Jiu Jitsu and Grace

There is a saying in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu attributed to master Carlos Gracie Sr. “There is no losing in BJJ only winning and learning”. I also read an article recently by Prof. Tom DeBlass who said he is tired of hearing that quote because losing is an inevitable part of the game.

I happen to agree and resonate with both of these wise men. I think I understand what both are getting at. And I love that Jiu Jitsu offers a forum to practice both humility and excellence at the same time.

Master Gracie’s quote defines the reality that in Jiu Jitsu you will fail over and over again. And that is how you learn. You embrace the failure and take humble inventory of what led to it. To fear failure in this sport is a roadblock to learning and development. For this reason it is a great life practice. You learn resilience and how to deal with discomfort. All for the sake of growing and getting better at the craft. You have to take your lumps. But how you do it and what kind of person you are in the process is really important. Humility and graciousness are key ingredients to consistent growth. If your pride gets in the way you block yourself from the important lessons that are available.

There are prideful people in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Tons of us! Ego is as present on the mats as anywhere else. But in, what I would consider, great schools, there is a culture that allows for ego. And coaches, professors and masters provide ways to address and manage your ego in ways that are beneficial for individual and communal growth. Ego drives us. Channeling that drive to accomplish great things is something I am grateful to the sport for.

I think Professor DeBlass is also making a great point. It is okay to want to get better. And it is good to realize that sometimes you will lose. That does not make you a loser. Accepting defeat and remaining defeated will lead to more defeat. But accepting defeat and being accountable to what makes you better, takes courage, dedication and even enough intensity to overcome. Those are all key ingredients to successful Jiu Jitsu.

So, I think my take aways from these two teachers is that you can be defeated and still gain. Any gain as a person or as a Jiu Jitsu player is a win, even if it comes through defeat. But work hard to learn and grow. And you can shake hands and show gratitude when someone submits or outpoints you. But you don’t have to stay in the same place. And you don’t have to pretend to have false humility just for the sake of seeming like a Jiu Jitsu zen master.

Grace is a mark of strong character. It allows you to accept yourself as imperfect while at the same time drives you to put forth your deepest efforts. In faith it is the thing that makes everything else make sense. Accept your imperfect self, made valuable by God’s love, and set your mind on the goal ahead with fullest heart.

Keep moving. Keep growing, don’t settle for mediocrity.

See you on the mats.

Waiting and Out of Control

These are really great skills to have and use in life and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Unfortunately I am a complete white belt when it comes to both of these skills. I have gotten better over the past 9 months on skills like putting my feet above my head or moving from guard topside control. But I have noticed my sharp edge for growth is all about what to do when I am completely out of control.

I have been working over the past few weeks on getting more comfortable pulling guard or breathing when someone has top or side control. Up until then I found myself just tapping and sheepishly explaining that I get claustrophobic. Which I do. And I have not stepped up to the plate to gain comfort in that particular discomfort.

So, two weeks ago I pulled guard for the first time in live training. And it wasn’t that bad. Coach Wojtek quickly recovered side control and advanced. But for me, it was a small victory. And I forced myself not to tap when my next training partner got side control and worked on a submission. Instead of tapping I worked an escape technique and swept into my own submission attempt. I was really proud of myself. Added to all of this was the training that day was No Gi. I had in my head that I didn’t like No Gi and was quite honestly intimidated to engage in training on those days.

At the end of training I was pretty euphoric. I thrived using some new perspective and enjoyed and had No Gi “click” for me. Oh and Coach Wojtek gave a bit of a pep talk/butt kick to our group to train longer and to challenge ourselves. I went 4 rounds of live training! So many wins for Hallgren!!

I got to my next class riding my wave of confidence and excitement. We warmed up and began with the Tiger Tail drill ( remember 70 push-ups with Big Mike!). I was with Matt, a great guy and brown belt. About two seconds into the drill my right pinky got caught on his lapel and took a 90 degree turn outward, all while making a very distinctive little pop. Hello broken finger, goodbye wave of enthusiasm.

So, in another way I am dealing with waiting and loss of control. All I really want to do is train. To continue to learn and make gains. I am fearful my momentum will be stopped. I’m pissed that I keep getting these little nagging injuries and I just want to go hard. But my body won’t let me. It says slow down or even stop for a while.

And I HATE it. Like inner rage. I am a pretty calm guy on the outside but deep inside me I have a pool of frustration, disappointment and regret. I’m discovering that I don’t like to be out of control because it opens that space. It makes me deal with the deficits I have gathered in life. It feels like a 300 pound training partner in top control.

Do I sheepishly tap? I don’t think so. F that. I’m going to breathe and use the techniques I’ve learned. I will lean on my training and advance!!

And how do I accomplish this…I surrender. I tap. I release the power that Ego has and I endure with peace. This is the deep place where my faith meets my art. And that meeting creates grace and gratitude.

Struggle today. Fight to be at peace. Surrender and heal.

Having a Great Teacher

Great teachers are really important for our learning and growth. Whether it’s in school, Sunday School, or on the mats it’s really valuable to have someone walking alongside as you engage the ups and downs of life.

Mrs. Rusch was my favorite teacher in 4th grade. She was a strong English woman who had a great combination of nurturing students and kicking our butts!

I am grateful for teachers, professors and life guides that have helped me out along the way. I have not always been the most teachable or most willing student. But thanks anyway! Erik J., Mark W., Mr. Kirk, Mr. Bentley, Mrs. Seilo, Ken L., Dr. Stein, Sr Luis Rivera Pagan. And countless others who have contributed to my learning and growing over the years.

And thanks today to Coach Turtle, Coach Wojtek, Coach Mike and their coaches and Professors. I feel confident that I am in a line of great learners and teachers in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I stand on a strong foundation of ethic and belief in my life. I am grateful for the community that raised me. I am certain I am building a strong foundation for my future studying this art. And for that I have great teachers to walk alongside each day on the mats. Thanks Coaches!

Gracie Barra is Gracious and Kind

My last post was about a visit to a well known BJJ gym, Atos in San Diego. It was great. And as I shared meeting Andre Galvao was a highlight.

Last night I drove up to San Clemente, CA on my way to Palm Springs to meet my family for a week of vacation. I stopped in San Clemente to train at the Gracie Barra there. My Coach, Mike Leonardi said if I got a chance to go there it would be a great experience. He was not joking! I got to the gym early, mostly because I had exhausted all that San Clemente had to offer. It is beautiful. The beach and the hills are spectacular. But I was there to do some Jiu Jitsu. Also- earlier in the day I was reading and writing some for preparation to teach in our Confirmation experience next year. I was at an unnamed large chain coffee shop, based in my home territory of Western Washington. After I finished my Grande nonfat peppermint mocha at said unnamed large green lettered coffee shop I guess I fell asleep in their comfy chair. I promise the book I was reading was great! But fatigue overcame me. I was jolted awake by the 20-something manager kicking my leg. Seriously. He kicked me hard enough to jolt me awake. He then announced loud enough to the whole Starbucks, oops. I wasn’t going to say where I was… he announced that sleeping was prohibited and that I would have to leave. Wow. I stubbornly stayed a while longer. They guy next to me seemed to be on my side then said, “I guess their coffee isn’t very strong.” While pointing to my mocha cup. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. Then gathered my things and left. It was a first. I’d never been booted from a public place before. I had a flood of thoughts. Maybe they have a lot of sleepers? Maybe there is a new corporate policy that comes down hard on patrons slumber? Maybe my 7 days growth of facial hair and size made me resemble a scary, native homeless person and I was harshing the experience for folks? Either way the manager managed and I left.

Fast forward a couple of hours. I got to the gym and walked in. It was a beautiful place. It was large and bright and had a familiar smell of cleaning agent, sweat and fabric softener. There was a kids program going on and I watched for a while. It was their kids competitive team practice and I was amazed! I immediately envisioned my daughters with the confidence and poise that these little warriors had. I was greeted by a couple of folks and one of the coaches. I think he was checking me out to see if I was just casing the joint. But when I told him I was there to train at the later class he shook my hand and welcomed me and showed me around.

As I sat watching the lead coach, who I noticed as professor Felipe Guedes, the school owner and Gracie Barra director noticed me and came across the gym and asked if I was David. We had corresponded and my coach had set up my training with them. I went to shake his hand and he moved past that distant and unknowing gesture to greet me with a hug. A hug. It makes me a bit emotional to even write that. It was simple and seemed even normal in that place. But that hug was powerful to me. It was genuine and authentic and it spoke the words I had heard my coaches and professor Almeida talk about before. This is a brotherhood. We are a family and we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. And if we are humble and hardworking enough to live into it, it will change our lives for the better.

San Clemente booted me out of a public place and also welcomed me into a family. I am grateful for this journey as it is changing me. I described it to my boys last week like this: it has unlocked something in me. Each day I am living more into the freedom that God has given to me. And I understand myself and my path more because of it.

Gratitude today. For my coaches. My training partners. My wife and kids for letting me out to train. For my church for supporting me to study and learn. For Gracie Barra and prof. Guedes. And to God.

Welcomed. Hospitality As a Way of Life

I have not done jiu jitsu long enough to have it influence my “Bucket List”. In fact, I don’t really do bucket lists. If I did though…I am pretty sure yesterday I would have filled a bucket. I had the opportunity to train at Andre Galvao’s Atos BJJ in San Diego.

I am out in San Diego on a study leave and retreat. I am reading and thinking and praying through what it means to walk with young people in their spiritual formation and how the long held practice of Confirmation fits in. I did this in the context of gathering with 3 of my best friends for retreat. These guys and I are all connected through the journeys of our lives over the past 25 years. We’ve all served at camp, been in bible studies, led worship, led in churches and wondered how to raise our kids well. That last thing has stuck with me after our conversation on how to share our deepest beliefs with our children. We may not have solved the problems of the world but we sure encouraged each other to keep living with purpose and hope for the young people in our lives. We will protect them and nurture them the very best we can. Because we are broken people, struggling and finding wholeness in different ways. As I work today writing out the schedule for my church’s education, mission and formation for next year and work on our curriculum I am deeply informed by own experiences this week. They represent what has been present in my life and nurtured my faith. Connection with people who supported me, helped my have a safe place as my identity cane together and challenged me to take steps the may have been risky to grow and live into my beliefs.

These guys are still speaking that reality into my life and I am eternally grateful. They have listened to me, both my endless external processing, but also to any wisdom I may have shared. They have kept me sane-literally, when I’ve been depressed or hopeless, they have reminded me I’m not alone and I have a tribe. I am still a pastor because I believe in what God is doing in this world. I see it all over the place but it takes a toll on me and my family. Theses guys help pay that toll.

So, I spent 5 days with guys I’d call brothers. And I am full.

And then I also spent 2 hours with complete strangers and felt welcomed as if I was a well known member. I rolled in the 7:30 class on Tuesday at Atos BJJ in San Diego. I was interested in training at a different gym to kind of test out and see if the camaraderie I experience at GB Princeton is unique. It remains unique but it is also shared. I was really nervous and kind of cold called Andre Galvao through Instagram. He responded and welcomed me to try out the gym. So I signed up and showed up. The class was great. Challenging and instructive. We learned some guard techniques. Which was great because I have self-identified that I am terrible and tentative from my guard. And we did 4 rounds of live rolling. I rolled with a really technical blue belt, a really strong and big white belt, an inexperienced white belt and a legit black belt. It was amazing! All different but I learned in all encounters. At the end of class I talked with some of the others and felt a warmth that solidified to me that BJJ universally draws and creates a culture of warmth and acceptance. And the day ended with a highlight. Before the trip, I learned that Andre Galvao would be out of town in Abu Dhabi when I was there. But when I came out of the dressing room, I almost bumped into him! He welcomed me with a big hug and remembered our conversations. His warmth and humility were so apparent. Andre has a bible verse -Ephesians 6:10 on the logo on the wall of his gym. It speaks of the Lord’s strength and our power in that strength. I witnessed that power yesterday. Andre is powerful- like completely ripped! I thought his rash guard might split at the seams. But he displays the power of his faith truly as it is supposed to be shown. With complete humility, grace and hospitality. I am completely blessed to have lifelong friends who sharpen me like iron. And I am completely blessed to have met brand new brothers and sisters on the mats at Atos.