Feb 282013

I read a lot about commitment on BJJ posts.  I see a lot of inspiring posts and posters suggesting that excellence is about prioritizing and that if you want to be successful, you figure out a way to make it happen.

I’m not going to lie.  That makes me feel kind of bad, because over the last several months (really, over a year), I’ve had a terrible time getting things together.  Many weeks, it’s just the three kids and me at home, as my wife travels frequently for work.  Two kids in high school and a pre-schooler keeps me on my toes.  My older kids are great.  They would be more than happy watching their younger sister for me while I go to class.   And the truth is, I don’t want to be THAT guy… the guy that comes to mind when people think about committing to training.  Or the guy who comes to mind when people talk about how many people disappear before they get to black belt.

But here’s what goes through my mind.  It’s very practical.  First, what’s for dinner?  My kids can cook, but that doesn’t mean that they will, and Lily will end up eating Mac n’Cheese or something like that for dinner.  The second, is the home work done?  Finally, after many other questions I get to the meat of the issue, which is where the parental guilt thing kicks in.  I don’t like the idea of my older kids raising my youngest.  It’s not their job, and I don’t think it’s fair.  This isn’t to say that I don’t leave them in charge.  I do, often.  It’s that, once it’s institutionalized, it’s becomes a primary role, instead of support.  If that makes any sense at all.

All of that said, Coach Bing said, “Bring Lily down to the school.  She’ll be fine.”  And I think we’re going to give that a shot.  I miss training regularly and I enjoy it when I go.  But, man, juggling my other obligations is rough.  I actually had every intention of packing Lily in the car and heading to class Wednesday, but found out after I got home that my son had a band concert that night.  He’s a great communicator, like all teenage boys.  So, class starts at 5:30 pm and I found out at about 4:45 pm that he had to be at the school in his tuxedo at 6:30 pm.  And he hadn’t eaten dinner, nor had he done his homework.

So, Friday…  the goal will be to pack Lily in the car and head to class.  We’ll see if I can make that happen.  I think I can… I think I can.

Other news:  Smoothie for today:

  • 1 1/2 bananas (Lily ate the other half)
  • 1 pear
  • 1 cup (about) of frozen fruit (strawberries/blueberries/blackberries)
  • 1 tbsp Hemp Protein
  • 1 tbsp flax seed
  • about 2 cups of broccoli
  • 2 hands full of spinach and arugula
  • almond milk (unsweetened and unflavored)

Turned out great.  The berries turned it from a bright green to a kind of purple color, but the taste is good.  The arugula actually gives it a kind of butter flavor which I like, but might be a matter of taste.

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 Bullshido.com 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.

Feb 222012

Went back to class on Monday.  It’s been a rough couple months.  I had the pneumonia, and then felt better, so I tried to get back to class a little too soon.  As a result, I didn’t give myself enough time to heal and ended up sliding back into another bout of bronchitis. 

So, two rounds of antibiotics and some prednisone as a kicker and I think I’m finally back among the living.  I woke up on Sunday and for the first time in what feels like forever, I had energy.  I felt like I was ready to GO.

I went down to Fosters BJJ in Kent for a referee meeting hosted by Jeff Bourgeois, the dude who runs the largest BJJ and Submission Grappling tournament in the Pac NW, the Revolution.  I knew I was on the mend, because we were reffing some practice matches and I was itching to get a gi on and get out on the mat.  That’s a good sign.

I was planning to wait until Wednesday, but pronounced myself healed and headed to class.  We worked on some De La Riva sweeps, which were pretty cool.  I also managed to hang pretty well in sparring.

The hardest part for me now is my wind.  My cardio has always been… let’s call it suspect.  But now, it doesn’t take much to really get me gulping for air.  But the good thing is that I can take a deep breath without triggering a coughing fit.  I got to roll with several guys including Brandon and big Aaron, another guy who looks like he’d be right at home on a Viking longship. 

I plan to head back tonight and, once again, I’ll try to ride that line between listening to my body and not overdoing it, but to also work hard.  We’ll see how that goes. 

Jan 302012

Pneumonia_cartoonWill need to take it easy.  While I’m definitely on the mend and the doctor says I’m fine to return to normal activities, I didn’t tell him that normal for me involves sparring.  But he also advised me to listen to my body and don’t overdo things. 

Yes.  I went to the doctor.  Probably about three days later than I should have, but I finally decided that my wife was right and I’m sick enough that I need some help getting better.  The diagnosis is pneumonia, and the antibiotics are helping tremendously.  I’m on day four of five right now, and my energy level is much improved.  My head is clear and I can think again.  It’s difficult to describe the feeling of… mushiness that I had, but I’m sure it’s something we’ve all felt at one time or another.

I’m a little concerned about the cough, still.  The doctor said that the cough could persist for several weeks.  Right now, I cough whenever I take a deep breath, so I suspect that when I do go back to class, I’ll need to stick to warm-ups and technique.  Sparring will depend upon how I’m doing at that point, but if anything, it will be light.

I’m REALLY pumped to get back to class. 

Jan 262012

I’m really excited to be training regularly again.  I had been diligently making two classes per week and was looking to bump that up to a routing of three classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Then the Snow Storm came, followed by the freezing rain and down went our power.

And now, after all of that, I have this really nasty cold.  I started feeling bad on Sunday and by Monday morning, I gave up at work and went home to bed.  Now, a few days later, I feel worse, if that’s possible.  My head is pounding and I can’t stop coughing.  I’m chugging Theraflu like it’s fruit punch, and I just can’t wait to feel better.

I’m going to give this through tomorrow, and if I don’t feel better by then, I’m going to go see what the doctor has to say.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying all of the videos that everyone’s posting.  Jason Scully has been killing YouTube with his terrific “8 minutes or less” videos.  Here’s the latest:

There’s also this one I picked up on Facebook.  It’s a compilation of some pretty damned spectacular takedowns from the Russian Nationals.

Enjoy and I’ll hopefully be feeling better and back on the mats soon.

Jan 102012

Bing Crook opened up Phantom BJJ, his Foster BJJ affiliate school, in Maple Valley a few months ago and it’s been excellent training consistently again.  As of right now, he only has two classes per week, but he’s working on adding a third, which would be AWESOME.

As it stands, technically, I’m starting to get my groove back… a little.  I was pretty much out for an entire year, from October 2010 to October 2011.   As I said, I didn’t exactly drop out completely, but I was extremely sporadic and as a result, I surely slipped somewhat in technique and definitely took several steps back with regards to conditioning.

The cold, hard truth is that I’m once again overweight.  A year of beer and Pick Quick burgers (best in the area and, sorry guys, but better than In and Out) and I was a solid 210 lbs in October.   The good news is that, while my cardio is still terrible and I’m making slow progress there, exercise and diet go hand in hand.  What I mean is that when I’m active, I want to eat better because I want to be able to exercise more.  It’s a positive cycle, and as of this morning, I weighed 201.5 lbs.  I’m going to work hard over the next few months to get back to my relatively stable weight of 180 – 185 lbs.  I felt good when I was there, and that’s where I need to be.   I’m on track to lose a healthy 3 or so lbs per month, which is great.

James Foster came out to the school yesterday and trained with us.  It was really good to see him, and I”m going to try and get down to Kent at least one day each week.  I’d like to get back to training 3 or 4 days per week.

Dec 172009

I came to some conclusions and made some decisions.   A few weeks back, I mentioned that I was going to work with a chiropractor that I trust.  Dr. Sean trains with us at my school and were it not for him, I would likely never consider chiropractic care as a viable option.  The only problem is that his office is deep in Tacoma.  So, while Dr. Sean would be my first choice, I’ve had to figure out how I can get the attention I need somewhere a little closer to home.

Fortunately, another guy at the school whom I’ve known for years recommended his chiropractor, who has an office much closer to my house, about halfway between where I live and the BJJ school.  I went to see him for the first time on Tuesday and my initial reaction was very positive.  

There were some definite things he did that I liked.  First, he was extremely cautious.  The first day, he didn’t do any kind of an adjustment.  Instead, he did some tests along the lines of, “Do this.  Does that hurt?  Any tingling or numbness?  Okay.  Do this.  Pain?”   He also took some x-rays and requested my MRI that was done a few years back from the hospital. 

Second, he did a lot of explaining.  He described my symptoms back to me, a good way to let me know that he’d been listening and understood what I was saying.  He then told me some common causes for my issues and explained how he works.  And then he sent me home no worse off than when I came in. 

All in all, a very good start.  I went in the next day, yesterday, to take a look at the x-rays and talk in more detail about what is going on, and he then did an adjustment.

Turns out I’m suffering from disc degeneration in my L5 vertebrae.  If you’d like to know more about it, here’s a nifty, interactive video I found.  The intarweb is awesome and the narrator even sounds like the guy who did the voiceover for the films we watched in biology class in school.  If you’re getting the impression that this isn’t entirely good news, you’re right.  It’s not.  As the chiropractor said yesterday, once the disc is gone, you can’t get it back.   According to the doc, I’m not at phase 2 yet, but I’m also well past phase 1… somewhere between the two.

What I need to do now, according to my new chiropractor, is keep what I have for as long as I can.  I am not anxious to find any kind of surgical solution to this problem for many reasons (although if you ask me when I’m suffering from muscle spasms, sciatica and the subsequent sleep deprivation, I’d agree to just about anything if you promised to make the pain stop).   A combination of everything I’ve been doing, plus regular chiropractic care, according to this chiropractor, will help maintain what disc I have left, help stabilize everything and keep me functioning as well as possible.  He said that this might mean never having surgery or maybe putting it off for 30 years… as opposed to 10 as I progress into phase II degeneration and on toward phase III.

So, not altogether good news.  I appreciate that he didn’t blow smoke up my behind.  He admitted that I might experience blow outs in my back… it’s just the nature of the beast.  Where my disc should be nice and puffy, my L5 disc is about a 1/4 of where it should be. 

In spite of all that, I went to class and had a good time.  I was a little sore toward the end of class, but after a little ice on the lower back and a good dinner, I felt great by bedtime.

Dec 022009

Cyborg I’m serious.  My back has let me down again and I’m done with it.  I’m ready to go into some mad scientist’s secret laboratory and undergo some painful surgery that replaces my skeleton with adamantium, or perhaps some combination of gyros and advanced cybertronics.  Hell, I’ll take $6 million worth of bionics.  Whatever. 

Wednesday, I went to class without a problem.  We rolled relatively light.  I had a great roll with Mark W, the kids’ coach, which I always enjoy a lot.  He and I match up well, enough to push me, but not overwhelm me. 

Thursday, I was a little stiff in my hip.  Nothing unusual, though.  I live with that pretty much all the time now.  I was in charge of the turkey, the gravy and the wine.  My wife pretty much took care of everything else… because she rocks like that.  My 12 year old daughter made pumpkin pie and pumpkin loaf for dessert.  I’ll have to take some time to write an entire post about how completely amazed I am with her passion and talent for baking and cooking.  Suffice to say that her pies were great… crust nice and flaky. 

Anyway, Thanksgiving day was fine.  I felt okay.  Still a little stiff, but as I said, nothing unusual.  Friday morning I woke up and went to yoga with my wife and daughter.  I didn’t overdo it at all.  Felt a little more tweaky Friday night.

Saturday morning, I woke up in a lot of pain.  So, I began icing my back.  Slept like hell that night and Sunday was in a lot of pain.  My right hip was on fire and my back was killing me.  Monday, I drove to work, although I’m not sure how.  I made it about 2 hours before I called the doctor.

backpainTwo days off work and I’m starting to feel better.  I slept last night, but it was drug assisted sleep, so not very restful.  Enough, though, that my mood is considerably better.  As usual, I’m a little depressed.  The conversation with the doctor was entirely without hope.

Doctor:  "So, what’s going on?"
Me:  "My back is killing me.  Look, Doc.  Here’s the deal.  I exercise more than most of America.  I have a strong core.  I have lost 40 lbs.  I want to figure out a way to break this cycle.  What can I do?"
Doctor:  "Well, unfortunately, there’s not a lot that you can do.  It sounds like you’re doing all of the right things."
Me:  "So, you’re telling me that I can just expect this to happen for the rest of my life?"
Doctor:  "Basically, yeah."


He actually said, "Welcome to the world of chronic back pain, along with millions of other people in America."  Well, if it’s all the same, I’ll pull out my member card from the Six Million Dollar Man Bionic Action Club (which I still have!) and go that route.

So, Dr. Sean, you were right and I was wrong.  I have a hangups with chiropractors, but I trust you and need to do something else.  Traditional medicine has failed me.  Unless I want to live with a cycle of pain, vicodin and flexeril, I need to do something different.  I’ll talk with you about it next time I see you, even if you weren’t man enough to wear the stache!  hehe.