Monday, June 30, 2014

When Good, Hard Work Pays Off

             If you've heard anything about what we are doing down here in Panama, you know that we a driven purely by our passion to help others through martial arts, fitness, and a healthy lifestyle.  The transformation these guys and girls are going through physically, mentally, and emotionally is amazing to watch.  They are more dedicated students, attentive and caring parents, and are shaping in to productive contributing members to better their community and lead by example.

             The only thing that can make their situation better would be, of course, some material or monetary increase similar to their health and wellness increase.  It's great to feel great, be focused, and overall healthier, but it's also really nice to get paid for doing what you love.  Outside of the small promotions here in Panama and Costa Rica, it is hard to get a big pay day being an MMA fighter and it's extremely hard to break through to a bigger stage.

             Well, through the hard work of not only the fighters and the team, but fight managers Stephen Crissman and John Boyle, who tirelessly promote their athletes to seek better opportunities, kicked that door wide open.  Humberto Brown, of Brown Bros MMA and Alley Cat's own, just became the first Panamanian to appear in front of the cameras of the UFC.  Humberto just got back from 6 weeks of filming The Ultimate Fighter: Latinoamerica 1.  Check out the house he got to live in!

             Not only is this a huge opportunity for Humberto, but it is one for the whole Alley Cat Fight Team.  With continued dedication to our mission of spreading the passion of mixed martial arts to improve lives we will continue to seek out the very best for our dedicated athletes.  We will also continue to help these young men and women through life's journey, helping with school, mentoring, job hunting, anything they need.

            Who knows, maybe with the momentum from the show they can start their own gym, and run their own foundation, and continue the cycle of reaching out to the community to help make better parts of it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Jiu Jitsu Mind is the Eye of the Storm 

So I came very close to being struck by lighting in the middle of the Panama Bay yesterday.  I was imagining if I did get hit, I’d probably only hear a loud pop and a flash and then everything would go black.  Hopefully I’d either fall on top of my board or someone would swim to me and save me from drowning.  

Thankfully none of that happened.  What did happen was a feeling of sharp, yet calm, attentiveness and a call to action.  An immediate plan of how to escape.  I imagine it would be how a samurai felt when rushing in to battle: not spastic, adrenaline-filled rage, but reactive, and focused.  Like being the calm in the eye of the storm. 

It started off as a normal SUP surfing session at the break right in front of the gym, Las Bovedas.  It’s a perfect, gentle waist to head high wave that breaks both directions and is best for longboarding (even better for Stand-Up Paddling).  It’s about a 300 yard paddle to the break from the shore and over looks the historic old city of Panama.

I was purely focused on the break while paddling out.  Keeping an eye out for the next set and trying to if there was anyone else out in the line-up.  There wasn’t.  A set came through and as I watched a wave break towards shore I noticed the sky.  Grey-ish, yellow, low-hanging thunder clouds.  The type you just know to be lighting.  You can feel it in your stomach.

Immediately I was filled with a rush of panic.  Here I sat, 300 yards of shore, standing atop a board, holding a carbon fiber paddle (later my google search for is carbon fiber a good conductor for lighting the best answer being, yes, extremely).  No sooner do I stand there in full "fight or flight mode", a flash of lighting immediately followed by a loud crack and rumbling of thunder.

First reaction: throw the paddle and jump down to my knees to get as low as possible.  Another flash, crack, boom!  It was at this moment when my heart beat started to slow.  I started running through a checklist of possible options and ways to get myself safe.  Totally calm, sharp, and aware of the dangers of my situation. Only thinking of how I can get myself out of it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The paddle, I decided, was a little too expensive to ditch, and I thought it was okay as long as I kept it flat and low against my board.  So I just put my head down and from my knees paddled as hard as I could for the beach.  As lighting flashed and boomed around me, I stayed calm, kept my breathing rhythmic and before I knew it, I was back to shore.

How does this relate to jiu jitsu?  For 7 years now I have been training and consistently have been put in terribly uncomfortable, dangerous positions.  People much bigger and stronger than me trying to choke me and pop my limbs.  I could have very easily panicked, ditched paddle, and let the adrenaline get the best of my cardio making the paddle back in twice as hard.

Just the opposite, I could have been overly-calm.  “No way I’d get hit by lighting”  “Carbon fiber probably isn’t conductive”  That’s the kind of dangerous lack of thinking that gets people killed.

In jiu jitsu this equals:  I’m on bottom in mount, panic, try to push the person off or roll and get submitted.  Or I’m on bottom in mount, way too relaxed, let the person advance position even more and, again, end up getting submitted.

So in the middle of a lighting storm, standing on a board holding a lighting rod, in the middle of the ocean, I am most thankful that I have jiu jitsu in my life and I maintained my jiu jitsu mindset in the middle of chaos.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Anyone who has been practicing jujitsu longer than a year has probably felt that there jujitsu is either plateaued or regressed at one point or another.  Believe me if you have had this feeling before, you're not alone.

I have seen all types of reactions to this feeling of plateauing and or regressing.   Some people choose to give up, some choose to blame their coaches, and others continue to train but are depressed.

I can think of three distinct moments in my life when I felt that I had plateaued and was never going to improve.  I had moments of blaming others, I had moments of being depressed, and I had moments of wanting to give up.

All three times that this happened the one thing that got me out of my funk and help me continue to improve is not what people would guess... I started consistently teaching.

We have a saying at our Academy that "to teach is to learn". Frankly, I have never heard truer words.

Every time I start to teach my jujitsu gets infinitely better. I think scientifically what happens is my brain has to slow down and begin to cover the details for those who may not know them and when I begin to slow down I begin to see new things. Every time I am asked a question about an arm bar or a sweep or a takedown and I have to go over the minute details that technique almost instantly gets better.

So if you feel that your jujitsu has began to plateau or regress... Do not blame your Academy, do not blame yourself, do not get depressed, start to teach.

And by teach I do not even mean formerly.   Grab a few white belts offer a free five minutes before class, offer a free private, offer to substitute teach for your black belt, it does not matter just start teaching...

I once asked a famous black belt how he knew when a brown belt was prepared to be a black belt.  He said a brown belt is prepared to be a black belt when he can teach a brown belt how to become a black belt.

Friday, May 16, 2014

I can distinctly remember the first day I met Humberto Brown.  Elton, Humberto's older brother, had been training at Alley Cat Fitness Foundation for about six months when I met Humberto.

It was fight night and I was at the event when a spitting image of Elton walked up to me and said, "Hey I am going to be a cornermen with you tonight, my name is Humberto, I'm Elton's brother."

While Elton was focused on stretching I had a chance to speak with Humberto.  Besides Elton and Humberto's appearance and love for  martial arts, the similarities stop there. Elton is very much a silent leader, one who leads by example, and is a extremely introverted.  Humberto on the other hand is always joking, always playing pranks on John and I and other members the team. I joke with the brothers now saying that Humberto spoke more with me that night than Elton had the previous six months.

To make a long story short Humberto commented that he once fought MMA but had no formal training. He fought to put food on the family's table and used his knowledge of Olympic wrestling to control the fights. He said he had a winning record but that is jujitsu skills are not as good as he would like and that he had no place to train or learn jujitsu.

I told him that excuses only satisfy those who make them and that he should come to the next practice with Elton.

Elton won the fight via a first round knockout and after the fight we had a few beers to celebrate.   Humberto told me he would see me on Monday... 1 million people have told me that and very few follow through. Never the less that Monday Humberto and Elton were at the gym.

Although their personalities differ, Humberto is just like Elton with his God gifted athleticism: unbelievable strength compared to their weight and cardio that lasts for days.  Within three months humberto was fighting and winning.

I knew this sky was the limit. His "coachability", winning attitude, team spirit, and work ethic practically make it a sure thing.

It is now with great honor, and pleasure that Alley Cat Fitness Foundation announces that Humberto Brown is currently in Las Vegas filming for the upcoming season of the UFC's Ultimate Fighterr; which will be broadcasted starting in August in 26 countries and reach 700 million viewers.

Humberto is not the only one doing great things at the gym our donors are as well!  There are currently countless more young men and women who are training daily here.  Some train to get In shape, some train to learn skills, others train as an alternative of being on the streets and drugs. Most of these students barely have enough money to pay for food much less a gym membership, however they have been and continue to train because of you, the generous donors, make it

Photos: FIGHTLAND: Alley Cats of Panama
            FIGHTLAND: Fighters of El Chorrillo 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Jiu Surf Jitsu

        I was born and raised on the beaches of the Jersey Shore.  Now although that may conjure up the images of orange skin and hair gel for most, for me it brings me back to the sound of the waves, the smell of low tide, the caw of seagulls hovering around the jetties.  Growing up connected to the ocean, surfing and fishing, and now being so connected to jiu jitsu, I can't help but take a moment to look at some of the similarities.
       One of the most captivating facets of surfing is the intimate connection to nature; you are essentially alone amongst the sea with nothing but a small board.  When you catch the wave, you can literally feel the energy of the ocean push you and start to carry you towards the shore.  There is nothing, in my experience, that can bring me closer to nature in such a playful fashion.  However, this does not come without serious risks and consequences.  Just try and find one experience surfer that does not have a near death experience in the water.
        When I started studying jiu jitsu, I was landlocked, but somehow I found the same rush, the same joy as I did from surfing while training jiu jitsu.  Now how could one possibly find a connection to floating alone in a beautiful ocean to rolling around on mats with sweaty people dressed in karate suits? It all goes back to playing with nature, but this time we are not playing with Mother Nature, it is our Human Nature we are grappling with.
       I can not control my sparring partner in jiu jitsu as much as I can control the next set that is coming in.  Sure I can get a good position, maybe even get a sweet submission, but I can not control how strong the person is or how much aggression they have.  Just as Kelly Slater can pull in to a massive tube at Pipeline and get spit out unscathed, but can't slow the wave down for his take off or make the reef less sharp or shallow bellow it.
       And cut to Alley Cat Fitness Foundation where I get to spend the majority of my day teaching and training jiu jitsu on mats that overlook the ocean.  Now, we've been lucky enough to have a start up SUP (stand up paddle-boarding) company use our gym space to rent and give classes.  I literally get to walk off the mats, pick up a board, and go do this.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Here's a quick little video I put together of one of our Coaches, Andy Calvo, putting the guys through a really tough boxing workout.  I can't even explain (or show in a minute long video) how tough these routines are: 90 minutes, very few breaks, high high intensity.  These guys push themselves to the limits and then some.

Besides being physically exhausted, they are really more than anything being mentally exhausted.  I've often repeat the saying "The mind quits 1,000 times before your body does once" and it is so true.  Can you really not do one more pull up?  One more punch?  Or is that just your mind telling you that you can't.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


I have a confession.  I've never really liked working out.  To me, staying in shape meant soccer practice, surfing, skating, biking, hiking, jiu jitsu, boxing, sparring, etc...  I never really woke up one morning and thought, "I can't wait to go lift weights in the gym today!"

But I know people like that, and I think I'm am starting to understand why.  I stay healthy and active because the sports and activities I choose to occupy my time are fun.  If you don't find lifting weights fun, then find something you enjoy (that's active, not video games or watching tv) and own it.

Don't be scared to step outside the realm of lifting weights up and down to get a workout.  Try a boxing class, jiu jitsu, caepoiera, cross fit, etc.  It also helps if it's something you can see and feel improvement in (makes it more fun).  When I boxed the first time I felt about as coordinated as a baby deer, but after a few classes I could move and punch in combinations.  One of my mentors, Professors, and friends told me it's all about the S.S.L.: Sweat. Smile. Learn.  Now go have fun