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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh yeah. Baseball. I was number 17 to honor the Mariners’ 3rd baseman Jim Presley!
Number 80. Of course I was a huge Steve Largent fan…I also like my tough guy face.
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
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!