The Weird Science of Pain and the Brain

Over a year ago, I set out to review Kelly Starrett‘s book Becoming a Supple Leopard and its claims to “improve your athletic performance, extend your athletic career, treat stiffness and achy joints, and prevent and rehabilitate injuries.”

This is not that review. (Sorry to disappoint.)

Starrett came to my attention as the CrossFit coach on Youtube with good videos about stretching against resistance bands, smashing your butt with lacrosse balls, and the importance of deep squatting like you’re pooping in the woods. Supple Leopard is Starrett’s attempt to collect up all these tips and tricks into a systematic framework. My opinion on how well he did that will come at a later date.

What has delayed my review so long is the twisting rabbit hole I fell down once I began researching the science (and pseudoscience) of sports performance, physical therapy and especially pain neurology. Every time I think I finally had a handle on the topic, I find another study, another expert, another methodology that makes sense but contradicts the others.

The purpose of this post is not to try to sort out what is right or wrong (as if I could) but to share the most interesting talks and articles on pain science I’ve run across. These will be referenced when the real review comes out, but I’d like to get this out first.

Studying the material below, you’ll learn how our understanding of pain is very different than how it was traditionally taught, especially the neurological aspects of chronic or persistent pain. These forms the basis for the main criticisms I’ve seen of Starrett’s methods, or more accurately, all physical therapy that focuses solely on the body’s mechanical and tissue problems without addressing the neurological, psychological, and even social/cultural aspects of pain.

If you find some of the pain science hard to swallow–like how bad MRI’s are at predicting if a patient reports pain, the effectiveness of “fake” knee surgery, and how the biggest predictor of a back injury causing chronic pain is not severity of tissue damage–I don’t blame you. It is weird. Any time I learn more about the brain–and the brain is the key to understanding pain–the weirder it seems to get.

For a good explanation of how the understanding of pain and its treatment have evolved–and how much of what we were taught as “common knowledge” is wrong–I highly recommend Pain Education by

Here are many of the videos, articles and podcasts about the neurology and psychology of pain that I found most educational:

Body in mind – the role of the brain in chronic pain

The mystery of chronic pain

Pain, Is it all in your mind?

Lorimer Moseley on ABC Classic FM

The Science of Pain podcast by Scientific American

  1. How sports psychology can be used to treat sports injuries
  2. Biopsychosocial Pain : Pain and brain – the biopsychosocial method of chronic injury rehabilitation

Pain really is in the mind, but not in the way you think

A Revolution in the Understanding of Pain and Treatment of Chronic Pain

What should fitness professionals understand about pain and injury?

Overcome Pain

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3

The Science of Pain

Focused symposium: Pain Management


Finding Simple Solutions Thanks to Jack Taufer

In this video, we go over two ways to deal with the annoying “1/4 guard,” or whatever you call it when you’re almost in mount but your foot is still stuck. The first method is the rolling back take or twister roll, as made popular by the likes of Eddie Bravo and Ryan Hall. The second technique is a decidedly simpler solution.

The friend I talk about in the second half is Jack Taufer, a black belt under Dave Kama in the Rickson Gracie lineage. You may have seen Jack on’s TWIBJJ series or his video threads on the UG (links below).

Jack is raising funds to support his nephew’s mother as she fights cancer. Please consider sending a PayPal donation to

You can learn more about Jack on the Kama Jiu-Jitsu website. He is available for private lessons at Rickson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Laguna Niguel and seminars anywhere you want to fly him. Georgette Oden wrote a glowing review of one such seminar.

Thanks to Jeremy for teaching the first half of this video. Jeremy is the owner and head instructor at Zombie BJJ in Allentown, PA, where I train and teach too.

If there’s interest, I can talk in more depth about the topics of simplicity vs complexity, depth vs breadth, individual style vs school/lineage style, refinement vs experimentation, body mechanics, postural alignment, etc. Jack is on a kick of filming requests too, so I’ll see if I can get him to share his thoughts too. Let me know with your comments or by sharing on Facebook!

In the meantine, watch more technique videos by Jack Taufer:

Rear naked choke details with Black Belt Jack Taufer

This Week in BJJ Episode 39 invisible Jiu Jitsu with Jack Taufer

This Week In BJJ Episode 62

Technical Mount Escape Demonstration by Jack Taufer

Flattening From the Back by Jack Taufer


Berimbolo Knockdown [Video]

The first and most critical movement of the bermimbolo — knocking them to their butt — caused me problems for a long time. In this video, I talk about how I used to try (and fail) to do the berimbolo, how the berimbolo is different than seemingly similar older De la Riva sweeps, and how to do it right now. Watch on “Berimbolo Knockdown” YouTube.

Thanks to my sponsors Scramble, Gawakoto, Grapplearts and Grapplers Guide! (If you join GrapplersGuide, use code “Aesopian” to save $30!)

If you enjoy my teaching style and want to support me, buy a copy of my highly-praised crucifix instructional through Artechoke Media.


Get answers to your dumb questions at! is live! WBP is a mega-FAQ for BJJ that I’ve been working on for more than the past year. The site grew out of continually seeing the same questions across BJJ forums and in my inbox.  Marshal D. Carper, my partner at Artechoke Media, helped finish up the first big batch of questions. You can pick up a paper copy on Amazon.

Here’s an example Q&A from WBP, answering one of the the first questions almost anyone asks when getting into BJJ:

Q: How long does it take to get a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

A: On average, it takes 10 years to get a black belt in BJJ.

Some people earn a BJJ black belt faster, while other earns it slower. A survey of 1500+ jiu-jiteiros found that promotion timelines ranged from 3 to 16 years, with most being between 8 and 12. BJJ black belts are notoriously hard to get. Even 5-7 years is considered fast. Anyone earning it faster than that is usually a phenom who trains everyday and blasts their way through competition.

The IBJJF requires someone to be at least 18 years old to earn a black belt, so there are no kids with black belts like you find in other martial arts. The IBJJF’s minimum time requirements for each belt put the fastest path from white to black belt at 4 1/2 years. Despite all that, you still see a few black belts in their early twenties, but they have usually been training since childhood.

The IBJJF has several others requirements for black belts to fulfill to be recognized and earn degrees (like CPR certification and attending referee courses). They also require the instructor who promotes someone to black belt to be a 2nd degree black belt or higher. You can read more about degrees here: Why do some BJJ belts have stripes and what do they mean?

Note that not every BJJ affiliation recognizes the IBJJF standards, and they may follow their own. The Gracie Academy is a notable example of this.

As with all BJJ belts, the decision to promote to black belt is ultimately up to the student’s instructor. BJJ lacks any standardized syllabus or grading tests, such as are found in arts like judo. Each BJJ instructor has their own standards for promotion, and they may or may not have a formal test (most don’t). See Do you have to do a test to get a belt promotion in BJJ? for more on this.

An adult who joins a BJJ academy and trains 3 or more classes per week can expect their path to black belt to take about a decade. The actual speed will vary based on a wide variety of factors ranging from the person’s age and athleticism, natural talent, previous martial arts and wrestling experience, breaks in training (injuries, life changes, etc.), tournament success, their instructors standards, and a million other things.

The best approach to take is to just train hard and make sure you deserve the belts whenever you get them!



BJJScout gives “Mastering the Crucifix” two thumbs up (assuming BJJScout has thumbs)

For all we know, BJJScout could be a disembodied Skynet metamind that’s programmed to analyze BJJ, only to one day terminate all humankind. Is BJJScout really Keenan’s split personality, a jiu-jitsu version of Tyler Durden? Or will we wake one day to find BJJScout has vanished from the world, never truly existing except in our dreams? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whatever robot or mythological creature they may be, in a recent post, BJJScout reviewed my instructional Mastering the Crucifix, calling it “groundbreaking… a bold and different approach to BJJ pedagogy” and praising Artechoke Media by saying “Passion for BJJ belies each effort they put out.” BJJScout gives us credit for not doing the usual “get affiliates to cram pre-order spam down everyone’s throat” routine, and praises our willingness to explore new and different ways to present information (i.e. animated gifs, multiple angles, combining animation/video with text, etc.). Read BJJScout’s full review here.

(You should also read the review because it contains GambleDub’s analysis of Baret Yoshida’s very original and unorthodox crucifix game. GambleDub was our biggest beta tester for Mastering the Crucifix.)

Buy your copy of Mastering the Crucifix here.


Get your free copy of “How to Love a Grappler” by Val Worthington


Valerie Worthington just released her first e-book, “How to Love a Grappler”. You can download a free copy here.

For the uninitiated, Val is a black belt in the jiu-jitsu braintrust Groundswell Grappling Concepts, alongside Emily Kwok, Hannette Staack, and Lola Newsom. GGC is well known for its women’s grappling camps.

Val’s story is a remarkable one that really kicks off when she suddenly quits her successful-but-unfulfilling career and sells off her condo to become a road tripping BJJ nomad. She’s got more than enough firsthand experience attempting to explain her obsession with BJJ to her confused loved ones.

“How to Love a Grappler” is Val’s way of helping you talk to your friends and family about “that karate or whatever you do” (as your grandma puts it). I recommend sending a copy to your partner or family member who doesn’t get why you go out of your way to get beat up by sweaty strangers all the time.

Download “How to Love a Grappler”


First Complete Review of Mastering the Crucifix

Mastering the Crucifix launched on Monday, and the first full review has since been posted. It’s by a Sherdog poster you may know as GambleDub. He creates megathreads with dozens of GIFS and videos for specific positions like the Williams Guard. He backed the Indiegogo campaign and helped me with testing the product right before launch. Here is his review:

Where Is It?

First off if you want to purchase the Mastering the Crucifix instructional you can get it here, if you weren’t part of the Indiegogo fundraiser. You can also read the Introductions and browse the chapter and section list if you wish to find out what the Instructional covers.

You can also view one of the chapters for free here…

What Is It?

For those who don’t know Artechoke Media ( is a company ran by Author and BJJ purple belt Marshal Carper and BJJ black belt Matt “Aesopian” Kirtley. (

What Artechoke Media have done is put together a highly innovative new method of delivering and presenting grappling instructionals, combining text, animated GIF’s and video as a way to teach and demonstrate techniques. Marshal also released his own project through Artechoke before Mastering the Crucifix which was called 3D Jiu Jitsu, it is available free at and again is a great way to observe the unique format that Artechoke uses.

Who Am I?

While I was aware of what the crucifix was before this instructional, and that it was a position that interested me. I had never really experimented with it, or gone for it at the gym. To me the crucifix was like another language (let’s say French) while I could identify it if I saw it (or heard it) and I knew of a few techniques (or words) there is no way I would consider trying it live in rolling (or conversation) because I knew my technique (or pronunciation) would be sloppy as hell.

If the crucifix was like French then for me the reverse omoplata was like Klingon, I was aware somewhere out there people were doing it but I had no idea what it actually was. In other words while the crucifix was on my BJJ bucket list, outside of watching some competitions and Marcelo instructionals I would consider myself less than a novice, even more so when discussing the reverse omoplata.

Full disclosure I also did some media testing for Artechoke on this instructional. While I am not part of the company, nor was I paid (early access was enough incentive for me!) I feel like I should mention it. Also I’m currently nursing an injury and haven’t been training, so I have yet to try and implement any of the material in this instructional so far. It is also worth mentioning that at the time I was on holiday and Aesopian’s crucifix seminar was released as part of the perk I got when I initially purchased the instructional as part of the Indiegogo fundraiser, so I watched through this twice before starting on the Mastering the Crucifix instructional.

Production Quality

It is quite difficult to offer a comparison between other instructionals on the market because, at least to my knowledge, nothing else like this exists. The text, GIF’s and videos complement each other well. The text is easy to read and conveys all the important information clearly. The language is good enough that non-native English speakers shouldn’t have too much problem understanding it, but no so basic that the ideas of the technique get lost. It’s hard to explain but I think it works well at explaining the broader picture behind the technique and how it works alongside the other techniques. I like the anecdotes and inflections about the techniques that have been added in the text too.

The GIF’s are brilliant, I like how multiple angles are shown, and how Matt and Marshal also show troubleshooting (failing) aspects as well. This makes it a really handy feature as a skim through to show you how to do the technique, while reinforcing the critical aspects of the technique. I could see it being really handy in situations at the gym if I had it on my phone for quickly getting the important points ingrained before drilling/rolling etc. I also like how GIF’s focusing on different positions such as in the side ride section; the last frame has been extended to clearly show the emphasis on the final position.

The videos serve as the in depth how to of the instructional. The camera angles switch well between being zoomed in for explanations and detailed demonstrations, and zoom out nicely to see the overall technique. Matt sounds clear and I didn’t have any problems hearing or understanding what he was saying. The instruction is really good, Matt speaks well and doesn’t end up sounding monotonous causing me to zone out, even on techniques I had already known (I even learned some good tips!) plus the occasional mention of ninja skills with Bruce Lee sounds, traumatic wrestling experiences & nipple tweaking also does well to avoid the instruction fatigue I get with some instructors. What I found really good was how he would explain the purpose behind all of the movements and show what happens if you don’t do them, I think many instructors lack this. I think that will benefit beginners such as myself especially well. Matt’s videos and YouTube channel are also well worth a look at to further examine his teaching style. (

Navigation throughout the instructional is great, I like how in the introduction of the chapters specific subsections have been linked to as they are discussed and the chapters along the side allow for quick and easy referral to specific techniques. Also there is a comment section at the bottom where according to Matt he will answer questions and film new material if neccesary.

In particular the GIF’s were a huge selling point to me. If you have seen some of my posts I often post GIF’s when discussing techniques. And I have seen the value of GIF’s for a long time, many people enjoy mind maps I have always preferred to GIF up the instructional videos I have and organise them into folders instead, so I can put them on my phone and take them to the gym to work on.

The format Matt and Marshal have gone for, has worked far better than I expected. You have the instructional videos, but chaptered like a book so there is no guessing times on DVD players or VLC etc. However unlike a book there are GIF’s and videos rather than comic book strips of techniques which are difficult to extract timing and subtle movements from. I really hope Artechoke have set a trend for the future of BJJ instructionals. I really believe they have set a new benchmark! Add that to the fact its online and I can access it anywhere from my phone, this is next level stuff!

Overall the production quality is top notch, from the camera zoom, to the angles of demonstration, audio quality, frame rate and size of the GIF’s and how they have been paused at the end to emphasize position when applicable.


The initial welcome page gives some background to what Artechoke is about and Shouts out to the sponsors of the project.

The introduction details Matt’s story of how he came to train Jiu Jitsu.

The first chapter, chapter one relates to setting up the crucifix. Either from stand up off single leg attacks, or from turtle positions such as side ride and sprawl positions. The spin behind off the different guard passes was a particular highlight for me. I generally have a Darce heavy game when attacking the turtle, and I managed to pick up a bunch of really great tips from the side ride chapter. “Catching the crucifix in transition” is the last section and threads together many of the techniques previously demonstrated, showing how they can be chained together, I thought this was a nice way to demonstrate how the various techniques from the first chapter can relate to one another.

Chapter two (which you can read for free) involves crucifix fundamentals. Namely rolling from the kneeling crucifix to the traditional crucifix, positional control and maintenance, recountering escapes and submissions from both crucifix positions. Overall this was my favorite chapter. The techniques flow nicely together and you begin to see how the different techniques flow and complement each other, rather than just saying “hey look at this cool move you can do, ok here’s another cool move” Aesopian’s take on the crucifix comes across as a system rather than a couple of nice tricks you could add to your game. There is really no wasted add on techniques that I wouldn’t choose to do, every technique has its place and reason, Matt and Marshal have done a great job conveying this.

Chapter three, is the chapter focusing on the reverse omoplata. To be completely honest I was looking the least forward to this section, I didn’t really see the reverse omoplata as something I would do. However I have to say this instructional has sold me! I can understand how the reverse omoplata functions well as a new attack series that complements the crucifix perfectly, especially when the opponent hugs your leg with their trapped arm pointed towards their knees, or off the straight armbar. I don’t know whether or not, not knowing about the reverse omoplata made me pay more attention in regards to attempting to understand it. But I feel like up to this point in the instructional this is one of the positions I walked away with retaining the most info, and having that a-ha moment of it clicking together, again Matt & Marshal have done a great job of conveying why you should learn the reverse omoplata and how it is an integral part of Aesopian’s crucifix system. With that being said as the reverse omoplata has a reputation of being dangerous, I still walked away feeling uneasy about the safety aspect. In one of the sections Matt discusses it and how you can be controlled. But I’m not sure I would feel confident in applying the rolling variations without significant drilling with feedback. However there is a comment section which Matt will answer so I’m sure he would be happy to answer any questions regarding using the reverse omoplata safely

Chapter four details advanced crucifix set ups. Set ups from passing the guard, from bottom guard and an advanced turtle set ups are covered. This was the section I was really looking forward to, I expected some serious technique porn and it definitely delivered! I have to say though, to make an analogy of it I expected “supermodel” techniques, that is stuff that looks really good but would never work for me. But something strange happened, a couple of sections into this chapter. I began to see how the crucifix would be possible, as I began to spot the concepts and principles that make the crucifix possible to work even before Aesopian had really explained the technique in depth. His explanations had slowly ninja’d their way into my brain, and I think my mind set – especially when attacking the turtle is going to change significantly because of it. The techniques shown from the top of the guard reinforced how much I had slept on and underestimated the reverse omoplata. The crucifix from the sitting guard was my particular favorite from this section I can’t wait to try this one! The stuff from bottom guard was also really eye opening, and I would have never imagined being able to get crucifix’s from these positions.


As I said earlier I am a complete novice in regards to the crucifix and the reverse omoplata. The only other dedicated crucifix instructional I have seen was the section on Marcelo’s last dvd release, and while this may be blasphemy to the BJJ gods, I liked this one better! For the $35 I spent on the initial Indiegogo fundraiser I am more than happy, I would have paid more for the crucifix and reverse omoplata alone, there is a ton of information with no filler. Coupled with the seminar and the ebook version, I feel this was great value. As I said before the production values are very good, the unique format and the technical instruction all come together very well, also knowing Aesopian and Marshal both post on Sherdog and the instructional has a comment section, being able to ask questions is great. The chapters I enjoyed the most were 2-2 and 2-5 (I am a stickler for anything to do with positional control) I expect they will soon become burned into memory after the amount of times I refer back to them. With that being said I think the best part is that I don’t feel it’s a specific technique or section that really shines, it’s the overall product and how it flows together and each chapter compliments the other that provides a deeper conceptual understanding of the positions.

I feel like I have finished this instructional with a much deeper understanding of both the reverse omoplata and the crucifix. I really can’t wait to go and start drilling these techniques and try them during sparring. I know for sure I will be on the lookout from future releases from Artechoke. If you have any doubts check the free chapter (it has my personal favorite sections in it) and see for yourself! I can’t wait to drill, spar and add this to my game, I will keep you updated as to how it’s working out for me, hopefully I’m crucifying people like the Romans sometime in the not too distant future!

Buy Mastering the Crucifix now.


Mastering the Crucifix is Live! Did You Get It Yet?

Mastering the CrucifixMy big crucifix and reverse omoplata instructional is now out at! Buy your copy for $39.95 or read an entire chapter for free first.

So what do we call this–book, e-book, video, website, or what? It has written explanations, multi-angle animated GIFs, and video instruction. You can access it as a responsive app-like website on any modern device with a web browser. You can download it in ePub format for your e-reader. You can ask questions on any page to get feedback directly from the author. It’s the Swiss Army knife of BJJ instructionals.

If you backed us on Indiegogo, you should have received an email with your login credentials. Let me know if you didn’t or you had problems. You can log in anywhere on or within Mastering the Crucifix itself.

Now that I’m no longer spending all my time working on getting this out, I’ll get back to updating my site and podcast. Expect behind-the-scenes looks at what it took to get up and running (I did all the web development) and previews of upcoming projects.

Buy Mastering the Crucifix now.


“Mastering the Crucifix” Demo Online

We’re hammering away at Mastering the Crucifix instructional to get it finished now that all the video has been shot! Please check out the test version and let us know what you think: Access “Mastering the Crucifix” demo here.

The main purpose of this test is to see if people like GIFs or MP4s better for the short looped techniques. Marshal used GIFs for 3-D Jiu-Jitsu, but we wanted to explore other options. Let us know what you think!

Below are the pros and cons of each format, but we want to get your opinions before deciding.

Looped GIF Images


  • Supported by practically every device/browser
  • Automatically loads, plays and loops
  • Multiple GIFs can run at once


  • Lower image quality, fewer colors
  • Fewer frames per second
  • Larger file size, demands more bandwidth (~2MB per GIF)
  • No playback controls

Looped MP4 Videos


  • Higher quality video (more colors and higher resolution)
  • Smoother playback, more FPS
  • Smaller file size (~600KB per MP4)
  • Video playback controls


  • Won’t autoplay if more than one video player is on the page
  • Requires user to click each video to play
  • Playing a new videos stops any other
  • More potential for device/browser incompatibility