Why being alright with sucking is the first step to learning how to do something right.

As a coach I’ve noticed a trend with people both in the gym and on the mats when it comes to learning something new. They seem to think that the once they’ve been shown something their first goal is to “do it right”.

Doing it “right” isn’t the goal, you’re goal is to do a little better each time.

However, people rarely go from learning something new to “doing it right”. Instead, they have to go through a period of sucking at it until they learn how to do it right.

And this is where most people get stuck.

They aren’t alright with sucking, which makes it tough to learn how to do it right. They figure that if they can’t do it perfectly right off the bat they may as well not even try.

The reason I’m bringing this up is that I was reminded of this the other day when helping a kid figure out how to balance on his knees on a stability ball.

There were a bunch of kids playing on them and I had shown him how to do it but he was really timid. When he tried it you could tell that his top priority was not falling off and looking like he didn’t know how to do it in front of everyone.

Once I told him that he’s going to fall off his first time so just get it out of the way he relaxed. He went for it, fell off, saw it wasn’t thay bad and within a few minuted was balancing like a pro.

And it all started with giving him permission to suck until he figured things out.

I also see when someone how to do a new exercise. In fact, this happens so much that I have a pre-planned speech that goes something like this…

“Don’t worry about doing it right. You have a lot of bad reps before you figure it out so just relax and get them out of the way.”

Whenever I say this you can see the tension leave their face. Once they know that sucking at it is part of the process and not an indictment on them as a person they can relax and let the learning begin.

In fact, even when you figure out how to do something right you’re goal should still be to look for ways that you can get better. This, in essence, says you’ll never have it figured out because you know you can always get better.

If you’re goal isn’t to hunt down how you suck at something but instead to rush to get it figured out and “do it right” then you’ll hit a point where you can’t progress. How can you improve when you’re trying to protect your ego instead of being honest with yourself about how you can improve?

So what does this mean for you?

Be bold when trying to learn a new exercise, workout routine or technique.

Being bold doesn’t mean being stupid and taking unnecessary risks. It means doing the best you can, knowing that you won’t do it “right” and not caring about how you look doing it wrong.

Applied to your riding and training this mindset will save you a lot of stress and open you to possible solutions you’d never see if you’re not alright with sucking. Besides, no ones is perfect which is why we are constantly pursuing it.

Doing it “right” isn’t the goal, you’re goal is to do a little better each time.

“Men are not perfect in any aspect of their lives, no matter the amount of time, effort and energy that they put into their search for perfection. The virtue of perfection is that it is always just beyond a man’s reach. This is good. If perfection were attainable it would have no value – there would be no reason to pursue it”. – Miyamoto Musashi from The Book of 5 Rings

So how do you feel about sucking at something? Are you alright with it, embracing it as part of the learning process or do you find yourself avoiding it? I’d love to hear your thoughts, post a comment below to let me know what you think.

And if you liked this post please click one of the Share or Like buttons below to help me spread the word.

Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

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Lessons from an 8 years old’s belt test about Focused Practice, the Grind and what it takes to be great…

994796_10200307267619234_825583089_nA few weeks back my little girl Shilo had her first belt test in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. She’s been really dedicated since starting and has picked it up really quickly. Plus we have a lot of fun “wrassle frassling” with each other as we practice at home.

In BJJ you actually have to show that you know a few things to earn your next level belt, which I think is really cool in a world of McDojo’s that give out stripes at every class and hand out belts for just showing up. They’re not fanatical about things being perfect but the kids do need to show that they’ve paid attention and can apply some basic techniques.

To prepare we practiced every day of the week leading up to her test. She didn’t want to practice some days and I’m ashamed to admit I bribed her with a popsicle once but she logged the focused practice time to learn the test.

Now, I don’t mean to brag but all that practice paid off and she nailed the test. She ended up testing by herself as the whole class watched and she never flinched, going through the techniques before the coach was even done explaining what to do in some cases. She was done quickly and showed a lot of confidence during the test thanks to how well she knew it.

So, what’s the point besides being a thinly veiled chance to brag about my little girl? There is an important lesson in there for all of us…

Focused practice can be a grind but it is needed to be great.

In fact, that was the question I asked Shilo before we decided to practice every day – do you want to be average or do you want to be great? Like a lot of people she answered “great” but found it tough to stick to it once the initial fun factor wore off and the grind set in.

Luckily she had me to help keep her motivated in various ways but we don’t have a parent telling us what to do for our own good anymore. This means we have to rely on ourselves and our own internal motivation.

For me, just knowing that it is normal to not find every training session a super fun experience helps a lot. I think we get brainwashed with the whole “do what you want/ makes you feel good” mentality into thinking that if it isn’t fun it isn’t worth doing.

It also helps to know that it isn’t the most people with the most talent for a sport that end up being great, it is the people with the best talent for practicing that sport. Being able to find the mindset that will get you through the grind is what guarantees your success in anything.

So don’t be afraid of the grind and learn to embrace it. Everyone who has achieved any lasting success will tell you that it pays off big time over the long run. Just knowing that you need to do this one simple thing will put you on the right path to achieving your goals.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that I tell myself when I need to change my mindset for a training session…

If you continue in this simple practice every day, you will obtain some wonderful power.” – Shunryu Suzuki

If you have some lessons about the Focused Practice or Grind it takes to be great please post a comment below. Also, if you liked this post please take a second to click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

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The Internal-External Intensity Continuum: Which side does the “hard” come from in your workouts?

One of the more common responses I get to the early phases of my programs is that they look too easy, especially for those who have some strength training experience under their belt. For someone who has built up to doing 50+ push ups at a time (although I have yet to see 50 perfect push ups from anyone) only doing 5-20 reps seems like an insult to their pecs. Surely they should do more, right?

Go heavy and hard or go home is the battle cry for thousands of well meaning BJJ athletes limping their way to the gym or “boot camp”, never realizing that there is another side to the strength coin that is needed to complete and round out their strength.

Not so fast…I am not impressed when someone tells me that they are not challenged by an “easy” exercise. In fact, when I hear this I know that true strength has eluded that person since strength consists of the ability to not only make heavy weights feel light but also the ability to make your light weights feel heavy.

You should be able to do 50 reps and be able to wear yourself out in 5 reps. When you can make 5 bodyweight reps feel like the hardest thing you’ve ever done then you truly have control of your ability to produce tension, which is the root of strength. If you are always relying on the load or the number of reps to tell you how strong to be then you don’t really own your strength.

This leads us to the Internal-External Intensity Continuum. This is something I made up one day while trying to explain this concept to a guy who trained at my facility. In a nutshell, it explains where the “hard” is coming from during an exercise or workout.

If you are Internally producing the Intensity – like getting really tight and staying that way during bodyweight squats – then you are purposefully producing more tension than you need to in order to complete the movement.

If you are Externally producing the Intensity – like doing a max effort lift or amount of reps – then the load is causing the body to reflexively produce tension in response to it.

You want every workout to be “hard”, you just don’t need or want to be going to the External side of the Intensity Continuum every time you train. Being able to benefit from the Internal side will round out your strength and support the other side of the spectrum.

This explains how you can have a “hard” workout without training balls-to-the-wall every time you hit the gym. When I tell BJJ athlete that they should walk out of the gym during week 1 of a new program knowing that they could do more the old bodybuilding mindset starts to creep in – how can you get results if you don’t max out every time you train?

Notice, though, that I didn’t say that the workout should be easy; you should simply not max out how much weight and how many reps you can do. If you don’t have the ability to internally produce more tension than the weight or reps call for then this sounds ridiculous, however, for those who have learned the art of strength this makes total sense.

For example, during my current training phase I have a workout that calls for me to do 3 sets of 8 reps on the deadlift. I wanted to use week 1 to set up the next 2 weeks and so I didn’t want to go too heavy or I would not leave myself anywhere to go. So, I used conservative weights and built up to doing 185 pounds on the last set.

During week 2 I built up to 205 pounds and then in week 3 I hit 225 pounds for 8 reps, which was my max effort – I walked out knowing I couldn’t have done 1 more good rep. While a bit off topic, I’m going to finish the cycle with 3 sets of 5 reps with 205 pounds to back off a bit after my peak effort.

The point is that if you look at the weight progression (185 pounds to 225 pounds) my week 1 effort looks easy – its 40 pounds less than my max weight. However, I can tell you that week 1 was not easy (I was there). Week 1 was more on the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum, Week 2 was in the middle and Week 3 was on the External Side of it, making every week “hard” in its own way.

This concept also applies to training phases and plans. You have to spend some phases focusing more on the Internal Side and some on the External side of the Intensity Continuum.

This is why the early phases in my workout programs confuse some people – my programs advance from Internal Intensity focused phases to External Intensity focused phases and since they have never been told the value of working on the Internal side of the continuum it makes no sense.

Unfortunately, our training culture seems to have largely forgotten and dismissed the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum. Go heavy and hard or go home is the battle cry for thousands of well meaning BJJ athletes limping their way to the gym or “boot camp”, never realizing that there is another side to the strength coin that is needed to complete and round out their strength.

So if you have an “easy” workout then take that as a chance to work on the Internal side of the Intensity Continuum, not as a chance to breeze through it and tell yourself how super fit you are.

For a lot of people it will be very humbling to realize how little body and tension control they really have. But with focused practice it will come pretty quickly.

Make sure that you have a balance of Internal and External Intensity focused exercises, workouts and phases in your overall program. True strength demands a balance between the two sides of the Intensity Continuum so make sure you respect and practice them both.

If you have any questions about this article please post them below and I’ll get to it ASAP. Also, if you liked this article please click one of the Like or Share buttons to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Roll Strong,

James Wilson

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Explode Your Deadlift – Deadlift Dynamite Book Review

Deadlift Dynamite is a book I read earlier this year going over all things deadlifting. Written by Pavel Tsatsouline and Andy Bolton, it is a detailed look at perhaps the most important exercise you can do as a BJJ athlete.

In case you don’t know, Pavel is the guy behind the modern day kettlebell movement and is one of the brightest guys in strength training. Andy is the only guy in the world to deadlift over 1000 pounds (1008 to be exact) and has also squatted over 1200 pounds.


Put them together and you have two guys who have forgotten more about getting stronger than most of us will ever know. Have them write a book and you have, well, Deadlift Dynamite.

Despite the deadlift being front and center, the book actually goes into all three Powerlifts – the squat, bench and deadlift – in great detail. In it Pavel and Andy give you tools to help you learn the movements and tips to get more strength out of them as well.

For example, they provide some great stretches, mobility drills and corrective exercises to help groove the movement patterns used by each exercise. They also teach you how to generate maximum tension in the right areas to create a stronger, more stable platform to move from, which greatly improves you strength and safety.

They also go over principles to helps you best integrate the squat, deadlift and bench press into your program. Among them are…

– Keeping your reps per set to less than 5

– Never training to failure unless testing your limits in competition

– Cycling your loads so you that you start “light” and build up over the course of 6-12 weeks to a new personal best.

Andy also goes into his personal workout program, which is a lot simpler than you probably think. In fact, that was one of the things they emphasized a lot in the book – no fancy approach can replace hard work, patience and attention to detail. Getting stronger is a marathon, not a sprint, and doggedly focusing on the basics for a long period of time is still the key to getting there.

All in all I really liked Deadlift Dynamite. While I don’t use a lot of bench pressing in my programs and the powerlifting focused workouts aren’t exactly what I’d recommend for someone getting 3+ days a week in on the mats, getting stronger in the the deadlift and squat are keys to a BJJ athlete’s success.

If you struggle with the deadlift or squat then the progressions covered in the book will really help speed up your learning curve. Even if you have them down pretty good you’ll still get something from the advanced tips to help you squeeze a little more tension and strength out of them. I’ve got those two lifts down pretty good and I got some great tips out of it.


I’ve often said that a BJJ athlete needs to be able to do a 1.5 – 2 X bodyweight deadlift and I know that a lot of you reading this can’t do that just yet. When you do everything else you do on the mat will seem much easier and you’ll have much more core and grip strength to put into your rolling.

If you haven’t reached that goal yet then check out Deadlift Dynamite, it is sure to give you a big boost on your way there.

-James Wilson-

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