Don’t lose your breath

Lately, my main goal in martial arts sparring was not to lose my breath. It wasn’t to submit, to win, to dominate, it was simply not to lose my breath. If I could finish each 5 min round and talk clearly and calmly I was satisfied. It doesn’t mean I didn’t fight, it means that my breathing rhythm was a priority. Since it was my focus it wasn’t hard to achieve, it basically meant to be in full control of myself, not to muscle up, not to get angry or agitated.

It brought amazing results. I could see how my partner would be sweating and spasming towards the third minute and then make mistakes. Mistakes I could take full advantage of to advance without much effort, since he was dead tired and couldn’t pay attention to details. And I felt like I was just starting and could be as technical as I wanted to be. It is hard to explain to those who never were in a sparring match how much advantage the power to breath can give you. I only got it after I did it over and over again, day in and day out. Every day when we shook hands at the timer start I would tell myself (and sometimes tell my partner) that my only goal was not to lose my breath by the end of the round.

I can’t say I won more often. I didn’t. But I didn’t lose more often either. The results remained the same as if I went full force and gave it my all. However I got much more out of each match by knowing where I am and what I am doing and why. This clarity at all times made fighting more meaningful. Those who have done it will understand.

Yesterday morning I had to spar with a new white belt, a tall and heavy guy (probably twice my weight) who just was set on pinning me to the ground. I didn’t fight for the first half of the round, I just made sure he couldn’t do anything to me (i.e hurt me or submit me) and then he was spasming so badly that it took no effort to sweep him to the ground and have a bread-cuter choke set up on his neck by the time the timer rang.

The same in business. I read somewhere today a good quote that said, “never allow someone get comfortable disrespecting you”. A lot of times I take side projects as a contractor helping with strategy and growth hacking. Today I was working on changing themes on a client’s website and I needed to access a file on a server to which I did not have access. The client connected me to the person who helped him with hosting and after asking for one file I got a reply saying, “This is a major screwup. I don’t trust that working with you is not going to cost me a lot of uncompensated time.” He cced people I didn’t know on that reply (possibly others from the company or the board). Totally out of the blue. I felt uncomfortable, because the client and myself went in written through all the steps of what was going on and what I was doing on the site. The client agreed on all the changes proposed and explicitly said to go ahead on each change.  In any case the guy’s (and it was “he”) reply was disrespectful and ungrounded. Even knowing that, it still shook my confidence for a few minutes. “Why is he saying that? He has no idea what is being done. I checked with the client on every step, on every detail that was added to or removed from the site.” These were the first thoughts I had. And I felt crappy. I was spending my Sunday working on this project and probably billing less hours than I actually worked, because it was a non-profit that I wanted to help.

And then I said to myself “Don’t lose your breath. You did everything right. He is just being disrespectful. He is being an asshole. You don’t have to take it.” And then I remembered the quote of never letting anyone become comfortable disrespecting you. I got my breath back. I emailed the client on a separate thread. Here is what I said:

“Hi [client’s name],

I don’t think [guy’s name] is being respectful. I am not ok with the way he is talking to me.
I know what I am doing and I have done other websites before. These are normal procedures and it always took a few back and forth tickets between support team and us (client) to instal the website theme properly. 
I don’t want to be looped in the emails with him if he doesn’t change his attitude.


In the following few hours I didn’t hear from either of them. I am not worried, because I know I will do my part of the job and the new upgraded site will look good. Also, it is Sunday. The whole point is don’t lose your breath and don’t allow others to disrespect you. And yes, it does feel crappy when others behave like that.

Yesterday night we had a gathering with a few bjj people from the martial arts dojo and my coach, a black belt who I highly respect, said to me, “I saw you rolling with this new white belt this morning who just went full force on you with zero technique. You shouldn’t even roll with these people. The first moment they start going like this on you, you should tell them “I am not rolling with you, you are going too harsh.” You train hard, you’ve been training hard for years, you’ve earned your belt, you have the right to say “no” to those who don’t have the skills and will just hurt you. You should say “I am not rolling with you.”

And he is right. It takes courage to say “no”.


Our awesome Saturday bjj group, Feb 9th, 2019

The dream

I saw you in my dream tonight,
Your eyes narrow, your forehead wide.
And you looked old
Or young was I?

You saw me first, you called my name,
You were with friends enjoying a game
In old French park
In Spanish alley
With stone arch
In bright green ivy.

I heard your voice and looked your way
And took the path to joyful game.
Your negro friend
With strong black hand
Gave me a hug
Or a command?

You were so close in my dream,
Your eyes kind, and wicked as steel.
And I felt frightened at the deal
Of coming night.
The hug was light,
The fire bright.

We stood under the chestnut tree,
Your skin, your mouth, your eyes and me.
“We do not have much luck, do we?”
And I said nothing.

I woke up. It was still dark.

Candle Wax


It felt light inside the church. You stood there and listened to the mass and all the singing. The candles were lit. Women had their hair done and wore elegant summer dresses, probably for the first time this year. The kids were dolled up and pretty. All of them holding decorated Easter candles.

The church walls were covered with mostly blue mosaic and the sunlight reflected in its golden details. Festive. This was all you could feel; Light and festive. Through the singing your body became peaceful. You wanted to breathe this blue air inside of you and make you light.

“May I have the willpower… the willpower to follow the sports diet; the willpower to never have fear and fight well; the willpower to pull my company through; to make it all work; …to be honest with myself; and more… not to destroy others. May I have the willpower not to destroy the ones I love.”

To keep the love inside and keep walking. Candles, flowers, people.

My son was playing with his friend, blowing out and lighting his candle. His new dark blue pants were covered with candle wax. He saw me looking at his pants and said “oops”. I smiled, put my hand in his hair, caressed him gently and told him not to worry about the pants, we will wash them. He smiled back. With a funny laughing smile that only a six-year old has.

The mass was finishing and I looked at the white candle in my hands. Its flame was steady and reassuring. And then after the candlelight there were people, kids, my children, the flowers, the rest of the church. The voices. It was probably noisy at the church, but all I remember is silence. As if we all stood there in silence, looking at the blue mosaic and thinking about ourselves and feeling light. This and caressing my son’s hair.

And then we made a line and the priest gave each of us a bright red Easter egg and candy bags to the kids. And we went into the sunlight and stood on the green grass. And the kids run around with the unleashed happinesses. Skirts, and dresses, and white shirts and small golden crosses. And I knew I waited for this day to feel exactly this. The lightness…

I thought that you have to be brave to feel the lightness.

Our friends came out and we went to our cars and drove to their house. There the meat was roasting, the tables were set, the wine bottles were open and the music was playing. We ate and drunk till late evening. We talked about summer that was coming and where we all were going. The kids run around and wanted to dance. I wanted to dance too. The old Greek woman approached me and pointing at my son’s pants asked me if I knew how to get those candle wax spots out. And I said I did not. And she told me to iron those with a tissue in between and the tissue will suck all the wax out of the pants. And I thanked her. And we filled our glasses and said Christos Anesti.