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Belt Series: Black Belt Mindset

“Every morning in our lives, we have a choice to make. You have the choice to stay in bed and say ‘Forget it, I’m not going to work out today.’ Or ‘Forget it, I’m not going to work hard today.’ That’s your choice that you make every single day of your life. Make the right decision.” -David Goggins

Mindset. That’s it.

Today someone asked me, “How do I progress in grappling as fast as Dan did?”


When I look back to Day 1, Day 90, or Year 6, I can’t help but think of the people I’ve shared the mats with. My good friend Nick, who’s now a black belt, had one of the nastiest finger breaks I’ve ever seen. He literally had a metal rod sticking out of his fucking finger to help it heal up. Most people would stop there and call it a day, especially someone like Nick who works with his hands for a living. Why didn’t he quit?


Everyone knows that one guy, who comes into class with brand new gear, just watched the latest rolling chokes from turtle on YouTube, White Belt Fury amped up to 100. What the fuck happened to him? Why did he quit?

The wrong mindset.

Earning my black belt was not an easy task- showing up to train when I didn’t want to, tapping to people I didn’t want to tap to. Swallowing my pride and taking advice from lower belts. Changing my diet and lifestyle, resting properly when injured. There are so many variables that went into play.

“At the end of the day, hard work may not be enough. You still may fail. But you keep going out there and go after it.” -David Goggins

Taiwan, 2014:

I’ve been addicted to living out of my backpack ever since I met my good friend Geoff, a.k.a. The Bird. He’s the type of dude who will sneak into a country he’s not supposed to be in, take some pictures and get out. I was hooked to his lifestyle and I wanted to keep the backpacking spirit alive. I wanted to travel while getting paid. The Bird could talk you into buying insurance on a rental car. He could convince you to go out for “just one beer”.

If I wished to continue traveling, he suggested that I get a TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreighn Language) and teach ESL. This was the last thing I wanted to do. I just wanted to train full time. After a few long runs to clear my head, I realized getting a TEFL wouldn’t just allow me to travel- it would be my ticket around the world to train BJJ.

So that’s what I did. I packed my rucksack, said goodbye to my family and went to Taiwan. Why Taiwan? Well, it’s the best place for an ESL teacher to get their feet wet and gain experience. My plan was to work there for a year, then move to Brazil. I didn’t plan on getting sucked into Taiwan for five years.

During university, I partied a lot. I still trained, but I partied. Leaving clubs at 10am, couldn’t keep my eyes open without sunglasses. I told myself after university, I was going to take my training seriously.

I arrived in Taiwan as a brown belt, and the first English school I worked for gave me a wish list to which city I would prefer to live in. I broke down the cities with two options in mind: BJJ and surfing. The dice were rolled, and I landed in Kaohsiung.

All I knew about Kaohsiung at the time was that it was a port city, and it was home to Kaohsiung BJJ, which was run by Dan Reid, a.k.a. Danimal. I would soon meet one of the members of the gym at a welcome dinner for my school. He passed on to Dan that a brown belt had just moved to the city.

A Facebook message popped up on my phone, and it’s Dan. He invited me out for some drinks at a bar called Brickyard. I would later learn the guys who own the bar were also part owners of the gym. I met everyone, ordered shots, can’t remember how I made it home.

I woke up the following morning and puked my guts out. Then I saw a message from Dan making sure I was still coming to the open mat that day. It’s funny how you agree to shit when you’re wasted, as if hangovers aren’t real.

That day, the open mat was packed, and Dan made sure I rolled with everyone. And I did. When I finally had a chance to roll with Dan, he crushed me. I could feel the cheap tequila shots being squeezed out through my pores.

I was bummed a fellow brown belt had his way with me so easily, but Dan wasn’t your ordinary brown belt. He’s world-class in every sense. How do I know? Not to gloat, but I’ve been lucky enough to have trained (not just dropped in) at some high-level gyms since the start of my grappling journey: Gracie Barra in Orlando, Roger Gracie’s in London, Valor Jiu Jitsu in Navarre Beach. Dan was the real deal. I knew this was meant to be, and I knew I wanted to be at his level.

Conversely, my first year of teaching ESL blew donkey dick. I hated teaching at the school I worked for and soon found myself hating my time in Taiwan. Worst of all, my training suffered.

I told myself I couldn’t leave Taiwan with a bad taste in my mouth. I knew Taiwan was a great place. I just picked the wrong starting point. When I did make it to the gym, I always saw an improvement in my game, though still getting crushed by Dan a lot.

I went home to visit my family for three months to clear my head. During that time, people wanted to know where I’ve been training. They said my game had improved. If they knew how often Dan kicked my ass, would they give me the same compliment?

“It’s easier to accept the fact that you’re just not good enough. We all have a lot more than we think we have.” -David Goggins

At that moment, my mindset changed. I made the choice to return to Taiwan and find a job that allowed me to train.

And that’s what I did.

I found a job by word of mouth at the gym, but the hours weren’t great. Just enough hours to work legally, actually.

I found a box of an apartment that was cheap and had a window. My view? A brick wall building six inches from the window. And I lived there for two years. Most people wouldn’t stay at a place like that for so long (if at all), but it was directly across the street from the gym.

As the days, months, and years went on, I soon found myself at the gym religiously. I was coaching six to eight times a week, while also attending Dan’s and the other coaches’ classes. It was a grind financially, but it was worth it. I drilled as much as possible, rolled extra rounds, fell hard into the grappling lifestyle.

“The only way that you’re ever going to get to the other side of this journey is by suffering. You have to suffer in order to grow. Some people get it, some people don’t.” -David Goggins

At times, I would meet non-grapplers at work events or other places who thought I had just arrived in Asia, because they’d never seen me before. They seemed baffled when I told them that I’ve been here since 2014. I would get questioned, like ‘Why isn’t your Chinese better?’

But I stuck to my guns and sacrificed a lot– friends, alcohol, limbs. What kept me going?


Taiwan, 2019:

Dan had been a black belt for some time now. I had three worn-out stripes on my faded brown belt. I got a message from Dan to bring my gi to class, because he wanted to show some specific techniques to the class. Something was up.

Throughout the years at the gym, Dan would have promotions. Some people would get stripes, and some people would level up and get whipped. Dan would say, “If you’re wondering why you haven’t gotten promoted, then come see me and I’ll fucking tell you. Maybe you haven’t been training enough, you need to test yourself by competing, or maybe it’s just not your time.”

I never asked why I didn’t get promoted. I was focused on getting better every day.

“You have to build calluses on your brain just like how you build calluses on your hands. Callus your mind through pain and suffering.” -David Goggins

Dan pulls me onto the mat and starts on about a back choke. Then I see his girlfriend whip out the camera, The jig is up, I thought. Next thing I know, he’s wrapping a black belt around my waist. To be honest, I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t surprised. It all felt normal to me. My mindset was already there.

“The more things you can do to get outside of that zone that makes you feel good, the stronger your mind is going to get. It starts getting used to doing things like this. It’s not fun, but now my mind is used to it.” -David Goggins

I’m a Danimal Black belt. So, what now? Does it stop here?

Fuck no.

“If you want to get better, do the things that no-one else wants to do. Do the things that no-one is even thinking about doing.” -David Goggins