Five years ago this last month I started a path and journey that has been harder and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. If you didn’t know me five years ago (or earlier), here is a little story I wrote about the first chapter of this adventure;
What I gave myself for my 40th birthday ( https://www.facebook.com/notes/10150350263106966/ )
This video montage puts it all in perspective of the next few years ( https://youtu.be/dwq2K50dozg )
In 2014 I wanted to take over the world; Goruck Challenges, Tough Mudder, Rugged Maniac, Krav Maga, Alpha Challenge Contests, climbing fourteeners, Boot Camp daily, and lifting daily. I had a great community of friends I did all of these events with and we had fun. Each of these events were physical challenges but did not challenge me mentally. One of my good friends and a trainer at the gym I went to was Gigi Good. I would hear her talk about dirty Gi’s and trying to keep them clean and forgoing a happy hour to go train, little did I realize that I would do those same things a few years later. Jessica Weckle that did a bunch of these events with us invited me to come try jiu-jitsu on a monday night at Lifetime Fitness with Isiah Wright. He taught a no-gi beginner level class. I had a ton of fun. Then just a few months later in July of 2014 I walked into the Kompound Training Center at 3034 Larimer Street in Denver, CO. I recently read a post by Anthony Bourdain which summed up the challenge you meet from the first day you step on the mat.
“I do it because it’s hard. Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And because it never ends. Every day presents me with a series of problems that I spend the rest of the day thinking about how I might solve — or at least chip away at. Next day same. And the day after that.” — Anthony Bourdain on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (jiu-jitsu) took me back to my childhood and wanting/trying to wrestle in Iowa as a kid. I lived on a farm (didn’t have time), I had terrible asthma (not helped by living on a farm), and my family’s priorities weren’t fitness and training. But there was something about wrestling that I aspired to. Walking on the mat as a little kid you didn’t know if you were going to get tossed on your head or pin your opponent. But with the anxiousness came an amazing high from connecting with another human being in a sport that goes back to the original olympics. There is an energy from the moment you touch. As Saulo Ribeiro, the sensei of Ribeiro Jui-Jitsu Association, puts it “You don’t know which wolf is stepping on the mat. The good wolf or the bad wolf. You always need to be ready for either.” That moment of finding out who your competitor is can be some of the most exciting moments of your life.
Finding such a connection to a style of sport I hadn’t touched since middle school has been one of the most satisfying things I have done as an adult. In high school we had a tough wrestling teams, but I had chores to do on the farm. That choice was made for me. I joined the debate team instead. In no way do I regret that choice since debate scholarships in college were as good as sports scholarships and it helped pay for a good chunk of college.
Stepping back to 2014, I met some great coaches in Mike Martin and Ty Hudspeth who inspired me to do and try more every day. What started as one class a week turned into two, turned into three, turning into multiple times a day. I was hooked. The hardest part was my body adjusting to the constant trauma if you decide to train hard. It was only a matter of weeks until the big pains dissipated. The other big adjustment is learning to be calm and relax as you train which takes much less of a toll on your body. I trained everyday at lunch and again after work and I loved it.
In November of 2014 I went to a local Fight2Win BJJ Tournament put on by Seth Daniels. I watched a few of my teammates compete. Winning a few and losing a few. I was drawn into the game taking place in front of me. In the gym you train so you can train tomorrow taking care of each other. in a tournament your goal is to break the other guys arm/shoulder/leg, choke them out, they tap out before that happens, or win by points. This human chess match I watched unfold was the most amazing thing I had seen. Grown adults being able to test them in the same ways as wrestling was as a kid. I had to try this.
The lead instructor and professor at the Kompound is Brad Nicolarsen. The way my schedule worked I did not have much time to spend in Brad’s classes since he taught mostly at the Littleton location. I spoke with him about trying a tournament and the next one coming up was the IBJJF Long Beach Open in December of 2012. I spent the next month getting ready for that tournament. Mike Martin and Ty Hudspeth helped me put in as many hours as I could each day practicing and working on a game plan. The hardest part about this tournament is that no one else from my school was going to be attending and I was on my own. I researched who was in my division and as I looked at the Facebook page of Nolan Archer, the only other competitor in my division, his cover photo was a medley of medals he had won in the last year.
As I arrived at the tournament I looked around for Nolan and realized that he just didn’t have a pile of medals but was a giant. When our turn arrived to head out on the mat I played through all of the training I had. The referee shouts “combate” (fight in Portuguese), and you connect with the other person. In this case Nolan the giant with more medals then I knew existed. We went back and forth on grips and about 30 second in I pulled him into half guard where I fought from the remainder of the time. I didn’t win the match, but I didn’t lose. I learned a lot about myself. Even through the anxiety of going into the match I felt like winning and losing had less to do with Nolan and a lot more to do with myself. Getting past fear, remembering things from training, getting in bad positions and working back out of them, finding small success and trying to build on it, and so many other things that occur in a matter of minutes. I finished the match and survived.
In those few minutes I learned more about bjj than I had in the 5 months I had been training. I also learned that I wanted to do it again!
Fast forward a year later and I have repeated that same experience with 89 tournament matches since. I now have my own pile of medals. I can remember almost every match with vivid detail. The least memorable are the wins. The most memorable were the ones where I nearly left a limb on the mat or the matches were moving my hand even 2 inches would have given me the advantage instead of the loss. But that is why I love this. These matches were not just about who had the best cardio or who had benched the most in the gym. Those help, but the mind matters as much as the bicep or hamstring. Any single type of move has offensive variations with at least as many defensive variations. It really is like a game of human chess.
Those 89 matches have taken place all across the country with people of all sizes, levels of experience, and gyms. But they all had one thing in common, jiu-jitsu.
I spent the last week at a training camp in Costa Rica ( http://subandsurf.com ) led by Henry Akins from Dynammix MMA in Santa Monica. Henry teaches jiu-jitsu that is simple and can be practiced by anyone. His focus is very much on self-defense rather than competitive jiu-jitsu. The things he taught were mind blowing. But during a question and answer session on Friday he was asked about what makes for the best jiu-jitsu students. His answer was, “the best students are passionate about the art of jiu-jitsu. They don’t just show up and train, they will think about mistakes they make and how they can constantly improve.” That answer inspired me. In life and jiu-jitsu that is how I aspire to be. There were also 20 other people which felt that same way at that camp. There was a common bond which brought us together for a week in paradise and will be friendships we will share the rest of our lives.
Jiu-jitsu is the only sport I have found that you could travel almost anywhere in the world and be welcomed to train in a gym as if you were part of their group. You may have a target on your back when it comes time to train but that is all apart of the mutual respect of trying what you know and seeing how it holds up against someone new. When training is done you have have earned another friend. I don’t mean to say there aren’t assholes or egos in jiu-jitsu, but most places weed them out pretty quickly.
Since that first day I asked Brad for his support in going to a tournament he has supported me in every way. From being on the other end of a text when I’m at a tournament asking for advice, celebrating after a hard tournament, coaching from the sideline telling me to get on my side, and most importantly helping me dissect what I can do better next time. I have a ton of respect for the work Brad has put into building the Kompound and building a great team that looks out for and supports each other. The quality of competitors he builds is amazing and I feel so fortunate to be able to rain with them every day. I heard a phrase out of Brad one day that sticks with all of us on the team, plus ten. Anything you can do, you can do it ten percent more. Competing, training, partying, or sparring all of us are chasing that plus ten.
I intended for this to just be a quick post thanking jiu-jitsu for what it has given me so far but also to share the excitement and passion I have found and hope others can find. It’s not for everyone.
One thing I always try and do is say “thank you” everytime I tap from a submission. If you submit me, you have taught me about a mistake I made leaving something open. I will leave it open again until I learn not to, but everytime I say thank you it’s because I am one step closer to not letting that happen. So this post is a thank you to the whole jiu-jitsu community for your support and your friendship. I look forward to many more years of saying thank you.