Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Some people go to church, I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
In the early 2000’s when I lived in Torrance, California, I remember shooting the breeze with friends who trained in BJJ, most of whom did so at the Gracie Academy, home to legends like Royce, Rorion and his sons.
I also remember them limping into work after weekend open mats, walking around with black eyes, sore joints and an absolute passion for a martial art I had only seen on television as part of the MMA scene that was birthed by the upstart of the UFC.
I had trained in Aikido — a gentle(r) art by any standard — and frankly didn’t get all the fuss surrounding BJJ. It was certainly intriguing, and the legacy of the art surely appealing, but I hadn’t seen it up close and personal. However, looking at my friends, I also really wanted no part of what looked like a pretty painful experience — and I couldn’t tell if they were representative of those who were actually good at it given the damage they took.
I’m no fashion model, but mat burn on one’s face and cauliflower ear didn’t seem attractive. Snap, tap or nap? Yeah, I’ll take the last one, thanks…
Fast forward a few years, a couple more kids, a startup, a move to Massachusetts, and the addition of many pounds, I found myself interested in BJJ based on discussions with a friend I had met some years prior. Jeremiah Grossman took up BJJ — lost a TON of weight — and he kept encouraging me to give it a try.
So I did. I was almost immediately hooked.
I took my first class sometime in 2006. I got my ass handed to me by elder statesmen of the academy I visited and was instantly hooked. It was like violent kinetic chess, and while I am a dyslexic, uncoordinated oaf, it was a fascinating puzzle to work out.
Due to being out of shape, very much overweight, and more motivated than my body appreciated, I think I threw up 3 times in an hour class. I decided to get in shape (P90X) and start training when I could actually make it through a 6 minute sparring session without dying.
I began officially training in 2007 at MassBJJ in Acton, MA and through thick and thin, age and injury, have managed to keep going. I’ve moved around a lot with my family since then but Jiu Jitsu has always been central to my life and happiness.
Speaking of injuries, I’ve experienced my fair share — mostly from not being patient, trying things I wasn’t really in a position to execute properly and paying the price, and encountering my fair share of mat ninjas who tried to win at practice. I also didn’t appreciate proper conditioning in the beginning and injuries were often the result of not being solid.
Specifically I’ve broken 5 toes, most of my fingers, several ribs, have 2 AC separations in my shoulders, 3 herniated discs in my back and one in my neck and my knees are shot. I’m also (as of this writing) 46 years old and I’m still training…
…I know…I sound like A KLUTZ. I am, actually…but I also was pretty horrifically damaged in a nasty car accident when I was a kid, so structurally, I’m reasonably compromised. Did I mention I’m still training?
Upon moving to San Jose, CA in July 2011, I trained at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) in San Jose (Hillsdale Academy) as well as Gloglo BJJ after AKA shut down, and ultimately reuniting with Chris Coldiron (whom I met at AKA) after he started Lute! Academy in North San Jose. Lute! is a Checkmat/Vieira Brothers affiliate.
Chris and I became fast friends and Lute! has grown into a mirror for his personality, skills, big heart and passion.
On 10/24/14, Chris Coldiron (Checkmat black belt under Leo and Leandro Vieira) made me a surprise offer I couldn’t refuse — walk up and down the gauntlet 3 times in exchange for a new, brown, belt.
Fair trade, I reckon 😉
My previous mantra of “PURPLE BELT FOR LIFE!” was then replaced by “I AM THE WORST BROWN BELT IN THE WORLD (deal with it)” and often punctuated with “UGH! Purple Belt Wrestlers!” 🙂 I moved to North Carolina and continued to train and drill.
Impostor’s syndrome in BJJ is very real to me personally and I’ve dealt with it for years. I’m a very slow learner, very visual and obtusely kinesthetic and I’m reasonably dyslexic. Did I mention I’m still training?
The one thing that always kept me going was the realization that most people quit BJJ at Blue Belt and that I was still going at my mid-40’s there was always something to learn, always the “warm embrace” of training partners helping to rid me of stress, and always the hope that one day I would make it to a place that so few actually have.
On 10/21/16, my life was flipped on its head as Chris humbled me by promoting me to black belt. Like with every belt, I don’t feel like I am ready or deserving. I love Jiu Jitsu and what it has taught me — to be a better person, a more humble human — and to understand myself and others more completely. It’s a hard thing to explain to people who aren’t practitioners of the gentle art, but it’s a life-affirming experience.
Becoming a black belt is a responsibility I will forever try to live up to and honor him, the Vieira Brothers, my Checkmat teammates and the gentle art. Now I know what everyone who has reached black belt say “…and this is just the beginning.” It’s a terrifying prospect carrying the honor of this rank and that of those who thought me worthy of promotion…and frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever come to terms with that. I have to grow into my new skin.
Thank you, Chris. You are my brother in arms and I am honored that you think me worthy enough to join this rank. I won’t let you down.
Since I regularly travel both domestically and overseas, I seek out a local academy and train there as I can.