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.

Embrace the Suck

A wise man once shared this. Ok. It was Kyle. And he said it about 10 minutes ago on instagram. But it captures a ton of what is awesome about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Today was my first time doing No Gi training. Basically wearing a rash guard and shorts. And it sucked. I was nervous. And I don’t do well when I am nervous. My anxiety and autoimmune issues kick in and I get hives and migraines. Not a ton of fun.

But as I have shared before the mats have become a safe place for me. And Thursday lunch crew is a very safe group. The first hurdle is wearing a tight shirt. For a big guy this is no fun. I picture Chris Farley’s “Fat man in a little coat” routine. Second hurdle. No Gi is really different. My strength was not as effective as Gi training and that left me exposed multiple times. I rolled two rounds. One with Kyle and one with Coach Turtle. I lost count, but I think I got tapped out 8 times in 12 minutes. That is kind of hard to do, unless you suck bad.

But I had a ton of fun and became more comfortable with the uncomfortable. The humility train was right on time and I am a regular commuter these days.

Thanks for the lessons. In BJJ there is only winning and learning. Oh. And bruising. There is a lot of bruising…

Some Technical Jiu Jitsu Things

This post is just going to be about some cool jiu jitsu I have learned lately.  Not a lot of reflection. But definitely a lot of learning!

Here are the coolest things I have learned over the past couple of weeks –

– Key Lock: So when you get to the mount, which is basically kneeling over your partner/opponent, you isolate their top positioned arm.  You push with straight arms down, making sure you have a C grip, not thumbs around.  This grip is not really intuitive to me yet, but I am working on it. Once you have the arm on the mat, you leave your left grip on the partner’s wrist, while weaving your right hand under their arm, between their bicep and the mat.  You grab your wrist with a C grip and slide their arm down toward their side.  If they don’t tap yet, you lift up with your right arm and they will tap soon!  Now, this was easy in drilling, and really hard in live training.  I was partnered with Big Mike so I literally could not push his arm over.  He showed me how to get more torque on his arm and with technique, I was finally able to get his wrist to the mat.  Once there, it worked like a charm.

– Tiger Tails with Big Mike: Noticing a theme…Big Mike.  Mike is a great guy who I train with fairly regularly.  I would describe him as a giant.  A giant who is really strong, more flexible than you would imagine and frighteningly quick for a guy his size (6’6″ – 265 lbs).  Yeah.  He is a beast.  We do this warmup exercise called “Tiger Tails”.  You put a piece of belt about a foot long in the back of your belt and then try and get your partners before he gets yours.  This is an enormous challenge.  Oh, and if your partner gets your tail, you do 10 quick pushups.  We did two, two minute rounds and I did 70 pushups.  The hardest thing was not defending Mike, or trying to pass his tentacle like arms.  Or even the pushups.  Although all of the above was really hard!!!  The most difficult thing was keeping my attitude and belief strong each time.  By the end, I felt like my mind had been defeated and that defeat was what has stuck with me all week.  I need to do 70 mind push ups…

– How to defend the triangle guard and choke: I have trained with Andre two times lately.  I like rolling with him.  He is more advanced than me, by quite a bit.  He is strong and technical.  The last two times I have trained with him, he has successfully tapped me with triangle chokes.  So, after this last time, I asked Coach Turtle to show me a couple of ways to get out or defend. Positioning is key.  And not losing my posture – which means to surrender my head so he can sink the choke in deep.  I practiced this a bit and unfortunately it was not magic.  It took a lot of work and patience to relax, breathe and work slowly to improve my position.  That is what makes it difficult.  But achievable.

I had a good week of training.  I rolled hard and learned a lot.  I employed the most important thing for me at this point, humility.  I tapped when I needed to and stopped when I was gassed.  And I learned more.  I am thinking a lot about how to relax when I get in dangerous positions.  How to be patient and technical.  I am grateful for Big Mike, Andre, Coach Turtle, Coach Wojtek, Coach Mike, Kyle, Felix, Lisa, Kyle, and all my other training partners.  I am thinking of the sport and looking forward to getting back on Tuesday!!

Have a great week!