I’m Going to be Sore Anyway- Health and Jiu Jitsu

I Choose Soreness!!!

My hands are sore everyday. I am trying hard to teach or train at least 4 days a week at Gracie Barra Princeton and the soreness used to limit my training. Basically every joint in my body is sore…everyday. I have inflammation and hives that make life uncomfortable. That is why the concept of being comfortable being uncomfortable has been so life changing for me. I have an autoimmune disease that has a crapload of daily side effects. This is my reality. Someone asked me how I felt about it and my only honest answer is that it sucks. It sucks. It is aggravating and painful and discouraging. And there are many ways to deal with this reality. I could drink. I could eat. I could complain. I could take too much Advil. I could feel sorry for myself. Well, I’ve done all of these and none of them made me feel any better. So, I tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And it is working for me.

Hives on the hand…

I am still sore every day and I still get a lot of the same emotions. But, I also have discovered a lot of what BJJ offers. Community, fitness, empowerment, humility and something that I will take the rest of my life to learn proficiently.

I used to choose not to go to class if I was sore. Now I go. Because guess what?!? I’m going to be sore anyway. I might as well get sore doing something I love!! I am going to be sore- so I’m doing it my way. I get to choose soreness. I don’t have soreness put upon me by the weakness of my body or by some stupid disease.

I choose soreness!!!! It’s mine. And I’ve earned it. Gratitude- the powerful gift God has given me. Thank you BJJ for empowering me to make this choice.

Trust- it’s what it takes to grow.

I experienced a threshold in Jiu Jitsu last week. I was promoted to blue belt. It was an emotional experience for me. A friend who practices Jiu Jitsu congratulated me and remembered wondering to himself as he was promoted, “I’m a grown man. Why does this mean so much?” I totally understood what he was saying. It didn’t change me magically into a better Jiu Jitsu player, but it represented 14 months of hard work, mental and physical challenges, overcoming time constraints, injuries and wholehearted support and encouragement from my family.

Gratitude has been a theme for me as I have started on this BJJ journey. I felt that again during the promotion. It was a marker along the way that I can look at and remember this is a real experience that is transforming me. I am a stronger individual for doing this sport. And that strength has made me a better friend, a better husband, a better dad, a better pastor, and a better addition to the groups I’m a part of. For that I am grateful.

I am also grateful for Gracie Barra Princeton. Michael Leonardi is an entrepreneur who has been captivated by the social power of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He is a purple belt under Professor Ricardo Almeida and the director of GB Princeton and now GB North Princeton.

Mike has taken risks to open these schools and worked hard to influence hundreds of people’s lives. And he is still not afraid to leverage his position to speak out against dangerous things in our society. I have heard him champion racial equality, respect for all and passionately call for men in our culture to stand up and partner with our sisters to make the world a safe and better place. #notonmywatch

Trust is a powerful thing. I am not naturally good at trust. I have a complex history with trust and I don’t go gently into it. That being said, I am more capable of trust today than I was before I started practicing BJJ. I trust myself more because I have risen to a challenge. BJJ is hard. And I have not given into the temptation to quit when it has gotten tough. It takes time and it takes will. It takes a tolerance for pain. It also takes having a sober judgment of who I am. How fit I am and how tall the mountain I have to climb is.

My growing self trust has positively influenced my ability to trust others. I trust my coaches as they have invested hundreds of hours into my growth as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner. And I trust my training partners. That’s not to say they are perfect, just as I am not a perfect training partner. Just last week my toughest partner and I rolled together in live training. I was exhausted and he could tell. So he told me to just use technique to escape or challenge the position I was in. We rolled for 6 minutes this way and it was really beneficial to my game. It took restraint, empathy, and humility on his part. He could have easily crushed me. But he didn’t. He nurtured my Jiu Jitsu game. And we both grew. I am so grateful to training partners like this. And I am grateful for a culture that facilitates humble training.

Constant challenge and a consistent and earnest response to it, creates character and culture. I am fully immersed in this now as a way of life. It flows over into all the facets of my life.

My faith has grown as I have discovered new ways to trust. I understand the flat sides of my faith and areas when I have been reluctant to surrender to God and to others. Now I practice surrender 2-4 times a week and I’m getting better. I think about what it means to say I tap. I tap to my own selfish will. I tap to my own desires for comfort. I tap to the things that do not lend to my or others flourishing.

In the space that this surrender creates is the room for growth.

And gratitude. And loyalty. And character. And humility. And grace.

Blue belt. Simple. Yet significant!!

Community and Joy

Tonight I went to a class at Ricardo Almeida Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is a world class gym about 25 minutes from my house. Professor Ricardo is part of the leadership of my school Gracie Barra Princeton. He trained at the original Gracie Barra de Tijuca in Rio as a teenager, so he goes way back.

His team has also held numerous UFC titles and he, himself has competed at the highest level in MMA and BJJ. I was invited to the class by our gym owner and coach Michael Leonardi because our coach and new Head Coach at Gracie Barra North Princeton (Opening in 3 weeks!) Wojtek Ratkiewicz was getting promoted by Professor Almeida from his purple belt to his brown belt. It was a big deal.

I got to the school and was immediately greeted by Professor Almeida and welcomed. We warmed up. It was nice to see about 8-10 of our schools students there to support and celebrate with Coach Wojtek. Professor Almeida have a history of his connection with Coaches Mike, Turtle and Wojtek and presented Wojtek his brand new belt. Then we had class and trained.

Here are a couple of observations: it was really cool to see the RABJJ students with their logo gis and the Gracie Barra students with our defining red shield logos all together on the mats. 25 years of legacy for professor Almeida and a legacy of Master Renzo Gracie, Ricardo’s teacher and ultimately Mater Carlos Gracie jr and his contribution of bringing BJJ to us in the United States. There was an inkling if legacy and history.

It was also nice to train with RABJJ students of all different levels and hold our own. It was a good feeling to know that we have been receiving great instruction and we have some really talented grapplers in our gym!

Tonight was another great example of how you can bring two groups of relative strangers together and within 3 minutes we embraced and settled into our class and the community of the mats. We all worked hard, poured sweat, some blood and at the end we bowed in respect and made new partners and maybe even some friends.

It’s a powerful thing to gain connection to another human. It lends to our flourishing and for that I am once again grateful to those who have welcomed me into this sport! Bows to Professor Almeida for hosting to Coach Mike, Coach Turtle and Coach Wojtek for bringing me along on their journeys as practitioners and teachers. And to my training partners for sharpening me and allowing me to gain skills at a high level!!

Blessed tonight and full.

Mollie Tibbetts, Violence and Women’s Equality- Be Safe Friends.

My wife’s alarm went off at 5:45 am this morning. I didn’t fall asleep until 11:45 last night, which is pretty late for me these days. I was pissed when I heard it because I knew it meant the treadmill that resides 3 feet from our bed and the house shaking rhythm of her tempo run were next.

I usually catch myself from getting angry at these early morning runs, mostly because I love my wife and think she is amazing. Her discipline to train for marathons, as a working professional and present mom is inspiring. When I had my exercise/competition epiphany a year ago and started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, her resolve and her running exploits were key.

Lately I have been doubly glad to hear the treadmill. After reading about Mollie Tibbetts in the news over the past month, the reality of Kristin’s safety has been a topic that runs through my mind. After reading the account of this young woman who just went for a run and ended up brutally murdered I asked Kristin if she ever feels vulnerable. She disclosed that she thinks about her terrain and the trails or routes she runs every time, with safety on her mind.

Here are some of my thoughts. I am very grateful for our friend Rob who does long runs with Kristin almost every week. He is the same Rob who helped me finish my last half marathon. Yes, he is our running guardian angel. Kristin ran 150 miles last month and every one she ran with Rob I felt safe and she did too. That is a gift!! And two. Kristin needs to take some women’s self defense at Gracie Barra Princeton.

This has been something she has warmed up to over this past year as I describe the empowerment of BJJ and learning techniques that mitigate size or speed in self defense situations. There is no magic potion or spell that will make sure you are safe all the time. But I have seen first hand how important and how possible it is to gain the understanding and the skills that come through training this martial art.

I have said that before my two daughters go to college I want them to have at least two years of BJJ training. Why? 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. More than that experience some sort of physical abuse. There is a power inequality in our culture and it is exploited regularly. The statistics are frightening and they are real. I am not sharing this to be alarmist. I just want our world to be a better place. In my sphere, I have a wife, two daughters, a mom, two sisters and countless other women that I care about. And now I have Mollie Tibbetts. Nameless and unknown to me a few months ago, but now I mourn for her and grieve with her loved ones.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not magic and it will not keep someone from ever experiencing violence. But, it does level the playing field and offers a vision of equality that humanity has not naturally achieved on its own. It allows for the possibility of a smaller, physically weaker person to at least establish a boundary and gain the distance that could save their life or protect their dignity.

This is a game changer. Think about every encounter a woman enters where culture and stigma have defined the narrative that she is less than. Every date. Every relationship. Every job interview. Every hotel room. Every board room. Every parking lot at night. Every alleyway. Every running trail.

I think BJJ empowers. I also think it transforms people. I want every male I know to join in this too. Because it exposes ego and the unique weaknesses that we all carry around with us. These broken deficits in our lives that can be healed or can be filled with negative expressions of masculine strength or violence.

In a world where women can walk into situations knowing that they are strong, have practiced effective and practical techniques and are supported by others, I envision statistics changing. 75 cents on the dollar changes. 1 in 6 changes. And the needle on our culture of violence changes.

I remember a lecture from my seminary days. Prof. Patrick Miller gave his final lesson in my Old Testament class at Princeton Theological Seminary. He described the scripture in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden with 3 encumbrances that would haunt humanity. 1-pain in childbirth. 2- Labor in the fields to provide for themselves food. 3-inequality between the male and the female. He gave great insight and background. How human ingenuity had partnered to overcome or mitigate the first two curses and were continuing toward addressing them. But the 3rd remained present. With the wisdom he had gathered near the end of his teaching career and as an expert in his field he shared this: the 3rd curse was untouched because it was about power and as humans we are so poor at sharing our power and living as equals. That the last encumbrance would be the easiest and require the least technology or innovation to overcome. But it remains. It remains because it takes choice and partnership and humility and a vision filled with belief in each other. It takes self control and self awareness. I think there is a window of opportunity that we have right now to lean into this inequality. To give it’s end to ourselves as a gift. #metoo? Not anymore!! #endviolence

Get out there and take a BJJ class!! Find a school or a gym where women are welcomed with equality. Call Michael Leonardi at Gracie Barra Princeton. (609)429-0142 or Gracie Barra Princeton

He will get you the info you need.

Vacation and a Week Away from Training- Sabbath.

After worship tomorrow (10:15 am at Pennington Presbyterian Church! Come on out) I am heading out for a week away with the family. I have had a busy and full summer.

Mission trip to NYC working with urban ministries and immigration advocates. Amazing week! And a Footsteps of Paul tour to Greece and Turkey with a group from our church and a couple of other local congregations. Thrown in a few funerals and pre wedding counseling, all while managing some autoimmune stuff, I’m pretty exhausted.

I don’t like to miss training, but my body is telling me to take a break too. My finger is healing alright but I have aches and pains all over.

And today I had a visit from and old friend

I haven’t had a stinger in over 25 years. I had a couple playing football when I was younger. I got knocked in the head today during training. Not terribly hard, but I saw stars and had an instant headache. As I stood up for the next skill I started to feel nauseous and my left arm went totally numb. I finished the class and decided not to do live training.

So, as much as I love training and especially live training, the 46 year of couch warrior is taking a break without feeling like I’m missing out.

I love this perspective. Even earlier this summer when I missed time due to travel and work I felt like I was falling behind and missing out. This time I’m kind of excited to let the body heal a bit and come back with a bit of renewal.

I guess this mirrors the idea of sabbath.

I love the people at my church. I spent my day off playing golf with two guys from church who are key our church being a place of welcome and I had so much fun. It was a gift to be included in their days off and I left the course energized. I usually do not say yes to things on Fridays but I’m so glad I did. Even with such life-giving experiences I am glad to be taking a week away. I’m tired physically and emotionally. I can’t wait to laugh and play with my kids and have great conversations with my wife. And to break away and listen to God in a different rhythm. Sabbath.

If I can get a little preachy… I would say to people: work hard. Do things that challenge you and extend you beyond your places of comfort. Serve others until you get tired. And then break away for time to rest and listen. This rhythm of work and rest is a sustainable rhythm. It brings life and growth. Once again my time in the mats informs my life as a pastor! Thanks BJJ and Thanks be to God for every good and perfect gift.

See you in a week!!

Intensity? Oops…

I had a first yesterday. I almost threw up on the mats. I had an epic day BJJ wise. I squeezed in a lunchtime class, in between writing a sermon and going over notes for a memorial today, I helped out with an evening kids class and I got 3.5 rounds of live training in.

I was unsure if I was going to make it back for the 9 pm live training so I ate a bowl of pasta at 7:30- big mistake.

I did make it back. I jumped in for the last live part of the advanced class and then rolled for three solid rounds. The intensity of the rounds were pretty high and I loved them. I rolled hard with Andre, Frank and Coach Wojtek- three guys who are really, really strong, technical and athletic. Each round offered some great training.

Then I moved over to roll with a Kyle. He is a recent blue belt promotion and has a wrestling background. Great guy, great training partner. He is also quite a bit smaller than me, although really strong and really fast. We rolled hard scrambling for position and being pretty even. He made some great technical moves and tapped me. As we began again, I started to feel a fullness in my stomach, which I totally ignored. We worked for position and then all of the sudden Kyle clinched. As I was in his grip and I was beginning to exert, I felt the panic of starting to lose my dinner. I clamped down hard and tapped immediately. And then I shut it down. I was done for the night. It was a VERY close call!!

So, I experienced my first submission by digestion!! Glad to have spared my training partners the grossness of barfing all over and the shame of being a hurler!!

Lessons learned. Every time.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Hebrew Bible

No. I can’t really find BJJ in the Bible. Except for Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestled with who he later discovers to be God. Jacob dislocated his hip- likely from a vicious, Danaher-inspired ashi garami. But he didn’t submit. Ego. You will have to go read it to hear the rest of the story. It’s pretty good.

No. Learning BJJ is to me, similar to learning Biblical Hebrew. It is painstakingly difficult and you feel like failure is the only consistent thing about it.

But every now and then you realize that you are learning and the foundation of the language, and the sport are building. You know enough of the base level to begin to see how powerful the variants are. In Hebrew you barely learn the rules before you realize how often the linguists and authors break them. In BJJ it is a little more fair.

I learned a variant that gave me an “A-ha” moment yesterday. We were learning skills to take the back of your opponent or partner. Instead of the immediate move to seat-belt into a collar choke, we practiced controlling with under the arm Gi lapel controls. It was amazing. I realized that I had drilled the seat belt enough that it had become my natural movement. Not only offensively, but more importantly defensively. I immediately covered to protect from the choke when my partner took my back. That automatic response is exactly what opened me up to be effectively controlled by the lapels. I celebrated two things and took one deep sigh of resignation. Celebration #1- I had practiced something enough that I did it without really thinking!! Celebration #2- I was gaining a really new effective variation skill. Resigned sigh- how would I be able to think and react in real time without getting paralyzed by the variations?!? I will have to worry about that another day. I choose to celebrate!