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.

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.