How I Started Training BJJ
I began training Gracie Jiu Jitsu in June of 1997, with my friend, Eric.
While working in MotoPhoto, Eric had run into the future owner of a new school in our very own hometown, West Hartford, CT while developing pictures for him. He’d noticed Helio Gracie in a few of the pictures, and recognized him from the UFC.
At the time, the UFC was in its infancy, and we would watch it on his jerry-rigged cable box, and subsequently emulate it in “no-nut-shots, no-face-shots, anything else goes” brawling in our houses and yards.
Eric asked the customer about the pictures, and the man told him he was opening a school in a few weeks, and that we should come down.
The man was Jim Hughes, and the school was the first Gracie Jiu Jitsu affiliate school in CT, where some of the first BJJ that had ever been in CT would be found. This was the era in which Royce Gracie (then champion of UFC) was working with brother, Rorion, who had created the UFC, and begun this network of schools to meet the burgeoning demand for Gracie Jiu Jitsu (the art that was undefeated against all others in this new, public arena).
To have, by chance, met Jim before his school opened, and by kismet been able to be there on Day 1 was thrilling for Eric and I. At the time I was excited about what I’d learn, but today, I realize how lucky I was to be in at the ground floor, given what this sport has grown into.
Jim was only a blue belt, and taught what he knew, which was fundamentals. Students today often enjoy black belt instruction, and some might scoff at the thought of a blue belt running a school, but I remain grateful for my early training. Jim gave us an incredibly good grasp of fundamentals, with the depth we went into detail, and the repetitions we got. (As a teacher now, I realize that as a blue belt, Jim must have really been motivated to improve fast because Eric and I trained 7 times a week, and practiced with each other in between constantly.)
Jim always reminded us that, while he lead class, the Gracies were our teachers, not him, and that ours was a club to practice moves between trips to CA, or our instructors’ trips to CT. Within a relatively short period of time he had his longest-time students such as us lead class, from which I learned that instruction benefits the person describing moves at LEAST as much as the receiver. This was one of my early exposures to teaching, which has become a life passion of mine (I teach BJJ, guitar, and entrepreneurship classes today).
My Training Now
Fast forward to today, and I am a black belt, now under Pedro Sauer. Until 2011, I received all of my rank advancements from Royce Gracie, except for one stripe on my blue which I have the great honor of saying came from Helio Gracie after my 30-minute match at a Gracie National Tournament in Detroit circa 2000 impressed him enough to see that I was advanced.
I had a hiatus from BJJ for professional travel, and then injury, that kept me off the mat from 2004 until 2010, so will forevermore feel like I’m on a comeback, since most of my former peers and students surpassed my ability level, a handful having attained black belts before my return. It might make me work harder, although, with the number of BJJ addicts now, my near-daily training might be considered “average.”
In 2013, I (very amicably) changed instructors from Royce to Pedro Sauer. For the next few years I trained both at my friend (and Rob Kahn black belt) Jason Bell’s school, Gracie Farmington Valley, as well as my new primary home association, Bushido, under the coaching of Pedro Sauer black belt, Rob Magao.
In 2014 I received my brown belt from Master Sauer, and in June of 2016, I attained the goal I’d pursued for half of my adult life, when I received my black belt from Master Pedro Sauer.
With the black belt on the horizon, I had been laying the groundwork to open my own academy. One week after receiving the honor of black belt, I opened the doors at Plainville Martial Arts. It’s a 3500 square foot facility that, as of this day, I matted 700 square feet of, and rent the rest. The intention is to grow enough to fill the entire space, knock down walls, and run a large academy. In the first 6 months of the academy’s opening, we got up to about 40 students, through much hard work. I’ll continue to tell the story of the growth of the academy on this blog.
BJJ In A Relationship
I am part of a small demographic of guys who do jiu jitsu, whose significant others do jiu jitsu too. My now fiancee, Lisa, began practicing jiu jitsu about 8 months into our relationship, and training with her and teaching her has been a prominent feature in our relationship, and BJJ is a passion of hers now, too.
Some say working a job with your significant other is difficult because you have less time apart. The same people might say to keep your own interests and friends separate from one another. It’s true that BJJ is a getaway for many men from their significant others, and I have seen and heard about that since I started, for example, guys showing up in class who were “just going to pick up some milk” on Thanksgiving morning, etc.
I, for one, and ecstatic to report that I have someone who is, thankfully, just as passionate about jiu jitsu as I am, to practice, muse, and share thoughts about jiu jitsu with. We’ll often sit and watch videos, discuss training sessions afterwards, or research the techniques, history, or gossip of BJJ. In bed, while eating, during plays, and all the other times a guy might be secretly wishing he could be thinking and talking BJJ, I get to. I’m very grateful for it. I even proposed marriage to Lisa on the mat (video here).
There are complications from time to time, like when one of us is grumpy from a lackluster night of training; or when, as her primary coach, I push Lisa harder than is appreciated in a given moment; or when we notice that we relate too primarily about jiu jitsu, resulting in nights when the topic is not allowed, so we can remind ourselves we’re a guy and a girl, not just training pals. But we do have that venerable “best friends” thing on a deeper level because of BJJ, and it’s a great thing for us individually, and as a couple.
The topic of being in a BJJ couple will probably make a regular appearance on this blog. I hope to meet and hear from others in this situation on these thoughts.
Personal Development And BJJ
I am a big “personal development” person, as you might find many in the martial arts are. My self-evaluation occurs on a schedule more regular and rigorous than most, and that carries over into everything I do, including BJJ. I am an aficionado of people like Brian Tracy and Tony Robbins, and consume self-development literature and courses when I can, and have since being a teenager.
I believe very strongly that there are metaphors in the practice of jiu jitsu that one cannot help but eventually become conscious of, that make a practitioner a better person in total. A few of the most obvious include the ability to maintain a calm mind in the presence of chaos; to move around, rather than through, obstacles; to be gentle in the face of fury; and even to know when to accept defeat before you get hurt.
In such close contact with another person, practicing BJJ, I believe you learn everything about them. How a person behaves on the mat reflects how a person handles conflict, how they choose to impose their will on the world, how tense they are, how much fear drives them (maybe even how much they fear death?), their expectations regarding success and failure, their beliefs regarding their role in the world, as well as others’, and, of course, how they handle triumph and defeat.
It may be because of a conscious or unconscious recognition of the implications of jiu jitsu on personal development that most BJJ practitioners believe that everyone should do it.
The ideals in how we are taught to “be” on the mat reflect the ways I’d like to learn to consistently be as a person. (Perhaps when I say “we,” I should specify that I am in the lineage of Helio Gracie, who also often either hinted or outright espoused the philosophical implications of jiu jitsu and its place in an actualized individuals life.) Surely, I will reference these and related thoughts in future blogs, as well.
About This Blog
This blog is intended to be a warehouse for journalizing I might like to revisit later, in order to watch nascent thoughts and habits blossom into ways of being, to see my training develop over time, and to remind myself of techniques and revelations.
Sharing all of it with anyone who might relate is another benefit of the public medium, as is meeting other like-minded practitioners of BJJ.
If you are one, welcome, enjoy, and make yourself heard with comments or a message!
Great reading this and going down memory lane with you to the early Gracie Training Association days with Jim Hughes in that South Main St office building, then the move to West Hartford Center. I still remember bringing those mats from New Britain and up the stairs above the beauty salon in West Hartford Center. I can also relate to your taking time off due to health/injury reasons. This ACL-MCL tear at age 54 has been NO-JOKE. Sooner or later it happens to all of us. They surely help you come to realize your limitations. But we love GJJ and stay active while we can. Things like health, family, relationships, work obligations… always come first.Back then the move from Gracie Academy to Royce Gracie Network was hard for me. While I was still working for the PD my trips to Torrance for GRAPLE training became frequent, at that time Royce had a growing Network and he was VERY BUSY traveling, training for fights and teaching…The Gracie Academy was always there for me, on a good day you could find Rorion teaching or Caique or Jon Burke …the list is endless. It was the months in between trips that sucked. No matter where I went it was not even close to the same for me. I tried looking elsewhere and got much help from: Fabio Araujo, Marco Alvan those are some good guys I learned a bit from, most of all they were very welcoming. OK that enough for now. Good blog Greg.