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!

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.