Monday, April 2, 2012

Training at Cobrinha Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

I was at the 2012 Pan Jiu Jitsu tournament and I saw a very courageous fight between Cobrinha and Rafael Mendes. Rafael ended up winning the match but I feel like Cobrinha was the real champion.

Cobrinha last year opened up his first and only BJJ school right here in Los Angeles. In having his own school, teaching classes, I would say it is nearly impossible for him to train at the same level he did prior to embarking on this venture or at the level of his competitors. He had to make some sacrifices but because he is the competitor he is, he competes anyway.

So Rafael trained his butt off this year to win this thing. At the end of his hard work he created for himself a medal, and some prestige that no one outside of the BJJ community will ever notice. Cobrinha this year created this:

Cobrinha BJJ, a flock of loyal students, new champions, and a legacy. I had a conversation with Cobrinha a week ago and we discussed what being a martial artist was. He said, "I agree with you Sam. It's not only about who's the best on the mat, but also who is the best off the mats." If you are killing everyone in competition and during training, but off the mats you are not a nice person, you may have a black belt on the mats but off the mats you are no black belt. A true martial arts black belt should be a black belt in life as well. Always nice, gracious, honorable, dedicated, smart. If not, what did you really take away from BJJ?

So Cobrinha made sacrifices, and though the other guy got the medal, who created more in life? I feel like Cobrinha is the true champion in the big picture.. The black belt of life. It's easy to make BJJ selfish and make it all about you. Sometimes you need to do that to win medals. To win loyalty and friends, in business and in life, you need to have different goals and priorities. So the other guy may have a medal you already have a bunch of, but you have everything else. Eventually, even for Cobrinha his goals in BJJ are changing and they aren't about winning medals for himself. He has proven everything he needs to prove. He is now using his school to express everything he has learned, and as an expression of his new goals.

I haven't been here very long but it's a lot of firsts, like training with a competitor of his caliber. I've had world class instruction in my life, and world class training. This is the first time I've had both, and both consistently. I really had no idea how hard you have to train to become a world champion, and I think a lot of people don't. They come all the way to fight in something where there are plenty of guys who have trained twice as much as them. Only they have no idea of this fact yet, and may never. All they know is, they trained hard. When I saw people train 6-8 hours a day, I realized training twice a day is nothing compared to some of these guys. How would anyone ever imagine people do that? You don't know until you are in that environment. And if that's the environment, then you really have no idea what it's like until you're there.

I actually thought I was done with BJJ. I wasn't having fun anymore. Didn't like the culture. Didn't enjoy the people. I had a really close friend sign up at Cobrinha's and for months he kept urging to me check it out. Finally I did. I took two classes. I enjoyed it. I still didn't sign up. I was enjoying all the free time I had, didn't miss any of the aches and pain. But I started something and felt I wasn't done with it yet. I talked to Cobrinha, told him my situation, where I was with my BJJ and he welcome me in. Once there, I met a lot of guys with similar stories. Guys who stopped training for 5 years, ten years, who found the love again at Cobrinha BJJ. I actually met one guy who I hadn't seen in 5 years. We both started out at the same BJJ school. He had stopped for 5 years and because of Cobrinha's, he was back. I have severe arthritis and he has yet to ever make it a big deal if I need to stop training. And he always asks me when I'm coming back.

The teaching is very unique and effective. Not just by Cobrinha but also I take a lot of classes with Fabio Passos and I hear David de Souza teaches the same way as well. Not unique to world class academies, just unique to what I'm used to. But it's the only way to train if you want to produce high level competitors. Even if Cobrinha wasn't the instructor, I would stay just for Fabio.

I would have to call Cobrinha a drill sergeant. Actuall a "drill" sergeant. Meaning, he's not all military. More like he is in charge of our drills. He shows us a drill and expects us to drill it until we own it. Before if I did 5 on one side and 3 on the other if I was lucky. That's considered a lot. Here it's more like 53 reps or more. He doesn't waste time telling you stories about the move or try to impress you with his knowledge of what competitor used this in what competition in what year. Or tell you how so and so always does these moves. He doesn't give you analogies or examples of what this move is like. He shows you the move, over and over. Then you do it over and over. No warm ups. No conditioning. Just BJJ. You do the non-BJJ stuff either on your own or in a separate class. Cobrinha and Fabio are there to be your BJJ instructors, not your personal trainers. If you need that, go seek a fitness professional. That leaves a lot of extra time to drill. He brings up two ideas when he shows a move, the action followed by the reaction. And he strings the moves along with that idea, action, then their reaction. Then you follow it up with specific training, working those key positions.

Even though there are other instructors, the leader is always Cobrinha and leadership is of utmost importance in such a testosterone filled sport. It can easily degenerate into a hazing sort of fraternity.

I've been in situations where there were one leader, multiple leaders, and where there were no leaders. You have no idea who the authority is or have that faith that what you are learning is the most efficient and effective move. The leader also creates the environment for proper learning.

I've drilled before. Rolled hard (who hasn't, every school does that). I have slow trained, flow trained, or whatever you want to call it. That is great for instilling creativity. But perfection isn't about adding more things, perfection is about taking more things away. Strength coaches talk about it all the time, you don't want an athlete who is good at everything. You want one that is really good at two or three things. If you try to get let's say a rock climber to have a crazy squat, you will create a worse climber. You can't get them good at everything. Just the few things that count.

So specific training is to get you good at those key positions and have a few moves that are dialed in. The specific things you need to be good at. It's not about creativity here, it's about knowing what to do and doing it quickly. You need your body to know, not your conscious mind to know.

Let me nerd it up here for a moment. To create skill and talent, you need to have a proficiency at some task. Whether its the violin or BJJ. How we do this is through practice. What practice does is, it coats your neural synapses with a sheath called myelin. The more your practice, the more insulated the neurons become. The more insulated it becomes, the less the signal bleeds out. The quicker your response time. Quicker than conscious thought, it becomes reflexive. It also becomes better than something you can consciously do. It allows classical violinists to play at the speed that they do, it allows BJJ players to move so fast it seems like they are attacking a move before you can even think of it. It's why people think their opponent is three moves ahead of them. This coating over time becomes so strong that people who have brain and nervous system diseases can almost seem perfect when they hold the mits, or play the piano, or whatever their skill was. They don't need their brain, their body owns those moves still. Split seconds count in real life. Movements per second count. Perfection counts. Economy of motion and not needlessly thinking or trying to get a move to work with pure stubbornness when you don't own that move yet. Frank Shamrock said you need to drill a move 500 times to own it. What if you drilled a position 5,000 times?

Now there are a lot of people who practice. What makes one better than the other? It's also the type of practice. Everyone drills these days, but not everyone drills effectively. You need to do something called deliberate practice.

From psychologist K. Anders Ericsson
"How expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback. Another important feature of deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it."
And not everyone drills the moves that really matter. It's not only how many times you drill it, it's the person who drilled it better.

At Cobrinha's, I've drilled a submission maybe 3 times. All the other times are positions and transitions. Drilling just submissions is like only practicing the end of a musical piece. That's just the cherry on top but not what's important.

I'm sort of giving away Cobrinha's lesson plan but I don't think any school can do this effectively the same way he does. And the schools who already have a lot of champions are doing this anyway. Why I say this is because, you need someone like Cobrinha  or Fabio with their experience and mind to create the atmosphere for proper learning. Meaning people come in an hour before and stay an hour after class just to drill. Not roll, drill, or specific train. No one talks or goofs off. It's a place just to get better. The other thing is how to drill properly, he wants it done a very specific way and he will walk around correcting everyone, one by one. If someone isn't doing it correctly, he will show it again. Whenever he shows a move, he shows the whole sequence. When someone asks a question, he doesn't give you an analogy or some different way to think about it, he just shows you the whole move again. You aren't sure about some aspect, he shows you the move again. It's brilliant how he just uses the move to answer your question, and not so much with his words, but also secretly he is getting his own reps in. Now that he teaches full-time he has to get his reps in somehow.

The final thing is you need a person of a certain BJJ caliber to know what the key moves and transitions are. If they don't know, they could be sending you down a rabbit hole that may never pay off. Cobrinha knows what works now, what used to work, and what the trends are for the future. I used to think the same moves will work forever. Nothing lasts forever, especially in BJJ. MMA proved the same for martial arts. It is evolving and changing. It's why people who run their own school, black belts, black belt champions come to train under him.

I had a friend who recently trained at the school to check it out. He told me he still remembers all the moves. He said, it's not like what he's used to before. Where you go in, get shown the move, practice it a few times, and just roll. Then the expectation is to learn that move by practicing it on your own free time because you won't remember the move. At Cobrinha's, you leave the class with your body knowing the move because you drilled it so much. You drill it on your own time to perfect it. But learning moves on your own? How about this idea. You go to class to learn the BJJ. You can do the conditioning on your own. My friend said he can't stop comparing the two schools now whenever he goes to his own school. Though he lives too far from Cobrinha's, he is now on the lookout for a school who also uses deliberate practice.

If you have limited time, it's the most effective use of your time. You go to one class and you leave with a few moves in your arsenal. In other places, you may go there, learn nothing you will remember the next day, and just get beat up because you aren't there enough to hang with the good guys and so they practice the moves on you because you are easy enough for them to practice whatever move they are working on. Even if you are rolling live, they just do whatever they want to you and use you as a grappling dummy. So for people who can train for a living, to busy professionals, it's the most efficient use of their time.

You can find out more about the school here:

I heard someone say about a competitor, "but that guy lives on the mats." Well I think to be a true black belt, at one time you needed to live on the mats, but after that you need to share what you've learned with the world.

Action/reaction. He repeats the words every class. I think a lot about action/reaction now in the business world, in trying to grow my brand. I learn to grow my business a little better every time I step on the mats. Cobrinha lost a big match. His reaction, to show up the very next day and teach as if nothing happened and continue the course. I am sure for The World Championships, there will be yet another chapter. Either way, a true black belt is the one who remains the black belt even when he is off the mats in a place called the real world.

BJJ doesn't exist in a vacuum. Whether you want to or not, you must be able to use it out there where no one even knows what BJJ is, to develop your life, business, relationships. If not, you're that guy people know who train UFC...and that's about all they know about you.

About the Author:

Sam Y. is a Master Personal Trainer, Certified Nutritionist, Coach, Performance Enhancement Specialist, Corrective Enhancement Specialist, Yoga and Pilates instructor, and holds multiple certifications. He is also an avid Martial Artist, training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, Boxing, and MMA. He is also the author of the popular fitness blog All Out Effort as well as the popular martial arts blog Inner BJJ. You can find him in the Los Angeles area personal training his clients, or at home annoying his wife, or on Facebook at his personal fitness page.

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