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Recognize Your Setbacks Are Set Ups for Success:  How I Learned  to Value What Wrestling Had to Offer the BJJ Black Belt.

Recognize Your Setbacks Are Set Ups for Success: How I Learned to Value What Wrestling Had to Offer the BJJ Black Belt.


As a supporter of what squatting can do for your BJJ and/or wrestling game, I found it also served as a metaphor for life, mirroring the phenomenon of giving 100% effort and at times not improving or even failing over and over and over. 

Perhaps you lose your job, get diagnosed with cancer, or blow out your knee requiring weeks of rehab. What do the greatest champions do with a set back? They turn it into a new opportunity.

One of my greatest setbacks came when I felt I wasn’t improving in my BJJ ground fighting game.  I felt like I had hit a plateau in developing skills. Frustrated, I complained to my mom for several weeks.  Attending Utah Valley University (UVU), I was sitting in my mom’s office when she suggested that I add wrestling to my BJJ training. 

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“Both styles are ground fighting so you will only be learning more about what you already do.  When I took a foreign language, I learned more about English than my English classes ever taught me.  I think wrestling would do that for your BJJ,” she said as she typed away at her computer.


Clearly my mom was misinformed. Back in 2001, wrestlers and BJJ practitioners did not mix, either you were a wrestler or into BJJ.  What I had heard growing up in BJJ (beginning my training at age six), was that wrestlers were just strong, aggressive tough guys that didn’t have technique. One of my earliest memories of wrestling and BJJ was watching a freshly recorded VHS tape of Mark Schultz and Rickson Gracie rolling at Pedro Sauer’s gym in Utah. Granted I was very young and didn’t understand everything I was watching but from my viewpoint, Mark gave Rickson a run for his money.  To me, it appeared that Rickson Gracie had mastered the defensive moves of ground fighting and Mark Schultz had mastered the offensive moves. I was impressed. But overtime, it was discredited by many statements such as: Wrestlers only have strength and power, no technique. Having plenty to learn in BJJ, I focused on mastering the techniques setting thoughts of wrestling aside.  

Hearing my mom suggesting I should add wrestling to my BJJ training, brought back those thoughts I had had years earlier. Why not learn how to control the fight as well as how to submit an opponent. As a truth seeker, I was always looking for ways to improve my ground fighting game.

Mom continued, “UVU just started a wrestling team.  Why don’t you go talk to the coach and see if you could try out for the team as a walk on?  His name is Cody Sanderson. You should go talk to him.”

I did some background work on UVU’s Coach Cody Sanderson.  He was a two-time NCAA finalist and four-time All American while at Iowa State University; not the only legend in his family, his younger brother, Cael Sanderson was undefeated as a college athlete, winning Olympic Gold, currently the head coach at Iowa State University.  These guys had game and I wanted to learn more. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I met Coach Cody Sanderson at his office. 

“I’m Ricky Lundell.  I have a Purple Belt in BJJ.  I have won a number of no Gi grappling tournaments and would like to see if I could try out for the wrestling team as a walk on.”

Not impressed.  He all but rolled his eyes.

“Have you ever wrestled before?”

“No, but I have trained in ground fighting since I was six and I feel the skills would be transferable.”

“No,” he answered, “You won’t be wrestling on my team.”

“I have a floppy disk of my submissions and tournaments.  Would you be willing to watch it?”


“Could I at least come to the try outs and watch?”


Would it be possible to come to a practice and just watch?”


 “Is there anything I could do to change your mind?” 


That night at dinner, mom asked how my meeting went with Coach Sanderson.  

“Not well,” I said.

Dejected.  Humiliated.  I wallowed in my victimness for several days. But then, I decided that if I wanted to learn wrestling, no one could stop me including Cody Sanderson.  I started asking around at the gym if there were any wrestlers who would like to trade lessons. I would teach them BJJ in exchange for wrestling training.  Brandon Guzzo, a walk on for Arizona State University wrestling team took me up on my offer. We started meeting several times a week for training. I entered every tournament for No Gi fighting that was available.  Winning several major tournaments in grappling using my newly acquired wrestling skills, I approached Cody Sanderson again about a try out for UVU wrestling team.  



I went back to training wrestling and BJJ.  Cody Sanderson didn’t determine my future. I didn’t need to be on a college wrestling team to improve 1% better every day.

While at the 2007-2008 USA FILA World Team Trials for No Gi Grappling, Brandon Guzzo and I were checking out the platform mats where I would be competing.  As we came around the corner of the stage, we walked right into Cael and Cody Sanderson, who were there with their collegiate wrestlers competing in the same tournament.  Cody had left UVU as head coach and was now at Iowa State University as the assistant wrestling coach with head coach Cael Sanderson. Cody greeted Brandon warmly; they were old friends.

“Hey, how’s it going?” he asked Brandon.

“I’m doing great.  Hey, do you remember this guy,” Brandon said pointing to me, “I’ve been training him in wrestling. A Black Belt in BJJ, this guy is really talented.”

He looked at me.  I looked at him.

“You look familiar,” Cody said, “Have we met?”

“I’m Ricky.  Ricky Lundell.  I’m the guy you who kept asking to try out for the UVU wrestling team.”

Cody paused, “Yeh, I wouldn’t let you try out.”

“Nope. You didn’t want BJJ in your wrestling room.”

Cody nodded.  “Yeh, you’re right.  That’s what I said.”

Standing next to Cody, Cael, his younger brother, seemed to be enjoying this little exchange.

Brandon continued, “You should watch Ricky today.  He is unbelievable. In fact, I think he is the best in the world.”  

Cael turned to me and said, “Is that true?  Are you the best?”

Without hesitation, I responded, “Yeh.  I am the best. Watch me today.

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That day I won the 2007-2008 FILA World Team No Gi Grappling World Team Trials. I was on the high of accomplishment.  Nothing could top that feeling, or so I thought. After the ceremony, Cody saddled up to me, and said, “I probably should have given you that try out.  If you still want to wrestle, I’ve got a spot for you at Iowa State University.”

“No try out?” I asked.

Cody smiled, “Yeh, no try out.”

The time I spent at Iowa State University was difficult. A new level of GRIND, I was drinking out of a fire hose of information on how to control the ground fighting game. Cael and Cody Sanderson were tough task masters, not suffering fools gladly. Once again, I immersed myself in the intensity, learning all I could. Since mastering the techniques of wrestling (Yes, wrestlers have complex techniques. Yes, they train for years on how to master control in ground fighting), I saw I was missing out on what strength and power can do for successful transitions in BJJ.  

When to use strength and power effectively has been my latest knowledge quest. However, before you learn how to use strength and power, you must build it correctly without adding body bulk. Again, here is the best kept secret that I continue to tell the world:  It’s not that strength and power aren’t important in BJJ. They are, but only after you have mastered technique. The key to using strength and power is timing.  Without timing, it can lead to uncontrolled thrashing instead of controlled strategy. Uncontrolled thrashing has given strength and power a bad reputation in the BJJ world.  Used wisely, strength and power will propel your BJJ to new levels.   

p.s. As always, remember to follow your BJJ academy’s etiquette.  Stay strong out there, my friends as you improve 1% Better Every Day.    

Ricky Lundell is a 4th degree Gracie BJJ Blackbelt under Pedro Sauer ((8th Degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Coral Belt under legendary Grand Master Helio Gracie and Master Rickson Gracie) and wrestled for Iowa State University under Cael and Cody Sanderson (Olympic Gold Medalist in Wrestling and 4X All American Collegiate Wrestler).  Currently, Cael and Cody Sanderson coach wrestling at Penn State University, winning the last 8 national titles in the past nine years. Ricky is the author of the 1% Better Every Day Strength Training System DVD on bjjfanatics and 1% Better Every Day, Ricky Lundell’s Personal Guide to Back Squats, available on BJJ Fanatics!



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