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!

Are You Injured or Just Hurt? And the Power of Regret.

When I was younger and played sports it took me a long time to figure out the difference between being injured and being hurt.  When you play football, you will always be hurting in some way or another.  Unfortunately you run the risk of being injured too.  I broke my wrist, sprained my neck and tore ligaments on a few different occasions.  I was injury prone. I also tore my Achilles playing basketball.  This was a serious injury that took months to heal.  But I also did not really know how to play through pain nor understand the differences.  So, I quit. And that is where sports began to play a role in my identity and where regret had a place in my adult formation.

Quitting sports is something I regret.  I quit football after breaking my wrist my senior year.  I loved football and as I have looked back, I never really felt like I realized any potential I had.  I have thought from time to time, “what if I knew then, what I know now?”  I picked up basketball again when I was in seminary, playing intramurals and pick up ball with other students and guys in town.  I quit that too.  Mostly because of my schedule and my pride.  As an athlete, my greatest quality was never being the fastest or strongest, but I did try hard.  I was kind of a “Rudy” type.  I have always been bigger and a lunchbox, effort guy.  As I moved past 40, my hustle was of little use to me versus the 20 somethings I played basketball with. And my pride took any joy out of the sport for me.  I could no longer jump as high, no longer run as fast and that exposed my lack of talent and skill.

I also had a stint as a distance runner.  Talk about misplacing my athletic goals!!  I ran my last half marathon 2 and half years ago ( Over the years, I had run 6 up to that point).  My only goal was to finish and thanks to the loyal support of my friends Rob and Bobby I did!  My time was about 40 minutes slower than what I used to run the distance in.  I had a mixture of satisfaction and resignation.  I really was satisfied to have set a goal and accomplish it.  But I realized that I set the goal so low for me and I barely finished it!!  If not for Rob coming back after he finished 45 minutes earlier, I am not sure I would have crossed the line. Humble pie was the dish of the day.

As I have taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu after a 5 year hiatus from sports, I have recently experienced injury and pain.  I sprained both of my wrists and dislocated my finger.  When I read up on BJJ injuries, especially after 40, the blogs all say be prepared for your hands to take a beating and for Advil to be your best friend.  So, I am dealing with this. The funny thing is – the last thought in my head is to quit.  Yay!  I am not a quitter.  I am rewriting some of my athletic experience in my 40’s!  And this time around I am supported by a healthy ego and a more mature perspective.  My identity is no longer tied to my athletic accomplishments.  Mostly because I have realized that my identity is no longer tied to any of my accomplishments.  My character and reputation are and that is okay.  But, my core identity is secure and grounded.  And that is really nice.  It has freed me up to work hard to get better for the sake of the sport and to challenge myself.  And it has freed me up to enjoy it!

Regret used to be something that motivated me a great deal.  I never wanted to go back and be like the former versions of myself.  I feared the shame of failure and looking bad.  I am grateful I did not take up Jiu Jitsu in those former versions.  I think it may have taken the same form and just been another regretful activity from my past.  I am grateful that my grounded identity, my age and my humility have put me in a place to really enjoy the sport for what it is.  I am under no delusions of grandeur.  I do not fantasize becoming a world champion so that someone, somewhere might look at me with a different view than I look at myself.  Because I actually like the view I have of myself!  I am happy to be a mid-40’s dad who loves his family, finds meaning in his work and wants to find new challenges.

So, now, with pain in my wrists and hands, I tape up each time I train.  Each decision I make to step out on the mats is because I love what I am doing and it feels pure.  Yeah, sometimes, I like to think I am a badass, but I mostly end up laughing when that thought tries to capture my mind.  It usually gets cast aside as easily as Coach Turtle or Coach Wojtek sweeping me from my dominant position to an instant submission.  And I like that.  I don’t regret any moment I have had in Jiu Jitsu.  Even the moments when I am completely dominated by Big Mike or Tyler, or 145 lb Kyle tosses me over like I weigh 120 lbs less than him!  The growth of my ego and the health of my own understanding of my worth and identity have ushered me to a place where I can actually enjoy athletics.  Not use them for selfish gain.  For that I am grateful – a trait that is shared with my faith and my sport.  Another way these two ways of life are finding resonance.

The Mats are Like the World We Live In, but Also Really Different. The Mats Part II.

The Jiu Jitsu mats have pleasantly surprised me.  I expect things in life.  I have come to realize that I have very high expectations.  This perspective is informed by being a person of vision and that trait is informed by my faith.  I think God is making all things new and I look ahead to a time when things will be good.

And then I read the news.  Kids dying, people dying, people stealing from each, governments conspiring, celebrities cheating on each other, people buying zillion dollar homes, people starving.  The distance between this vision of wholeness and reality seems eternal.  That is one constant conflict I have as a person of faith.  All the things I hope for seem so far away that they lose any tangible quality.  This is a big picture view of the world.  I see goodness everyday. In the smile of my daughter, the laughter of friends and the beauty of creation.  But, I have this nagging suspicion that this kingdom of God thing is so far away that it may not even be real.

I expect people to be transformed.  Why can’t we end hunger in our world?  There are enough resources at our disposal that no child would go to bed hungry tonight.  But, reality check, millions will!!  That makes me sad and angry.

I expect transformed people to transform broken institutions.  Why do we live with an oppressive hierarchy of worth in our culture?  There is enough power to go around so that women would be paid the same as men.  There is enough power to go around that minorities could be treated with equality and the system would not collapse.  But, reality check, the oppressive hierarchy of our culture will continue to slot people on the ladder.  You are above so and so and below these others.  And we will play the game.  All the while the only thing this accomplishes is those higher on the ladder retain resources and distance is created between everyone

I see faith speaking life into these dead places of our culture.  Live connected to others, steward resources and work together.  Risk what you have to live into what could be.  Even reading that sounds so naïve.  Of course this won’t happen!!  So, why bother?

This is the spiral of thinking that drives me nuts (remember when I said I deal with anxiety, hives, etc…).  I don’t see any reconciliation between what could be and what is and that is a colossal failure. Especially in church institutions. Because I have the highest expectations for the one place that is supposed to be transcendent and live into the promises of eternity that Jesus spoke of.

So, in the midst of my philosophical, theological spiral, when I see glimpses of this alluded to wholeness happening, I am drawn to it like a moth to flame.  That takes me to the community I have seen developing around my Jiu Jitsu school.  I am not saying that Jiu Jitsu is the magic thing that will change the world. But there are masters, professors, teachers and coaches who do say that.  And the more I experience it as a way of life, the more I see validity in their thinking.

The mats are a place of expectation too.  You agree to do some things as you step on the mats.  You will wear the required uniform, you will practice what the instructors guide you in.  There is respect given to those who have gone before you and to those who are more accomplished.  But that respect is returned.  You are treated with respect because you have entered a culture of mutuality.  You bow to each other as a sign that I see you and acknowledge the sacrifice you are making right now to grow and develop and become a better version of yourself.  In my school, there are many different kinds of people.  Men and women practice together.  All different ethnicities, religions, ages, economic levels.  It is an incredibly diverse group, drawn together by individual motivations, but a corporate desire to grow and be the best version of self.  And when we are together, our instructors and coaches share with us the vision that Carlos Gracie, jr. had for Jiu Jitsu to be world wide and be an avenue of change.

I recently watched a podcast (Joe Rogan Experience #956) where director Guy Ritchie described why he loved Jiu Jitsu.  He could go to any city in the world where there was a school and enter with a sense of belonging.  And his celebrity was quickly brushed away when his skill and willingness to engage was displayed.  Radically different people could engage each other with mutuality and connect on levels that they could not find many other places in our world.

This is a glimpse of what I think God’s kingdom looks like.  Kingdom space will provide opportunity for people of all different backgrounds to come together to be the best versions of themselves.  People will be connected by the love that God has and the hope that our connections will draw up everyone into the circle of community that reflects the beauty of God’s creation. It is being included into something bigger out of life, and death than what we put into it.  I think that is a core human desire that our culture returns void on.

As a pastor, I wonder each day if this is really what the church is supposed to be like too!  A place where someone could walk in from any culture or place and feel welcomed with respect, but also with a certain level of hopeful expectation.  Enter with whole hearted welcome, but live up to, with great effort and commitment, what we are working so hard to accomplish in this world.

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Kingdom space – all are welcome!
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My church – Pennington Presbyterian. You are always welcome!

Human Flourishing On The Jiu Jitsu Mats

I was recently at a store where someone was cleaning.  I smelled the cleaner they were using and all of the sudden I began to feel good.  It was an immediate reaction and my mind tried to process why I had this feeling…what was it?  Oh!!  It was the same cleaner that is used at my Jiu Jitsu school and the smell of the freshly cleaned mats triggered my brain to respond with joy and happiness.  The mats and what they represent are having a profound and meaningful effect on me.  They are beginning to formulate values and represent beliefs that I see realized on them.  The Mats.

I have noticed that at Gracie Barra Princeton we are equal on the mats.  Not equal in skill, that’s for sure.  And there is a clearly defined hierarchy of belt levels.  But as humans, we are equal.  My coaches are three of the most respectful human beings I have met.  They speak of the way of life that Jiu Jitsu has offered them with gratitude and humility.  And that sets a culture for the place. They accept everyone who comes in, no matter what athletic abilities they possess.  Sure, it is a business, so they do benefit from that openness.  But I have grown to trust that these folks are not in it for the money.  There is something more important to them.  They want to advance a way of life that helps others flourish.

Out of a tangible commitment to others flourishing, this Jiu Jitsu school has become a haven of safety for many folks.  It is a place where people of many different religions, races, genders or economic levels gather.  You are welcomed with open arms (and then thrown to the ground…).  I love this place because I know that when I walk in, I am greeted and accepted as a person in all the wholeness of who I am – a Christian man, Native American, father, husband, pastor, 45 year old, couch warrior.  And I see others greeted the same way – Muslim, man, Latina woman, child, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, wealthy, just getting by, overworked, unemployed, African American, White, immigrant, Latino, Brazilian, mother, father, red hair, black hair, no hair, grey hair.  Jiu Jitsu sees all types and welcomes them to the place that I am learning as a safe place of equality. The mats.  I am coming to love the mats.

My faith, as described by theologian Miroslav Volf in his book A Public Faith, is a faith that is about human flourishing.  God and the people of God care about all the things that make humans flourish.  It is unfortunate that most of my conversations with people outside of the Christian faith have to do with apologizing or deconstructing the negative aspects of our tradition and history.  But at its core, we are about human flourishing.  We lift up that creation is good, humanity is created good, the earth is good!  And we are committed to the things that see humanity and creation flourish. When there is isolation, we will work to build friendship and community.  When someone suffers, we will celebrate what they have gained in their suffering.  When they suffer unjustly, we will stand with them and use what power we have to overcome.  We do this because in each other we see value and goodness.

Our culture does not exist with a sense of equality.  We are a fear based culture.  We live in hierarchy.  One person above another and under another.  This is a relentless and tiresome way of life.  It is not sustainable and it does not lend to human flourishing.  I see its wrath everywhere.  Students are burdened with too much activity and school because they are meeting the insatiable need to perform.  Adults work like crazy, fill the calendar and never really accomplish what is satisfying.  True rest is elusive and our sense of accomplishment is stolen by the need to move past whoever is on the next rung of the ladder above us or stay ahead of whoever is on the rung below.  This gives way for shortcuts, ethical dilemmas and escapism to creep in and find a place.  Cheating, substance use and abuse,  or ill treatment of co-workers.  All of these things happen because we are unable to see each other as equals, as human, and we lose our capability to connect.  When we choose this disconnected way of life.  All bets are off.  And the end result is rarely an enduring

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Gracie Barra Princeton Grand Opening
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My Coaches Mike, Turtle and Wojtek with Prof. Alemeida

happiness, joy or fulfillment.  It is usually emptiness, regret and bitterness.I love that I see tenets of my faith realized on the mats.  Equality and respect for human flourishing is resonating with me.  It is what inspires me to invite others to the mats.  Come and see! I have grown and gained.  I am flourishing!!  Try out this foreign way of life.  Learn how to view others as equal.  Suspend your ego for the sake of personal growth and the result is community, purpose and a new outlook!  These are all things I have  found in my walk of faith and it has been great to see them realized on the mats.  My hope for you is to flourish.  Faith and Jiu Jitsu are two places I have experienced that.  I would love to hear where you experience it!

Faith and Jiu Jitsu – The Journey Begins

Rev. David Hallgren – White Belt

I am in the middle of these two titles.  They are defining titles but they don’t capture all of who I am.  I am 45, father of two.  I’ve been married now for 20 years to an amazing partner and friend.  I am Native American.  I am a Husky (Go Dawgs).

I could go on with things that define me and tell my story.  But there will be other posts to tell those stories.  I am hoping to use this site to tell the story of who I am as I discover new ways to live life to its fullest.  The two titles above represent two ways of life that have unlocked mysteries, solved dilemmas and equipped me to be a better version of myself.  My Christian faith and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Faith – I grew up in a faith-filled family.  My mother raised my sisters and I to honor and respect God, go to church and live an authentic version of Christianity.  I have a different style of faith now in my adulthood than I did as a child.  I grew up in a Mennonite community that was rigid and strict, but full of love and support.  I am now a Presbyterian pastor and have what I would describe as a progressive, moderate theology.

Jiu Jitsu – When I turned 45 last summer, I realized that there were some things about my life I would like to change.  I was missing some key components that I had agency to add.  My daughters were involved in competitive gymnastics and I loved living vicariously through their experiences.  My wife is a pretty competitive distance runner.  And I liked to watch from the sidelines.  I have a history of athletics and have always loved football, basketball, running, skiing, etc.  But as I got further into my 30’s and 40’s my athletic connection was based more on the couch with a beer and some chips.  The result was an expanding waistline and an emptiness of feeling cutoff from a what used to be a large part of my life: competing.

I saw a Facebook advertisement for a local Gracie Barra school opening and I decided to check it out.

My first experience was horrible.  I put on my Gi -the kimono style robe, and was oriented to some basics by Coach Wojtek.  I had a tickle in my throat from the disinfectant used to clean the mats and my heart began to race.  I felt confined by the moves, which included some simple throws and chokes.  I started to panic and had to leave to go grab a drink of water.  I was almost to a point of hyperventilating.  I was SO uncomfortable.  I left that Saturday morning, signing up even though I half thought this may not be for me.

As I processed my first step into Jiu Jitsu, I contemplated my desires to be more fit, to find a place for me to fit in and a way to express meaning in life.

I went back a few more times and then got busy.  I went a month without attending any classes. Then, after making myself go back, I almost felt worse.  Each time feeling similarly to my first experience, uncomfortable, winded, way too out of shape and even embarrassed to be so inept.  It was at one of these first classes that the instructor said the words that captured me.

“Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable”

I realized I had fallen into the cultural trap of leveraging everything I am to be comfortable.  And the return on that investment was disappointing.  I deal with anxiety, hives, panic attacks and unhealthy addictions to food as a crutch.  These words were so counter cultural and I realized that they resonated with the hope of my faith.  My faith that so often resides in a yet to be realized hope, but still present hope.  Jiu Jitsu has become a very real way for me to realize some of the hopes that I yearn for in my faith.

Community, challenge, a way of life that equips me for the path instead of expecting the path to change for me.  It offers physical connection, learning and ethic.  and it offers discipline.  It is what I would describe as the perfect compliment to me – a faithful person.  My primary identity will probably never be Jiu Jitsu, but my primary identity as Christian was struggling and full of doubt.  Jiu Jitsu has been a key to me. Unlocking certain promises of faith that seemed so elusive to me before.

Not all of my posts will just be about Jiu Jitsu, or faith.  They might be technical or biblical or just what the hell my week looked like.

So, I will share points of this journey faith seeking understanding, jiu jitsu informing faith, struggles on the mats, struggles off the mats.  Hope, friendship, love, passion, identity, challenges, overcoming and triumph!!  Thanks for joining me.