Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

October 25th, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

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.

I earned both my blue belt (2008) and purple belt (12/16/10) under Nate Ryan and Patric Barbieri at MassBJJ in Acton, MA.

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.

BrownBeltOn 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.

Hoff - Faixa PretaOn 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.

More pics…

My friend and awesome training partner (black belt extraordinaire) Jeremiah Grossman at our annual BJJ Smackdown at Ralph Gracie’s in San Francisco

Since I regularly travel both domestically and overseas, I seek out a local academy and train there as I can.

(Horribly Fuzzy Picture of Day Class) – MassBJJ, Acton MA

One of the many times over the years at Ralph Gracie’s in San Francisco, CA

At the Gracie Academy in Torrance, CA

John Frankl BJJ – Seoul, S. Korea

At BJ Penn’s School in Hilo, HI

Isle of Jersey (Gracie Barra Channel Islands) off the Coast of France…

Roger Gracie BJJ – London, UK

Fabio Gurgel’s Alliance Jiu Jitsu in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Beijing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club, Beijing, China

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  1. July 17th, 2009 at 03:55 | #1

    Good stuff. I trained with Carlson Gracie Sr. (RIP), Carlson Gracie Jr, Jeff Neal and Rey Diogo for about 4.5 years. Love BJJ. Had to take some time off due to other things popping up but still love grappling. It's therapy 🙂

  2. Niles
    July 23rd, 2009 at 11:23 | #2

    If you are ever in Denver, come train with us at Grappler's Edge. We have the best competitors in Colorado, and several world champions. I have been going there for about six years, and I am still addicted.

  3. October 22nd, 2009 at 10:17 | #3

    How is your training progressing? I've been rolling again (time has been on my side), and as such feel quite good about my progress given my time away from the mats. I love it and think everyone should try it at least once (provided they are physically able 🙂

  4. December 1st, 2009 at 01:45 | #4

    Good stuff! I roll at a school under Cesar Gracie too in Union City! Man, hopefully I get to roll with you while you share your Cloud Security Tips 🙂



  5. July 2nd, 2010 at 06:47 | #5

    Whenever in the Denver area, check out my nephew's academy Mario is a hell of a good fighter and an extraodinary person.



  6. Candace
    September 3rd, 2010 at 16:33 | #6

    I made a video of 2 black belts performing their japanese katas with swords and sticks to honor their Sensei. It was beautiful and scary at the same time. 🙂 Do you have any videos? Worth capturing.

  7. Candace
    September 5th, 2010 at 14:08 | #7

    I think you may have found this by now: no tweeting til it is the right location, of course, who knows that better than you………..


    At Tri-force Academy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we are currently accepting temporary members! It is a five minute walk from the Ikebukuro Station (Tokyo Toshima ward)."

    Largest studios, 2 studios for 2 different levels of student, near train, accepting temporary members, and they want to learn English……

    They need some help with the verb: "To Acclimate".

    I almost forgot, find the closest, as this may be the showstopper:

    The whole Samurai thing is worth some investigation. Those swords are really "razor sharp." I say this because of the tradition and the meaning of Samurai: "Professional Warrior," a "military nobility." To watch or guard; a knight of feudal Japan. (武士) symbol. Shoji Gorei Kempo (Japanese) martial arts follows this tradition but without meditation. I think it is sort of symbolic of a Security Professional Warrior, no?

    sa·yo·na·ra noun ˌsī-ə-ˈnär-ə, ˌsä-yə-

    Definition of SAYONARA

    : good-bye

    It is not 1:40 AM, but I can still appreciate it is nice to be on receiving end of help once in a while….HTH

    • September 5th, 2010 at 14:12 | #8

      Thanks a bunch!

      (For reference, this is as I am about to visit Tokyo for the week…)

  8. Candace
    September 5th, 2010 at 16:06 | #9

    np and you are correct about reference to upcoming ur Tokyo trip@beaker

  9. Candace
    September 5th, 2010 at 16:27 | #10


    Oh, one more Tokyo thing, if u are planning on ordering a California roll, think again. My friends were thrown out of a very nice restaurant. It is an insult to the sushi chef, plus no avocados.

  10. November 23rd, 2010 at 22:48 | #11

    Ju Jitsu is hard to master

  11. Max
    November 25th, 2010 at 05:27 | #12

    Hi Chris nice blog, I always enjoy to read it.

    Should you stop over in Milan (Italy) you can train at Milanimal BJJ academy (
    I've been going there for few years and it is a great and friendly place for BJJ training.

    Take care

  12. Raymond Umerley
    February 20th, 2011 at 14:43 | #13

    I meant to ask you about this either after the CSA summit or your presentation with Rich Mogull on Friday. I noticed the cauliflower ear and figured you had to involved in some sort of grappling 🙂

    I've been training at the Renzo Gracie Academy in NYC since March of 2007. A few stops and starts but I'm currently a 3-stripe blue. I certainly relate to the notion that the gym is my church. The experience of training and participating in the sport is nearly ineffable.


  13. February 20th, 2011 at 20:03 | #14

    @Raymond Umerley

    Heh. It (cauli ear) wasn't a big deal on Monday, but come Friday after our BJJ smackdown at Ralph's down the street, it "…done blew up" <<- Left my headgear in the hotel room. Doh!

    Next time come to the smackdown – Jeremiah Grossman and I do it every year. We also have one at Black Hat in Vegas…went to Tapout this last round, it was great.


  14. Raymond Umerley
    February 22nd, 2011 at 13:12 | #15

    I definitely will! Speaking of Vegas, I visited Xtreme Couture last time I was out there. $25 day pass and you were able to train in their muay thai, BJJ, and kettlebell classes. Two of us spent the muay thai time actually rolling in the octagon they have at the gym. Great experience.

    If you find yourself in NYC and want to train, drop me a note. I train in the morning at RGA (7:30am classes) and we have John Danaher for the no gi classes and Leo Leite/Jose 'Zed' Chierghini for the gi classes. Guests are always welcome and we have a good group of high blues/purples to train with.


  15. August 18th, 2014 at 22:35 | #16

    It’s good to hear that you are practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu continuously without any interruption. People don’t give much importance to martial arts these days. I think in today’s world learning self-defense is a must for everyone. Let you be an inspiration for others for learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

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