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.

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.