Monday, March 2, 2015

The Reason I "Disavowed" A Student's Blue Belt.

I recently made a post on my Facebook page about “disavowing” a former student’s belt. This post, in my mind, was really a cautionary tale for my students and my affiliates so that they would know that while I’m a nice guy I’m no push over and won’t tolerate dishonesty.  It was subsequently picked up by White Belt BJJ (with my permission) and the post went viral.  

To say it has been a popular post is an understatement.  They told me that their site crashed for a while and that the post got over a million hits! For those of you who haven’t read my post here it is from my Facebook page:

“I disavowed someone’s belt today.

I awarded someone a blue belt last year and they showed a COMPLETE lack of integrity AND dishonesty in some dealings with another person. I don't think it's right to take a belt away because people truly earn the belts I present them BUT I can certainly disown and disavow them.

If anyone asks me about this person in the future I will say "I no longer sanction their belt because of " A Lack of Honesty and Integrity."

Please Please don't think I'm trying to hold myself up as some kind of poster child for perfection in all things ethical. BUT I'm trying to make a good faith effort to be a better person and only surround myself with people in my life, school and affiliation who are trying too as well.

What this person did was inexcusable and I'm not putting up with it. Let that be a lesson to everyone who is my student or affiliate.”

As you can see I made no reference to a person, area or gender, I simply talked about an action and I thought that was going to be the end of  that.  I also never took anyone’s belt.  I simply “disavowed” it. They can be a blue belt but I don’t recognize it.  This person can simply go on their way. 

The person who I was speaking of decided to come forward and let themselves be known including the school this student now goes to.  The new instructor decided to become vocal as well.  I was thinking, “Wow, why do they care so much that I am saying this, they aren't known?” Well as you will find out in a minute… I found out why they cared so much. 

I am going to say right now that I will in no way use the ex -student’s name nor the new “instructor’s” name or anyone associated in this.  If you want to find out then all you have to do is look around.  I never wanted to bring names out in the open nor do I want to really hammer this instructor by name out of respect for his association.  They are good people and don’t need to be brought into this by me.

Writing this blog post is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  Writing this offends me to no end.  I enjoy talking about ideas and not about people and that’s why I hate doing this so much.   I will however say that I am going to defend myself and my actions from all the online attacks and I will pull no punches.  Everything I’m speaking here is the truth and I have witnesses and documentation to back it up.  I will limit my opinions as much as I can and present the facts as I have proof.

My affiliate had a young woman who began training at another school late last year, while simultaneously training and working as a “karma” exchange student with my affiliate. This student was actively involved with my affiliates front end operations and was privy to private business information.

As time went on she spent less time training at my affiliate’s school but was still working with them, and talking with their students.   After giving her notice to leave the karma program to "go traveling" with her boyfriend, she stopped training completely. She told my affiliate that she would return sometime after her travels. My affiliate was contacting her at this point and hereafter asking where she was and why she hadn't returned to class…because he cared. 

This student would continuously make excuses but said she would be in soon.  One day my affiliate sees a post on Facebook that this female student is now getting her second stripe on her white belt at this other school.  The only problem is that she is a blue belt at my affiliate’s school!  She never came clean that she was getting ranked at another school and what’s more she is starting over.

My affiliate sent her a private message addressing the disappointment over finding out this news, and he c.c’d me.  Now let me start out by saying that I have given out somewhere between twenty to thirty blue belts to women.  My blue belt test is very challenging.  It’s 30 to 45 minutes of intense cardio, followed by the student showing 88 Jiu-Jitsu moves and ending by grappling for a half hour to forty five minutes. Its purpose is to give the student a feeling that they can handle anything they put their mind too.  A sense of pride that they “earned” that belt and that no one “gave” it to them.   I have failed numerous people on my blue belt tests and I probably will again.

This girl did outstandingly well on the test.  I was very impressed with her performance, she passed with flying colors, and I was proud.  She set a great example for all the ladies. It was a complete and utter shock that this young lady would not only change schools but disregard her blue belt that she rightfully “earned”! 

I was a hurt over this and let her know in no uncertain terms that I was disappointed.  Not as much for me but for her and my affiliate.  This begs the question…This new instructor’s school has such “high standards” that they make her start back at white belt?  What? Who does that? She isn’t even good enough to have 4 stripes?  Right there I began to think some brainwashing was taking place.  I could not figure it out.  I found out the real reason and I will tell you later.

I immediately told her that I was not going to go along with this and that I was “disavowing” her belt.  I know I used the word “disavow” but I’m not the world’s most elegant man and it was the only word I could think of at the time. “Disassociate” might be a better word.   I never took away her belt, she is the one who did that and I wasn’t going to stand behind this action and let this other instructor make her start over.  

I truly didn’t think she cared too much anyway about what I thought or she wouldn’t have done it.  She would get her blue belt from this new instructor anyway. Right? Who cares what I think?  I also was disappointed on her lack of transparency on how she handled changing schools. It really bothered me.  It’s no problem to change schools just be up front and tell the instructor. Let me repeat that, “Be upfront and tell the instructor.”

The female student would later tell my affiliate that she doesn’t have to say anything when she quits and this is merely a business transaction and she can spend her money where ever she likes.  

 I bring this up only because for the bjj students reading this I would like you to walk up to your current instructor and look him or her straight in the eye and say, “Professor, ya…um….you know these belts your giving me?...Well I’m just going to let you know that when I find a better deal from some other instructor I’m outta here! I just don’t know when that’s going to be.  Don’t count on my loyalty. This thing that we are doing is nothing but a business transaction and really I’m going to take my money elsewhere when I see fit.”  See what they say about that. 

If you’re an instructor then simply go in front of your class and say…”Look everyone..this class that you’re having right now..ya well this is only a business transaction for me..ya see I’m going to give belts to the highest bidder so the more money you pay me the sooner you can get belted. See how the students react. 

Ok, so there you have it.  That is the extent of why I originally did what I did.  As a former cop I was suspicious that there was more to her decision but I just wasn’t privy to it.  I made my decision and I felt fine about it.   I posted it in a very vague way so that no person would be identified and that was that.  Or so I thought.

Then she decides to identify herself, or should I say her instructor makes a post naming the female student.  I was shocked and horrified!  This girl is young and while I “disavowed” “A” belt, I in no way wanted to subject “her” to public humiliation.  Her current instructor decided to do that job instead.  I immediately wrote him a Facebook message.

“(instructors name), I know this is going to sound like an odd request but can I ask you to take (female students) name off of your post?  I know you don’t agree with what I wrote nor am I under the illusion that you might like me but we don’t need to publicly parade her name out.

I’m in the public eye all the time I can handle all the name calling but you don’t need to put a student through that. There was no way I was going to publicly name her I just don’t think that’s right. I was merely highlighting an action and not a person. If I would have known that this whole thing was going to blow up on the internet and that YOU were going to publicly name her I STILL WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME THING I just wouldn’t have published it to Facebook.

She is your student now and I hope she is more loyal and ethical to you. I think as an instructor you can have YOUR NAME out there “taking me on” if you like….but you certainly have an opportunity to shield your students from the unnecessary abuse of troll nation. I really hope you take these words into consideration.”

I got no response nor was her name taken down.  Her name is out there for all to see, like he wanted to make her look like a victim and me this totally mean guy.  What am I going to do?

The next day I get a message from a student who trains with this young lady.  It turns out that this young lady (the one I disavowed) has been secretly dating the head instructor of this new school.  Yes the very one who made her give up her blue belt and outed her on the internet.  The very one who sits and openly criticizes me for doing something wrong.   

She got tangled with this guy back in October of last year and this student tells me that over time, on the down low, she started talking badly about my affiliate (while she was in the Karma Program) and how my affiliate’s school now suddenly “sucks.” All throughout this time she was working AT my affiliate’s school at the front desk. This person who sent me the email counseled her to go tell my affiliate and be honest and upfront.  She wouldn’t do it.   

Do you see a conflict of interest here? Do you see a lack of professionalism here on his part dating my affiliate’s student (or I guess his student) and not letting it be known?  I know I do.   Finding this out literally blew me away.  It made so much sense to me then as to why this young girl would simply toss away her blue belt.

After my amazement wore off anger set in.  Why didn’t she just tell my affiliate that she was in love and dating this instructor?  My affiliate would have approved.  You can’t stop love.  She would have been more than welcome back anytime. This whole mess would never have had to happen. But there was an ethics problem.

I think after a million hits the fire online got a bit intense for them because out of nowhere this instructor messages me again:

“Hi Keith, I appreciate you reaching out, I have a proposition. I will remove my entire post if you do the same. We could replace it with a post saying you will reinstate her blue belt, and I will ask her to wear it at our club, that we are choosing to rise above politics and hasty actions. And that (female student) is welcome to train at (your affiliate’s school) again and be around the friends she has made there. What do you think?

This post floored me as well.  Why do you care that I re-instate her blue belt? You’re the one who was giving it to her now?….oh ya..cause you’re secretly dating her and in my opinion you don’t want that known or the fact you really hate my affiliate.  This, in my opinion, is the real reason for the goofy email. To make the unexpected heat go away and to make me look like I just gave in and did the wrong thing.

So here is my reply…Which I must say I should have waited on.  I want to reiterate that I am not the most eloquent man and my wording gets me into trouble sometimes.  You might ask if I regret my choice of words and under the circumstances….a little but it's the way I feel, I’m just fuming…. Here is my reply.

“How about this....You give me and (my affiliate) a complete written apology on Facebook about your totally unethical and dishonest behavior. Before you publish it you can send it to us for editing and don’t forget anything (you know what you did). 

(This student) will get nothing from me and she is no longer welcome at (my student’s academy). .I know you know why …you unethical worthless cur so get to writing. This will be your only shot at redeeming yourself.  What do you think? "

I know I know…not appropriate but this reply would see the light of day most likely so I might as well let you know it upfront.   As I re-read it I would simply like to think of it as a cross between Wyatt Earp in Tombstone yelling at Ike Clanton from down the train tracks after he gave him the spur and William Wallace in Brave heart giving his own unique terms to the English General when the nobles are trying to negotiate. “We’ll I’d say that’s a little less cordial then he is used to.”   

I should have handled it better, I know, It's really me being rude and I'm sorry for that. No excuse. That’s what anger does. 

I never threatened him nor did I tell him I knew of him secretly “seeing” his student.  I gave him the option to come clean and admit to his shenanigans.  He chose not to.  I will assume that he will say that they weren't hiding anything and their dating was out in the open.  It wasn't out in the open at my affiliate's school I will tell you that. In fact it was actively being hidden there as the undermining was going on.  If he denies it then I hope his student's never see him "suddenly dating her later." 

I have tried to keep my opinions to a minimum and let documented fact lead the way. You can be the judge as to what you are reading. Many of my detractors will focus on certain snippets to try to paint me as the bad guy in all this.  I am in no way sorry for my original face book post.  As an instructor it is in my discretion to do those things, just like it's in his to make people start back at white.    

Again, I won’t be taking her blue belt away but I’m going to go on “disavowing” it.  I feel it comes down to being truthful on their part. This whole thing would never have happened if these people would have quit trying to hide things and just told the truth.

To sum this up the only reasons I’m writing this post is because I’m explaining my motives as to why I don’t recognize her belt, because of actions they took, also to protect my affiliate’s reputation and to highlight why I think integrity is important in BJJ...

And it is.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Never Drown The Man Who Teaches You to Swim.

“The Master should want the apprentice to surpass him but the apprentice should never forget who his master is. If those two things are understood the student should never have to leave.”
                                                                          - Keith Owen
Lately, I have been asked from different people across the country, “Is it ok to surpass your master?  Is it ok to be more famous than your master?  Is it ok to tap your instructor out if you can?”

I want to answer with a resounding, “it depends” to that question.  I can only speak to my Master and how he is.  Professor Pedro Sauer is one of the most technical Jiu-Jitsu instructors in the world but what’s more he is one of the greatest men of character I have ever met.  He recently told me that I needed to get more of my own “personal” affiliates, the only reason being that he wanted me to do better and have greater success. He knows I want to grow in Jiu-Jitsu and he wants to help.   Having a master of this caliber I cannot help but succeed!

Having said this, I am acutely aware of the saying, Never Outshine the Master.” Outshining your Master can lead to significant issues for some students. Many students get affiliated or involved with a particular master because of his or her ability as a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner.  They think that just because he or she has won World Championships that he will make a fine instructor.  I will say that a person’s technical ability does play an important role in addressing the decision to join a school or organization however; I think it should only make up 50% of the equation.  The other 50% should focus on the character of the instructor. In the immortal words of the Templar Knight guarding the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Choose Wisely.”

The fragile ego of some masters just can’t handle their student outshining them and the jealousy issues will, over time, rear its ugly head. This can come from showing awesome moves to other students in class, gathering a large personal following online or even starting to tap out the master when they roll.   You must be careful and watch for these negative attributes in your instructor or you will pay.

The same can be said for a bad student whose only intention in the first place was to gather as much knowledge as he could and then take off to another; only to repeat the process. He is the one who is always making himself look good and never mentioning where he acquired his knowledge, like he was somehow born from the womb knowing how to do Jiu-Jitsu. The student might have honesty issues, sociopathic tendencies and even criminal leanings. That is why giving a BJJ black belt in ten years is a good thing for an instructor because they really get to know the character of the student in that time.  The student can’t hide their true selves for that long.

The problem of a student leaving boils down to either that master is angry because the student wants to set out and grow and he, as the instructor, can no longer CONTROL the former student’s actions or the former student no longer has USE for his tired, washed up master because he has learned all he can and now wants to cut ties. Both people will point to the other reason as to the departure. 

As many of you know I’m continuously giving ALL the credit to my Professor, always trying to make him more famous then myself. Not because he really needs it at all, he’s Pedro Sauer for god’s sake.  I do it to celebrate him.  It’s my way of thanking him.  If it weren’t for him…there would be no me.  I don’t forget that.

Professor Sauer has been instrumental in setting the example for me in this area.   I see Professor Sauer continuously giving praise to his instructors Rickson and Helio Gracie.  I don’t believe I have ever seen Professor teach when the subject of one of these two men didn’t come up sometime during his lecture. He cherishes them greatly!  In fact, Professor Sauer bought all of Helio Gracie’s personal household possessions because he feared that the great man’s belongings were going to get thrown out. He couldn’t bear to see that. He was loyal to the end.  

Do I want to be like my Professor?  Do I want to have as much knowledge as him?  Do I want to be successful like him?  Yes, and Professor knows this and wants to help me get there, not stop me!  I see my personal students and affiliates the same way.  I want only the best for them.  I WANT them to outshine me.  I expect them to go on to do great things.  I don’t want to hold them back.   They are like my children.  I take care of my children without any thought of being “paid back” in return. I don’t keep score.  I EXPECT them to grow and be successful.  I expect them to tap me out one day (good luck).  I didn’t spend all this time and effort to have them not excel.  If they excel past me then how could a father not be proud of that? I expect to be surrounded by great men and women.  It’s who I am.

Remember, as a student, always know your place and respect and celebrate your master.  Bring the master along with your success. You will want your students to do the same for you one day!   A student should thank God above for bringing this special instructor into their life that had such a remarkable influence on their progression.  In the words of Professor Sauer on loyalty, “Never drown the man who teaches you to swim.”  

I know I won’t. 

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Beyond Technique

There comes a time in every culture where we encounter a “paradigm shift” or a change in thinking on the way things are done.  This is happening now in the culture of Jiu-Jitsu with the video release of Beyond Technique by Black Belts Nic Gregoriades and Kit Dale.

Beyond Technique represents a shift for the better in Jiu-Jitsu videos from the days where instructors simply showed individual techniques to instructors highlighting Jiu-Jitsu theory.  This is the theory of how to do Jiu-Jitsu......better...... "overall" and not just with one static technique. 

Many of you know me as an instructor who has produced a number of videos on a wide variety of philosophical subjects ranging from how to be a better student to the CONCEPTS that everyone must know in Jiu-Jitsu.  At the risk of sounding egotistical I like to think of myself as a pioneer in this field.  Nic and Kit have done me one better and produced an entire video on the concepts that will make your Jiu-Jitsu easier and better and not just how to submit someone with the latest move or position.

In this video they cover such subjects as the “Porcupine” concept (one of my favorites) to "Size Specific Strategies" to the “Border Patrol” Idea.  All very effective and something I have put into my game. 

My only gripe is that it really left me wanting more.  You could really do volumes and volumes on this.   I hope they continue.  

*Please be aware that I am only endorsing this video and have not recieved any payment for this review or  royalties or profit on the sale of it.  In other words..I aint gettin paid in anyway...So go check it out!

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Monday, December 8, 2014

The 25 (Plus) Differences Between MMA and a Life or Death Street Fight.

My Guest Blogger is my good friend Rob Magao.  Rob is a black belt under Professor Pedro Sauer.  Rob and I were sitting in a restaurant a few weeks ago talking about the differences between MMA and Reality Based Self-Defense on the Street.  What we came up with was eye opening for me.  I asked Rob to write down his thoughts on the subject for this blog and this is what he came up with.  I share it with you now. 

MMA is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. It takes an incredible amount of skill, conditioning, preparation and mental fortitude to be a successful MMA fighter. MMA is the single closest combat sport there is to a real fight. As close as MMA is to a real fight, there are still many, many differences between the two that have to be considered when making that comparison. 

On the surface MMA has rules (no eye gouging, biting, scratching, groin attacks, strikes to the throat, kicking a downed opponent etc.) just to name a few. Real street fights have no specific rules. The rules of a street fight are decided by the morals of the participants at the time. How far are they willing to go to “win”? But, the real differences between MMA and a real fight go much deeper. 

MMA has weight classes, street fights don’t. Your opponent could be exactly your weight or he could be half your size or he could be 100lbs more. 

MMA has gender specific divisions (male vs male and female vs. female). In the real world that is not always the case. In my job (Police Detective/SWAT) I have seen men attack women and I have seen woman attack men. 

MMA places two fighters that are “agreeing to fight” against each other in a planned event.  They know who their opponent will be, the location that the fight will take place, the date and time of the fight. They will have weeks and even months to prepare for it. They can train specifically to face their opponent. They can watch hours of video on their opponent and have a team of coaches and training partners to help formulate a plan of action (a game plan) best suited to be successful in beating that opponent. 

MMA fighters can bring in other fighters that closely mimic the fighting style, size and strengths of their opponent. They may even find other fighters/coaches that may have competed or trained with that opponent before and know their skill set well.  

MMA is one on one. Sadly, many street fights are not. MMA fighters have medical exams, gloves, mouth pieces, groin protection and a safe secure cage or ring to compete in. Real fights can take place anywhere, anytime and with no preparation or warning. 

MMA fighters usually don’t have to worry about their opponent having a communicable disease (if proper testing was completed) or the opponent being under the influence of a dangerous drug such as PCP. MMA fighters don’t have to worry about their opponent pulling a knife, gun, broken bottle, dirty syringe or some other weapon/dangerous instrument and using it against them.  

MMA fighters have “coaches” in their corner that can throw in the towel if they have to. They have a referee that can stop the fight if one fighter cannot intelligently defend themselves. MMA fighters can physically and verbally “tap out” to surrender. MMA fights have time limits, rounds and doctors cage side ready to give medical assistance immediately if needed. 

MMA fighters are not “really trying” to kill each other. Could it happen? Yes, but very unlikely. The intent, the very purpose behind an MMA fight is much different than a real fight. It is based on competition and not survival. Unfortunately, people are murdered every day in the USA.

When I refer to the term “street fight” I am not referring to the school yard bully fight or even a minor bar fight with the local drunk (most MMA fights are worse than those). While minor bar fights and school yard brawls can be dangerous, I am talking more about an all-out criminal assault by a predator. Examples include; armed robbery, home invasions, domestic violence, workplace shootings, school shootings, random attacks, sexual assaults, muggings, kidnappings etc.  I am talking about someone that truly wants to hurt you and carries very bad (sometimes outright evil) intentions with them. 

I think of “ISIS” as an example of what I am talking about. All the MMA training in the world will not (alone) help you survive an attack like this. Don’t get me wrong, martial arts can help but it is not the only skill you will need to survive. 

Real attacks give little to no warning. You have no say about who your opponent will be, what their skill level will be. If they have a weapon, if they are under the influence or have a mental illness. If multiple people will attack. What the environment will be; outdoors, indoors, large area, confined space, bright sun, darkness, extreme heat/cold, snow, wind rain, traffic, crowds, loud noises/alarms etc… The list is endless. 

All of these conditions are not within your control. These conditions are decided by “chance” or a “higher power”. The only things you can control is are you in shape, have you prepared the best you can and do you truly have the will to survive?  Better yet, do you have the will to train to survive? To train everyday for that one moment you may truly be in danger and need to protect your life or the life of another.

Finally, MMA Fighters do not have to worry about facing criminal charges for having to defend themselves.  Sometimes, in a real fight it is hard to tell who was at fault and occasionally both people get arrested. Ultimately, it has to be decided in court.  This could be the way the civil case goes as well if the attacker decides to sue you.

I'd rather go watch the fights.  

Check out Rob Magao's website or at Rob Magao's Facebook Page      

           Also see Rob's Self Defense Videos at Survival Skills 101