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Ever since I revived that damned RPG project, I cannot help but think about a proper setting, and while I enjoy the venerable old Drakar och Demoner for many of its rules, many of its races and selection of monsters, and most especially its magic system, still the chief campaign setting (Ereb Altor) is an unacceptable patchwork of unrelated adventure settings all tossed onto one big map, and many details are altogether missing, so my campaign setting will be my own. And this is what happens when I start thinking down those lines.


Details! )

SHUT UP THESE THINGS ARE IMPORTANT FOR AN IMMERSIVE AND CONVINCING SETTING DON'T YOU JUDGE ME

Allegedly.

Apr. 26th, 2012 04:03 pm
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Political orientation

According to the test, and by approximating the chart positions of various figures.

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Tell a Christian that you are an atheist because you find the evidence for theism thoroughly unconvincing and the odds are pretty high that you will, at some point, be told that he doesn’t have enough faith to be an atheist, or that you need faith in the non-existence of gods just as much as he needs faith in the existence of his. At first blush, this sounds at once superficially reasonable, obviously false, and profoundly bizarre.

It sounds superficially reasonable, because the objection that my atheism is not founded on an absolute certainty and absolute proof is of course correct. It sounds obviously false because the word “faith” is typically used to describe a positive belief in something for which there is insufficient empirical evidence, and is not a word suited to describe skepticism, whether justified or unjustified. It sounds profoundly bizarre because many Christians use the word to describe a purported virtue of trusting in the existence and benevolence of their god in spite of the lack of such evidence (the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen).

Part of the problem is that the word “faith” is a vague one on which we may both equivocate and have genuine misunderstandings. I use it to describe belief that is not justified by rational evidence, because in any situation where there is evidence we have other words to describe it, but I recognise that anyone who uses the word in conversation with me may mean just that, or equally well something different, such as a religious belief that they perceive to be supported by evidence, as a synonym for “confidence”, or something else altogether.

Then again, a disingenuous approach some debaters will use is to conflate them intentionally, a logical fallacy known as equivocation. You might say that I have “faith” that if I sit down my chair will bear me up, just as you have “faith” that your god exists—but they are clearly not the same kind of faith, since I have ample evidence that my chair will support me, and furthermore this evidence is available to anyone who wants to inspect it: You could (if you truly doubted it) have photos, videos, contemporary eyewitness testimony, or if you were truly dedicated you could come visit me and see for yourself. Moreover, the supportive quality of chairs is not contrary to anything in common experience; it’s not (as Sagan would say) an extraordinary claim. This approach is apparently used to justify the evidence-free kind of faith by implying that it is equivalent to obviously rational forms. It is not. My confidence in chairs is based on facts and observations that could be amply supported against someone skeptical of chairs; unless you can provide facts and observations in favour of your deity, it’s not the same thing at all—and if you can then let’s talk facts and evidence, not “faith”.


More promising is the notion that I need faith to be an atheist—faith not quite supported by evidence, that is—just as the theist needs faith to be a theist. Some theists, indeed, are known to dismissively quip that “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” (by implication of which faith is a bad thing, since more of it leads to us sinful atheists—but that is by the way). However, this also falls down flat on closer inspection.

First of all, we all subscribe to most of the same basic premises or assumptions in dealing with the world, theists and atheists alike. We all operate on the assumption that the external world is real and that our senses provide us with systematic information thereof. Even a hypothetical, reductio-ad-absurdam biblical literalist has no choice: Without the empirical evidence of his eyes and ears, he could read no scripture and hear no sermons. So clearly, in terms of the basic appreciation of what exists, we start from the same position.

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, as Occam’s Razor slices, and I choose to stop there. I accept the truth of premises that cannot be denied without resort to solipsism, but thereafter I demand evidence before I accept anything as true. This post goes into more detail, but in brief, since it is always possible to invent an infinitude of ideas, explanations, and purported entities, my choices are always going to be either refusal to accept any without evidence, attempting to accept all of them, or picking and choosing in an ad hoc fashion.

This all sounds rather abstract, so let’s consider this tweet from @repenTee:

@haggholm as I think about it ur conjectures are based on faith no evidence 2 prove that God doesn't exist somewhere in the universe.

(Pardon his spelling; it’s a tweet.)

The problem with this protestation is that although it is true that I have no direct evidence that no such thing as his God is floating about somewhere in the interstellar void, nor do I have any evidence that there aren’t two gods. Or three. Or ninety-six point four. Or, for that matter, a giant magic space-duck ’round whose mighty bill six supermassive black holes revolve. This shows the insufficiency of “there is no direct evidence against it” as an argument to accept any proposition: It opens the gates to all manner of silly things. I want to remain intellectually consistent, so I must approach all these disparate and sometimes contradictory claims (there is exactly one, are exactly two, three, four gods… cannot all be true) with the same approach. I do, and so accept only the ones whose existence is supported by good evidence. Therefore I am an atheist.

(This is of course what Russell’s Teapot was created to illustrate, along with its more modern successors—the Invisible Pink Unicorn, Sagan’s invisible dragon, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and so on.)

So as Bertrand Russell observed,

…I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.


I believe that this sufficiently deals with equivocation, and dismissing the idea that the lack of positive disproof of a proposition (in spite of lack of positive evidence for it) is sufficient grounds to believe in it. We’re left, then, with the notion that the atheist’s confidence that there are no gods is on par with the theists’s faith in his because both positions have evidentiary support. The same @repenTee provided this frank and illustrative example in a blog comment:

…The faith we've entered into is not without evidence. Much as biologists observe cellular structures so we have observed nature and from it conclude that these things have been created by God. As we have observed people, places and things we conclude that something greater than ourselves must exist. Who this God is from that point we may differ but the theist never concludes that God exists apart from evidence....

Unfortunately, the analogy with biologists falls rather flat when we consider that the biologist’s inference from observation is only the first stage of scientific investigation. In the canonical simplification of scientific inquiry, this is observation leading to hypothesis formation. A biologist might for example observe cells in agar, see some interesting things, and conclude that cells reproduce by fission…but it doesn’t end there. If a biologist submitted a paper to a journal with no more substance than “here’s what I saw and here’s what I conclude”, it would be rejected and might not even receive the grace of a note explaining why. Rather, the biologist must use this point as a starting point only and ask questions. If I am right, what does that imply? What else should I be able to see? Can I follow up on that, and do I see what I expect? More importantly, what if I am wrong? What should I expect to see if I am wrong, and can I check up on that?

Indeed, some very great scientific truths have been discovered thanks to ideas that were arrived at in very ad hoc fashion, but turned out to be true. August Kekulé famously arrived at the structure of the benzene molecule from a dream of the Ouroboros, a snake biting its own tail. Einstein developed a lot of ideas from Gedankenexperiments and his sense of scientific aesthetics. The ultimate source of an idea is not so very important, whether empirical observation or irrational impulse—you may observe nature and draw the wrong conclusions; you may hallucinate and by chance have a correct idea. The key is not where the idea comes from, but how we can tell if it’s correct or erroneous.

This is of course the principles of falsifiability and (implicitly) replicability, two of the great cornerstones of the scientific enterprise. We accept no one’s word that something is true just because it seemed reasonable from what they saw. We expect them to explain in quantitative detail what difference their idea makes, so that we can make predictive statements and check whether it’s correct. Note that this goes beyond merely looking for consistency. I can make up all kinds of crazy ideas that are consistent with facts. I can claim that the world is such as it is because the giant magic space-duck willed it to be so, and this is consistent with facts. But it’s not an idea to be taken seriously because I cannot say “If the space-duck exists then we should observe X; if it does not then we should observe Y.” Before I accept the truth of a proposition, the existence of any entity, it must be clearly meaningful to say that it is false—and of course that meaning must turn out to be counterfactual.

So let us return to the quote from above:

…The faith we've entered into is not without evidence. Much as biologists observe cellular structures so we have observed nature and from it conclude that these things have been created by God.

At this stage, what’s been described is hypothesis generation. There’s nothing wrong with generating hypotheses, and no wrong way to do it (only more or less productive ones), but hypotheses must not be mistaken for validated theories, for truth. How do you know that your idea of divine creation is correct? What predictions have you (or any theist) ever made that would detect divine agency—what evidence should be sought to verify that your god created something rather than just natural processes? If you have not looked for it, then it’s not comparable to what a proper biologist does at all; it’s the brainstorming phase, not the publishable work that actually gets a scientist respect and tenure.

This is also the big problem with a deist god. Certainly it violates no evidence, but nor does it leave any evidence or make any predictions. To say that there is a god, but it leaves no traces of itself for us to find, only sounds less crazy than to say the same of a magic space-duck because we are culturally conditioned to take gods more seriously.

The objection to deism is also applicable to certain views of theism—that is, those that fall into the trap of the God of the Gaps. Over the centuries, some defenders of religious faith have insisted that what we cannot scientifically explain must be the work of their god—the orbits of the planets, say, or the origin of life. As Kepler, Newton et al explained orbital mechanics, these defenders of faith had to admit that the planets weren’t pushed along by their god—but “ah”, they’d say, “gravitation itself is surely the power of God”. Along comes Einstein and explains gravitation as geometry, the consequence of deformations in spacetime, and gravitation turns out not to be an intangible force after all. “Ah!”, exclaim the defenders (or their intellectual descendands), “but then spacetime must be due to God.” And so on—with every new discovery, their god is redefined so as not to conflict with facts. But this god can never generate a meaningfully falsifiable prediction, because every falsification is inevitably explained away with a new redefinition.

Indeed, earlier versions of these beggar-gods, deities who would hide in any nook or cranny that science had yet to illuminate, did generate falsifiable hypotheses, such as “the planets could not remain in stable orbits but for the mystical power of God”—which turned out to be false, neatly disproving them.


The only gods that remain to be dealt with are the ones with more meat on their bones—ones who generate falsifiable claims: Gods such that their followers ought to be able to come up and tell me: “These are the verifiable (or falsifiable) differences between two models of the world: One such as it is or would be with my god in it; one such as it is or would be without him.” That is a god that needs to be evaluated on an individual balance, the evidence for and against it weight—especially that against it (as attempted falsification yields better evidence than mere consistency-with-established-facts).

I’d welcome such falsifiable evidence.

haggholm: (Default)

The last time I blogged about my general position and progress in BJJ was around Christmas (well, on Christmas Eve, in fact). I’d like to take a moment to introspect and take stock, as it were. At the time, I was reflecting on the breakthrough (at long bloody last!) of attitude—of making it a habit to roll to win at least some of the time, because it’s a mentality I need to be able to switch on, and a focus on fighting between the canonical positions rather than just in them. I’d also just started playing a bit of open guard.

Shortly before that, I had made a list of skills I have and lack in various positions. Notably, I decided that I really needed to work on

  • armbars, triangles, and pendulum sweeps from guard
  • standing guard passes (emphasised by my failure in my second tournament)
  • butterfly guard, where my skills were nil to none
  • taking the back, and improving my attacks from there
  • more armbars from top (mount and side mount)

Over the past few months, one of the natural developments of my game has been to stay much more active and mobile in my top game. I ascribe this largely to two factors: One, I have made an effort to be more active in guard passing and being ready to switch from side to side. Two, I have had occasion to roll more with very new and inexperienced people, not least since joining judo, where the focus is evenly divided between standup and groundwork rather than heavily on the latter, and where much of the groundwork addresses turnovers—so that, per mat hour of total experience, I have just done a lot more groundwork. When rolling with people whom I can more or less submit at will¹, I’ve taken to doing other things: Giving up positions to work from inferior ones, providing advise and/or opportunities to my partners…or focusing entirely on positional control, moving from knee-on-belly to mount to knee-on-belly on the other side; pivoting side mount from side to side… And while I have sometimes done this mostly because it seemed gratuitous to force someone brand new to the sport to tap out ten times in a round, it has in fact rapidly translated into a skill in its own right.

Thus my top game has changed from a fairly indiscriminate effort to be heavy, placing as much weight as possible on my opponent’s upper body, to a more focused control that allows me to stay more mobile. To use side control as an example, I used to apply pressure with my chest and my shoulder and pretty much any part of me that goes on top of my opponent in that position. Now, I try to apply all the pressure with the cross-face shoulder. (Or I might be applying pressure to just one shoulder or one quadrant of the upper chest from side control or N/S; or I might apply my weight in mount differently than just being heavy down the center—and so on.) My working hypothesis is that this is not a less effective pin, in fact it may be more effective in that my weight is less distributed and can be focused more on a mechanically weak point (if I’m doing it right). At the same time I’m not so glued to the ground or to my opponent, so I’m better able to move and take advantage of any opportunity that arises.

This has lead to a radical increase in the amount of armbars I catch (successfully or not). If my standard response to a bridge in sidemount was to just remain heavy, it’s now becoming increasingly mixed up with allowing my opponent to get onto his side, but with me pivoting to the opposite side and attacking the arm. (Of course this means that I need to catch the arm, and not leave space for it to escape. Thus using more focused pressure is no excuse to play looser!) Armbar quotas in general seem to go up quite a lot as I stay more mobile on top, whether in mount, side mount, or knee-on-belly. It also feels like a more effective smaller-man’s-game, which I need to work on: I’m not tiny, but neither am I one of the bigger or stronger guys at the gym. Exploiting bridges and bottom defences rather than blocking them takes less strength. (And is more ju, as it were…)

I have also, very recently, started working on butterfly guard. The breakthrough came from one of those obvious things that needed just the right kind of clear and explicit statement, unsurprisingly from Kabir, who talked about going side to side with the standard butterfly sweep. If I try to sweep left, and fail because my opponent posts or bases out, that’s OK: I can just quickly switch my hips and sweep for the other side. Heureka!, or as Huxley might have said, how extremely stupid not to have thought of that: but there you are. I’m not yet having much success with the standard butterfly sweep, as I find the sitting-up position difficult to maintain, but I’m having much better luck with half butterfly guard, and using butterfly hooks to lift and sweep whenever my opponent bases out to block any sweep. And doing this—constantly attempting sweeps with butterfly hooks—is allowing me to keep my hooks much stickier, making not just my butterfly guard but my open guard in general much harder to pass.

This is an area that needs a lot of work, but then I’ve only been focusing on it for a couple of weeks. I feel pretty encouraged with my success so far.


In some ways it’s kind of startling how different my game looks right now compared to, say, when I wrote my last introspectives in December. At the time, my bottom game was mainly closed guard and a bit of basic, feet-on-hips or maybe half-arsed spider guard stuff thrown in; my top game focused on getting to mount for the cross choke, which was by far my most frequent finish. Now, my guard game is mostly butterfly guard (admittedly because it needs work rather than because it’s my A game), and by far most of my finishes are by armbar, though I’ll still go for cross chokes when I see them. I’m very happy with this transition, because butterfly is something I’ve long known I need to work on but never felt I had enough of a handle on to even begin; and because I knew damn well my armbars were lamentable from disuse. Additionally, I like armbars because they transfer so well to everything: Gi, no-gi, judo…

I think I’m mostly in a phase where I should keep doing what I am already doing. I am currently working on several of the areas that I knew needed work: I do a lot of butterfly; I go for a lot of armbars; and if I’m passing the guard, 80% of the time I’ll stand up for the pass. All this is as it should be: I have put a lot of hours into weak areas, and while they need more work, they’re nowhere near as bad as they were half a year ago.

If I look at my list of four months ago, the main thing I see there that I should be doing, but am not doing often enough, is attacking the back. Especially against larger opponents, I have a tendency to get stuck on my back (in guard) or (worse) in bottom turtle, unable to finish anything. I’m not good at guard submissions, and it’s my current thinking that the short-legged man’s attack on a 30–40 lbs heavier opponent probably should not be the triangle. I need to get better at taking the back, notably climbing to the back from guard and very notably via arm drags from butterfly and similar as well as from half guard. I also jotted down baseball chokes from side control, which are perhaps not a bad idea but don’t currently feel like a priority. So in summary,

  • keep working on butterfly guard
  • keep working on armbars
  • increase focus on taking the back
  • start working arm drags from butterfly
  • start working for the back from bottom half guard
  • start working more sweeps from bottom half guard

¹ I’m not trying to give myself airs; it’s only natural that when I’ve been doing this 4½ years and some guy is in his first month, I’m probably going to have a substantial edge.

haggholm: (Default)

Novum cingulitis (“the new belt blues”) is a psychogenic condition generally contracted on obtaining a new belt in a martial art, such as BJJ, where the patient’s abilities are constantly tested against those of their peers. Typical symptoms include tenseness, a sense of guilt and unworthiness, and constant low-grade nervousness, and may include a period of mild depression. Other common symptoms include paranoia (though this is controversial as some argue that everyone is, in fact, out to get the patient).

Novum cingulitis has no cure, but the condition is self-limiting and will resolve on its own, typically ⅓–½ of the way to the next belt (when a new outbreak may occur). Common home remedies include sandbagging (q.v.) and practicing martial arts without hard sparring, where the additional measure of “pulling rank” may also be employed. Modern medical science recommends against these extreme measures, however, and suggests a healthy diet, vigorous exercise, plenty of rest, relying on your teammates, and colloquially, “manning up”.

Though poorly documented in the literature, novum cingulitis is a very common condition. If you yourself practice BJJ and have never suffered from the new belt blues, you probably know someone who has.

haggholm: (Default)

Re. that promotion:

Promotion picture

Gracie Barra Vancouver, March 8 2012. Receiving my purple belt from my instructor, Rodrigo Carvalho.

Rank certificate. Do not steal. It’s watermarked, anyway.

I may not feel like I really deserve it for a while yet, but it’s definitely legit and very official.

haggholm: (Default)

I won’t pretend to have an attempt at a full-fletched epistemology, but something I often ponder and would like to set in words for my own clarification is my opinion on what knowledge can be based on. As someone who occasionally gets into arguments over religion or philosophy, I consider it important to know what fundamental basis I am really attempting to argue from.


First, let us recognise that a superior epistemology should make as few assumptions as possible. If we are to reason, we must use logic, but logic is but a way of taking facts (premises) and figuring out what other facts (conclusions) are implied by them. It can’t introduce new knowledge per se, and while it can point out problematic premises by showing inconsistencies, it cannot supply correct ones. Thus on some level we have to simply assume some premises—as few as possible (the more we have, the more we risk error) and as safe and inarguable as possible.

To me, the most fundamental source of knowledge is and must be physical reality. This may sound uncontroversial or at least unsurprising coming from me, but let me clarify: I believe that physical reality must hold epistemological primacy even over logic (and its broader-scope cousin, mathematics). Logic is important and a critical tool for reason, but it follows from reality, not the other way around. (You might recognise this as the opposite of what the ancient Greek philosophers generally held.)

Some have held that perception of physical reality can’t be accepted as fundamental, because our senses are flawed. Certainly no one can prove to every pedant’s and solipsist’s satisfaction that we do not, for example, live in a computer simulation, or in Plato’s cave; that reality isn’t in fact with our perception of consistency an illusion. All these notions, though, seem to share in common the attribute that they are completely unproductive. If my mind is randomly recomposed moment by moment, with memories and perception of continuity mere illusions, then ipso facto I cannot effectively reason about anything.

If you tell me that I should trust in your words, or the words of some sacred writ, because my eyes and ears deceive me, I will respond that if my eyes and ears deceive me, I surely cannot trust words either written or spoken. If you tell me that I should believe in something or other because my ability to reason is limited and fallible, then why should I be convinced? If I find that argument convincing, I am ipso facto convinced by means of faulty reasoning.

No, surely to say anything meaningful about anything at all, we must accept that there is an external reality and that, for all their flaws, our senses and perceptions at least provide some kind of systematic picture thereof. It may not always be correct—in fact we know of lots of ways in which our perceptions often fail us—but if it is at least basically systematic (within the margins, as it were, of measurement error), then this gives us a chance to address the truth, aided by statistics and probability, augmenting our memories with records (so long as we can read them), our senses with instrumented perception (so long as we can read the dials with reasonable fidelity), our fallible reasoning with formal logic.

I believe that everyone (at any rate, anyone who is not insane) essentially believes this (in part because I believe that people who argue that reality is an illusion and our memories may well be recreated moment by moment are really just playing word-games, actually living their lives quite in accordance with conventional notions of continuity and cause-and-effect). Even people who relegate empiricism to a distinctly secondary position after, say, faith in some religious dogma still accept this, whether they admit it or not. Without accepting the testimony of their senses, they wouldn’t have any cause to know that any scripture exists or what it says.


Very well, so we accept a sort of basic empiricism: The world exists, and our senses report on it, if not perfectly then at least systematically so that we can by dint of intellectual effort untangle systematic errors and gain a clearer picture. What else do we need? Until recently I should have said logic—an argument needs premises and a valid formulation; empiricism gives us premises; logic provides the formulation; ergo we need both.

However, as my second point, I believe that logic is secondary to physical reality and need not be taken as a fundamental.

Perhaps my biggest light-bulb moment in formulating this thought was rendering explicit the fairly obvious observation that the logical syllogism is really no more than a mathematical restatement of the physical principle of cause and effect.

logicformal logicempiricism
if A, then BABA is observed always to cause B
A [is true]AA happened
therefore B [is true]Btherefore B happened

In other words, I conclude that logic is simply a description of cause and effect, just as F=(m₁×m₂)/G is a description of (Newtonian) gravity, rather than itself (qua formula or idea) anything fundamental. Reality would go on as usual even if nothing within it had any concept of logic. However, if reality did not proceed according to the laws of cause and effect, there could be no logic: If we existed, we should have nothing to base it upon, nor would it be applicable to anything. It could at best be a self-consistent but meaningless system of symbol manipulation.


Third and finally, I believe that we need nothing else at the very bottom of our epistemology. There is reality. It is necessary (because without observation of reality there can be no knowledge); it is also sufficient. Observing reality naturally generates the laws of logic, which however complicated they get ultimately flow from the basic syllogism, which is itself a statement of the empirically observed principles of cause and effect.

Of course any meaningful argument about anything whatsoever, unless it be epistemology itself, is naturally going to invoke much higher-level principles. The rules of logics are the atoms of arguments, syllogisms the molecules; only when we care about the subatomic do we need to bother to point out that the logic-atoms are really made up of empirical nucleons. However, I am aware of no good reason why I should take seriously any argument that does not render down into this empirical nucleon soup if sufficiently picked apart.


I don’t pretend to be able to reduce most arguments to their nuclear details, but this does not mean that I abandon the idea. I don’t pretend to be able to explain every minute detail of a burning match down to the level of atomic interactions and changes in valence electron layers, either—this does not reduce my confidence that the standard model of physics is in principle perfectly capable of explaining that burning match without having to involve phlogistons. If someone attempted to convince me of the reality of phlogistons, my ignorance of details would not be sufficient grounds for me to accept it: They should have to directly demonstrate the reality of phlogistons, or that my physical theory is in principle insufficient to explain fire.

Similarly, i you introduce any other principle into an argument—faith, for instance, or curious notions such as epistemological relativism—I shall regard any such principle as a phlogiston, whose existance and relevance you shall have to substantiate before I take any part of your argument seriously. Unless you can do that, explain yourself in terms of observable reality, or be dismissed.


My earlier post, Science and epistemology, contained the germs of this idea. In How I try to think, and how I try not to I muse on how to apply the idea, and common pitfalls to avoid.

haggholm: (Default)

To change one’s mind when presented with sufficient evidence is a hallmark of a rational person. This is the ideal of the scientific method, and the failure to pursue it is the bane of human rationality. We are burdened with various cognitive biases and shortcomings that make all us humans naturally bad at it: We tend to seek out observations that confirm our beliefs and credit them when we find them; we tend to be more critical and skeptical of observations that contradict what we believe to be true. I often speak at length about this, criticising others when they insist in the face of evidence.

So what about me, then? When do I change my mind?

I must regretfully admit that I can’t think of a great many examples. Probably no small part of this is due to the fact that no one, however much they may appreciate the importance of evidence and perniciousness of cognitive biases, is actually immune to those biases. I do my very best to re-examine my beliefs when rationally challenged, but I suspect that every one of us carries a great many beliefs obtained for irrational reasons that, correct or incorrent, we just never come to critically re-examine. As a child you were taught a thousand thousand things, and as a child you had no choice but to absorb them, no framework for critical evaluation. Probably you will not re-examine all of those beliefs in your entire lifetime.

I’d like to think that another significant part of this is that I try not to form beliefs without a rational basis. I like to think that I rarely say anything that is flat-out wrong, because I try to avoid making claims that I’m not confident about. Maybe there’s something to this—I hope so—but no one is infallible; I am inevitably wrong about some things, ergo there must be beliefs I ought to change, but have so far failed to.

Maybe the most obvious example of an area where I have changed my mind is religion, but it seems kind of trivial. It was only as a child that I was capable of blind faith, the conviction of things not seen; I grew up and grew out of it when I realised that there just wasn’t anything supporting it, and I was firmly atheist long before my voice changed. For a long time I held the curious faitheist position that although it’s mistaken, it’s still somehow noble and worthy of respect to have committed faith; I have changed my position here too, recognising that holding irrational beliefs is inherently bad (and in fact intellectually a much worse crime than happening to reach erroneous conclusions). But all that is rather trivial; the total dearth of supporting observations makes it childishly easy to discard.


A much more recent, complicated, and difficult belief was upset some time last year or the year before, when I first started reading and learning how little parents matter to the personalities of their children. Steven Pinker summarises it in this video; the gist of it is that for most behavioural metrics,

  • up to 50% of the variation in the trait is genetic;
  • 0%–10% of the variation is due to parenting/upbringing;
  • the rest is due to culture, peer groups, &c.

This is illustrated by facts such as

  • adoptive siblings are hardly more similar than people picked at random;
  • monozygous twins reared apart by different parents tend to have very similar personalities, even if they are raised in very different environments and never meet.

I found this surprising. Indeed, if a fact could be offensive, this would be pretty close to it. Parenting doesn’t matter? Intuitively this makes roughly no sense at all to me. My parents matter intensely to me. Surely they shaped me? I can identify many, many traits, beliefs, and tendencies that correlate incredibly well with my parents. For better or worse, I think of myself as very much my father’s son, and I share many of his strengths and weaknesses. I have the same intellectual bent that he had, and many of the same interests.

And I value my parents. My father was a very flawed man, but he was always good to me, I got along well with him, and I loved him in spite of all his many flaws. My mother is wonderful, and I often consider myself very lucky in that she is so accepting, so ready to have a grown-up parent/child relationship with me, even when we deeply disagree on things. The notion that their influence on me was much less than I had thought seems…disparaging.

But the fact of the matter is that surprising and counterintuitive though it may be to me, that doesn’t alter the truth one whit, and I know damn well that intuition does not trump evidence. There are various studies on the subject, and I gather many are summarised in The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris, which I really ought to read at some point… If the evidence contradicts my intuition, then I should discard my intuition, not the evidence.

There are also perfectly good explanations for the observed correlations under the working theory above. Of course I resemble my parents in many respects: I share 50% of my genetic material with each of them, and just as I look quite like my father did when he was young, demonstrating that he contributed to my visible phenotype, so he surely contributed to my behavioural phenotype, as well. And while I wasn’t brought up in quite the same environment as my parents were, still there were surely similarities.

Additionally, I can think of hardly anything more conducive to confirmation bias than an informal analysis of a child’s resemblance to its parents. Of course I can think of commonalities: After all I spent eighteen years living in the same house as my parents, and had extremely ample time to learn just what traits and behaviours I shared with them.

Finally, I think that the deep personality traits that psychologists measure—agreeability, neuroticism, and so on—are probably less tangible, less open to obvious observations, than more superficial behaviours. It’s surely true that I read Biggles books as a child because my father had done so when he was a boy, had saved the books, read them aloud to me for a while. But this is a very superficial behaviour compared with whatever personality traits make me someone who enjoys shutting himself in with a book.

Of course, all of this is just reinterpreting old data in a new framework: Take the observations I made under the paradigm of “I am this way because parenting so made me”, and reinterpret them under the paradigm of “Parenting doesn’t matter nearly so much; genes and social environment are more important”. This is a fine thing to do, but were I unable to account for these data, still I should have to bow to the evidence: My personal, anecdotal observations do not trump the data.


I should add that I am not convinced that no kind of parenting can have fundamental, important effects. I vaguely seem to recall reading, and at any rate I have seen nothing to contradict this belief: That a truly poor environment, such as abusive parents, can have deep and terrible effects on a child. I do not base this on any real data, so I will not vouch for its truth at all, but until I read otherwise this is my working hypothesis: Terrible parents can psychologically damage their children and have disproportionate influence, for the worse. Parents who aren’t terrible, though, have surprisingly small effects on personality, and while a good parent is a very different creature from a terrible one, the differences in outcome vary surprisingly (disappointingly!) little between mediocre, good, and great parents.

Here, though, more data are needed.

(You may protest that people who are particularly good and responsible tend to have children who grow up to be particularly good and responsible. To this I say: Recall that these are people who may be genetically predisposed to be particularly good and responsible, and with up to 50% heritability in most personality traits, it’s no wonder if that is passed down.)

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Yesterday—March 8, 2012—Gracie Barra Vancouver hosted a pretty remarkable seminar. Sadly, two of the five guest instructors weren’t able to make it, one due to illness and the other due to the fact that life is busy and shit happens. I am not too disappointed, though, because we still had Flavio Almeida, Marcio Feitosa, and Luca Atala (who incidentally runs Gracie Magazine) all on the mats—all three world champions, I believe—which is skill and knowledge enough for any seminar. Additionally we had three of our own established blackbelts—Tim, Rodrigo, and John—and two brand new blackbelts: Will and Evan (both of who rather amply deserve them). It’s not often you see eight BJJ blackbelts on the mat all at once.

I also received a promotion, though a less dramatic one—I’m now, after about 4½ years of training (started in October 2007), a BJJ purple belt. I’m not sure how to feel about that. On the one hand I am proud, because it’s been a long journey and I have gained a tremendous amount. On the other hand I feel awfully self-conscious because I feel very strongly that I don’t really deserve it yet. But then, I gather most people feel that way when they get promoted…and it’s been said that a new rank isn’t something you get when you are the level that belt represents, but rather something you need to grow into. And that makes sense, of course—obviously even the average purple belt must be better than the average brand new purple belt! I started feeling like I deserved my blue about two stripes in: Halfway. Maybe this will be the same.

When Rodrigo was awarding the belts, he said a few words about everyone who received one—most for the blackbelts, of course, who have been at it for about a decade, but some for us new purple belts, as well. He recounted how, early in his tenure at the school, I had come to him depressed and dispirited, and complained how I felt my game was not improving at all; how I would never get anywhere; how I was close to quitting. I’m pretty sure he misremembered that last part: I don’t recall ever wanting to quit or give up. But it’s certainly true that it felt for a long time like there was a plateau I would never rise beyond, and it was a pretty low plateau to be stuck on, at that. Time (and Rodrigo) have certainly proved me wrong on this point. Regardless of what I or anyone else might think of my skill relative to what a purple belt ought to be, I’ve risen a very great deal above that level—in skill, in confidence in the skills I have, and in confidence that I will continue to grow and improve. I’m still very aware of my limitations, but I no longer feel like I’m stuck. I’ve spent too much time improving to think that there’s an end to that road.

So whether (as I am told) I deserve it now, or whether (as I feel) I have quite a lot of growing into it left to do, it remains a milestone on that journey, and I know that I will fully deserve it—grow into it, and eventually even outgrow it. Some day.


I got a chance to roll for a bit with Flavio Almeida, which was quite an experience. I’ve rolled with a couple of very, very good guys, but not very much. “Supa” Dave Rothwell, but that was so early in my whitebelthood that I had no ability whatsoever to judge what he was even doing. Rodrigo, obviously, much more recently. Now Flavio. It was a very different experience.

It’s hard to judge, of course, what part is style, what part is what he felt like doing at that particular time, and what part is him going easy on us poor noobs. Still, Rodrigo plays a thousand-ton crushing top game, moving about half an inch at a time and giving me less than that to work with. He moves very slowly for the most part—but will explode with huge, quick transitions as soon as the moment is right. Flavio’s game, on the other hand, was extremely smooth and yielding. There was, as I had occasion to remark, a lot of “jiu” in his jiu-jitsu: Jujutsu (the more modern Romanisation) is often translated as “the gentle art”, but I gather ju doesn’t quite mean “gentle”, but refers to something that yields before and adapts to a stronger force rather than opposing it directly. This was very much how Flavio rolled: When he chose to, of course, he got on top and put on as much pressure as he wanted, but he spent a lot of time allowing his opponent to push or pull, simply going with that energy and momentum to transition into some other position, giving the opponent a brief moment to reflect on what a bad idea it was to provide that impetus, before moving on to the next one.

I had the opportunity to watch him do this before I rolled with him myself, and in consequence I played a very conservative game. Since I could tell he’d go with every push and take advantage of it, I tried to make my own game one of inches; if he would turn every bit of energy I supplied against me, then I should give as little energy as possible. At the level he chose to go on against us mortals, I lasted a while, even earning one of those Nice! exclamations one issues in response to something good and unexpected, when I managed to block a sweep. Afterward I was told I had a nice, tight defence—which was very pleasing regardless of how well I realise that he was of course being very nice and generous about it; if someone like Flavio really wants to get me, I don’t think my defence would even register.

I really liked to see (and feel) that ju part. It’s something I want to include more of in my own game, and I sometimes try in my own halting manner when rolling with beginners.


Quite a bit of the seminar was taken up by various speeches and thank yous and promotions, but still the bulk of the time was technical instruction. I took a few hastily scribbled notes during water breaks in order to help me remember what had been taught, which I will set down here in order to hopefully cement them a little better in my mind. I doubt it’ll be terribly helpful to anyone who didn’t get to see the demonstrations, for which I don’t apologise—this is chiefly for my own reference!

  • Perhaps my favourite part of the seminar was an extremely simple way Luca Atala demonstrated to defeat the spider guard. On the one hand there’s an element of “Why didn’t I think of that?”; on the other hand he emphasised and demonstrated some details that I hope will stick with me for a long time. In particular, he emphasised the need to tuck your elbows in, and showed how the spider guard can largely be neutralised simply by tucking your elbows, gripping if possible just below the knee. Nothing revolutionary, but solid, and the demonstration helped remind me or inform me of some details I was missing.

    The pass from here was very simple: Once you have neutralised the spider guard, transfer to a two-on-one grip on a leg and stretch that leg out while passing, keeping two-on-one until you’ve established side control.

  • Flavio and Marcio demonstrated different pieces of the spider guard game they’d picked up from Romulo Barral (I’m afraid I don’t recall who demonstrated which part; I think maybe Flavio showed the sweep?). It was based on a spider guard grip where one arm was released and that grip was transferred instead to a deep collar grip. Hip out to turn, so that my far leg is on the opponent’s bicep; shift under them to get lifting power. (This was a tricky part for me.) If they don’t base out, this is a slow but sure sweep in its own right, shifting them over me.

    If they do base out, here’s where the sneakiness begins: If I have a right spider hook, turned so my left side is toward them, then pass my left leg around their right leg, angled so that the front of my knee can collapse the back of theirs. Pinch my knees together for leverage, push forward—and over they go.

    If, on the other hand, they base out far, using their right arm, the submission off this setup presents itself: Square back up and slip the right leg under their (non-controlled!) arm, while sliding the right spider hook over the shoulder: Triangle.

  • Another part focused on posture control from top side or half guard. The emphasis here was that if the opponent’s head is driven down, it breaks their posture and takes away most of their power. One application was: Opponent turns in; I place my top hand high on their head, and swim my other hand under their arm for an overhook, reaching for my own wrist. If I now walk around their head, I will flatten them back out. (For drilling: They turn back in; I repeat going in the other direction.)

    From here was a half guard submission that I’ve seen before but never mastered. Sadly I didn’t master it last night either. It involves stuffing the half guard in just the same manner as above, then using my right hand to feed their left lapel to my left (cross-face) hand. Then, dive my right hand through an overhook and under their head to reach that lapel—this is hard; you have to reach very deep and I found it tricky to have enough gi material to grasp. If this is accomplished, there’s a trianglish choke achieved by sprawling out, using my chest on their triceps to force their arm into their neck.

    A simpler but very interesting option from here is to stuff the half guard in just the same fashion, then swim my right hand for an underhook and flatten them out (into a fairly standard top half position). Then, keeping control of the arm with that underhook and blocking their head with my left hand, step over and hook the head with my left leg—locking my ankles together if at all possible (kind of like a triangle about their head and right arm). From this control position, the straight armbar on their left arm is trivial. My drilling partner and I played a bit with this from a regular half guard setup (rather than coming off the head/posture/stuff thing), and found that it works though it’s harder; when it doesn’t come off a flattening action, the bottom person may be in a position to shift to his left side and escape out the back door.

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First let me be up front with the caveat that I consider myself a judo beginner. I write this not to share knowledge of judo, but to as it were chronicle the evolution of my own understanding—which may be entirely mistaken at this stage.

That said, I had an understanding of forward throws—let us take o goshi as an example. I would pull and enter, turn with bent knees, fit under my opponent, straighten my legs to get him airborne, and his footing lost, pivot—my right shoulder to my left knee—so as to rotate him about his centre of gravity, turn him onto his back, and land him on the ground. Looking at this in terms of trivial mechanics, the process would then consist of

  1. Kuzushi—break tori’s balance forward so that his centre of gravity lies in front of his feet.
  2. Tsukuri—enter with bent knees to place my centre of gravity below his.
  3. ???—lift him up.
  4. Kake—rotate and throw.

I’m not sure this is so wrong for o goshi in particular, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that as a general rule, step 3 is not only unnecessary, but in fact unproductive and inefficient. My judo instructor often admonishes people not to waste energy throwing people up, when the whole point is after all to throw them down. This should be rather obvious, but I had the lesson driven home kinetically when a friendly brown belt threw me with morote seio nage, a throw I’ve had great difficulties with. Instead of the ballistic arc I’m used to flying on, I had a new experience of describing a very tight circle and hitting the ground from a smaller height but much more rapidly.

Combined with the aforementioned admonishments from the instructor, and my own focus on morote seio nage and bending my damned knees, this has provided something of an epiphany. The “lift the opponent” step above isn’t just unnecessary, it’s inefficient. Instead of raising my opponent off the ground so that he can rotate freely about his centre of gravity, I want to place my centre of gravity close to and below his and rotate him about our common centre of gravity. Because this is lower than his (mine being lower, and it being in between), this means that he goes down more directly and rapidly. Because it involves no lifting, it takes less energy on my part. And rotation about the common centre of gravity, I figure, will surely involve the least possible effort for the effect: I don’t need to shift the net mass at all.

The feeling is effectively one of performing a smaller arc, or tighter circle, during the kake phase of the throw. It’s perhaps less spectacular because the amplitude is a bit smaller, but it’s much faster and requires vastly less energy. Morote seio nage in particular feels like a different throw (one that might actually work), but ippon seio nage benefits similarly, and I expect to see progress in harai goshi and other throws, as well.

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I’ve written before about the notion that combat sports aren’t good for self defence, as well as the cliché that you never want to go to the ground in a street fight. Today I want to look critically at a similar statement: That while BJJ does have a subset of techniques that work in real fighting situations, such as street fights or MMA, modern sport jiu-jitsu has become too specialised and so far divorced from actual fighting as to be largely useless.

There is certainly a kernel of truth to this argument, smugly though it is often delivered. Certainly, as its exponents insist, many of the bewildering new guards in high-level jiu-jitsu—spiral guard, tornado guard, berimbolo, reverse De La Riva, X-guard, 93 guard, and so on and so forth—are probably not a good idea in a scenario where your opponent isn’t trying to avoid losing points to a sweep, but trying to smash your head into the ground.

Curiously, I only ever see this argument aimed at BJJ, but in actual fact it’s perfectly applicable to other combat sports as well. Judo, for example, contains a lot of stuff that is totally pointless in a street fight: Uchimata sukashi and sukui nage spring to mind, though perhaps te guruma isn’t the most useful technique in an altercation either—and what’s the point of all those turtle turnovers? Even something as straightforward as boxing has a few things, like bob-and-weave actions and the strategy of pummeling into a clinch, that work only under its specific ruleset. Yet no one seems to feel that this makes “sport boxing” any less of a fighting art.

The simple truth is that a fight between high-level practitioners, just like a match of expert judoka or professional boxers, is a contest of experts, where both people have the same basic toolkit, and both people of necessity know exactly how to deal with that basic toolkit. Just as judo contains uchimata sukashi because judoka are likely to face people who will attack them with uchimata, so any combat sport will develop techniques useful for dealing with its own attacks and counters. No one developed the tornado guard to fight muggers or drunken idiots: It was developed by jiu-jitsu experts in order to defeat other jiu-jitsu experts, because when your opponent knows exactly the same set of basic positions, attacks, counters, setups, and follow-ups as you do, having something different in your arsenal can give you the edge you need.

It’s not like the existence of sport jiu-jitsu means that you’ll walk into a BJJ school off the street one day and immediately start being taught the arcane ways of the berimbolo. On the contrary, most experienced practitioners—even the ones who enjoy learning all the exotic stuff—seem to stress a strong foundation in the basics. By the time you learn even one of those “useless-for-fighting” guards, you’ll have a good grasp of the basic closed guard (perfectly valid for fighting, as breaking an opponent’s posture prevents him from striking), open guard (feet on hips can control distance and protect you), mount, side mount, and back mount (all solid offensive positions), half guard (a valid step to recovering guard), and maybe a few other bits and pieces like butterfly and spider guard (and for self defence, surely we can agree that a guard that involves control of both the opponent’s hands is sound).

By the time you learn the stuff that isn’t applicable in a fight, then, you already should and most likely already do know the stuff that is perfectly applicable—and you’re likely to be good at them, nor will you ever stop working them. No matter how fancy your reverse upside down quarter tornado guard gets, you’ll still be drilling basic armbars from closed guard. After all, you never outgrow the basics, even if you add to them.

Now, it is true that BJJ as often trained leaves a few gaps. I think and hope that everyone who trains it realises that dealing with strikes is a skill you won’t develop by training exclusively in grappling—I know that I have some of the tools to do it (breaking posture, restricting movement, and so on), that in fact the same tools that work for grappling can also neutralise strikes—but I also know that there’s more to it; that I haven’t trained myself to use those tools for that purpose or in that context; and that if you put someone with MMA gloves in my guard, I’m in for trouble. This is of course why many people choose to do a little bit of MMA, or at least rolling with strikes involved, to see what it’s like and learn to deal with it. Maybe I should at some point. But to note that BJJ qua sport grappling without strikes is incomplete (which is true) is a far cry from validating the frankly silly idea that sport jiu-jitsu training is unhelpful.

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The headline pretty much says it all: “Priest Walks Out of Funeral Service Over Deceased's Lesbian Daughter”. Having denied her communion during the funeral service, the priest left the altar when the daughter of the deceased gave a eulogy, and used a weak excuse to weasel out of the gravesite part of the service.

Comments are predictable.

  • Obviously, this man need a few more courses in Theology/ Scripture and pastoral Practices.
  • I find it a shame that people who call themselves "religious leaders" behave like this.
  • The sad thing is that many people will not only stop attending that Parish but will stop going to Mass. They will say that all Catholics are bigoted holier- than- thou Christians. We are living in such troublesome times that we need Our Lord and Our Lady as constant companions.

—And so on.

What these comments and others like them all seem to miss is that the priest actually didn’t make a poor moral judgement. He did something morally awful, but in fact he didn’t make a moral judgement at all. He followed the rules—the rules of the Catholic Church that say here’s this god, here’s what he’s said, here’s what others have said to whom that god delegated some authority. He didn’t deny this woman communion because he personally decided that she didn’t deserve it: He did it because the rules said he should. He didn’t invent the notion that she’s a sinner for being homosexual; it’s right there in the “good book”. (Yes it’s true that Leviticus condemns eating shellfish and mixed-fibre clothing as well as male homosexuality, but that doesn’t excuse and annul the latter: it only makes the book ludicrous as well as vile.)

This priest believes that, as a matter of fact rather than personal judgement, this is precisely what his god wants him to do. He doesn’t think it’s his idea; it’s “the Lord’s”. He subscribes, in addition, to a faith tradition that condemns humans as “sinful”, so that his god’s morality by definition trumps his own: Even if he personally felt that this condemnation of homosexuality were evil, his faith and dogma inform him that he is in the wrong.

Does this mean I think his behaviour is pardonable? Of course not. The moral outcome is atrocious, so clearly there was an error. I only differ in my view of where the error lay; and to me, the error lay in accepting the premises that quite soundly lead to the terrible conclusion: He believes that there is a god who wants this. My point is that the error is factual rather than one of moral judgement. If you honestly believe what he believes, then his moral conclusion is inevitable. The observation that he’s a douchebag is notable, but tangential.

And here is the core problem: Belief drives action and moral conclusions, and false beliefs can drive even the well-intentioned to commit bad actions and reach poor moral conclusions. The only way someone like this priest could arrive anywhere but where he did is by either re-examining his beliefs or ignoring what he believes his god, the all-perfect creator of the Universe wants him to do. Frankly, the latter seems like a bad idea.

A lot of people seem to take the view that it is proper, in the light of such situations, to re-examine beliefs and modify them according to what they want. Though rarely stated so baldly, the argument seems to go something like this hypothetical: I don’t think that homosexuality is wrong; therefore God must not think so either, and anyone who thinks that God condemns it is wrong. I don’t give much for this kind of argument; it’s pure wishful thinking, a notion that what you want to be true necessarily must be true. (I suppose it helps that the Bible contains a lot of contradictions where you can cite one verse to denounce another.)

I think it’s perfectly reasonable to take a moral qualm with this as an impetus for re-examining these beliefs. To go thence to I don’t like this particular conclusion, ergo that biblical dogma must be wrong whereas all the dogma I personally like must be true is utterly irrational. If “Are homosexuals sinful?” is up for grabs, why not “Was Jesus God?”, or “Is there a god at all?” Why not any claim derived from scripture lacking empirical backing? Rather, one should ask one’s self what premises can be reasonably assumed or deduced, and what conclusions flow therefrom. If the conclusions seem acceptable, then either your premises or reasoning is at fault, or you’ll just have to come to terms with the fact that reality isn’t what you’d like it to be.

A common reaction to these situation seems to be to turn to a milder, more tolerant faith. On one level, of course, I applaud it—the world is full of people who are good people in spite of being Christian, because they prioritise their own judgement over that of their dogma, cherry-picking the parts they (with their good moral judgement) approve and rejecting the parts they do not. On another level, I recognise that it’s intellectually even more bankrupt than dogmatic blind faith because it’s ad hoc and inconsistent: Blindly believe some dogma because…the Bible says so?, but at the same time reject other dogma from the same source. Why believe the former if the latter proves the source unreliable?

If you have occasion to question some of religion’s teachings, perhaps it’s a good idea to start at first principles and ask how you can know that any of it is true. Once you apply reason and standards of evidence, we atheists will welcome you to our ranks, with open arms—after all you’re already a nice person.

If you choose not to question, then I suppose you face the choice of an ad hoc muddle, or taking up the entirely consistent position of the aforementioned priest.

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I’ve never gone to a BJJ seminar before, for various reasons—mostly, I suppose, that I felt it wouldn’t be worth the investment. No matter how great the instructors are, I just have too many basic flaws to work on that my regular instructors can help me with; I don’t need more moves or fancier techniques, and my game is not so polished that I can’t get any black belt—or brown belt, or purple belt—to point out weaknesses I should address, ways to improve. In fact, my gym is full of such people who will happily and helpfully do so. (And if some touring instructor has a world championship title, well, our own head instructor took home gold in the Mundials as a blue belt, if I understand things correctly. There’s no shortage of quality.)

With this seminar, though, I can’t resist it, because egads, have you ever seen such a concentration of skill and accomplishment gather in one place before? On March 8, no fewer than five BJJ blackbelts are holding a seminar at Gracie Barra Vancouver, several of whom are so famous that even I, who have a notoriously weak grasp of the international competition scene, have heard of them. Since the sport lacks the centralised and easily referenced records present in MMA, for example, it’s hard to get any sense of their proper laurels—I can’t find any hint of some of their records. Two of them are so decorated that I can’t be bothered to include all their trophies, cutting it down to just Mundials and ADCC medals to save space; two I can’t find at all; one I can find only briefly mentioned.

It’s a line-up nowhere short of amazing, though, and with five world-class instructors running a seminar (not even an expensive one), it’s hard to imagine not getting my money’s worth.


Partial, abbreviated records of those of the visiting instructors whom I could find anything on:

  • Flavio Almeida
    • 2x World Champion (1999 – brown, 1997 – blue);
    • ADCC Silver Medallist (2007);
    • …Too many other awards and trophies to list…
  • Marcio Feitosa
    • 3x World Champion ­– black (1997, 2001, 2002);
    • 4x World Championship silver medallist – ­black (1998, 1999, 2000, 2003);
    • ADCC champion 2000;
    • ADCC bronze medallist 2000;
    • …Too many other awards and trophies to list…
  • Alexandre Dande (???)
  • Rodrigo Lopes (???)
  • Luca Atala (1996 World Champion – blue?; ???)
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A Twitter exchange¹ reminds me of one of the more peculiar rhetorical gambits many proselytising Christians will resort to when faced with unbelief: Just call on God’s name sincerely, or Only pray to Jesus for salvation, or similar.

Now, for a believing Christian I’m sure the gesture seems meaningful: When they call on their god’s name or pray, they believe they are communicating with something. However, it is bafflingly inane to suggest this to a disbeliever. I get their meaning: They feel that if we only tried sincerely, then surely God would show us the light, or something. The reason why it is so inane is that said sincerity is impossible. I cannot sincerely talk to an imaginary being. I am an atheist; I sincerely don’t believe that there exist any gods, and so obviously any act of mine of “speaking” to any such fictional entity would be a sham, and I would be disqualified on the sincerity point. Someone who does offer a sincere prayer must have belief that there is at least some recipient of the prayer. So of course everyone who offers that sincere prayer feels validated, but it’s no victory at all because only those who had already subscribed qualified.

Most likely it’s just another thing not properly thought through, an earnest but inane entreaty to the unbelievers, born perhaps from this peculiar habit of some believers to treat atheists as though they didn’t actually believe that atheism is real, as though atheists were not people who don’t believe in their god but instead people who just don’t like it.² (Many atheists do point out problems with that entity, of course, but the causality is here reversed. We are free to criticise because we don’t presuppose perfection and blind ourselves to flaws.)

If, on the other hand, it is not mere sloppy thinking but an intentional rhetorical trick, it’s cheap and sleazy.

I would urge the next Christian who feels a need to implore me to sincerely beseech Jesus to first set a good example by offering a sincere prayer to Thor, or if they prefer, to Vulcan, Set, Torak, or the Great Green Arkleseizure. I am willing to bet that none of them will actually do so—not sincerely.³


¹ No, I don’t have much to do today.

² In case it’s not already clear, let me state it plainly: We’re not atheists because we dislike your god. Most of us are atheists because we realised that there’s no good evidence that any such things as gods exist; because we take the same standards of reasoning that use when determining truth in other matters, when people fervently attempt to persuade us of things, and apply them to your gods. I don’t personally feel that being an atheist makes me smarter than religious people, but I do think I apply my intelligence more consistently, to areas you choose to shelter from critical thought and need for evidence.

³ My first datum seems to represent the approach of pretending not to hear.

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These are the thoughts going through my head as I commute to work.

For a long time, my preferred position in the guard was a very traditional one: Deep grip with my right hand in the opposite collar, left hand on opponent’s right sleeve, attack cross chokes and scissors sweeps (still my highest percentage sweep). Anticipate stand-up attempts and be ready to pendulum sweep, should the opportunity arise. If I’m on the ball and not lying flat, I’ll be on my left hip.

Of course, in no-gi it’s a no-go. Without the lapel the control isn’t there. So in no-gi, I started developing a different game, where my posture control is effected by an overhook. I’ll get whichever overhook I can, but I prefer to use my left hand to overhook as deeply as I can, get on my right hip, and start pushing on the far arm with my right hand and foot, threatening triangles.

More recently I’ve started adopting this same basic position in gi as well: Get on my right hip, and dive my left arm deep for an overhook, preferably securing a grip, as deep as possible, on the opponent’s far (i.e. left) lapel. I’m finding this a superior way to control posture; an opponent with a strong neck and/or a bit of skill can often sit up against the orthodox cross-collar grip, but with the overhook there’s a lot of weight on the shoulder and I’m more to the side, making it awkward for them. Additionally, I find that people tend to fight the overhook before attempting anything else, whereas with the orthodox collar grip they may just monitor it while already working on a pass.

The overhook grip also provides a very solid platform for a number of techniques. If, as I prefer, I get the overhooked arm on the outside (to my left), I can threaten

  • a cross choke by taking either a four-fingers-in grip in the right collar, or overhand grip on the shoulder seam
  • an armbar on the overhooked arm, bracing its wrist against my neck and clamping down with my arm, possibly reinforced by my left knee
  • a triangle choke
  • spinning into an omoplata

Typically the opponent won’t like this, and will work to withdraw the arm to the inside, between our bodies, where it is less exposed and can help fight off the cross choke, and would make the triangle very awkward. But then I can

  • still spin for the omoplata or omoplata sweep
  • start climbing for the back, since my opponent did the hard work of killing the arm blocking me!

Although I haven’t yet worked these things, it seems to me that the arm-inside position should also open up

  • spinning 180° for an orthodox armbar from guard
  • spinning 180° for a sweep, perhaps the pendulum

Additionally, although I’ve never used this position as a platform for scissors sweeps, it occurs to me that the possibility ought to be there, whenever I can control the far (non-overhooked) arm—although my position on the far side of the body might make it less than ideal, as posting with the far leg should be easy (which, however, is why I think I need to play with pendulum sweeps from here!). Still, worth trying.

I find it interesting how this position seems to have insinuated itself into my game very organically, necessitated by the lack of collar grips in no-gi, without my ever really thinking about it. The fact that I seem to have started developing a game centered on it feels promising. Now perhaps it is time to begin analysing it and constructing that game more consciously.

haggholm: (Default)

Having read and tremendously enjoyed Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain, I expected something like more of the same: More weird brain injuries, and more light cast by these tragedies on how the brain works by studying how specific injuries cause it to malfunction. Well, there was some of that, and there was some recapitulation of such cases from earlier works (such as the one I had already read). However, much of the book was a great deal more speculative. Ramachandran is very up front about the speculative nature of some of his ideas, and further argues persuasively that such speculation—and scientists prone thereto, such as himself—are a vital part of scientific progress: Some people have to come up with the wild ideas while others stick to hard data. Still, while he is honest about it, that kind of speculation wasn’t really what I thought I was signing up for.

Ramachandran also goes on to discuss the evolution of the human brain and its function, the human mind, and discusses what makes us uniquely human as opposed to “mere” animals. Here is where Dr. Ramachandran and I must part ways, because he starts to make a lot of assertions that don’t appear to be supported by anything much at all. I’m sure he’s a very great expert on the human brain, its functioning, and its malfunctioning; but to explain what differentiates us from other animals he must of course compare us to other animals, en masse as it were. Unfortunately, most of the time he draws a comparison by explaining how the human brain accomplishes a task and then simply asserting that no other animal is capable thereof.

…The self is aware of itself; it can contemplate its own existence and (alas!) its mortality. No nonhuman creature can do this.

Indeed? How do you know; how can you possibly know this?

Despite the enormous number of distinct events punctuating your life, you feel a sense of continuity of identity through time—moment to moment, decade to decade. And as Endel Tulving has noted, you can engage in mental “time travel,” starting from early childhood and projecting yourself into the future, sliding to and fro effortlessly. This Proustian virtuosity is unique to humans.

Again, bald assertion: I have no idea how this could ever possibly be tested (short of communicating via full-fledged language, which we cannnot and may not ever be able to do with any other animal).

Vital to the human sense of self is a person’s feeling of inhabiting his own body and owning his body parts. Although a cat has an implicit body image of sorts (it doesn’t try to squeeze into a rat hole), it can’t go on a diet seeing that it is obese or contemplate its paw and wish it weren’t there.

And how on Earth can Ramachandran possibly know that this is true? Unless he has some evidence, obtained perhaps via some sophisticated cat scan, that he doesn’t bother to cite or provide, this again seems like a mere assertion. How can we ever know what’s going on in the mind of a cat?

This, to me, just won’t do. We’ve learned over the past few decades that non-human animals can do a vast array of things that we used to think our province alone: Tool use has been observed and documented in chiimpanzees, various birds, dolphins, and elephants; great apes can learn rudiments of sign language; parrots can learn a great variety of conceptual tasks as demonstrated by Dr. Irene Pepperberg (cf. The Alex Studies), and corvids can perform many tasks involving tool use, including some tool manufacture (figuring out how to bend a wire to make a hook) and combination (using a tool to obtain another tool to solve a problem).

Dr. Pepperberg in particular has pointed out (Alex and me) that classical animal cognitive studies, carried out in a behavioristic framework, are very limited. The classical Skinnerian pigeon in a box is starved to 80% of optimum body mass (to maximise the attraction of food rewards) and expected to solve particular tasks in highly isolated conditions—for experimental purity, no doubt, but it’s still absurd in a way. Place a human child in the same situation—isolated, starved, placed in an artificial puzzle—and I have no doubt but that you should end up with a profoundly retarded child. Humans, we know, require an appropriate social environment to develop properly. Other social animals, presumably, do likewise. Thus, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that Skinnerian methods profoundly limit the cognitive development of animal test subjects. Even in more human environments and modern training methods, such as the model/rival training adopted by Pepperberg in training Alex and her other parrots, how can we know whether it’s optimal? Moreover, I think it is always a bit perilous to judge a non-human animal’s cognitive abilities based on its ability to perform tasks specified by humans. We humans should have a great deal of difficulty learning to behave like intelligent whales, after all, or crows!

This is not to say that I believe that crows, parrots, whales, elephants, or any other non-human animal really is as smart as humans are (although with cetaceans I think it’s particularly hard to judge). Rather, I think it is perilous to simply assume that no animal can perform a certain task merely because we have yet to devise a training method and test to demonstrate it. I’m very sure that there are lots of mental task that no other species on Earth can master, but which ones, and to what degree?

Yet here Ramachandran seems quite happy to simply assert, apparently on the assumption that his claims don’t even need justification. (They do.) If these were mere asides, this would be very irritating but harmless. As it is, though, he also uses these assertions to speculate on the evolution of the human brain: We humans can perform task A; we use brain region B to do so; other great apes cannot do A and lack the specialised structure B, ergo some inference regarding hominin brain evolution. This is very problematic, because without actual evidence that the ability is unique to humans, the evolutionary scenario is unsupported. Keep in mind that the same function may be solved using different structures: Feathers and skin flaps do the same job (in birds and bats respectively); a talking bird uses a ‘whistling’ syrinx to approximate sounds that we humans produce using larynx and tongue and vocal cords; there’s even evidence (I think in The Alex Studies?) that birds may solve problems using quite different brain regions than mammals would for the same tasks.

In the areas of the book dealing strictly with the human brain, its functioning, its malfunctioning, and thus our comprehension of its structural functionality, Ramachandran is once again stellar, and I have learned some more fascinating things. However, his anthrocentric chauvinism reduces many of his speculations on evolution from fruitful hypothesising to mere speculation based on a combination of observed fact (with regards to the human brain) and mere authorial assertion. Had he either stuck to his area of expertise, or broadened it, the book could have been stellar. As it is, its flaws (peculiarly tailored to annoy me in particular as a reader) leave me feeling rather cold, especially compared with the brilliance of his earlier work.

haggholm: (Default)

After four years and an extremely belated start, this month saw me participate in my second-ever BJJ tournament, Grapplers Inc. on February 4, 2012. This time I’ve been eating pretty well for a few months, and so with no need to drop any weight I was comfortably in the middleweight division, instead of the inappropriate medium heavyweight division I was in last time. I knew I had improved since the last competition; I was fitter, stronger, more technical, and more active on the mats. The result?

Oh well.

My analysis is pretty much what I wrote in the YouTube description:

Unfortunately, I ended up inside a strong guard that I just wasn't able to break. I think, and in fact I thought even during the match, that I should have stood up to break the guard, since he was clearly breaking my posture whenever I tried to get leverage to open the guard kneeling; however I don't work enough standing guard passes and decided I was too likely to get swept, and should therefore stay down and play more conservatively.

Right or wrong, that's where I lost the match. I briefly thought I was going to pass to half guard, but he nearly caught me with a sweep in the transition, and as I scrambled to regain posture he caught my arm.

The next few months will be on the theme of standing guard passes.

What I didn’t say in that description is that unlike the other tournament, this time I’m slightly unhappy with the result. Not that I care so terribly much that I lost—after all there are always better guys out there, and I’m not a natural athlete so I think just getting to the point where I can make myself compete in such a physical event is pretty significant. Still, I wish it hadn’t gone like that. I’ve made tremendous gains since the early autumn, thanks to registering for that first tournament; and I’ve continued to improve since then. I know that I’m better than I was in November—in better physical condition, faster, stronger, and with a much more active and cohesive game. I have better jiu-jitsu! But you can’t really tell from that video, where I got stuck doing largely nothing. That is irritating. It’s irritating. I’m irritated, and a bit frustrated.

It may be, though, that this frustration itself is mostly a good thing. I feel this way because I know that I’ve improved, and because I have gained some confidence in my game. In November I had no idea what would happen: I just wanted to get my first tournament out of the way. This time I knew that the odds were perhaps against me (because, having waited so long, I have very little competition experience for a blue belt), but I also knew that I had a game and things I wanted to do.

Then, too, I left the tournament with a feeling of I do not want this to happen again! I want to compete again, and win or lose I do not want to spend another match just stuck in the guard like that. I want to spend the next few months working my standing guard passes so that if I end up in the same place, I will smash that guard; and if I lose, it will at least be different. The last tournament just got me introduced to the idea of competing; this one exposed a big hole in my game, pointed, and laughed at it like Nelson Muntz.

My only fear is that I may get promoted too soon. Be it via franchise rules because I’ve been toiling along for 4½ years, or the same principle as a ‘sympathy D’, I fear the possibility of receving a belt I don’t deserve at the big several-multiple-world-champions seminar next month, preventing me from competing at blue belt again. Ah well, hopefully such nightmares won’t come to pass. There should be another big tournament locally in May or so, and I want to be there.


Hopefully, too, I’ll find a chance to compete in judo at some point this year. At least here it’s not too late; a mere orange belt, I’m very much a nobody and should be able to get my first-tournament jitters over with in this sport at a fairly early stage!


Team highlights:

haggholm: (Default)

Suppose on the one hand that we have a mad serial killer who wishes to strap me down and slowly pull out all of my fingernails with a pair of pliers; not because it pleases him per se, but because he feels that I deserve it and that, given my beliefs and lifestyle, this is the best and fairest thing that can possibly happen.

Suppose on the other hand that we have a Bible-believing Christian, who subscribes to the fairly orthodox beliefs that there is a God; that this God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, and created the Universe; that there is a Hell of unending torment; and that people who do not believe in this God will go to this Hell.

It follows, therefore, that said Christian—and while many, many Christians are not like that, we can surely agree that those beliefs are not mere hypotheticals—is rather like the serial killer in that he feels that the best and fairest thing that can possibly happen to me, qua that which will in fact happen in a world created and governed by a just, loving, and omnipotent God, is that I will suffer torment.

The two are alike—the mad serial killer and the Bible-believing Christian—in that both believe that, given my beliefs and lifestyle, it is good and just that I should suffer torment. The serial killer, though, only thinks that I deserve the torment of having my fingernails pulled out with pliers. The Christian is not so easily satisfied: To him, the just and good torment is infinite both in magnitude and duration.

Now, the above all sounds rather slanderous, but I hasten to point out that I said in the title that this is the one way in which such Christians are logically worse than serial killers. Apart from a few rare hate-mongers like the Phelpses (and similarly a few truly vile mullahs on the Islamic side of the fence, I suppose), I expect that even Christians who subscribe to all the qualifying beliefs above don’t actually wish an infinitude of torment on me. Even apart from the obvious evasion of the issue (I want you to believe!), I think that the great majority of Christians, if they really sat down and envisioned an unbeliever like yours truly (or if you like, someone like Richard Dawkins, Jodie Foster, Bertrand Russell, Sir David Attenborough, or Isaac Asimov, to draw on a few walks of life) writhing in horrific agony for unending eons, they would feel uncomfortable with the idea. I am not claiming that Christians are in the main full of such profound malice. All I claim is that if you accept as premises that

  1. there exists a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and absolutely fair, who created and ordered the Universe;
  2. there exists a Hell where torment is infinite and unending¹;
  3. the Universe is so ordered that if you do not believe in aforementioned God, you will forever suffer in aforementioned Hell²;

then you logically arrive at the conclusion that

  • ∴ In a Universe designed, created, and ordered in the fairest and most loving way possible, the consequence for unbelief is infinite suffering.
  • ∴ Infinite suffering is a just consequence for unbelief.

Ergo, either there’s a flaw in my reasoning (please point it out); or a Christian who is also a good person must reject at least one of the premises; or they must refuse or fail to follow those premises to their conclusion. Personally, I think that the latter is most likely—as you may know, I believe that the device that allows people to hold religious beliefs is compartmentalised thinking, where these beliefs are not held to the same standards of scrutiny, reason, coherence, and evidence as are beliefs in other walks of life. That doesn’t speak too highly of the matter, though, and doesn’t resolve the dilemma of what such a believer should make of it if confronted.

Another common resolution is of course to simply reject the premise that unbelief merits Hell, or to reject the Hell doctrine altogether. That’s a better moral solution, though I’m not sure how it helps intellectually. In rejecting some of the doctrines of the Bible, after all, you thereby reject the Bible itself as an authorative document, meaning that its teachings are subject to external reason and evidence to ascertain what’s true and what’s not; whereby you’re left rejecting the reliability of the only source for the whole God-and-Jesus bit. But more on that at some other time.


¹ Mark 9:46: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

² John 3:18: He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. For some reason, liberal Christians aren’t nearly as fond of citing this as the earlier 3:16 bit about how God so loved the world.

haggholm: (Default)

I first started training BJJ at Tim Shears’s Cocoon Athletics in October, 2007. For the past four years I’ve stayed with the same club, though it’s no longer either Tim Shears’s club nor Cocoon Athletics; it’s moved, ownership has changed, and the roster of instructors has changed as well (though Tim still teaches the occasional class). I got my blue belt in May 2010; the other day, December 19, I got my fourth and final stripe on that belt (I think, perhaps, the first promotion I ever got earlier than expected); the next promotion, whenever it comes, will (necessarily) be to purple belt.

Blue belt, 4 stripes promotion

The learning curve has been both slow and steep for me. I’m not by nature either athletic or competitive, and physical learning is not my forte. Still I’ve learned, and my fourth year has been, by far, my best year yet. I feel like the first two years were pretty much a matter of learning the bare basics—the positions and positional hierarchy, a basic toolkit of techniques. My third year, during which I received my blue belt, was when I had my first period of Getting It, and I started developing sensitivity and the ability to respond and react to people—rather than just thinking in explicit terms of “I’m in position A, I’d best use technique X”, I learned to feel what my opponent was doing, where their weight and momentum were oriented, and reflexively respond to that.

2011 has been a year of much greater development. I didn’t blog very much early this year, and the first BJJ post of 2011 is from April, so I don’t know what was really on my mind in January, but I do know that something I focused on a great deal during the earlier half of the year was staying active. It’s in my nature to be passive, defensive, and reactive. For better or for worse—often the latter—this is intrinsic to how I tactically approach anything, be it jiu-jitsu, fencing, chess, or a game of Starcraft. I want to build up a solid defence and wait while I wear my enemy down by countering all their efforts. Unfortunately, in BJJ (and for that matter in fencing, Starcraft, and perhaps even chess) this is usually a losing game, as I give my opponent far too many opportunities to find and exploit my weaknesses. It is necessary, at least when appropriate, to be active and assertive. At the very least, if my plan is to wait for you to make a mistake and expose a weakness, I should be ready to exploit that weakness, attack it, and take charge of the game! I wasn’t. These days, I’m better at it.

But the most rapid progress has happened in the last two months, since I decided, in early October, to compete for the first time. At the time I thought and said that

It’s not so much the competition itself—maybe I’ll enjoy it, maybe I won’t; I’m hoping I will but don’t have high hopes (I tend to get too nervous when competing in anything to enjoy it). Still, it will be valuable experience and both the training leading up to the tournament and the tournament itself will force me to address the biggest weakness in my game: The lack of will and drive to win, the tendency when things go south to lie back and go "Meh, what does it matter? It’s just rolling". What else—we’ll see.

This all paid off in spades. Actually I had fun at the tournament. I may never be the kind of guy who drives around the Pacific Northwest seeking out every possible tournament, but I plan to compete again when it’s local and convenient—meaning, in all likelihood, in February. But more importantly, it really did elevate my game to new levels, even if I did lose decisively in both the light heavyweight and open weight divisions.

This time period—the month and a half or so between my decision to compete and the time of writing this, both before and after the tournament, has seen my game improve very greatly in two ways:

  • At Kabir’s advice, I make it my general habit to try to win the first roll with any new opponent, even in a regular class. Of course this does not mean that I go 100% speed and power every time, nor that I am out there to smash beginners into the ground; but I do try to approach the very first roll with any training partner by bringing my A game, as it were, and trying to win. This ensures two things: First, that I keep the A game in some sort of shape—if I only ever rolled to work on my weak points, I’d lose my strengths from disuse! And second, that I get into the habit and the psychology of approaching a new opponent as someone whom I want to defeat. For someone who, like me, tends to be much too passive and non-competitive, this is extremely valuable.

  • I have begun to fight between canonical positions. This is something I should have been doing since white belt day one, more or less, but haven’t worked nearly enough on until recently. It was seductively easy for me to think of BJJ as a game played in certain configurations—guard, half guard, butterfly, mount, side control, and so on; and that’s it. No! Wrong! Bad! Half the game is between positions; half the game is getting to them or escaping from them, and if someone passes my (closed) guard that’s no reason to resign to fighting from under side control—it means I should fight from open guard, half guard, and (more crucially in this context) a hundred ad hoc, between-position scrambles for which there are principles but no official names.

    As what might be considered a corollary to this, Kabir observed that I tend to hold on to my closed guard too long. When I refuse to open my guard until it is physically broken open, it means that by the time my guard is open, my opponent already has their grips set and are already in the process of passing. Of course, the reason I tend to keep my guard stubbornly closed is because my open guard is very weak…but of course it’s bound to be, if I only ever play open guard from an already-losing position! Thus on Kabir’s advice to open my guard earlier I’ve spent more time doing so, and extrapolating from this, generally bailing out of positions before I really lose them, when I still retain enough control to retreat to another position—closed guard to open guard, yes, but also open guard to turtle, and so on. Quite suddenly my open guard game improved radically and I’m much harder to pin down in side control. There’s lots of work still to do in this area, but the improvement was pretty drastic.

The name Kabir appeared a few times above, and is significant. He’s a purple belt who has trained at the gym for a long time, though he was gone for a year or so while attending law school in the States; now he’s back and spending much more time (it seems) at the gym, training and coaching and what not. He’s also always taken time to help me on a very individual level. I’ve known for a long time that if ever my Facebook status updates hint at a specific issue in BJJ, I’m very likely to get a comment from him with applicable advice. With him back at the gym, I get much more of that, and it’s invaluable. Rodrigo is a good instructor, but I suppose when overseeing hundreds of students it’s hard to pay detailed attention to every single one—let alone some athletically unremarkable specimen who’s unlikely to take home tournament gold medals and prestige. Be that as it may, Kabir always has both time and apt advice. I suppose in terms of my jiu-jitsu, Rodrigo and the other instructors serve to teach me techniques and generic strategy, while Kabir (very much a coach!) has helped address my game. He’s also one of those guys with whom rolling is itself a lesson—he’s obviously far better than I am and so able to provide enough pressure and challenge that I have to work hard 100% of the time, but chooses to rarely press submissions and never pin or stifle me so much that I am frustrated.

While on the theme of gratitude relevant to BJJ, I would be remiss and rude if I didn’t at least mention Jaimie, who at the merest mention that maybe I should try to eat a bit healthier before the tournament magically whipped up a lower-carb, higher-fat diet that has me eating a lot more vegetables, more protein, and less sugars and starch; with this and a slightly increased exercise schedule I’ve lost some 10 lbs of fat over the past several months without seeming to lose any endurance or energy. (When I say “whipped up” I mean “researched, designed, adapted to my food intolerances, and cooks every damn weak”. It’s rather considerable.)

Summing up what 2011 has been like for me and BJJ, I would say that

  • I’m much better at it—barring the obvious exception of going from zero to nothing when I first started, I may never have improved so rapidly as I have in the last several months.
  • I have addressed several attribute and psychology types of problems, not completely but with fair success, viz. I am no longer so passive, and I no longer concede positions.
  • I have gained pretty decent defensive skills from bottom positions, and while I need a lot of work on my half guard sweeps, I have a fair bit of success in recovering half guard from under mount, side control, and back.
  • I’ve started to develop the rudiments of an open guard game. (Thinking of being more active, and of fighting not to concede positions, really helps here; open guard feels much less rigidly delineated in that the line between “open guard [variation]” and “scramble” is kind of blurry.)
  • For the first time I’m starting to feel some degree of confidence in my skills. I still have moments of poor self esteem where I am bothered that I am challenged (or beaten) by white belts, where it troubles me that more athetically gifted people join the school and advance in skill much faster than I did…but (notwithstanding truth in the above) I’m really not at square one anymore.

I hope this can continue in and throughout 2012. I have a list of skills, by position, that I need to keep un-rusted for my A game and ones I need to work on or add to my game, so I have concrete points to work on. (I always feel it’s important to have concrete points; rolling “just to roll” feels much less productive. Still a lot of fun, but less productive than specifically addressing particular skills.) There’s a local tournament in February where I hope to compete, and thanks to Jaimie I’ll be signing up for a lower weight bracket this time. I should do better at middleweight—it’s no good being at the bottom of light heavyweight, by beer belly, when the other competitors in that bracket cut their last few percents of body fat to squeeze down into it!

I also want to work more on my standup—and I miss judo; throwing people is so much fun! I expect BJJ will always be my primary grappling art, both because it’s (also) so much fun and because I expect its lower-impact nature will make it easier on my body in a few decades…but it’s time to learn some judo, damn it. Starting, I hope, in January, I plan to make the journey out to Burnaby, probably twice a week, and the Burnaby Judo Club (a club with a very high reputation; I’ve heard it called the best club in Canada west of Montréal). This will require me to cut down on fencing, alas!—would that I had time to do everything. But let’s face it—grappling is where I have the most skill and currently the most fun; and judo should mesh rather well with BJJ. I may never truly excel at either, but some day in the distant future I want to get good enough at judo to throw all the BJJ-ers, and good enough at BJJ to choke out all the judoka…

But first, enjoy Christmas, get back and work off the Christmas rust and fat, keep addressing my list, go to a second BJJ tournament, and learn a little bit of judo.

haggholm: (Default)

Trying to assess my own game, figure out which positions and techniques I feel comfortable with and which I should focus on. Obviously good enough below doesn’t mean I think I’m an expert, only that given the general level of my game, I’m good enough at certain things that I think I’d be better served by focusing on other things to fill in the biggest gaps.

Every time I roll with someone, I always try to win the first roll, basically rehearsing my “A” game as best I can. (I can’t recall for sure, but I feel like this may be on Kabir’s advice.) This way, I insulate myself a bit from complacency, from getting into the habit of approaching new opponents with a mindset of “Oh, well, whatever happens happens”—no, when I face a new opponent, I’ll try to win and work on my mental attributes (lack of assertiveness, initiative, and activity being some of my weaknesses). After that I’ll relax more, and especially if I happen to be rolling with a beginner and getting a tap fairly quickly, I’ll move to weaker positions and ones I need more work on.

So what’s good enough for now, what needs a bit more polish to get to that level, and what do I feel I ought to focus on, perhaps to improve or perhaps to add?

positiongood enoughneeds workfocus
closed guard (bottom)scissors sweep, cross chokearmbar, triangle, pendulum sweepmove to open guard?
guard (top)basic knee slide passstanding guard passstanding guard pass, stacking pass, another guard break?
open guard (bottom)nothingn/a???
butterfly guard (bottom)nothingn/abasic butterfly sweep, arm drag, cross choke?
half guard (bottom)replace guardtake the back“old school” sweep, knee-shield/bridging sweep
half guard (top)basic pass?some choke?
side control (top)advance to mountbaseball chokebaseball choke, armbar
side control (bottom)replace guardreplace guard (better bridging)running escape
mountcross chokeamericanaarmbar
back mountrear naked chokecollar choke, bow-and-arrow chokearmbar

Obviously I’m not too concerned with inferior positions here, mostly because I feel that my defence is OK. Of course I get tapped out a lot if, for instance, I end up under mount; but that’s kind of the point of mount (and as it happens, I often recover to half guard). Submission defence is not my biggest problem and not what I feel a need to focus on.

The biggest problem right now is my complete lack of an open guard game. This is problematic because, first, everyone’s guard gets broken sometimes and I need options; and second, because as a short-legged and not very flexible player, I gather open guards like butterfly are more likely to work better for me in the long run. The learning curve is a bit steep, though, because they’re so much easier to escape than closed guard at the beginning stages, so I haven’t picked it up. It’s time to focus on it.


I also suffer from a complete lack of a stand-up game. My highest-percentage approach seems to be based on people suspecting I might know some judo, and reinforcing that belief by fighting for judo-style grips, then when they get sufficiently focused on defending those grips, drop for a double leg. Sadly, actually doing judo from the standard ai yotsu grips is beyond me. Once again I wish I had time to pick up judo.

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