Travel with Your Gi

I have learned now to pack light and leave room for my Gi. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community can be an amazing place to make connections and meet some great people. I’m sure there is the chance to drop into a school or gym and have a terrible experience. But, I have found that it is a great addition to any trip to find some mats and train.

My affiliation has hundreds of schools across the world but I have also dropped in outside Gracie Barra and was accepted. There are great folks out there willing to share the BJJ experience.

Things to remember: check the schedule, call ahead, respect their school rules and don’t be a tool trying to prove yourself.

Pictures from: Gracie Barra San Clemente 2018 with Prof. Felipe Guedes; Gracie Barra Carlsbad 2019 with Prof. Aaron Collins; Back at Coach Doug’s lunch class at GB San Clemente in 2019; Ricardo Almeida BJJ In 2018 with my coach and teammates and Prof. Ricardo; Gracie Barra Athens Greece in 2018- amazing international hospitality!; Atos BJJ in 2018 with Prof. Andre Galvao.

The best people.

I am grateful for my life and the people I get to live with and around.

I am struck today that the greatest blessing I have is that I get to interact with people who have high character, creative vision and a willingness to sacrifice comfort to help create a better world.

I work with kind and generous people at my church. They donate hundreds and even thousands of hours to build community and share kindness and love every day. They fix buildings, stay up late with Middle School students, say yes when invited to lead or do mission work. I’m blown away by the generosity of spirit that I observe and am privileged to witness.

And I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with some of the most amazing people in the world. Kind and generous. Dedicated and driven. They are also so vibrantly committed to excellence that it leaves no room for me to cut a corner. And I love and need that!

Thanks to the people who humbly serve. To the people who don’t settle for less than excellent. I love you. I am inspired by you and the world desperately needs examples like you!!

Sanctuary

I shared the story of Demi Lovato in my last sermon. www.pennpres.org

As she endured a difficult time of life battling mental illness and depression she attempted to take her own life. After emerging from that season her response to leaving treatment and retreat was to head to her “sanctuary”. This meant going to Unbreakable Performance in LA to train on the BJJ mats. Those mats were her sanctuary.

I understand her retreat to the mats. I often find sanctuary at Gracie Barra Princeton. In a sense it is my sanctuary. Which is funny because I literally work in a sanctuary.

I work at a Presbyterian church in central New Jersey. It is a great place with great people. And I spend Sunday’s welcoming people to a place to break away from their normal rhythm of life to consider deeper things. Things of life. Things of death. Faith, work, kingdom. Existential reality is negotiated among the sacred and ordinary.

But the room I work in is rarely sanctuary for me. It is my office and my factory floor. Worship services are times when I am thinking about facilitating meaningful things for others and hitting my mark. Trying to remember my sermon or prayer. So I retreat on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings usually. I put in a different robe and I commune with different people. I am not the one people take their lead from but simply a follower. I am mentored and guided by those who have much more skill than I do. It feels safe to me. Yet I am challenged beyond belief.

Sanctuary is rarely safe but it is set apart. It is the space where life finds meaning and I am moved from my comfort zone to a place of discomfort where growth and transformation can happen. I enter with anticipation, expectation and a little bit of fear.

I fear getting hurt. I fear looking stupid. I fear getting dominated. And I fear I’m falling behind. And yet. Sanctuary is the place where fear is transformed into hope and belief. Where fear is moved from the drivers seat to the back seat. When I cross the threshold and become a warrior on the mats I am no longer a victim, I am not a disease, I am not a minority. I am not anything but a partner and a learner. Uki or senior. I learn and I share. I take what I need and I offer what I have.

The result is community and growth. Maturity and connection. This sanctuary has a strange commonality to the one I work in. But it is different too.

It has less history. Less baggage. Less institution. Less ego. More hierarchy. More sweat. More blood. More humility.

I hope Demi Lovato finds what she so desperately needs in her sanctuary. I know I have. Both the one I work in and the one I practice in. I hope every reader does too. If you ever need a guide in BJJ head over to Gracie Barra Princeton or North Princeton. Coach Turtle or Coach Wojtek will show you the way. If you ever need sanctuary come visit me at Pennington Pres, I’ll walk with you and share what I have.

Faces of Gracie Barra Princeton

Hi All. I thought I would do an ongoing series highlighting folks I have come to know through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This journey has been about deep connections physically, mentally, spiritually and relationally. So telling the story of someone like my friend Kyle is a window into why this is a great experience.

Kyle with Prof. Almeida

When I asked Kyle why he started this was his response,

“Age-39. Why I started?- There are SEVERAL reasons why, but if I had to be honest and pick one, it would be for the adversity it brings. I learned something about myself during wrestling in high school, it was that I needed the physical and mental exertion it provided in order to release built up frustrations and aggression that I had deep down inside me. I was always happier and more easy going when I was wrestling. Knowing this about myself and dreaming about being a “jiu jitsu guy” for years led me to the day I met Coach Turtle. What have I benefited? Again, too many things to choose from. Besides the outlet it provides for me, the physical and mental conditioning, confidence in myself, patience and understanding with others, I would say the two biggest for me would be, the friendship and commradery I have now with like minded, goal oriented, quality positive people and the opportunity for my son and I to share this journey ”

Kyle is an original member who goes all the way back to the Schafer’s days. He was one of the first guys I met after signing up. I have always appreciated Kyle for his tenacity and all in mentality with BJJ. He and I have rolled frequently and I have shared stories of him in my blog before. He is tall and thin and wiry. He has a wrestling background and it shows! If I had to give him a style it would be focused strength and self aware. He reminds me of Joao Miyao with his long strength and kinetic fast twitch style. He is a hand full. And I admit that I will often go into my Panda Jitsu smash mode just to be in safe positions with him! Kyle is also the first training partner I had doing No-Gi training. He subbed me 6 times in my first 6 minute roll. Thanks for the lessons.

Kyle is also a dad to two amazing boys and married to a a great woman. I don’t know his wife too well, but she supports her boys doing BJJ, so I know she has to be great!! His son is a leader in class and I love it when he is there. He is insightful and looks to help others learn and keep the standards of the mats!

When asked how BJJ has changed or informed him in life, here is Kyle’s insight-

“I’m different now because I’m happy. I am learning how to be happy and content with who I am and what I have instead of wishing and wanting all the time. I guess I have gained perspective. I lose that easily and jiu jitsu helps keep me centered.”

If that doesn’t get you off the couch and sign up at GB Princeton or North Princeton, you need to read it again!!

Kyle is one of the guys who has made GB Princeton feel like home to me. He is humble and hard working. I think about the blessing that BJJ is because I am not sure how I would have ever met Kyle without the community that GB Princeton has become.

Come on out to Gracie Barra Princeton and get to know someone great! Work hard alongside of someone and you will find yourself trusting them and respecting them. See you on the mats.

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!!