On Feb 11, 2021 I received my Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) after about 16 years of combined training. As I reflect on the milestone, I realize how little an impact the physical moves mean in comparison to the mental gains that are seemingly ancillary when practicing. This blog is about what we actually learn in our Martial Arts journey, beyond cool ways to strangle people.
When I started training I was a huge pussy. I was 17 years old, a freshman in college and thought I was much tougher than I was. I do not only mean this physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. I was blissfully unaware of what I didn’t know, unconsciously incompetent of what life could provide. I got a wake up call by walking into an MMA gym.
I learned my first hard lesson boxing. I was training with what was an older man to me (which he was probably younger than I am now) and he clipped me, which spun me around. A switch went off, I went from training to pissed. I was going to knock this old guy out. I went at him, with all the anger I could use to artificially give me the courage to swing. Of course I missed him, he countered and dropped me to a knee.
Right then, on my knee, I learned that I couldn’t let my emotions get the best of me in stressful situations. As I sit here now I appreciate that anger, and all emotions have a place in life. That place is not captaining the ship. It will get you in trouble, and quick. This lesson has manifested all the way to my second career. One of the programs I run is at the House of Correction creating habitual ways to build the habit of being aware of your anger. How that initial lesson has woven itself into my life is unbelievable.
I don’t believe in regrets, but if I had to say one it would be the fact that I trained MMA for 7 months then not again for almost 4 years. The spirit of what I learned in that house/dojo of Dave Strasser planted the seed to the martial artist of life that I am currently creating.
My next stop on my martial arts path was with Henry Matamoros. In the Milwaukee BJJ community he is the Godfather. I found Henry’s because I switched to UWM and that easy credit was staring at me in the face. What a blessing in disguise. I learned a solid foundation of BJJ from Henry, a lot of which I teach today. I remember him saying in his Costa Rican accent, POSITION, TRANSITION, SUBMISSION. Three simple words that give you a pathway to success. Control your current POSITION in life while thinking about how you can TRANSITION into something better (a submission). If you try to skip steps and just go right into the submission, you will fail.
While at Henry’s, a dyed blond haired brown belt came back from Japan. This dude scared the shit out of me. I just remember him killing everyone on the mats, his reputation preceded him. I didn’t talk with him as I was too intimidated. I judged him. Little did I know I was being taught another lesson. DON'T JUDGE. That scary man ended up being the most influential person in my life over the past 16 years. He ended up being my Sensei Jon Friedland.
Jon was, and still is unapologetically on his own journey. A weird combination of respect for the tradition of martial arts and a hunger to write his own narrative in life. Over the years I have learned a lot of lessons from him, but one of the greatest ones was to have COURAGE to live the life that I desire. Not to let the perceived judgements of others ruin what your heart tells you to work towards.
As I became better at Jiu Jitsu, and the little MMA I did, I gained CONFIDENCE in other parts of my life. I felt comfortable talking to rich or powerful people because I knew that, in a life or death situation, I was the one that held the cards. It sounds silly but it helped with my nerves as a young business man.
Years went by and I started coaching BJJ. Coaching opened another level from me. It wasn’t just about if I could execute a move but if I could communicate it in a clear and concise way. Could I teach a person to execute the move even if they had different physical strengths or weaknesses? Could I explain nuances like a little shift in the hips that give more leverage. Could I run a class where people could feel safe to express themselves or forget about stress? Coaching BJJ for 9 years has helped develop my business, MyOdisee. I communicate and coach on the nuances of communication in business and in relationships. Without the method of BJJ I would never have understood the principle of good communication.
The more recent lessons that BJJ has opened for me is the idea that Knowledge is not Wisdom. While training in the beginning I would learn a move and where to use it. For example, an armbar can be done from guard. As I continued my journey I realize that the information I learned from the arm bar from guard can be used from mount, or even turtle. I originally started with the knowledge of how to do an arm bar and ended up with a principal that can be used almost anywhere. In life we can learn things, but without wisdom application of the knowledge is diminished.
Trying to write each nugget of wisdom I have gained from Jiu Jitsu is an impossible task. It is equivalent to trying to explain life before you knew any form of language. In fact, Jon often says BJJ is a beautiful language. A language not solely for communicating to other people, but a language for communicating with your higher self.
If you don’t train Jiu jitsu, try it. If you don’t like the premise, find your Jiu Jitsu. This is your wake up call. I love you all and look forward to amplifying the great wave.