Aug 012012

origin-storiesA passing comment by a friend on Facebook reminded me of how I found BJJ.  I’m a superhero fan and have been for as long as I can remember.  I read comic books, watched the cartoons and loved the Christopher Reeves Superman movies almost as much as I loved Star Wars.  All of this means two things:  first, I microwaved spiders when I was little in the hopes that one would survive and become an irradiated spider which would then bite me and give me super powers… AND I love a good origin story.  In my defense, I was little and microwaves were a new invention.

I particularly enjoy the origins stories for the non-athletes with whom we all train.  BJJ is as diverse a group as I can imagine.  There are athletes and non-athletes, and it’s common to see people training from literally all walks of life.  I’ve trained with doctors, lawyers, a medical examiner, construction workers, cable guys, online web editors, teachers, and professional, full time MMA fighters.  And every one of them found BJJ in a different way.

So, what’s your origin story?  I’d love to hear it, and in return, I’ll share mine below for anyone who might be interested.

My story starts back in 1998 when I quit smoking after 14 years of the pack a day habit.  While that was undoubtedly good for me, I replaced the habit of smoking with an equally bad habit of eating, and ended up gaining a lot of weight.  This peaked in 2003, where I was somewhere in the range of 27 or 28% body fat, carrying a large gut, had high cholesterol, chronic back pain and was pre-diabetic.  In other words, I was pretty much like most of the other 32 year old guys in America.

When my kids showed a passing interest in martial arts, I thought it was great and we found our way into a small martial arts school in Kent, WA.  I trained for about three years at this school which was a mishmash of martial arts styles.  The owner of the school was a black belt in a martial arts style called Aam-Ka-Jutsu, but liked to mix in some grappling (and honestly, anything else he felt like teaching, whether he was qualified to do so or not).  I won’t go much into this school, which has long since closed.  The end result was that, in 2006, I was now 35, still grossly overweight, still had high cholesterol, still had chronic back pain and was, that’s right, still pre-diabetic.

For me, the turning point was when my kids did what kids are prone to do; they lost interest.  Fine with me.  Actually, I have to be honest.  The actual turning point for me was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever willingly done.  One of the last classes I attended at this school, the instructor had a small TV set up off to the side of the training area with the fight scene from the Matrix (video below).  It was the scene where Neo was being tested by Seraph.  Yeah.  So, I’m sure you know what happened next.  Our “martial arts” class went through and reconstructed the fight choreography.  I was embarrassed to be a part of this. We’d done some crazy stuff before, like “awareness” exercises where we would put on blind folds and throw bean bags at each other… but this was far and away the silliest.

The infamous “fight” scene from the Matrix.


So, the kids turned their attention to other things, and I was now liberated to find something that would suit me better.  But what?  At this school, my favorite part of the training was the grappling classes.  I had no idea what other styles were out there.  So, I cracked a beer one evening and did what anyone in 2006 would do.  I googled martial arts and started doing some research on the internet.  I started by looking for a Judo club in my area.  I knew just a little about Judo, and thought that this would fit the bill.  Truthfully, it probably would have.  I’ve never trained in Judo specifically, but I have a lot of respect for the art.

But that’s when I stumbled upon in June, 2006.  Now, Bullshido is almost like barely controlled chaos.  I was fascinated.  I learned new vocabulary words, like “McDojo.”  More importantly, I learned that EVERY SINGLE problem I had with my previous school was common.  The mandatory belt testings, the fees, the questionable practices, the entire thing.  I also discovered that there was a style of martial arts that was all about grappling, and that it was everything that my previous school wasn’t.  No belt testings, no additional fees… no shenanigans.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  I read through that site for most of the night and then I started looking for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school in my area.

I found Foster Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which was just a few minutes from my house, and actually vetted the school on Bullshido.  I won’t lie.  I had to work up some courage.  This was way outside my comfort zone.  It took months for me to actually go into the school and check it out.  Like most things, the concerns were completely baseless.  James was huge, but friendly and soft spoken and I ended up starting my training just a few days later, in November, 2006.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  I started this blog just a few weeks later, and have found that whenever I need some inspiration, I can go back and read some of my early posts.  I won’t ever be a world champion (or a superhero), but I have come a long way.  I’m not the same person I was in 2006, and I owe a lot of that to Coach Foster, all of the quality upper belts he’s trained (and who have in turn trained me) and the sport/art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Fast forward to present day, where I train primarily with Bing Crook, a brown belt under James Foster, but I remain a part of the Foster BJJ family at Phantom BJJ in Covington, WA.

So that’s it.  That’s my origin story.  Not quite the Amazing Spider Man (although I’m still holding out hope that I’ll stumble upon an irradiated spider some day).  That’s how an overweight, out of shape, 30-something year old who had never really participated in any organized sport in his life found his way into the combat sport of BJJ.

  6 Responses to “What’s your origin story?”

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    Hey Steve, this is a great post. I’m a huge fan of origin stories. So, here goes mine.

    I grew up in El Paso, TX. If you haven’t been there it no big deal, because there isn’t all that much there but dust and a ton of heat, and the Mexican border. Okay, so it’s kind of a cool place, once you’ve moved far enough away to look back on it fondly. So when I was a kid, about 4 years old, we had a next door neighbor that moved in and was obsessed with Bruce Lee. I mean, this kid had wall to wall Bruce posters and weapons all over the place and was constantly throwing kicks and punches all over the place. At the time, my older brother (whom I looked up to as little brothers do) was fascinated with this kid, he definitely looked up to him. So, I wanted to be like the neighbor. I wanted that Bruce Lee action in my life. The problem is that I was a rowdy kid. I was always getting into fights with other kids and my mom ran an in-home daycare so it was just bad business.

    One summer day, my aunt decided to take my brother and I and get out of the house, so we walked to a nearby $1 Theater and she let us each choose a movie. I chose Barry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. I’m sure you’ve seen it, the blacksploitation Kung Fu movie with Bruce Leroy and Sho’Nuff and the Glow? So when I came out of the theater, my little 5 year old ass was obsessed with martial arts. More than anything I was obsessed with Bruce Lee. There is a song from the movie soundtrack “The Rhythm of the Night” (this was back in 1985) that was pretty popular at the time, and every time I heard that song, like Pavlov’s dog foaming at the mouth, I would instantly start punching and kicking invisible assailants all over the place. I didn’t matter where we were. The grocery store. Family friends’ houses. Walking down the street. One time I got out of my seat in the car while we were on the freeway and jumped up punching and kicking like a maniac because the song came on. Imagine this chubby little kid that can’t hear one of the most popular songs of the time without a Tourettes-like frenzy of Kung Fu madness. And did this convince my mom to put me in martial arts classes? HELL NAH!

    What did it was a couple of years later. We were walking out of the neighborhood YMCA when my mom spotted a flyer that said “DOES YOUR CHILD NEED DISCIPLINE?” All bold letters and such. So, she picked it up. And that got me started in my actual training. I was eight years old. I’ve been training now for 24 years, and each day my love and understanding for the arts continues to grow. As for the Bruce Lee obsession, I recently became a Full Instructor of Jeet Kune Do/Jeet Kune Do Concepts under Sifu Keith Allan on the east coast in Providence, Rhode Island. I still continue to grow, and I’m looking to start seriously studying BJJ and Catch Wrestling to become a more well-rounded martial artist.

    And, in case you don’t remember that song, here you go:

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