I was in disbelief. Actually, what I was in I would later find out was called a ‘triangle choke.’ At the time I was too preoccupied trying to figure out how this 16-year-old kid that weighed about 150 pounds (soaking wet) was about to choke me out unconscious.
Back then, I was around thirty-years-old and probably about 280 pounds. I was a fairly high level athlete in college and I would have considered myself moderately strong. By the time I realized that I should be “tapping”, which is a form of saying “uncle” or submitting in Jiu Jitsu, I noticed that the student who rendered me helpless was loosening the choke.
After I stopped seeing the imaginary bubbles in the air, the Rugrat gave me some instructions on how to defend against the move he just strangled me with. After that, we slapped hands to restart, and he got me in the same choke three seconds later. I drove home that night with a problem; I not only got my butt kicked by Harry Potter, I had no idea how he did it.
This scenario would happen over and over again. It wouldn’t be just Potter that would submit me, but numerous people at my new school in all different shapes and sizes. Every night I would drive home wondering if that feeling of helplessness on that mats would ever go away.
Flash forward eight years later. There are still plenty of days that I feel the exact same way I did in the beginning of my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu journey.
I was driving one day and saw a sign that said “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu/Team Renzo Gracie.” Under it there was a logo that looked like the old Thundercats cartoon symbol (you should know the reference). I called the phone number and went down the next day to talk to the head instructor. Exactly a week after that encounter, I was handed a “white belt” which is the first belt in most martial arts systems. At that time, I had no idea what the belt signified. I was just in a hurry to make it change colors so I wasn’t at the bottom of the totem pole.
What I learned immediately was that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu wasn’t about rankings, because there weren’t any. Yes there are higher belts and you show your respect to them, but unlike a lot of traditional martial arts, you didn’t feel like people were looking down at you. I sensed that everyone (even the highest belts) knew there was more to learn. Jiu Jitsu evolves everyday so there’s no way for one person to know everything. I started to realize that if Jiu Jitsu was something I was going to do, I had to embrace the role of student and not worry about what belt I wore around my waist.
Brazilan Jiu Jitsu is human chess. It’s cause and effect. If you move a certain way it causes a certain reaction. It’s not so much about strength as it is about leverage and positioning. It was designed by the Gracie family for a smaller person to be able to neutralize a bigger opponent in combat.
My biggest problem in the beginning was that I happened to be playing checkers, and I wasn’t playing it very well. Every person I was “rolling” or sparring with knew what I was going to do before I did it. This allowed them to set me up like a mob informant.
I would go home defeated because I wasn’t seeing the lesson; all I was focused on was the loss. Jiu Jitsu isn’t about winning and losing its about problem solving. The same can be said about life. When you’re in a difficult position you have to figure a way out. Jiu Jitsu makes you start using the “other side” of the brain you hear so much about.
I felt claustrophobic when I first started training. Having someone smother you and not having the knowledge to escape can cause most people to panic, but the longer you train the more you learn, and the more comfortable you become in a chaotic situation.
When you first start and definitely when you’re rolling with someone that’s at a higher level than you, you’re working on how to defend not how to attack. In this defense mode you eventually learn how to escape dangerous positions because you’re always in them. It’s problem solving at an extreme level. I tell people that in life the same rules occur. We all go through our own adversities. Every one that you overcome should make you stronger. Then comes a point when you’re ready for whatever life throws your way.
On Saturday, October 27, after eight and a half years of training.. I received my black belt. It’s always been about the journey for me so I had no idea I was going to receive one. The only thing that I could focus on was all the hours that I spent with my Jiu Jitsu brothers and sisters in training. All the times I got absolutely destroyed by someone better than I was. Then I looked off the mat and saw my wife and son. My son will know that quitting is never an option on or off the mats. It’s not in his DNA.
They say once you get your black belt – you’re a white belt all over again. Jiu Jitsu for me is a never ending journey. I was moved to tears last Saturday not because the journey was over, but because I know it has just begun!