Blue Belt

In 2 weeks I will be receiving my blue belt from Professor Bruno Fernandes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruno_F._Fernandes

It will have been about 8 months from when I first started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Gracie Barra Montreal. I’ve since competed in the Montreal Open, the Abu Dhabi Trials, the SAU in Ottawa and the Grapplers United tournament. It has been a very interesting few months both on and off the mats. The last 8 months were also my first 8 months spent living in Montreal. The city and the job are interesting and quite different culturally from what I’m used to. But, people are people and it’s not that hard to adapt. What has made it easy however, has been my relaxed mental state which is directly influenced by Jiu Jitsu.

I’ve always been competitive. The first time I played volleyball with my new co-workers I kept my serve for about 10 minutes because I didn’t take to ‘lightening up’. I would loft a few here and there. But, for the most part, I was looking for an ace while everyone else was just looking to enjoy some sun and beers in the park. I had played football for about 10 years in both high school and college. Before that I played baseball, basketball, track and field, and any other pick-up game I could find. When I graduated from college and from a life that revolved around organized sports I needed an outlet. I considered boxing or flag football but ended up playing rugby with Washington RFC in DC. Our crazy team was a perfect mix of competitive debauchery and a cultural soup that DC is known for. We had lawyers from Berkley, islanders from Fiji, Brits, Kiwis, jewish prep schoolers, black dudes from SouthEast, and transplants from everywhere in between. It opened me up to a thing or two. One of them was how unhealthy mens club rugby can be. From the concussions, to the keggers, to sleeping on floors on long road trips, and the shit food it really takes a toll on the body. But, it is a great sport, and a hell of a good time. Three years and 5 or 6 seasons later I found myself moving from DC to Wisconsin.

The first thing I did was look for a rugby club. The thing about rugby is that you can always find one, and with it comes a social club and a party. It’s competitive, physical, and it gets you outside drinking with a bunch of funny dudes (for the most part). But, it would be way too cold to play rugby in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is more of a German beer drinking, swiss cheese eating powerlifting type of state anyways. And, Ford’s Gym in Madison was the perfect place to cultivate some mass. So, during my one year in Wisconsin, I focused on increasing my deadlift, weighted chins, power cleans, squats and bench. I did that effectively and I put on about 10 lbs. None of this was really planned out. The year of lifting was the result of the process of elimination. See, rugby was my first option. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was actually my second. Inside Ford’s Gym is a guy named Mark who teaches BJJ and Muay Thai under Alliance. Mark fought MMA for a while but has since decided to focus on BJJ competitions. He teaches the classes upstairs in a small gym. I took a few classes with Mark, but due to my travel schedule, he suggested that I wait until I would be around more often to start training.

This was disappointing. But, it was my first experience with the friendly honesty that I would encounter from the Jiu Jitsu community. Mark honestly didn’t want to take my money. And, later in the year when he learned that I was moving to Montreal, took it upon himself to look up a few schools and give me some advice on which places had good instructors. He mentioned Bruno, and said that finding the right instructor is most important thing when training Jiu Jitsu.

So, after a year of lifting, eating and drinking in Madison (which was great) I arrive in Montreal gymless. I walk by a small MMA gym right in my neighborhood. But it didn’t look to be what I wanted even though the location was perfect. I really just wanted either a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, or to to find a powerlifting gym and just keep lifting. I even considered crossfit for a second, but I’d been down that road and don’t think my shoulders could take any more kipping. I reached out to one of my best friends of 20 years (Matt) to get some advice. He had always been involved in martial arts when we were kids and always touted the tremendous value he gained from having practiced. He told me to not focus on the location or convenience of the gym, but the quality of the instructor. And, after that being the second recommendation to focus on the instructor, I chose Gracie Barra.

Gracie Barra Montreal is located in an older post industrial area called District Griffin. It’s mostly old warehouses and former flour factories. The gym sits in the shadow of the famous Farine Red Roses sign. It would be a 15 minute walk from the office and the metro. And, with this being the coldest and snowiest winter Montreal had seen in the past 20 years, it would make for many long treks if I wanted to train (almost) every day. I started out going 3 days a week, and then 4 and then 5. When I was training 5 days a week, I would only do 1 class per day. Then, I changed it up. I started going 4 days a week, 2 classes per day. And, now I just go as often as I can, as soon as my gi is dry, and I participate in as many classes as my body can handle. I fucking love it.

I love working on stand-up judo and wrestling takedowns. I like passing the guard and going for chokes from side mount. I’m getting better at defending my back and attacking the turtle. All of these positions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu were foreign to me 8 months ago, and now it’s all I think about. I go to work for 8 hours and then right to the gym for 2 or 3. Some nights I don’t get home until 11pm. I grab a bite, and go to sleep just to do it all over again the next day. Jiu Jitsu is the perfect amount of physical and mental competition. The key that I’m learning is to find the correct way to move before the other person can counter you. But, also you need to react to how your opponent moves to defend against their attacks. It’s a delicate game of push pull with elements of chess and life mixed in. There is an old game where you stand next to another person and lock your legs and hold hands. The point of the game is to get the other person to step by getting them off balance using your hands. You push and they pull, you pull and they push. When you get them off balance, they step and you win. Jiu Jitsu is kind of like that game x1000 +chokes.

I found the philosophy of Jiu Jitsu creeping into daily tasks. Tying a pair of basketball shorts can be done quickly, but if not done correctly will simply have to be done again during the game. You must pull the pants up, sinch the rope, place a finger to hold the figure 4, tie the bunny ears, and sinch again without losing slack or repositioning the pants. It is somewhat of a complex act made simple through repetition. All steps are important, and all steps need to be done properly or your pants fall down. There certainly are better analogies than tying basketball shorts. But, the point is that Jiu Jitsu can and will change the way you look at even the simplest things.

At the moment, I’m focused on enjoying each day that I train. It really has been like a second home. It’s my favorite place in the city. I spend more time on the mats than I do with my wife. She knows I love competing and learning and that’s why I love her. We support each other in things like this. So, going forward, I’ll be training tomorrow. And, I will be in the moment and focused on learning how to become a better person than I was today. Because in the end, becoming a better martial artist is really about becoming a better person.

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