not exactly…

But there is a certain glory in dragging your butt to class and getting it royally kicked.  Or waiting to compete at a tournament, scared s***less.

Most people get up, » Continue Reading.

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The Key to Getting Better and Tougher


BJJ makes you tougher because it’s a difficult activity that challenges you physically, mentally and emotionally.

At first, when you’re getting slaughtered by a 2 stripe white belt, escaping from mount seems impossible. Yet a few years later, fighting your way out of the bottom of mount, passing the guard, and finishing with an armbar is just another day at the office.

Over time your body adapts to the stresses you’re putting on it and becomes stronger. You learn new techniques and strategies, including the ability to keep thinking while you’re rolling. And situations that used to bother you – getting squished by someone heavier for example – start feeling a little bit more normal.

But the critical ingredient in all of this is progressive challenge. You don’t go from zero to 100 in the blink of an eye.

Did any BJJ world champion go directly from training at the gym to winning the Mundials without first competing at other tournaments?


Instead the greats climbed a stepladder of progressively greater challenges, with each step being difficult, but achievable.

First they started by sparring at their club (remember, sparring is a form of competition too)…

Then they competed at local tournaments…

Then kept on going to bigger tournaments, learning more each time and testing themselves against progressively tougher opponents until, one day, they medaled at the biggest BJJ show of all.

“Climb a stepladder of progressively greater challenges, with each step being difficult, but achievable.” https://t.co/7MguwBa5My pic.twitter.com/9W61a5PpPW

— StephanKesting (@StephanKesting) March 1, 2017

This is true in just about every field of human endeavour…

If a middle aged and slightly overweight man decides that he wants to become a runner, does he leave his desk at lunchtime, buy a pair of running shoes, and then successfully run a marathon that evening?

No, what happens is that he buys those shoes and first jogs around the block…

Then, after casual jogging for a few months, he tries to run 5 km without stopping…

Then he might enter and train for a 10 km race and do a couple of those…

And then, after months and months of training, he might finally run a full marathon.

Each step, each escalation, ramps up the difficulty level a little bit more, allowing his body and his mind time to adapt.

If the challenges aren’t difficult enough – if there isn’t » Continue Reading.

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Grapplearts Radio Podcast Episode 40: Stephan Kesting and Ritchie Yip


In the 40th episode of the Grapplearts Radio Podcast Ritchie and I start with a discussion of Darth Vader’s lightsabre technique in Rogue One and then go deeply into the topic of paralysis by analysis in jiu-jitsu, teaching technique, the best way to train to get good fast, and many other fun topics.

We finish up by talking about areas that we’ve focussed on in our own training this last year and what’s on the menu for next year!

To listen to this podcast you can…

Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher) Directly download the episode as an mp3 file here Click play on the Youtube video below


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‘Twas the Day and the Night Before Christmas…

So about a year ago a semi-annual tradition got started…

The way it works is that every 6 months the toughest woman I know and I do a one day, 30 mile hike through the mountains with a TON of elevation gain and loss.  It’s up and up and up and then down and down and down…

We call it the ‘Deathmarch’ and it’s a ton of fun.

Here’s a video I put together using photos and snapchat videos showing you what the last Winter Deathmarch was like when we did it 2 days ago (December 23rd)!

This particular hike was a tough one because there had been a huge dump of snow at high elevations that forced us to do some careful navigating, and at lower elevations it’s currently sleeting. So challenging conditions to say the least…

If this was interesting to you then this article on mental toughness has a couple pictures from the first Deathmarch (in winter) and here’s some video footage from the second Deathmarch (in summer).

Also, if you want to follow along on future expeditions (and, incidentally, keep up with the copious BJJ content that I share on those channels) then check out my instagram and snapchat feeds…

Click here for Stephan’s Instagram Feed Click here for Stephan’s Snapchat Feed

And finally, if you want me to shut up about outdoor endeavors and get back to jiu-jitsu then don’t despair; Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise I’ve got some really cool stuff coming for you soon!

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Grapplearts Radio Podcast Episode 039: BJJ, Adversity, and Stopping Your Mind From Going Blank


I’ve just released the latest episode of the Grapplearts Radio Podcast!  In this episode I’m flying solo and addressing two main topics…

How and why BJJ training helps prepare you for ANY adversity that you might encounter in life, and What to do when your mind goes completely blank when you’re sparring, rolling or competing.

To listen to this podcast you can…

Click here to subscribe to the Grapplearts Podcast in iTunes (or Google Play, or Stitcher) Directly download the episode as an mp3 file here Click play on the Youtube video below

For additional reading please note portions of part 1 of this podcast have been covered in my Blood, Sweat and Sparta and the Two Biggest Benefits of Martial Arts Training articles.

Part 2 of this episode is also covered quite thoroughly in my article What to Do If Your Mind Goes Blank When You’re Sparring or Competing (also on Grapplearts.com).

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