“Aw geez Rick, that’s a weird way to pass someone’s guard.”

“It’s really weird. It’s about to get a whole lot weirder, Morty.”

I spent the majority of my time at blue belt perfecting my triangle game. I thought my triangle was high level. I’d submitted purples and browns, so I thought my overall “game” was far superior than it actually was. Turns out I was dead wrong.

The two events that changed my outlook on grappling and the way to approach training both happened while I was a purple belt.

The first happened when I was training in London at Urban Kings under Leo Negao. I was a fresh purple belt at the time and still had some Blue Belt Fever. My game plan was to get my opponent in my closed guard and finish by triangle. Leo pointed out quickly that my triangle game was good for my level, but that would only take me so far.

What would I do once someone figured me out?

I answered his question with a smile. No one has figured me out yet.

Leo allowed me to start with him in my closed guard. It didn’t take him long to shut me down and break my guard. From there he easily passed my wormy legs and crushed me with pressure from his side control before submitting me. This happened multiple times. I can still hear his cheeky Brazilian laugh in my head.

After the smashing of a lifetime, Leo told me that I can’t get comfortable with one game plan. You need to have more than one.

What if Plan A goes south? How comfortable are you executing Plan B and C?

At that moment, the light bulb went off in my head. I swallowed my pride, broke up with my triangle and ventured off to new techniques.

For the next three years, I would become a scientist on the mat. I would come up with theories and hypotheses, then test them out on my training partners. Most times, the experiment would blow up in my face and I would either get submitted, passed or swept.

At first, I hated it. I hated the fact that I was letting my training partners get the best of me without attacking with my strongest techniques. But slowly, I started to see improvements and less explosions in my face.

I started taking notice to sweeps that were available when my hips where in the right place and when to transition to another attack when my main attack was failing. I would try different grips in the gi to help me pass to riding hips during a scramble. If my X-guard sweep wasn’t getting the job done, I could switch to taking the back.

In the next few months, I would graduate from university, say goodbye to Leo and return to the States. When I got back to my original academy I was on fire. I felt unstoppable. I wasn’t just a triangle guy anymore. Then came the second encounter that would change my perspective.

When in Louisiana, I train at my original school, Louisiana Martial Arts Academy. The head instructor is Frank Caracci. Frank trains a wide variety of ages and styles, so you have multiple walks of life coming through the door.

On this particular night, Frank had a police officer friend stop in from another gym. He was a purple belt too, big guy named Dave. I was excited to roll with him. I remember feeling like my time at purple was nearing its end, that my game was on par with other high-level purple belts. Silly boy.

We slapped hands and began to roll.

I came at Dave like acetone peroxide, full-steam ahead. I obviously still had some traces of White Belt Fury and Blue Belt Fever lingering in my system. Dave would be the right doctor to finally cure me of these ailments.

As much as I wanted to push the pace, Dave stayed calm and collected. He started working his grips into my collar and dropped his knee shield, basically Inviting me to pass. I couldn’t resist the temptation.

I passed by Dave’s legs and began to think this guy wasn’t on my level. I was dead fucking wrong.

As soon as I passed, Dave set up a beautiful cross collar trap. I felt how tight the choke was and tried my best to retreat, but it was too late. Dave had already slid his right leg into a modified half guard, controlling my right leg by creating a hook with his right foot. His left leg created a knee shield while his left foot hooked behind my bum. I was dead to rights.

If I were to draw a cartoon of the aftermath, my face would be completely black with ash from the explosion triggered from mixing the wrong chemicals.

Two little white eyes peering back out towards Dave.

The rest of the roll was a mugging. I was a deer in the headlights. Dave was clearly the better grappler. But he was a stand-up guy, too. After training, I was able to pick his brain and ask him where I went wrong.

One tip he shared with me was to slow down and flow. Every roll shouldn’t be about going balls out. Set your trap and let the fly stumble into the web by itself.

Mercifully, the session ended and I drove home in silence. I took that night on the chin and thankfully, Dave cured me of my lingering viruses. From that point on, my training changed. I became more fluid and slowed down.

It only takes one humbling experience to change everything.

I continued experimenting with techniques to add to my game. They still explode in my face from time to time, but that’s the joy of training. Each practice makes you a little bit better. It’s fun to work problems out analytically and note the improvement during your journey.

I highly recommend becoming a scientist and having fun on the mat this way. Don’t take every training session so seriously. You’re going to have days where you feel like the king of the world, and you’re going to have days where you’re driving home with the radio off. It’s all a part of the ride.

Sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail. If you’re always playing one game plan, switch it up and become a scientist.

“You gotta rip that bandaid off now, you’ll thank me later.” – Rick Sanchez