Saturday, September 2, 2017

Breaking the curse

You have no time, my friend, no time. None of us have time. 
Don't just agree with me. Act upon it. 
What I recommend you to do is to notice that we do not have any assurance that our lives will go on indefinitely. 
Change comes suddenly and unexpectedly, and so does death. 
There are some people who are very careful about the nature of their acts. 
Their happiness is to act with the full knowledge that they don't have time; therefore, their acts have a peculiar power.
- Don Juan Matus (Castaneda)

I believe this, that fairy tales are true...

I'm getting to the end of this blog. I never meant for it to be about me, or maybe I did, I don't know. At the end of the day, we all experience the world - and jiu-jitsu -  through the filter of our own being.

It has been my hope that maybe somebody can relate to some of the things I have talked about. Jiu-jitsu is a way to connect to other people, and talking about jiu-jitsu is another way to connect, and disagreeing with people is yet another way to connect. Just like kissing is a way to connect and fighting is a way to connect, and maybe fighting is an even more intimate way of connecting than kissing, if you think about it. Not that I have anything but a very vague recollection of what kissing is like, but I hear it's fun, although not as fun as jiu-jitsu. So if you agree, or if you disagree, in some way, we are connecting, and in this crazy isolated world, I think that's a good thing.

But I have one last thing to say before I go.

I started training jiu-jitsu almost 9 years ago. At that time my life was in turmoil. My health had come crashing down, and I left everything in California, my apartment, my car, what passed as my life, and came slinking back to Ohio with my tail between my legs.

I had been diagnosed with chronic Lyme and a few other tick borne diseases. During the time I was sick, somebody cloned my ATM and cleaned out my account. The money went in daily withdrawals of 600 euro, i.e. about 1000 USD, in Vegas. It was all the money I got from the sale of my house in Rome, and I never got it back.

Got bugs? Welcome to Lyme Disease

It took me a long time to heal. Years, in fact, and I still don't feel the same as before.

Jiu-jitsu has been a huge part of my healing adventure. It's customary to call jiu-jitsu a "journey," and we call healing by the same name, along with other names, like process, for one. But if the word "journey" has a sort of sedate, well-planned ring to it, and process just sounds like a lab experiment, I think adventure expresses it better. At least for me.

Because with a journey, you pretty much know where you're going and when you're coming back. With an adventure, it's whatever. And that's pretty much how it's been - in my health, my life, and my jiu-jitsu.

And I get that this is where you and I differ. I look around me and I see people who have gone from white to black in the same academy, with the same instructor, people who have been married to the same person for decades, who have had the same job for eons, people to whom weird and crazy shit doesn't happen.

And I think, Why them? Why not me? What have I done, or not done, to have such a crazy ride?

I'm sure some of the stuff that has happened to me in my life is my fault, or at least, under my control to some extent. But a lot of it has just been batshit out of the blue when you didn't even know there were any bats.

I mean, the thing with Lyme Disease, I was living in California. Who gets Lyme in California? But my doctor said she thinks you can get it young and it can lie dormant, and I do remember getting bullseye rashes when I was 11, but nobody knew they were bullseye rashes. They were just these huge infected things. Parents at the time said, "Wow, that's weird, have some more flat ginger ale and go play in the woods." Because we spent a lot of time in the woods and our parents used to regularly check our heads for ticks and burn them off with a spent match. That was just normal.

And the thing with the ATM, once again, it was a fluke. Granted, it didn't help that I was a technophobe, but you know, if it hadn't happened right when I got sick, things would have been different. I realized later how it happened. It was at JFK airport on the way back from Italy. I went to use the ATM and there was a guy standing there, and I asked him if he was in line, and he said No, go ahead. And now I know that it was him, but it doesn't do me any good to know that now.

And other things too, I mean, they weren't really my fault. I met this guy who I really thought was the love of my life, and he thought so too, and three weeks after we met he texted me that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, and I texted back that we could start with a week's vacation in the summer, and he didn't text me back and I thought he was mad, but actually he was dead. I still don't really know why. His relatives told me it was a heart attack, but I still don't really know, and I didn't go to the funeral, because honestly, we hadn't known each other that long, and what's the point of going to the funeral of the love of your life? I mean who does that kind of shit happen to? Me.


But anyway this isn't a poor me post. If it sounds like it, I apologize, because that's not what I'm trying to say.

What I'm trying to say is:  Life is epic.

Life is a fairy tale, or actually a zillion fairy tales all jumbled up, it's a spider's web of intertwined fairy tales, and your task, your mission, whether or not you decide to accept it, is to figure out which fairy tale you happen to be in and get to the happy ending, and make it snappy. Because there's another fairy tale waiting for you just around the corner.

Because one thing I learned last weekend at Master Worlds is that time matters. You can't go around acting like you have all the time in the world because you don't. This girl I ended up beating, basically by smooshing her, which I'm not particularly proud of but welcome to the Thunderdome, I was in a Brabo position, and just thinking about whether I wanted to finish with the hand or the foot, when the buzzer sounded. And the fact that I won by points didn't take away the sting of not having gotten to the submission, which her little remarks about how "You really wanted to submit me but you couldn't" didn't alleviate. And I don't know why women have such a hard time with the concept of sportsmanship but evidently they do.

My favorite submission

But back to life, once you realize that it is a fairy tale, that you are the hero, that all the crap that is being thrown at you is just dragons to kill, and curses to break, and evil to defeat, and handsome princes wandering around all willy-nilly looking for YOU and only you (for some unknown reason), then it gets easier. Because everything is easier when you know what you're dealing with.

Every challenge is just another dragon to kill

At the same time, the buzzer will sound, for you and for me and for everybody. Ask not for whom the buzzer sounds. It sounds for thee.

Anyway, competing in Master Worlds was not something I wanted to do, just like, if I had lived in the time when dragons roamed the earth, killing dragons would have been pretty low on my list. And there are a lot of reasons for that. First of all, it's really hard. You have to leave your comfort zone. You can't kill a dragon in your ivory tower, and I'm very fond of my ivory tower.

My ivory tower

I've had people ask me what the ivory tower is a reference to, and that's a fair question. The ivory tower is the tower the princess lives in. It's the tower where life can't get at her, in good or in bad. She is safe from evil but also safe from any handsome princes that may happen to be wandering around. She is safe from life.

Safe in the ivory tower

But you're not supposed to be safe from life. That's the point. Life begins where your ivory tower ends. On the other hand, life can be pretty uncomfortable. Love can be pretty uncomfortable. Jiu-jitsu can be pretty uncomfortable. And so you have to make this conscious decision to be uncomfortable, to come down from your ivory tower and to come off your high horse, and that is very hard.

Shortly before Master Worlds I had an epiphany, which was:

I don't have to do this.

Nobody had a gun to my head. I realized that competing in the Worlds was just a waste, of time, of money, and of energy. Among other things, I was alone in my division, and I didn't know if anybody would even show up for the absolute. Also I hate Vegas.

So I emailed Master Robson, and I told him that, unless he had any very strong objection, I had decided to withdraw from Worlds.  I did this knowing that Robson has a lot on his plate right now and that, in general, he's not a Do-this-Do-that kind of instructor. He'll tell you, once, quietly, what he thinks, about a particular position or whatever, but he's not going to yell and he's not going to nag. And I think that that is one of the things that I really treasure the most about Robson. He lets me make my own mistakes. He lets me do it my way.

He doesn't nag

We're all here for a different reason. I like to win as much as the next guy, but I don't want to win by being a puppet on a string. I don't want to win because my coach is better than your coach. I want to win because I figured it out myself. I want to win because I willed it.

And I figured that Master Robson would not have strong feelings either way, especially at this point in his life, and I was kind of right and kind of wrong because he eventually emailed me back and said, in the gentlest way possible: Go and have fun.

In reality, by the time I got the email back from Robson, I had already decided I was going to go through with it, not because I wanted to, but because I didn't want to. 

If that makes sense.

Fast forward to the day I flew to Vegas. I stopped in the airport chapel as I always do, and I prayed. I didn't pray to win the fight, or anything like that. I didn't pray for anything in particular. But I was feeling so lousy, so down, so hopeless, because it hasn't been an easy year, even compared to the last years which weren't easy either. And I just kind of closed my eyes and tried to open my heart.

Usually when I pray, I get an answer, and this time was no different. The answer I got was: It's not about winning. It's about learning to fly. That's what I gave you wings for. You came here to learn about limitations. Now it's time to transcend them.

After that, I felt immensely better. All the people who really meant well, who were telling me I was going to kill it, who were telling me I had to win, they were trying to help but they weren't helping. And I say this with love and with immense gratitude, because they really wanted to help.

But they don't know, nobody knows what the last ten years have been like. Up until then, I had always been a successful person. If I wanted something, I found a way to get it. But ever since my health crashed, my experience of life has been different. I had to learn about loss, and failure. I learned about victimhood. I learned about weakness. I learned, in a very conscious way, about fear, and depression, and despair. At a time in my life when I thought I had nothing anybody could possibly envy, I learned about the destructive power of envy and jealousy and gossip and hate. I had to learn to be ugly. I learned to be middle-aged. I started out life as the ugly duckling and I became a swan, just as the fairy tale promised. But the fairy tale never said I would have to go back to being an ugly duckling again. I didn't know how to deal with that and it hurt.

Back to ugly sucks

It still hurts. But what I learned is that nobody said it wouldn't hurt. Nobody said pain is a good reason to quit. Nobody said failure is a good reason to quit.

But it started to seem that everything I wanted would be permanently out of my reach. Bruno Bastos said, before last year's No Gi Worlds, Don't get used to losing. And he was right, in a way, but in another way, I have spent the last ten years getting used to losing. I had to.

Part of that has to do with my life and part of it has to do with jiu-jitsu. But the unfortunate thing, for me, was that all this losing, on and off the mat, had seeped into my soul, and I stopped thinking of winning as an option. I felt like I was under some kind of curse and I didn't know how to lift it.

But, since life is epic, it so happened that there was a huge solar eclipse the Monday before the Worlds, and I decided to rent Ladyhawke, which is my favorite eclipse-centric movie. And, spoiler alert, there was a curse, and the curse may or may not have been broken at the eclipse, I'm not telling, but anyway, as I sat in the airport chapel, it came to me: The curse is lifted.

And it was.

Ladyhawke eclipse scene

I didn't win the Worlds. I got silver. In a movie, or a fairy tale, I would have won double gold. I would have learned to fly.

But in my fairy tale, I didn't learn to fly. In my fairy tale, like Ladyhawke in the movie, I finally shook the jesses off my feet and I left them there, on the mat, in Vegas. In my fairy tale, which is the same as my life which is the same as my jiu-jitsu, I became finally free.

Take this job and shove it: Ladyhawke is free of the curse

In my fairy tale, the curse was broken. What's more, I broke it. I broke it with my will and with my faith.

The power of faith

I went to Vegas to claim the treasure that had been stolen and to lift the curse. In place of my bank account, Vegas gave me a gold for showing up and a silver for smooshing. In place of the curse, Vegas gave me mat burn.

It isn't enough. I didn't get my life back, or my health back, or my face back. I didn't get the submission. I didn't learn to fly.

On the other hand, I have all the time in the world to learn to fly, now that the curse is lifted. Or at least, until the buzzer sounds.

Next up on the to-do list

And she lived happily ever after....
Jiu-jitsu has no

Monday, July 3, 2017

The meaning of a patch

“If I were to be made a knight," said the Wart, staring dreamily into the fire, "I should insist on doing my vigil by myself, as Hob does with his hawks, and I should pray to God to let me encounter all the evil in the world in my own person, so that if I conquered there would be none left, and, if I were defeated, I would be the one to suffer for it."

from The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Shield of King Arthur Pendragon

When I first started training jiu-jitsu, I didn't know about patches. I didn't even know about teams. I didn't know about anything, actually, but that's kind of the white belt thing.

I just thought of Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a business, a service that was offered in exchange for money, like any other service.  I noticed my teammates had patches but I figured it was just for decoration.

You could say I should have known about patches and teams but the point is, I didn't. 

And nobody told me.

Part of it is about what we call "culture,"  which is simply the assumptions we make without knowing we're making them. 

It's about what's done and what's not done, what's ok and what's not ok in any given environment.

In jiu-jitsu academies, every gym has its own culture. In some gyms, you can only wear certain color gis. In some gyms they train hard and in some gyms they go light. In some gyms the guys go hard but the women are expected to go light. In some gyms, when you run up against another pair, lower belt rank moves. In other gyms, it's whatever. And it's all good until you step outside your home gym and you meet up with another culture, because chances are, you're going to get something wrong.

And nobody ever explains, just like nobody explained the patch to me, and I had to figure it out on my own.

Now, eight and a half years later, seeing people without a patch or with the wrong patch bothers me. I was present when somebody got promoted by Master Robson wearing a Gracie patch and it bugged me. On the other hand, I guarantee that guy had nothing but respect and admiration for Master Robson and if you asked that guy he would tell you that respect is not something you show, it's something you feel.

It's exactly what I would have said eight years ago. To be honest, that's probably what bothered me. Because I used to be that guy. But what I've learned, in the meantime, is that respect is also something you show. That's just the way it is. If Master Robson went to the trouble of becoming a legend, and founding an association, and creating a patch, then the least I can do is wear it.

But like so many other things in life, love and BJJ, I had to learn that lesson the hard way. I learned it by getting it wrong, by inadvertently offending a lot of people with my "Kumbayah let's all just love each other" attitude. I mean I still believe that's the ideal. Let's all just love one another and train.

I had to learn the hard way

But in life, love, and BJJ you will come to a time where you will have to make a choice. You can't have it all. You can't get married and also have total freedom. You can't eat crappy food and also look good in a bikini. And you can't get anywhere in Brazilian jiu-jitsu without a team, and what's more, it has to be the right team.

It took me a long time to figure out which team was right for me. When my first instructor quit, I was cast adrift on a sea of jiu-jitsu. I knew that in any direction I went, I would find land, but I wanted to find the right land. But while I was studying maps and saying eenie-meenie-minie-moe, my heart was steadily paddling in one direction and in one direction only, and that's how I washed up on the shores of RMNU. It wasn't my brain that got me here. It was my heart.

I don't know which way to go...

My heart was following a star and it still is. And that's what the patch means to me. It's my heart, and the star, and it's where hearts and stars come together to train jiu-jitsu. And I don't mean star like rockstar, even though Master Robson is obviously that, I mean the light that guides us in a particular direction, if not a destination. Because to have a destination it means that you will eventually stop. But if you have a direction you will never stop.

Direction vs. destination

And the patch, to me, is a person, and a place, and a direction, and a beating heart, and a guiding light. All those things.

But the patch also represents something else.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu attracts all kinds of people, and some of them, a lot of them, are awesome. They're your friends, your family, your support system. Even the people you barely know treat you like royalty when you visit their gym.  

On the other hand, Brazilian jiu-jitsu also attracts another kind of people, the insecure kind, and the way insecure people react when they feel something or someone threatening their egos is to attack. It can be a physical attack, an emotional attack, an attack to your reputation, or any other kind of attack. It can be a knee in the ear or a knife in the back, a nasty post on Facebook or a choke across your nose. And the attacks are always justified, in the minds of the insecure people, because you accidentally bumped into their egos and left a bruise.

I got to the point where I stopped wearing the patch because I was afraid it provided a target for these people to attack Master Robson through me, and maybe it does, but what I didn't realize was that Master Robson doesn't care about those people.

He said one time, with that little Mona Lisa smile of his, "We need the haters," and I think he really believes that.

He could give two fucks about the haters

The haters give him energy which he burns as if it were Biodiesel, which it kind of is. It's energy made out of other people's garbage.

All the time I was worrying about protecting Master Robson, Master Robson was protecting me. I just didn't know it. That patch isn't just a flimsy piece of yellow and black cloth. It's a shield against all the evil in the world. That's the deal.

Does it mean Master Robson is going to kill my dragons for me? Not necessarily. But I also haven't spent eight years on the mats so that somebody else can fight my battles, not even Master Robson. What RMNU gives me is the tools I need to fight my own battles and a shield against all the evil in the world; or at least, all the evil in jiu-jitsu.

A shield against all the evil in the world

But it's not just a shield against the evil outside. It's a shield against the evil inside.

The most dangerous attacker, the one who can hurt you the most, is yourself. For me, it has always been my own self-doubt, my belief that anybody who saw something bad in me must be smart and anyone who saw something good in me must be dumb - or blind. That's my enemy. And that's how the haters get to me. My heart is the leaker - the spy that tells the haters how to attack and when and where.

I thought if I didn't wear the patches I could fly under the radar, but it didn't work out that way. Because you can take the patch off your gi but you can't take the patch off your jiu-jitsu or your heart. I'm not saying I'm so awesome, by any means, but training with Robson Moura is inevitably going to take your jiu-jitsu to another level.

And because of that, the haters have multiplied like roaches in the dark.

But what I realized, what Master Robson told me, is that the haters don't count. Those people are all around us and they don't matter. Their only purpose is to teach you to protect yourself, at all times. To not indulge in a false sense of security. Their purpose, oddly enough, is to help you learn jiu-jtsu, because jiu-jitsu isn't just technique, it's defending yourself, at all times, from all kinds of attack, including attacks from the people you thought were your friends, and including the most dangerous attacks of all which are the ones that come from yourself.

And the patch is, quite simply, the shield that protects you from attack: attack from without and attack from within. The shield on your back is Master Robson's way of saying that he has your back. And mine too.

The roaches are always going to be there. They have existed for at least 300 million years and they're not going anywhere anytime soon. They thrive and multiply in the darkness of insecurity and mediocrity and entitlement.

You can't destroy the roaches and I can't destroy them and Jesus couldn't destroy them and Master Robson can't destroy them. On the other hand, you can't let the roaches take control of your heart. The way to keep the roaches away is to keep the lights burning, in your mind and in your heart and in your jiu-jitsu. Roaches don't like the light.

You can't fight all the evil in the world. All you can do is be the best you can possibly be, to live with honor and integrity, and train. Train light, train hard, but keep training and don't stop. You can't destroy the darkness, but you can shine your light into it, as bright as you can, and thereby keep the darkness, and the haters, at bay.

The patch doesn't mean that I think I'm Robson Moura just because it says Robson Moura on my back, and it also doesn't mean that I can't be friends with people from other associations, because I am. It means that I fight, literally and figuratively, behind the protection of Robson Moura's shield.

That's a pretty strong shield.

People have always told me that I'm tough, and maybe they're right, but not because of jiu-jitsu. I think God just made me tough so I could survive all the stuff life was going to throw at me. My ex-husband Tommaso said to me once: Yes, you are strong. But your strength is not in your body. It's in your mind.

I had a dream when I was very little that I was trying to climb out of a steep ravine. The walls were sheer and I didn't know how I was going to get out. But then I noticed that there were statues of Minnie and Mickey and Donald Duck on the ravine walls and I figured, in the dream, that I could drag myself up on the statues, like I did with the trees in the ravine by my house. But when I got to the statues they came alive and started to pinch me and I still remember the pain I felt in the dream. And that dream is pretty much how my life has been. The people I looked to for help have been the ones who hurt me the most. And maybe it's my fault, and maybe everybody feels that way. I don't know.

Trying to climb out of the ravine

The point is, I stopped hoping for anyone to help me. I stopped trying to be part of anything, because the pain of isolation is less than the pain of betrayal.

And then I found RMNU, or RMNU found me, whichever, anyway God hooked it up somehow, and I'm not alone anymore. And as tough as I am or think I am, Master Robson is tougher. As strong as I've had to be, the team is stronger. It's stronger than me, stronger than the fear, stronger than the haters, stronger than all the evil in the world.

And that's what the patch means. At least to me.

The power of the patch

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The rainbow IS the pot of gold; 6 years training with Robinho

RMNU Camp Tampa (with Shaolin in the white gi)

I don't want to become complacent in contentment so I'm constantly dissatisfied. - Ronda Rousey

Seminar, Grants MMA Toronto

It's been exactly six years since I first had the opportunity to train with Robson Moura, at a seminar at my now-defunct home gym, Dudu Barros Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

As I have previously described in other posts, I was simultaneously wowed and humbled by that experience. It was as if Master Robson opened a window into a world I did not even know existed.

Falling apart: My first Robson seminar 2011

My instructor at that time, Dudu Barros, was a teammate of Robson's from the days of the Nova Uniao Dream Team, and their games were not dissimilar. 

Dudu Barros was a child prodigy in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He began training at the age of 5 and was known throughout Brazil, as RMNU black belt Flavio "Viola" Kenup described him, as "Carlson Gracie's little baby." People like Xande Ribeiro recount watching Dudu's videos to learn. Just to give you some idea that Dudu is a legend in his own right. His jiu-jitsu is as free and slippery and unexpected as a killer whale frolicking in the sea. You have no idea what he's doing until you hear tapping and realize it's coming from you.

Watch Dudu fight (and hear his dad screaming "Ataca Duduuuu!") here:

Robson's game, too, is unexpected to say the least and in fact he described it on his Fusion dvd set as his "surprise game." But what Robson did for us that day in that seminar was to dissect a tiny section of his game to show the method behind the madness.

It was a revelation. We were used to being mystified and awed by Dudu's incredible jiu-jitsu. What was new was to see the behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of a high-level game. As Master Robson said that day, he likes to teach everything in what he calls a "flow," in other words, a sequence that is almost mathematical. If A, then B. If B, then C. If A-B, then D, and so on.

Robson Moura jiu-jitsu is not just a hodgepodge of random, if brilliant, moves. It is a system; or rather, it is a system of systems. Every move has a rationale and occupies its own proper place in a series of sequences that overlap and morph into other sequences.

You cannot direct a living system, you can only disturb it. - Francisco Varela

When I mentioned this to a black belt not long ago, he said, "I don't really do that. I just pick a move and go for it."

And with all due respect to that black belt, I think that's one of the many things that sets Robson apart from everybody else or at least, from most people. In other words, that's why it works. When you're pushing 300 lbs, you can make a lot of things work. When you're 5'4" and 135, you need to have a plan, and a couple dozen contingency plans. And that's what I feel is one of the most unique features of Robson's jiu-jitsu.

I don't know how many people know how video games work. I don't mean how to play them, I mean how they're programmed. My understanding - and admittedly this is the understanding of a person who still doesn't know how to use her smartphone - is that the way video games work is that they are programmed so that every step of the way, every possible move by the human player is foreseen and provided for.

Video game

And I have frequently reflected that Robson's game seems to function very much along the same lines. Every possible move by his opponent has a preprogrammed counter. At the same time, since it is impossible to predict every move, it seems that a space in Robson's brain has been reserved for "unforeseen circumstances," and that part of his brain takes over on the rare occasions an opponent manages to surprise him.

In other words, even the unforeseen circumstances are foreseen, accounted for, and preventatively neutralized.

In rereading this post, you would think that I am describing a boring game, but as everyone knows or should know, the opposite is the case. Robson Moura is widely considered one of the most exciting jiu-jitsu fighters in the history of the art.

Many people, myself included, can say jiu-jitsu has changed them. But how many people can say they have changed jiu-jitsu?

In my opinion, the answer is, Not that many. And Robson Moura is one of them. It's hard to quantify his effect on the art because the jiu-jitsu gene pool is in constant mutation. The second somebody does something cool, everybody is doing it, in a million different ways. And you need to be an archeologist, or something, to go back and figure out who did it first. But chances are, when you compare the blood and guts jiu-jitsu of the 90's to Robson's style of organized chaos, there's a good chance the one who did it first was Robson. 

People - especially large, out-of-shape people - like to attribute Robson's success to his athleticism, and there is no question that he is a phenomenal athlete.

He's a little bit athletic

But, speaking from the perspective of Robson's "number one stalker," I would say that what sets Robson apart, what makes his jiu-jitsu so otherworldly, is his mind. He's not just a super athlete drilling passes 50 million times. He's more like Captain Kirk boldly going where no jiu-jitsu has gone before. Where others zig, Robson zags. Where others struggle to think outside the box, Robson has no box. He had one but he threw it away (he hates clutter).

And that's what makes him different. 

Six years ago, I got a glimpse into a new world at a time when I wasn't looking for it. After my experience with Dudu, I had begun training with Ricardo Pires, who introduced me to the beauty of the top game and particularly, side control.

Ricardo Pires teaching the beauty of side control

At last, it was something I could understand. Pass the guard, take side, finish. Jiu-jitsu can be that simple and the knowledge that it could be that simple was a light in the fog that had enveloped my brain since I was first introduced to jiu-jitsu.

So the last thing I really wanted, as a blue belt who had seen the light of the top game - which, for the record, I still love and go to whenever humanly possible - was to meet Robson Moura. But, as we all know, life, and jiu-jitsu, do not always go according to plan. To paraphrase John Lennon, The bottom game is what happens when you're busy making plans to play top.

Not that it's really fair to just put Robson into the bottom game category. As Parrumphinha, Robson's once and future opponent, described him prior to their match at the BJJ Expo in whatever year that was, "He has everything." He's good on the top, he's good on the bottom. Recognized as one of the top guard passers of all times, Robson's guard is one of the most lethal in the art. As one Brazilian announcer put it years ago, "Passing Robinho's guard is the most difficult thing there is in all of jiu-jitsu."

Check out the BJJ Heroes list of All Time Best Guard Passers here:

Listen to what Robinho and Parrumpinha have to say about each other here:

But suffice it to say that just as I was seeing the light of the top game, I saw a rainbow on the horizon and that rainbow represented this new world called Robson Moura jiu-jitsu.

When you see a rainbow, the traditional thing to do is to follow it. According to legend, you will find a pot of gold at the end.

In reality, modern life is not rainbow-friendly. The magic we feel quickly gives rise to practical considerations and often we tell ourselves that "I'll get to the rainbow tomorrow."

But the problem with rainbows is they're not there tomorrow. Their expiration date is RIGHT NOW. And if you see a rainbow that appeals to you, the only way you can hope to catch up with it is to drop everything and run like hell.

And that's what I did.

For whatever reason, that rainbow hit me at the right time. I had no social life (still don't, for that matter!), no family obligations, and just enough disposable income to make it possible to follow my rainbow. 

For the record, I'm not rich. People have told me "I'm so lucky" to be able to train with Robson as much as I do, but I make my own luck because I make my own choices. I have a 12 year-old car. I don't have TV. I have no social life, which saves me a lot. My phone cost me 32 dollars on eBay. I don't eat out and I make my coffee at home. I don't go to bars. I don't go on vacation except to train. Even my gis are crappy. Basically, if I'm spending money, it's for food, taxes, or to train.

Even so, if the legend says you will find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I can say I easily spent a pot of gold following Robson around to seminars all over North America. And if my goal was to fully understand Robson's jiu-jitsu, then I failed.

On the other hand, when I mentioned to one of Robson's black belts that I feel like a failure because I still don't understand how Robson's mind works, his reply was:  Nobody does.

So at least I'm not alone.

Anyway, if decoding the enigma that is Robson's brain was my original goal, it has since been amended. After six years, all I can say is that I have lived in a different jiu-jitsu world, and it has been worth it. Worth every penny, every minute on the road, every mile on my car and on my body, every brain cramp. It has been worth living as a jiu-jitsu outlander because when I chose to follow Robson, that automatically put me on the outside everywhere I go, and now it's too late to go back in.

It's too late because the local gyms see me as an outsider and as kind as Robson has been to me, I don't live in Tampa and I don't fit in there either. But despite the awkwardness of being always on the outside looking in, I have no regrets and I wouldn't have it any other way. Because you can go from black-and-white to Technicolor, but you can't go from living in a rainbow to 50 shades of normal-jitsu. At least, I can't.

And if I could go back and unsee the rainbow, I wouldn't, and I think a big part of that is because I had already passed up way too many rainbows in my life by the time I met Robson. Because I thought it was the responsible thing to do, or the right thing to do, because I didn't want to disappoint people, because I was afraid that I would fail to find the pot of gold and even if I finally found it, maybe it would turn out to be Fool's gold and I would look like a fool.

And maybe that's why this time I was determined to follow the rainbow. I wanted to see it, I wanted to feel it, I wanted to know what it was like to make the rainbows. Because that's what Robson Moura jiu-jitsu is. That's the superpower it confers upon you, if you open your mind and your body and your heart to it. You can learn to make rainbows, too.

You can make rainbows too

And maybe my rainbows are little tiny baby rainbows, but they're real.

What Robson taught me, and what I mean by rainbows, is it doesn't have to be boring. Your jiu-jitsu doesn't have to be the same as everybody else's. You create your own reality and your reality can be as beautiful and as weird and as wonderful as you care to make it. It still happens that I'll go somewhere, like to a seminar or something, and somebody will explain the RIGHT way to play spider (your butt goes this way and your head goes that way), or somebody will reference the "no hands on the mat" rule, or something, and I'm like, Huh? Robson uses his feet and hands interchangeably, and he plays spider pretty much any way he feels like playing spider, and if you do anything unusual on the mat, he's not yelling about your butt being in the wrong place, he's looking at you to see if your mistake is something he can adapt to make a rainbow.

Robson Moura personifies the philosophy somebody shared with me in salsa dancing class years ago: "There are no mistakes. Just new moves."

And new is what it's all about. Not necessarily new moves, but a new you. As Rickson Gracie said at a seminar: I'm not here to give you new moves, but new feelings. If jiu-jitsu doesn't change you, and your strategies for handling adversity, and if you're just going to have the same jiu-jitsu as everybody else, and if you can't even make a rainbow, I mean really, what's the point?

And after six years training and studying and, as we jokingly say, stalking, six years in which I literally wore out a set of tires following this rainbow, years in which I grew old, or at least, middle-aged, that's all I have to show for it - a gi bag full of rainbows.

But you know what I realized as I was chasing my rainbow? That mythical place, inside and outside myself, at the end of the rainbow, that place where I was going to attain all knowledge of Robson Moura jiu-jitsu, that place where my hard work was going to be rewarded with some kind of Vulkan mind-meld where I would finally not only understand but be able to predict Robson's jiu-jitsu, that place where the jiu-jitsu pot of gold resides, that place doesn't exist.

The only thing that exists, the only thing that's real, the only pot of gold that matters, is the rainbow itself. And when you chase it, when you chase your dream, then you already won.

Elite BJJ Newark, Delaware

Degerberg Martial Arts, Chicago (photo courtesy of Lucila Espedido)

Seminar at Ronin Training Center, Columbus, OH

Seminar at Cutting Edge BJJ, Harrison, NJ
photo courtesy of Josef Manuel

Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

At rainbow's end the path leads home