Learning and Teaching, Teaching and Learning

This week I started assisting in the kids classes at Gracie Barra Princeton. It was really fun to see kids take in the instruction from Coach Turtle and Coach Wojtek. And it was fun to offer what tips I could too.

I also learned a lot from seeing how each child learned differently. How you could say the same instruction to 3 different kids and they would all hear it slightly differently because they are different. Difference is a good thing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You develop your own style because you feel and react differently to each movement.

I also saw that some students both adults and kids-including myself, don’t listen very well. Distraction, focus and attention to the instructors and coaches varies for each student. This really makes a difference as you are learning something new. I am hoping to squeeze every ounce of knowledge from my coaches and training partners. So watching other students manage their different learning styles is informing me to be more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as a student. Nd preparing me better to enter the mat with more intention.

The mats are a rich place to learn. As an adult or a child we are all capable of gaining skills and knowledge. The great thing is in BJJ, in my experience at Gracie Barra Princeton, you get to learn within great mentoring relationships. I have developed a trust in my coaches and my training partners. And I am building trust in myself as a student, partner and coach.

So, another great week. Thanks to all who were a part of it. And thanks to Coach Mike, Coach Turtle, Coach Wojtek and all the kids and parents for trusting me to join them in their 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.

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.