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!

Gracie Barra Expansion

There is a new BJJ gym opening up in my area. I’m really excited to see the sport grow and be offered to more folks. Grace Barra North Princeton is set to open October 1, 2018!

There are some great deals as they look to build a base in the North Princeton, Kingston, Skillman area. Check it out.

Coach Wojtek is taking in the role of Head Instructor. We will miss him at GB Princeton for sure, but he will provide a rock solid base for great Jiu Jitsu instruction at the new school.

Feel free to hit me up if you have any questions.

1 Year

My first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class was August 5, 2017. What a gift it has been. I’ve made some new friends. I weigh 26 pounds less. I have tackled some challenges in my life with a new sense of empowerment and grace. My ego is healthier now than I can remember.

A gift. That is how I describe this BJJ journey.

Waiting Game

I have been out of the gym for a couple weeks traveling. I did get a chance to visit the Gracie Barra-Team Draculino gym in Tavros-Athens, Greece. It was a cool space with really welcoming and friendly guys. Professor Christos Markez showed me around. Another visit and another great impression made.

In Greece there is a profound sense of history. I love history. I majored in it in college and have always felt knowing history and knowing your story are really important things.

While in Greece leading a Footsteps of St. Paul tour, one stop we made was to visit the island of Crete. www.pennpres.org The ruins of the Minoan Civilization are at the Palace of Knossos. You know- the place where the labyrinth with the Minotaur was in Greek mythology. The ruins are around 4000 years old. I saw a lot of other amazing things filled with historical and theological wonder. Ephesus, where the apostle Paul engages with those worshipping Artemis with the Good News, Corinth, Delphi, Philippi. All amazing! With all the history there was a perspective of time that blew me away.

This sense of time struck me in two ways yesterday as I went to class for the first time since I returned stateside. One: I’m still impatiently waiting for my hand to heal. I really want to train and get rounds in and it is driving me nuts. Two: white belts are all impatient. I observed some live training after class yesterday. Our coaches and instructors take up positions and we rotate through in 5 or 6 minute rounds.

It is kind of funny to watch the inexperienced roll with the proficient. One partner goes 100 mph trying to implement that one skill they feel good with. Maybe they achieve a brief position of dominance but it quickly evaporates into Wojtek’s bear trap. The other waits and defends with simple, yet effective fundamentals. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. Coach Turtle is as calm as a Sunday nap waiting for the aggressive and amped up partner to simply wear out from white belt fury and lack of breathing. Watching Mike, Turtle and Wojtek roll is like watching water flow through a river, responding to their training partners with deliberate defenses and visionary setups.

Finding your proper place in time and space has occupied the human mind for centuries. People all over the ancient world traveled to the Oracles at Delphi to gain an edge and exert control. Usually without any real gains. The takeaway I’m grappling with is to patiently let it flow. Don’t look for shortcuts and don’t wear myself out for that fleeting sense of momentary control.

“I’ve waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit out of the miry clay.

I will sing a new song”

from Psalm 40

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.