Faces of Gracie Barra Princeton

Hi All. I thought I would do an ongoing series highlighting folks I have come to know through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This journey has been about deep connections physically, mentally, spiritually and relationally. So telling the story of someone like my friend Kyle is a window into why this is a great experience.

Kyle with Prof. Almeida

When I asked Kyle why he started this was his response,

“Age-39. Why I started?- There are SEVERAL reasons why, but if I had to be honest and pick one, it would be for the adversity it brings. I learned something about myself during wrestling in high school, it was that I needed the physical and mental exertion it provided in order to release built up frustrations and aggression that I had deep down inside me. I was always happier and more easy going when I was wrestling. Knowing this about myself and dreaming about being a “jiu jitsu guy” for years led me to the day I met Coach Turtle. What have I benefited? Again, too many things to choose from. Besides the outlet it provides for me, the physical and mental conditioning, confidence in myself, patience and understanding with others, I would say the two biggest for me would be, the friendship and commradery I have now with like minded, goal oriented, quality positive people and the opportunity for my son and I to share this journey ”

Kyle is an original member who goes all the way back to the Schafer’s days. He was one of the first guys I met after signing up. I have always appreciated Kyle for his tenacity and all in mentality with BJJ. He and I have rolled frequently and I have shared stories of him in my blog before. He is tall and thin and wiry. He has a wrestling background and it shows! If I had to give him a style it would be focused strength and self aware. He reminds me of Joao Miyao with his long strength and kinetic fast twitch style. He is a hand full. And I admit that I will often go into my Panda Jitsu smash mode just to be in safe positions with him! Kyle is also the first training partner I had doing No-Gi training. He subbed me 6 times in my first 6 minute roll. Thanks for the lessons.

Kyle is also a dad to two amazing boys and married to a a great woman. I don’t know his wife too well, but she supports her boys doing BJJ, so I know she has to be great!! His son is a leader in class and I love it when he is there. He is insightful and looks to help others learn and keep the standards of the mats!

When asked how BJJ has changed or informed him in life, here is Kyle’s insight-

“I’m different now because I’m happy. I am learning how to be happy and content with who I am and what I have instead of wishing and wanting all the time. I guess I have gained perspective. I lose that easily and jiu jitsu helps keep me centered.”

If that doesn’t get you off the couch and sign up at GB Princeton or North Princeton, you need to read it again!!

Kyle is one of the guys who has made GB Princeton feel like home to me. He is humble and hard working. I think about the blessing that BJJ is because I am not sure how I would have ever met Kyle without the community that GB Princeton has become.

Come on out to Gracie Barra Princeton and get to know someone great! Work hard alongside of someone and you will find yourself trusting them and respecting them. See you on the mats.

I’m Going to be Sore Anyway- Health and Jiu Jitsu

I Choose Soreness!!!

My hands are sore everyday. I am trying hard to teach or train at least 4 days a week at Gracie Barra Princeton and the soreness used to limit my training. Basically every joint in my body is sore…everyday. I have inflammation and hives that make life uncomfortable. That is why the concept of being comfortable being uncomfortable has been so life changing for me. I have an autoimmune disease that has a crapload of daily side effects. This is my reality. Someone asked me how I felt about it and my only honest answer is that it sucks. It sucks. It is aggravating and painful and discouraging. And there are many ways to deal with this reality. I could drink. I could eat. I could complain. I could take too much Advil. I could feel sorry for myself. Well, I’ve done all of these and none of them made me feel any better. So, I tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And it is working for me.

Hives on the hand…

I am still sore every day and I still get a lot of the same emotions. But, I also have discovered a lot of what BJJ offers. Community, fitness, empowerment, humility and something that I will take the rest of my life to learn proficiently.

I used to choose not to go to class if I was sore. Now I go. Because guess what?!? I’m going to be sore anyway. I might as well get sore doing something I love!! I am going to be sore- so I’m doing it my way. I get to choose soreness. I don’t have soreness put upon me by the weakness of my body or by some stupid disease.

I choose soreness!!!! It’s mine. And I’ve earned it. Gratitude- the powerful gift God has given me. Thank you BJJ for empowering me to make this choice.

Mollie Tibbetts, Violence and Women’s Equality- Be Safe Friends.

My wife’s alarm went off at 5:45 am this morning. I didn’t fall asleep until 11:45 last night, which is pretty late for me these days. I was pissed when I heard it because I knew it meant the treadmill that resides 3 feet from our bed and the house shaking rhythm of her tempo run were next.

I usually catch myself from getting angry at these early morning runs, mostly because I love my wife and think she is amazing. Her discipline to train for marathons, as a working professional and present mom is inspiring. When I had my exercise/competition epiphany a year ago and started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, her resolve and her running exploits were key.

Lately I have been doubly glad to hear the treadmill. After reading about Mollie Tibbetts in the news over the past month, the reality of Kristin’s safety has been a topic that runs through my mind. After reading the account of this young woman who just went for a run and ended up brutally murdered I asked Kristin if she ever feels vulnerable. She disclosed that she thinks about her terrain and the trails or routes she runs every time, with safety on her mind.

Here are some of my thoughts. I am very grateful for our friend Rob who does long runs with Kristin almost every week. He is the same Rob who helped me finish my last half marathon. Yes, he is our running guardian angel. Kristin ran 150 miles last month and every one she ran with Rob I felt safe and she did too. That is a gift!! And two. Kristin needs to take some women’s self defense at Gracie Barra Princeton.

This has been something she has warmed up to over this past year as I describe the empowerment of BJJ and learning techniques that mitigate size or speed in self defense situations. There is no magic potion or spell that will make sure you are safe all the time. But I have seen first hand how important and how possible it is to gain the understanding and the skills that come through training this martial art.

I have said that before my two daughters go to college I want them to have at least two years of BJJ training. Why? 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. More than that experience some sort of physical abuse. There is a power inequality in our culture and it is exploited regularly. The statistics are frightening and they are real. I am not sharing this to be alarmist. I just want our world to be a better place. In my sphere, I have a wife, two daughters, a mom, two sisters and countless other women that I care about. And now I have Mollie Tibbetts. Nameless and unknown to me a few months ago, but now I mourn for her and grieve with her loved ones.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not magic and it will not keep someone from ever experiencing violence. But, it does level the playing field and offers a vision of equality that humanity has not naturally achieved on its own. It allows for the possibility of a smaller, physically weaker person to at least establish a boundary and gain the distance that could save their life or protect their dignity.

This is a game changer. Think about every encounter a woman enters where culture and stigma have defined the narrative that she is less than. Every date. Every relationship. Every job interview. Every hotel room. Every board room. Every parking lot at night. Every alleyway. Every running trail.

I think BJJ empowers. I also think it transforms people. I want every male I know to join in this too. Because it exposes ego and the unique weaknesses that we all carry around with us. These broken deficits in our lives that can be healed or can be filled with negative expressions of masculine strength or violence.

In a world where women can walk into situations knowing that they are strong, have practiced effective and practical techniques and are supported by others, I envision statistics changing. 75 cents on the dollar changes. 1 in 6 changes. And the needle on our culture of violence changes.

I remember a lecture from my seminary days. Prof. Patrick Miller gave his final lesson in my Old Testament class at Princeton Theological Seminary. He described the scripture in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden with 3 encumbrances that would haunt humanity. 1-pain in childbirth. 2- Labor in the fields to provide for themselves food. 3-inequality between the male and the female. He gave great insight and background. How human ingenuity had partnered to overcome or mitigate the first two curses and were continuing toward addressing them. But the 3rd remained present. With the wisdom he had gathered near the end of his teaching career and as an expert in his field he shared this: the 3rd curse was untouched because it was about power and as humans we are so poor at sharing our power and living as equals. That the last encumbrance would be the easiest and require the least technology or innovation to overcome. But it remains. It remains because it takes choice and partnership and humility and a vision filled with belief in each other. It takes self control and self awareness. I think there is a window of opportunity that we have right now to lean into this inequality. To give it’s end to ourselves as a gift. #metoo? Not anymore!! #endviolence

Get out there and take a BJJ class!! Find a school or a gym where women are welcomed with equality. Call Michael Leonardi at Gracie Barra Princeton. (609)429-0142 or Gracie Barra Princeton

He will get you the info you need.

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.

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.

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.

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!