Thursday, February 16, 2017

10 Things Ricardo Pires Taught Me

Josh Lasich, Master Ricardo, and son Victor Pires

It's easy to remember when I met Ricardo Pires. It was the first week in February 2010, the same week my father died. It was the usual bleak and blustery February day, Northeast Ohio's specialty. I attended the morning class.

At that time I was still a white belt. I found Ricardo Pires BJJ by accident while Googling for a seminar. 

Instead of a seminar, I found Ricardo. I didn't immediately recognize him, partly because the website pictures didn't show him with a February morning beard, partly because he spoke English without an accent. But mostly his attitude was all wrong. Wrong, I mean, for my expectations.

I was expecting "I am the Great Ricardo Pires" and I was more than a little terrified, since I am naturally shy and was at that time very conscious of my lowly white belt status. Instead, I met a guy in a simple white Fruit of the Loom t-shirt who greeted me pleasantly while straightening something on the wall.

He was tactful. When he had us line up by rank, I accidentally went to the wrong end because in my home academy, we didn't line up and I didn't know which side was the low side. Ricardo directed me to the correct end by saying, with a sunny smile that seemed devoid of mockery, "It's warmer down there."

Everybody called him Ricardo which seemed natural to me, because in my home academy we all called my instructor by his first name too. It wasn't until Ricardo's partner insisted on being called "Professor" that I even knew that was a thing, and I certainly never heard Ricardo correct anybody who called him by his first name.

Now that I've been in the game awhile, it bugs me to hear white belts yelling "Ricardo" or "Pedro" or "Robson" across the mat as if they were calling their dogs. But at the time, I did it too because I literally didn't know any better.

As Ricardo later told me:  "I don't want somebody to call me Professor, or Master or whatever, because I tell them to. If they call me that because they really feel it, then I like it. But I don't want people to feel like they have to call me that because of a sign on the wall."

And that's Ricardo Pires in a nutshell. But in a world where there are plenty of nuts in the nutshells, Ricardo is eminently sane, humble yet self-respecting, and usually cheerful.

When Pedro Sauer asked me years ago who I trained with, his face lit up with an almost incredulous smile.

"He's a good friend of mine," he said. "I knew him back in the day in Rio. He's a tough guy. And a funny guy."

I got the same enthusiastic reaction years later from Ricardo Liborio, who complimented me on my pronunciation of the name Ricardo. I thanked him without realizing until days later that of course, Ricardo was his name too. In my mind, there is only one Ricardo.

And I think it's the same for most of us Northeast Ohioans who had the chance to train with Ricardo for the all-too-brief time he spent in Cleveland. I am writing about my experience with Master Ricardo, not because I think it's unique, but because I think it's pretty typical. Typical, I mean, for Ricardo's students, not typical in the greater jiu-jitsusphere.

But I didn't know that back then. Since I was only a white belt when I met Ricardo, I felt like of course, all jiu-jitsu black belts must be smart, and funny, and humble, and really fucking good. I thought of Ricardo as the guardian of the portal to the real reality of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, where everyone and everything is awesome, and I thought that once you passed through that portal, there would be no going back.

Of course I was wrong. Not only was I sucked backwards through the magic portal the same day, the same hour that Ricardo gathered us all together to promote Mike Riedel and say goodbye, I've spent the better part of the past 8 years just trying to find that magic doorway again, let alone pass through it once more to that place in my jiu-jitsu journey where I was happy, and part of things, and where every day was a lesson in jiu-jitsu and an even greater lesson in life.

Back through the magic portal 😢💔

And if I can be a little personal - well, a lot personal - the tears are coming down as I write this, tears of pity for the person I was, who had yet to discover that not all black belts are like Ricardo. I thought that it was jiu-jitsu itself that gave him his mind and heart and I didn't understand that that's just Ricardo. There's one of him. Not two. We were blessed to have Ricardo with us for about the same amount of time it takes a comet to streak across the sky. 

And then we lost him. He went back to Brazil, and from there to Fort Lauderdale, and someone else is basking in his sunny smile. Lucky them.

And the pity I feel is not self-pity, it's pity for the person I was and who I no longer am, the person who had yet to embark on the sea of nutshells, the sometimes ugly realities of the jiu-jitsu journey where there are, let's face it, a lot of assholes in the nutshells ("A lot," said Robson Moura when I said the same thing to him.) It's the same pity I feel for the 10 year-old me who had yet to learn that not every man was handsome, and smart, and funny, and humble, and THERE, like my father and my stepfather, the me who still didn't know that women are mean and men are unreliable, and they disappear, out of your inbox and out of your life, for absolutely no good reason I have ever been able to ascertain.

Because let's face it, the jiu-jitsu journey is very much like the life journey, and the even more insidious love journey, and the same discoveries and heartbreaks you meet up with in your life, chances are you will find them on the mat. 

And if Ricardo's abrupt departure broke my heart along with a lot of other hearts, it feels, now, like a privilege to have had our collective heart broken by someone so unique who, among other things, gave all of us a very solid base in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Because yes, this is a touchy-feely kind of post, but I only get emotional about things that have value. Soppy Hallmark cards don't do it for me. I always look at the back and wish the person had just sent me a check for the 3.99 instead.

And that's why, with all his sunny smile and charm and humor, and all the fond memories I have of Ricardo, who accidentally started dancing when the Doobie Brothers came on the radio, and who moved with an entourage of family members and random Brazilians like a movie star, the main thing I remember about Ricardo is stored in my muscle memory, and not my all-too-fallible brain memory, and that's my jiu-jitsu. Because the core of my jiu-jitsu is the jiu-jitsu Master Ricardo taught me.

And it seems to be fairly effective. I'm not one of those people who think they're awesome. I think people think I do think that, just because I go everywhere and train everywhere, but it's the opposite. I'm just trying to get better. Even back in February 2010 when I met Ricardo, my motivation was that I sucked and I knew I sucked. I wasn't trying to not suck. Not sucking, at that point in my jiu-jitsu life, was too far out of my reach. I was trying to suck less.

And if I've succeeded at all in that endeavor, it's because of the jiu-jitsu that Ricardo helped me build. And if ever a black belt has earned his tuition money, it's Ricardo Pires when he was teaching jiu-jitsu challenged me the basics.

As my friend Gregg said, "He's going to end up paying you 135 bucks a month to stay home." When I told Ricardo that, he smiled and said, "Tell Gregg I'm thinking about it."

But if this is a touchy-feely kind of post, it's also true that Ricardo teaches a very touchy-feely kind of jiu-jitsu. It is quite simply a jiu-jitsu that you cannot see, you have to feel it.

Which doesn't mean it's the much-touted "invisible" jiu-jitsu, either, simply because Ricardo is not the kind of person to give his jiu-jitsu catchy nicknames. If you ask him if it's "invisible jiu-jitsu," I guarantee that he will look at you, smile with a smile that warms the room and takes away the sting, and say, "It's just jiu-jitsu." 

To Ricardo (at least, this is my impression), jiu-jitsu is not about visible vs. invisible, any more than music or love can be visible or invisible. Jiu-jitsu simply is, and all that which is, can be felt. That's his world. And if you can't feel it, and your opponent can't feel you, you're doing it wrong.

We needed Ricardo, I needed Ricardo, and not just to set the standard for what real jiu-jitsu is in Northeast Ohio, although of course that was part of it. Because yes, there was jiu-jitsu in Ohio, kind of, but Ricardo came here and showed everybody how it's done in the real world. Something as simple as how do you know you've passed the guard? You know you've passed the guard when you're chest to chest. Not when you're hovering in the air somewhere, not when you're in Starbucks sipping a latte, you've passed the guard when you're chest to chest and in the drills, if you didn't finish chest to chest, if you were a millimeter from the guy's chest, you lost and the other guy won. Period.

And you'd be surprised how many people don't know that.

We each needed Ricardo for our own reasons, I guess. I lost my father and gained a teacher, all in the same week. Thanks, God, you're a pal. And I think every one of Ricardo's students probably has a story to tell, and as I said, I'm telling my story not because I think I'm the exception, but because I'm the rule. With the catch being that when you've had the opportunity to train with Ricardo Pires, you become, automatically, the exception.

For those who have had the opportunity to train with Master Ricardo, this list should look familiar. For those who haven't yet had the opportunity, this list might give you a glimpse into the magic portal that some of us have had the good fortune to pass through.


1. DON'T GET THERE. "Ricardo, how do I get out of (whatever bad situation)?" Master Ricardo (big smile): Don't get there! This was Ricardo's leitmotiv during his time in Ohio and he himself always gave credit for it to his teacher, Carlson Gracie. The next step being, "But if I get there?" According to Master Ricardo, Master Carlson's answer to that was, "If you get there, pray. And when you pray, pray with faith!" In Northeast Ohio, "Don't get there" is a kind of secret code for initiates. If you say "Don't get there" on any mat in Northeast Ohio, you're almost guaranteed that someone will pop up and say, "Ricardo!" It's our version of "Open, Sesame!" to that magic portal that we seek.

2. KNOW YOUR WEAKNESS - AND BLOCK IT. Master Ricardo said this while talking about the takedown. He was saying, basically, that although the takedown is great if you can get it, if you're not great at takedowns, then maybe pulling guard isn't such a bad idea. This is typical of Master Ricardo's pragmatic approach and is one that is easy to apply to all areas of life, love, and BJJ. We all have weaknesses. That's the human condition. And we can choose to ignore them, and pretend they're not there (and then get tripped up by them at inconvenient times) or factor them into our game plan. The Oracle at Delphi famously said, "Know thyself." Master Ricardo would add, "And block thyself."

3. FIND A WAY AROUND. This is about how we approach obstacles. According to Master Ricardo, the American approach to obstacles is (tendentially) to try to knock them down. The Brazilian approach, on the other hand, which is arguably the Brazilian part of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is to find a way around the obstacle. "Why try to knock down the wall," said Ricardo, "when there's an open door a few feet away?" 

4. IF  YOU CONTROL YOURSELF, YOU CAN CONTROL THE SITUATION. Anybody who knows Master Ricardo even a little bit knows that control is his thing. When I asked him if he had ever been called a control freak, he got a little tense, said no, and then relaxed and said, "Actually my wife says that to me a lot." But Master Ricardo taught me about a kind of control that he calls "good control." In our society, in our relationships, in our world, it is normal to feel out of control, and part of that is we are led to believe that control is a bad thing. We respond by micromanaging piddly details that don't matter. We all have that friend who won't pick up the phone when you call them and who will wait 15 minutes and call you, just because of their secret control complex. Master Ricardo teaches an out-of-the-closet kind of control where you take control from the get-go and retain control until your goal is achieved. "For me," says Master Ricardo, "if I have a certain objective, it's just the easiest way to achieve it." But what happens if you can't control the situation? Surely some things will be out of your control? "If you control yourself," says Master Ricardo, "you can control the situation."

5. IN THE PASS AND IN YOUR LIFE, BEFORE YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING YOU NEED TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE COMING FROM. This statement is so profound that you just have to let it percolate. I carried it around with me for years before I really understood what Master Ricardo was talking about and I can't really explain it now except to say that where you are coming from is directly related to where you are going. They are two halves of the same whole. Specifically, Master Ricardo was referring to how he discovered when he was already in his 40's that he was the descendant of slaves, and of how proud he was to learn that. And it's interesting, to say the least, that having descended from people who had absolutely no control except the control they had over themselves, Master Ricardo has become a true master in the art of control, including but not limited to his phenomenal side control. And back to the pass, once again it's about seeing reality with your eyes open, not kidding yourself, and dealing with that reality with a certain goal in mind but also with realistic expectations.

6. IT'S IMPORTANT THAT EVERY INCH YOU GAIN, YOU KEEP. This is once again relating to the pass but also to real life and it came up because I asked Master Ricardo if his passing style had changed over the years and if he saw a parallel in his life. His response was "Absolutely" on both counts. Master Ricardo described how in his early days, his passing style was much more athletic, stand up, sit down, move around, because he knew he could. Whereas at the time we spoke, he already felt like when he was passing, he had a strong awareness that he was going to have one chance and he needed to make it count. He related that to his business life in the sense that although he is by nature a risk-taker, he is much more aware now of the risk-benefit ratio and less inclined to take "risky" risks.

7. RESPECT IS GIVING 100% EVERY TIME. Respect is one of those words that everybody uses, especially in the world of martial arts, but nobody ever defines. Master Ricardo's definition is indicative of how he trains and, I believe, how he lives. It's not about perfection - although Master Ricardo is an avowed perfectionist - it's about giving everything you have. His dojo was one of the few I've ever trained in where there was no "playing" jiu-jitsu vs. "fighting." There was just training. Hard. And although physically strenuous, I enjoyed the lack of ambiguity. Nobody went crying to the instructor to complain if you tapped them and if they did, they were probably greeted with a blank stare. When I told Master Ricardo years later that I had been reprimanded for not "helping" lower belts, he got a puzzled look on his face and said, "But tapping them is helping them."

8. THE FINISH IS ALWAYS THE SAME. HOW YOU GET THERE IS UP TO YOU. In a jiu-jitsu sense, this is fairly self-explanatory. I have to confess that this tends to come to my mind more in a real life kind of sense, and of course the first step, and maybe the last step, and certainly the hard step, is understanding what the finish is. When I asked Master Ricardo what the finish was in real life, he smiled and said, "Whatever you want it to be. Whatever your goal is." And then he asked me, because I had quoted this back to him some time after he said it, "Do you remember everything I say?"

9. THE ONLY TIME YOU REALLY FAIL IS WHEN YOU FAIL TO TRY. As obvious as this may seem, it took me years to finally internalize it and believe it. Because in my heart of hearts, I hate to lose. To the point that I'd rather not compete, I'd rather not try, and fortunately or unfortunately, there are always a lot of valid reasons to not try, whether we're talking about competition or jobs or dating or whatever. I can say in all modesty that alibis are my superpower. It took me 8 years to finally get up the nerve to compete in a tournament, and it was only then, when I got choked, in public, right off my takedown attempt, that I really understood what Master Ricardo meant. I lost, but I didn't fail. In fact, the courage it took, at 49, to compete in the adult division of an IBJJF event and to lose was the same courage it would have taken to fight and win, and possibly even more. It wasn't the kind of courage anyone is born with. It was quite simply the desperate last resort of a heart that had run out of alibis. And if you disagree, good for you, because I'm not living my life to meet your standards.

10. STAY IN THE GAME. I can't even remember in what context this came up originally, but I cited it recently in a Facebook post which I think does as good a job as any of illustrating the point.

Love is like the submission. You can't look for it because it will elude you. You can't take it by force because it will resist you. All you can do is train and live your life and be ready to recognize it when it does appear. And then let it give itself to you. 
And maybe the most important thing is what my teacher Master Ricardo Pires told me a long time ago:  Stay in the game, Deborah. Always stay in the game.

~ February 16, 2017. DM

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Learn how to kneel


There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. 
That will be the beginning.
 - Louis L'Amour

I came to jiu-jitsu just over 8 years ago. I had actually encountered jiu-jitsu for the first time in California in 2005, but I made the white belt mistake of getting involved with my black belt. So I quit jiu-jitsu and I promised myself I would never make that mistake again and I haven't. Because men are temporary but jiu-jitsu is forever.

I didn't come back to the mat until late in 2008.

By then my life had completely changed. I became seriously ill in California and moved back to Ohio. But by the end of 2008 I was just sick of being sick, and I decided I wanted to do some kind of martial art, and jiu-jitsu was the only thing I could do lying down.

At that time, I was just trying to do something to make myself feel alive. I had no idea jiu-jitsu would be a pathway back to health and back to life and back to myself. Because when you get sick - which I hope you never do - you lose yourself. You lose your identity. I looked in the mirror and I didn't even recognize myself.  My life was a wreck. And I saw no reason to think it would ever be better than that. I had been told I had an incurable disease, more than one. 

I thought I would be sick, and ugly, forever. And I accepted it, like you accept a lot of things when disaster strikes. When a tornado hits your house, or you lose someone you love, of course you're sad but that's your reality and you accept it pretty quickly. And that's how it was for me.

Actually I didn't accept it that quickly. I hated being sick because of what it said about me: LOSER. It was the humiliation I minded the most. I had always been pretty, and successful, and had boyfriends, and things had gone more or less my way in my adult life. My childhood was no joke but that was a long time ago.

And then everything was swept away and it was just me and I didn't know who me was. Because all those things, looks and a good body and success and boyfriends, those were things I had. It wasn't who I was. And it wasn't until I had nothing left but myself that I started to try and figure out who I was. It wasn't until I was ugly that I could appreciate the beauty I had inside, even if nobody could see it but me and God. It wasn't until I was alone that I could start to build a relationship with myself. It wasn't until I finally gave up on perfection that I could allow myself to be me.

And I did and I have.

This isn't the article I wanted to write. I wanted to write an article about jiu-jitsu and the transformation of the self. But the harder I tried to write it, the more it sucked, and that's because I was writing with my head and not my heart.

Recently, I talked to Robson Moura for the article I meant to write.

I was thinking about this thing that everybody says: Leave ego at the door. And I was thinking that sometimes jiu-jitsu is the place when the ego - meaning the sense of self -  finally gets a chance to be born. And that made me think of Robson, because even though he has a phenomenal athletic talent in pretty much everything, he was stuck, as a kid, in the favela, in a reality where he had literally no outlet for that talent except for playing soccer in the streets and dodging bullets.

And I wanted to know how that affected his self-esteem. Was he born knowing he would accomplish great things? Or did the mat act as a kind of magic carpet for his sense of self?

Where it all began

Me: Was jiu-jitsu the first time you experienced success? Or had you already experienced success in other athletic pursuits?

Robson Moura: Yes, it was the first time. I had played soccer in the streets, but that's all. Nothing serious. And when I came to jiu-jitsu it was an open door, not just away from my neighborhood, the reality that I was living in, but an open door on the world. It helped me get a high level of confidence. I knew I didn't have to fight people in the streets to feel good about myself.

Me: Recognition is so important for everyone. Did you experience that right away? Were people telling you how great you were?

Robson Moura:  I don't think I chose jiu-jitsu, I think jiu-jitsu chose me. I started training and competing right away, and I lost my first competition. I didn't feel good and I didn't feel bad. But when I won my first competition, I wanted to feel that more.

Me: But were you receiving recognition?

Robson Moura: I always had people telling me that, telling me I was going to be huge, but I couldn't see that then. I didn't start seeing that until I was maybe a green belt.

Me: You had to prove it to yourself.

Robson Moura: Exactly.

Me:  Did you ever start to get the feeling that no matter what happened, you were going to make it? With or without jiu-jitsu, did you start to think of yourself as a successful person?

Robson Moura: Yes, 100%. Jiu-jitsu helped my self-esteem a lot. I started to think of myself as successful, I started to learn about who I was.

Me: Did you ever think you might not make it in jiu-jitsu?

Robson Moura: No, I don't think I ever thought that.

If you look at Robson's story and my story, they couldn't be more different. At the same time, in a strange way, my story is a shadow version of Robson's. He came to jiu-jitsu at the age of 10; I came to jiu-jitsu when I was already in my 40's. He was surrounded on all sides by a wall of poverty; I was surrounded by a wall of disease. He thought his life would never begin; I thought my life was over.

He went on to become an 8 time world champ, a household name in jiu-jitsu, and all the things we know about him. I went on to become...myself. He went from the top of a favela to the top of every podium that matters, and I am right where I was at the beginning of this journey, in my home that I love, that I have never left, that I never want to leave (except sometimes in the winter).

My home

Every hero's journey is different and every hero's journey is the same. And a hero is just someone who, when faced with impossible odds, refuses to give up. Robson fought his way out of poverty and hopelessness to the status of living legend. I fought my way out of ill-health into wellness.

And although I am certainly not crazy enough to compare myself to Robson, if I had been offered, when I got sick, a choice between achieving everything he has achieved and getting well, I would have chosen getting well.

We are all different. We each have different tasks and a different path. I would not trade my life for anyone else's. On the other hand, I can grow and my life can grow. There are many things I have yet to experience in this life.

There are many challenges still to face. And the number one challenge, at least for me, is coming back to life. It was so hard to accept defeat, but I did accept it, because I had no choice. And now the challenge is to understand that I do have a choice.

As Bruno Bastos told me: "Don't get used to losing."

Bruno Bastos

I am not the same person I was 8 years ago. I think I am a better person, or at least a bigger person, and most of that I owe to jiu-jitsu. But now is the time for me to figure out who I am. It's time to reclaim my ego, the one I was told to leave at the door but didn't, because my ego was all I had. It's all anyone has. It's what gets you out of bed in the morning, it's what pushes you to succeed or at least try to succeed. It's what pushed me to get well. It's what pushed Robson to get out of the favela. And yes the ego pushes you to win, but it also pushes you to give everything you have and in so doing, make yourself vulnerable to loss. The ego is what transforms you and you are what transforms the ego. That's the way it should be.*

By accident, I seem to have gotten well. By accident, I seem to have written an article about jiu-jitsu and the transformation of the ego. And I'm curious to know where the next accident will lead me.

Disease taught me to kneel. It taught me that there are things that are bigger than me, and that bad things do happen to good people. But it also taught me that sometimes good things happen to good people, when good people try hard enough and sometimes even when they don't. Sometimes you have help. Not often, but sometimes.

But if disease taught me to kneel, jiu-jitsu taught me that kneeling doesn't mean the fight is over. It means the fight is beginning - with an opponent or with your destiny. In fact, it's a great time for a loop choke.

Jiu-jitsu taught me that a really bad position can turn into a really good position, but you have to make that happen. Nobody is going to do it for you. You have to try and never give up. If you want to win the war, you have to be prepared to lose a lot of battles and keep smiling.

You can touch the sky. But first you have to learn how to kneel.

Before you touch the sky
Better learn how to kneel


*N.B. When I cite the "ego," I mean the original definition of the word, which is the Self. "Ego" is simply the Latin word for "I." The word "ego" seems to have become synonymous with "exaggerated sense of self-importance." But that is not what I am talking about in this post.

Many thanks to Master Robson Moura for this interview. January 2017.

Friday, December 30, 2016

When people say "But you're not Robson"

6 years of Robson Moura jiu-jitsu

If you always put limits on everything you do, it will spread into your work and your life. There are no limits, only plateaus, and you must not stay there. 

You must go beyond them. - Bruce Lee

I don't have a home academy. I mean, I do, it's just 1100 miles away.

It wasn't always that way. I started training jiu-jitsu at an academy that was a 45 minute drive from my house. In all my time on the mats, I have never had to travel any less than that. Often it's more. But I never expected the jiu-jitsu journey to be easy, and it hasn't been. On the other hand it's been rewarding.

I think it was Ryron or Ralek or one of those people who talked, in a podcast, about the difference between an internal monitor and an external monitor. The external monitor is when you receive recognition from others. In jiu-jitsu, it's medals, belt promotions, student of the month, or whatever. 

The internal monitor, on the other hand, is when you know your jiu-jitsu is growing, you know you are on the right path. There are no medals and your belt may stay the same color for a long time, but you can feel your jiu-jitsu growing. You hear tapping and it's not coming from you.

In an ideal world, we have both. We get recognition for our efforts from others, but we still push ourselves to excel.

In the real world, sometimes we have to choose. I knew at the beginning of my purple belt that I had to choose between a belt and jiu-jitsu. Purple belt for me meant a time to look around and see what was out there in the jiu-jitsu world. But obviously, you don't get stripes for looking around. You don't get a brown belt for exploring, but I accepted that because purple belt was the first time I really understood how jiu-jitsu could differ from person to person, and I wanted to be sure I chose the path that would fit me. In the end, I chose the same path I always choose, or rather, the path that chose me from before I was born - the path of freedom.

In practical terms, I chose Robson Moura. I didn't even think I could ever be on the team, or ever progress beyond purple belt, and I accepted that because it was the only way I could grow my jiu-jitsu. I just wanted to follow Robson Moura and see where his jiu-jitsu would take me. And although this path has its share of frustrations, I embrace them, not because it's the best way, but because it's the only way for me.

There were people who would have welcomed me on their team as long as I accepted their limitations as my limitations. And I couldn't do that.

Limitations, in jiu-jitsu, are dependent on the ego. And although people tend to think of the ego as something bad, it's the opposite that is true. Ego just means "I." A strong ego is a healthy ego. It means you know who you are, where you're going and what you're doing.

You're not threatened by new ideas, you welcome them. In general, the greater the accomplishments, the healthier the ego. Those who have proven everything there could possibly be to prove don't need to prove it to you, and they don't need you to validate them.

It's the people who may not have reached their goals, who maybe didn't even try, who need to have their jiu-jitsu validated by their students. There is only one way to do things - their way. And that's frustrating when you're trying to grow.

I have ego too. Of course. The difference is, I admit it. And my ego wants me to be the best. Not the best in the world, or even necessarily the best in the room - just the best I can be. And I can't do that under somebody else's ceiling.

Trapped in somebody else's limitations

I have always had an internal monitor. Actually, I have always had an internal everything. When we were given an assignment to write 300 words describing a trip, my instructor's comment was: Great description of your inner world. And I remember thinking, with a slight sense of shock, that I didn't know there was another world.

When I turned 30, I started to work out, because I knew that at 50, I would have the body I started building at 30. Now, I am turning 50, and I have 20 year-olds telling me that I have an amazing body. So, am I bragging? Mmmmmaybe. But the point is, I set my own standard and I met it.

The body you build at 30 to live in when you're 50

In the same way, I have my own standards for my jiu-jitsu. There are certain things I want to accomplish, certain mind-body goals that have as much to do with who I want to be as the kind of jiu-jitsu I want to play. And Robson Moura has much of what I lack.

Where I'm rigid, he's flexible. Where I'm slow, he's fast. Where I'm glued to the ground, he can fly, evaporate, shapeshift, and return to Earth with his hooks in. Where I'm afraid, he's fearless. And I want that. I want to change. I want to grow.

I don't want a jiu-jitsu that panders to my weaknesses. I want a jiu-jitsu that reveals my hidden strengths.

I have said this before but what really fascinates me about Robson Moura is that he has done the same thing in his life that he does on the mat every day. At 38, he stands about 5'5" in his flip-flops, and I don't think he is going to grow any more. But every day, he dominates people who are much larger and stronger, people who are on steroids, people who have jiu-jitsu too. And that's impressive, but what is even more impressive is that when he was 10 years old, he consciously embarked on a path that would enable him to dominate his life and his fate in the same way he dominates his opponents.

And what that says to me is that he has found something that works. He has found the truth.

The truth is outside all fixed patterns

There is an Italian proverb that says: Lies have short legs. It means that sooner or later, the truth will run faster and catch up. And that's especially true in jiu-jitsu.

In Robson Moura's case, the truth has short legs.

Sometimes the truth has short legs

When people think of Robson Moura jiu-jitsu, they think of rockstar jiu-jitsu, and it is. It's flashy, it's hot, it makes the audience go "oooooo" in a way that other kinds of jiu-jitsu do not.

But it always goes straight to the point. It's not flashy for the sake of being flashy. The flashy guard pass is aimed straight for the sub.

The opposite of that is a kind of jiu-jitsu that I would describe as masturbatory. Different for the sake of being different, fancy for the sake of being fancy, designed for form and not function, catering to people who want to look cool while staying mediocre.

I'm not saying those are the only two kinds of jiu-jitsu out there. There are lots of kinds of jiu-jitsu. Most of them involve some amount of size and strength.

And to me, jiu-jitsu that relies on size and strength is a lie. Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be that thing that is there for you when your strength is gone, when your body hates you, when you are 50 years old and female. When you are me.

And that's why I always come back to Robson Moura jiu-jitsu. Because it works. Yes, it requires a certain amount of flexibility. So does life. So do relationships. And if flexibility - and relationships - haven't been my strong point so far in this life, that just gives me a goal.

Rickson Gracie said "The guard is not the place you go when you are younger, stronger, better than your opponent. The guard is where you go when you need to turn the game around."

And maybe that's why the guard is the heart of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Playing guard, passing the guard, yes there are other things, but first you have to get past the guard. The guard is the alpha and the omega of jiu-jitsu.

And Robson Moura is the alpha and the omega of the guard.

Often, people tell me, "Yes, but you're not Robson." And it not only hurts my feelings, it insults my intelligence. I know I'm not Robson. I have a mirror. I checked my I.D.  Nope, not Robson. And I'm not trying to be, although I would love to be Robson for a day, just to feel what it's like. Wouldn't you?

What they're saying is that Robson Moura jiu-jitsu is somehow too cool for me, out of my range. What they're saying is I'm too old. 

Which, first of all, is rude. My age is my business. If I'm not doing a move right, it's because I haven't drilled it enough, not because of my date of birth.

Meanwhile, these same people, the ones who are telling me that Robson relies too much on his athleticism, teach a kind of jiu-jitsu that relies on size and strength but they don't know that, because they've never not been big and strong. 

But I don't waste time arguing about it, especially on somebody else's mat. You either get it or you don't.

I don't follow Robson because he's cool, although he undeniably is. I follow Robson because his jiu-jitsu means freedom and and a rainbow at the end of the pot of gold. I follow Robson Moura because Robson Moura jiu-jitsu has no end.

On the other hand, life does end. Life is short as heck. At 50, how much time do I realistically have left? 30 years? 24 hours? Who knows? The last 30 years have gone by so quickly. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I have to remember where I am. Am I in Rome? Calabria? Croatia? New York? Oakland? The mountains? Which mountains? What language am I supposed to be thinking in? Which life am I living right now?

It takes me a split second to remember where I am and what I'm doing. And when I do, it's with a sense of urgency. We have so little time. It's important to use it, or rather, invest it, wisely. 

Maybe it's this sense of urgency that makes me connect so strongly to the urgency of Robson's jiu-jitsu. One thing I've heard him say many times is the admonishment: Don't waste your time here! As chill as he is as an instructor, he takes the time element very seriously.

I had no idea when I met Robson that I was embarking on a one-way path, that training with Robson was going to mean opening my eyes to a new dimension of jiu-jitsu and that once opened, my eyes could never be closed again.

I just followed the crumbs of awareness, just like in any fairy tale, and ended up in this enchanted kingdom that is Robson Moura jiu-jitsu. I'm free to go back to real life smash-and-grab jiu-jitsu at any time, but the problem is that I don't want to.

Following the crumbs of awareness to a new jiu-jitsu

And it makes my life harder but my jiu-jitsu easier. And that's what matters. 

I know I'm not Robson, but thanks for telling me. Now, please get out of my way so I can train Robson Moura jiu-jitsu.

Using no way as a way, using no limitation as a limitation.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ready or Not, Here He Comes: Golden boy Matheus Machado blazes a trail in his father's footsteps

Matheus Machado, Gi and No Gi champ, Atlanta Open, 9/16, 

Matheus Machado has the Midas touch.

Not only is the golden-haired Teresopolis native stockpiling gold medals in local and international competitions, he already has solid ideas about how to turn his new life in America into gold.

After 19 years spent in Brazil going to school, hanging out, enjoying life, and - in his own words - getting into trouble, Matheus seems ready, willing and able to take on the responsibilities of life in America. Besides working full-time in construction laying tile, Matheus is busy perfecting his English, making plans to study physical therapy in college, and has recently moved into an apartment with his girlfriend, Ana. That is, when he's not training jiu-jitsu in his father's academy.

And who's his father?

Pete and Repeat: Matheus and his father, Robson Moura

If you take one look at Matheus Machado, you don't need to ask. But just for the record, Matheus is the son of BJJ legend Robson Moura, who owns and runs the RMNU Association, with headquarters in Tampa, Florida.

And although to look at them, Matheus and his father seem like the proverbial two peas in a pod (or, as they say in Brazil, duas gotas de agua), Matheus is very much his own man.

As Matheus himself describes it, "My father is more reserved, whereas I'm more of an extrovert. I like to meet people, hang out, have fun. We're definitely a lot alike but we're different too."

You wouldn't notice the difference when Matheus takes your back. There's a certain feeling when somebody really good gets the hooks in. When your opponent really knows what they're doing, that's when you realize why the back mount is considered the most lethal position in the BJJ universe, and you wish you'd never had the brilliant idea to turtle.

Now, take that feeling - I call it the Feeling of Doom - and multiply it by infinity, and that's the feeling you get when Robson Moura takes your back. It's hard to describe but hardcore BJJ people know it. It's the exact same feeling you get when you get mounted by Saulo Ribeiro, or when Ricardo Pires gets in your side. It's a feeling of inevitability and futility at the same time - because, really, who are you kidding? You're never getting out of there alive - but also, in a weird way, of artistic appreciation, because when you come across somebody who is the very best at whatever they do, it's a pleasure to experience it. Even if the experience is a Near Death Experience.

But the point is, when Matheus takes your back, he feels like Robson. In good and bad. The good way is the aforementioned artistic appreciation of a job well done, even if the job ends in your tapping. But the good way is also the extraordinary control exerted by both men. There is never a time when you feel like either father or son could accidentally slip on a banana peel and whack you in the face or something (although Robson loves bananas so theoretically it could happen). The bad way that Matheus feels like Robson is that when he takes your back, you are going to tap. Which isn't really such a bad way because you learned.

By the way, I am providing this post as a public service to my friends in Ohio who asked me, "What's Matheus like?" "What belt level is he?" "Is he as good as Robson?" The answer is, He's like Robson, but different; he's a blue belt with as many stripes as Tony the Tiger; and, nobody's as good as Robson, but if anybody has a chance to ever catch up, it's Matheus.

The excitement and anticipation people feel about Matheus - More Moura! - is reminiscent of the mounting anticipation when the new Star Wars came out. But unlike Star Wars, Matheus doesn't disappoint.

But Matheus isn't just a sequel to everybody's favorite BJJ movie star. He's a person in his own right, and in recent years the RMNU family has had the pleasure of watching him grow from a gangly youth into a man.

Needless to say, after years of struggling with the kind of long-distance relationship too many of us know too well, Matheus' father Robson is over the moon with joy and pride to have his son finally by his side.

When you first see father and son together, the resemblance is almost dizzying. Robson, the eternal enfant terrible, has stayed young in an almost magical way (Black belt Jeff Mitchell asked him recently at a seminar, "Robson, how come I've known you fifteen years and you're still 25?"), and Matheus has an air of gravity about him that adds years to his real age. Particularly when they train together, it almost seems like an optical illusion, like a synchronized swimming team, or some modern version of The Parent Trap. I've been tempted to ask Robson's wife Alessandra if she ever has to ask, "Which one are you?"

They're both quiet. Father and son seem to communicate in a language of their own via telepathy or Morse code. Their voices are inaudible to human ears but each seems to know unerringly what the other is thinking. Both are kind and gentle and patient. But while Professor Robson seems to sometimes have to make a conscious effort to bring his mind back from whatever jiu-jitsu galaxy it is currently conquering, Matheus appears to be firmly grounded in the here and now with the rest of us mortals.

But whatever their differences may be, they are complementary rather than opposing. Matheus' move to Tampa, at the same age his father was when Matheus was born, feels like the completion of one cycle and the beginning of another. And it makes perfect sense. After all, that's how the Universe - and Robson Moura jiu-jitsu - work.

Life is round. Jiu-jitsu is round. In December 2015, after years of not a lot of contact, Moura's first instructor, Alison Brites (Jucao), recognized Moura's years and commitment to the sport with a fifth stripe on Moura's tattered black belt. And now, after 19 years, Moura and his son are finally living on the same continent, in the same city, and even training on the same mat.

I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello.

At 38, Robson Moura is exactly twice the age of Matheus. And while Moura is constantly on the lookout for new worlds to conquer, Matheus seems quite content to conquer this one.

But maybe those worlds are really the same world. Robson Moura has commented that people often tell him how "lucky" he is. What they miss (due, in part, to Moura's humility and lack of whining skills) is that behind every triumph is a sacrifice that is proportionate in size to the victory itself. Moura's triumphs have been great but so have his sacrifices and one of the greatest has surely been the long distance separating him from his son.

There is a point in life, or there can be, where you realize that the only world left to conquer is the one in your heart. The only thing left to sacrifice is sacrifice itself. Because the truth is, sacrifice becomes a way of life.  Pain becomes a habit. Separation becomes the norm. We forget there is another way. But there is another way to do things and there is another way to be and there is another way to feel.

Rickson Gracie said years ago in a seminar, "I am here, not to give you new moves, but new feelings."

Sometimes the new feelings feel good. Sometimes a story does have a happy ending.

It's only fair. If there is one thing that Robson Moura has given the BJJ world, one thing that sets his jiu-jitsu apart from other kinds of jiu-jitsu, it's the happy endings (aka submissions). Beautiful, unexpected, fierce, insanely sane, passionately rational, sneakily inevitable happy endings. If there is one thing Robson Moura has given the real world - you know, that place you go when you're not training - it's his son: Matheus Machado. Every child is a gift, from the Universe, to the Universe. The gift of Matheus is only now beginning to unwrap itself to reveal what is inside.

But those worlds, those parallel universes, are really not separate, they are one, and they meet in the heart and on the mat, that magic carpet that takes you to new realities and brings you home for dinner. So it's nice to see that after all these years of separation and sacrifice on both sides, Robson Moura and his son have found their happy ending  - and even more importantly, a happy beginning - together.

I asked Matheus Machado to tell me a little about himself:

Congratulations on your recent victories! What's the next challenge?
MM: Thank you! To be honest, I'm not sure. I was thinking of doing the Miami Open but that's the same weekend as my dad's camp, so I don't know.

When did you start training jiu-jitsu?
MM: When I was 10.

Did your father take you?
MM: No, actually it was my mom. First she signed me up for tae kwon do but I didn't really like it. So then she signed me up for jiu-jitsu.

Did you love it?
MM: Um...not really. At least at the beginning. The coaches and everybody had such high expectations of me, because of my father. I had to do everything just so. But then around the time I turned 15, I started to get into it more. I started to compete and then I did well so I started to like it, I started to get more serious about it. And my girlfriend, Ana, she's actually here with me in Tampa right now, but she helped motivate me too.

When did you get your blue belt?
MM: My dad gave me my blue belt just before my 16th birthday, so like four years ago. 

And you're how old now?
MM: I'm 19. I'm going to be 20 in January.

Where did you train in Brazil? In Rio or where?
MM: In Teresopolis, that's where I'm from. At A2 Academy with a friend of my father's.

And now you get to train with your dad every day. How is that?
MM: It's great. I love it. It's awesome being able to train with him every day.

You think he's a good teacher?
MM: (laughs) I think so.

I think so too. You are teaching your father skateboarding. Is he a good student?
MM: (laughs) Yes he's very good. He's picking it up super fast.

How do you like life in the USA?
MM: I like it. I'm really busy. I'm trying to learn English, I got a job, a car, an apartment - everything is going really well.

Do you think you will stay here?
MM: I don't know. Here it's great for working. But I don't know what I will do in the future. Brazil is great but not for making money. I want to work hard and save money and then maybe go back to Brazil and open my own academy. But we'll see what happens.

An RMNU affiliate?
MM: (laughs) Yes, of course! But I don't know. Things can change. Right now I need to study, I need to improve my English, I want to go to college to become a physical therapist. There's a lot to do and this is the time to do it.

How is life here different from life in Brazil?
MM: It's very different. Here it's work work work, train train train, nonstop, just working and training. In Brazil it was different. I had friends, I went to school, I hung out. It was pretty chill. But in Brazil everybody just wants an office job so they can leave at 5 pm and go have fun. I want to work for myself. And this is a great place to do that and my father helps me a lot.

Do you miss Brazil?
MM: I miss my family, a lot. I have a little sister, she's only three. I really want them to come for a visit. Right now I'm waiting for my visa and all that and then I'll be able to go back to Brazil but I'll probably only stay for a week. I just have too much to do right now.

There's a time to hang out and a time to grab the opportunities life offers you.
MM: Exactly. This is the time for working. And training.

You're young but you're already achieving big things. If you could give people your age one piece of advice, what would it be?
MM: Keep moving forward. Invest in your future now, and then when you get a little older you won't have to worry. I don't want to be 40 and killing myself just to make it to the end of the month. People just want to get some job and then spend all their money on fun. They don't think about the future.

Do you have a motto?
MM: Well, yes, kind of.  Don't get lazy. Don't get soft. Don't go easy on yourself. Always surpass yourself. You have to convince yourself that you are the best, that anything you want to do, you can do, and then you just have to do it.

Do you have a hero?
MM: I think it would be my mom. She raised me by herself, and I wasn't an easy kid. I went through like 15 schools. I mean I got good grades and everything, it was my behavior that was the problem.

Was it environmental? I read that Teresopolis has some problems like with violence and drugs, is that true?
MM: Actually my city, Teresopolis, is a lot more chill than Rio. Rio is such a big city. But sometimes Teresopolis can be too calm. I mean it's good for older people, for people who like the cool weather, but it's a place that doesn't offer much opportunity. It's kind of stagnant. It's hard to find a good job.

In the pictures it looks really pretty.
MM: Oh, Teresopolis is beautiful. The mountains, the forests, the water - the water of Teresopolis is famous.

Is there anything you would like to add?
MM: I don't think so.*

Like son....

like father.

*Interview conducted in Portuguese

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Forward Step

You get vulnerable every time you take a forward step. - Ricardo Pires

Ricardo's grandson takes a forward step with the help of big sis
Photo courtesy of Ricardo Pires

I almost died recently

What happened was, I trained really hard, and I didn't really hydrate, I mean I didn't hydrate at all, because hydration is for suckers.

I don't really think hydration is for suckers. I just think people make too big a deal out of it. But obviously, they were right and I was wrong.

At the beginning I used to bring water to BJJ. Then I eventually just got out of the habit and it was always just fine.

Until this time. Granted, there was an emotional component. I was upset about something - well, all right, since you ask, Robson lost - and I wasn't really hearing my body's signals to rest, to hydrate, to eat. When I get upset I just check out. I leave my body and I go somewhere where nobody can get at me, including myself. And that's what I did.

And the point is that I went to open mat that day and trained harder than I have ever trained in my life, because I had something to prove, and then I went home, had a beer and a steak, more or less collapsed, and woke up at midnight in kidney failure. But I didn't know it was kidney failure, I just knew I was incredibly thirsty. So then I started drinking the water I should have drunk 12 hours before after open mat but didn't. But by then it was kind of too late, and also my body didn't want plain old water, it wanted electrolytes. But my kidneys were not functioning by then.

And then a lot of bad things happened.

I have always wondered if people who are going to die know they are going to die or if they just know they feel lousy. But I knew. I mean I didn't know for sure I was going to die but I sensed it was an option. I just wanted to go back to sleep, but I knew that if I fell asleep I might not wake up. As my body and brain shut down, I fought to think clearly and move carefully.

It was just like in jiu-jitsu when you're rolling and everything is fine and then maybe your opponent gets a grip and you think "hm," but it's still okay, you're not worried, and then all of a sudden the grip turns into a choke, and all of a sudden it's life and death. But in jiu-jitsu, life and death are the same -  you slap hands and start over. In real life, life and death are not the same.

But I lived, although I didn't feel very well for a while.

When I eventually got in to see the nephrologist he told me what I had already gleaned from Google searches. He diagnosed acute hyponatremia, the thing that kills marathon runners and soccer players.  The reason I wasn't feeling well was my brain was swollen with all the water I drank that night. The doctor told me my case was "impressive."

"I don't want to freak you out or anything, he said, but..."

But most people this happens to are dead. 

But I survived, only to realize surviving wasn't enough anymore. I've been in survival mode for a long time, just hiding under the bed waiting for the scary movie to be over.

Another name for the scary movie is Life. 

Of course, what's scary to me may not be scary to you, and in fact probably isn't. The biggest thing that scares me and has always scared me is people. It's not just the fear that they will try to hurt me, although they frequently do, it's the fear that they might like me, or want to be my friend, or something. 

So does that make me a coward or does that make me brave? Because when there are 7 billion people in the world and people scare you and you still manage to get out of bed in the morning and do what you have to do, maybe you're not such a coward after all.

Coward or not, do labels matter? 

There's such a thing as living to fight another day, and I did that. But what I'm thinking is that maybe this is that other day. Today. Maybe it's time to stop running and start fighting. 

But surviving isn't cutting it anymore.

Surviving just means sitting on the fence between life and death. It means you are nothing but a ghost haunting your own life. And it took nearly dying for me to realize I wasn't fully alive.

People talk about surviving vs. thriving. But I just want to live. Nobody can thrive all the time. That's a nice ideal but it's not real.

Life has ups and downs. Sometimes you are on top and sometimes you are on the bottom. Sure, it's better to be on top and stay on top, as my teacher Ricardo Pires still says in my ear when I roll, even though he's a few thousand miles away in another state.

Stay on top, stay in control.

But the reality is that nobody can be on top all the time.  

In the words of Rickson Gracie:  The guard is not the place you go if you are stronger, faster, better than your opponent. The guard is where you go to turn the game around.

Is it time for me to turn my game around? Time to lay down and play guard? That would suck. But what's the alternative? What's the goal?

The goal, according to Master Ricardo, is:  Stay in the game. Whatever it takes.

Even if it means becoming vulnerable, even if it means losing, a match or your pride or your heart or all of the above.

At the white belt level, our teachers teach us to stay safe.

But there's a point in life where staying safe isn't enough. Staying safe isn't safe, because it's a waiting game, and if you wait long enough, you lose. There is a point in life when you have to switch autopilot to the OFF position and leave it there. If you get distracted, if you lose control, if you fall asleep, you die.

And I have reached that point.

When I was there in my house alone, not knowing what was going to happen, but knowing that death was a possibility, my primary thought was "Damn!" 

I thought of all the things I didn't do, all the risks I didn't take, all the love I didn't give or take. And I vowed that if I made it through that night, I would change.

And not because it was planned that way but last weekend I attended a Robson Moura seminar in Chicago, which meant driving close to Defiance, Ohio, where I was born and raised. And I didn't stop on the way but I saw the signs for Defiance, and for all those towns that I knew by heart, Bryan, Napoleon, even tiny Ney, Ohio, and it planted a seed in my heart. And on the way back I decided that I would go to Defiance, I would go to Westwood Drive, I would see that place where the fear began and lay those ghosts to rest.

Small town, big horizon

And I did. I mean, I went to Defiance, but when I got there, I couldn't find my house. I couldn't find my street. I couldn't find myself.

And I realized that the reason I couldn't find myself was I wasn't there. I thought I would find the ghost of myself, that frightened little girl, but she wasn't there. 

Some years ago my teacher Ricardo was talking about the pass, about how his passing game has changed over the years. And he said: In the pass and in your life, before you know where you are going, you need to understand where you are coming from.

Master Ricardo Pires

I liked it when he said it. I understood it with my brain. But I didn't feel it.

And it wasn't until I was driving around the outskirts of Defiance, Ohio, hunting for ghosts, that Ricardo's words came back to haunt me.  And I felt them, not in my head, but in my body, just as I felt the land in my body.

The land pulled me in and connected to me and you can say it's crazy but that's how it felt. Because we are connected, my land and I, my past and I, and no matter how far I stray from Defiance, Ohio, that connection will always be there. And it was that day, when I returned to the land that originally gave me life, that I reclaimed that life. I reclaimed that gift, because make no mistake, this life is a gift. And I reclaimed myself.

I didn't find a ghost, because I'm not dead. I found myself, not in Defiance, but where I've always been: right here. When you lose something, your keys or your glasses, the best thing to do is retrace your steps. And it took retracing my steps to find myself.

In the days and weeks following that scary night I didn't feel well at all. My body didn't just bounce back right away, and that was another scary thing to reckon with. But one morning early I awoke from a dream with a dream voice still in my head and that voice was saying, "Love the process."

Love the ups, love the downs, love the pain, love the past. Love who you were and who you are. Love your strengths and your vulnerabilities. Love everything that has to do with life and with being alive.

There's beauty in the struggle, ugliness in the success - J. Cole Love Yourz

That's not how I thought my trip to Defiance was going to go. I had other ideas. But that's how it went. I went to Defiance to visit a grave, the grave of the person I was meant to be, but when I got there the tomb was empty. The angel had rolled the stone away.

Do I know where I'm going? No. But I'm not scared. I might not have GPS but I have something better: guidance. All the people I have loved and who have loved me, sure, most of them don't really exist in human form anymore, but I feel them with me and I felt them very strongly that day in Defiance. My grandparents, my father and my stepfather, the people who see you with all your weirdness and love you, not despite that, but because of it. The people who wouldn't change you, not even a little, no matter how nuts you may make them. The people who hover around in the ether in spirit form when they sense you are in danger, and come to you in dreams to give you messages. And there are people on this side of the veil, BJJ people who may not be exactly family and they may not be exactly friends, but they are sometimes better, because they are not blinded by emotion, they are not paralyzed by convention or obligation, those people who can tell you the truth, even about yourself, and maybe point you in a better direction. 

People like Master Ricardo, my teacher, my master, whom I met the same day, at the same time, the same place that I said goodbye forever to my father, a feeble, disembodied voice on a cell phone, in the lobby of Ricardo Pires BJJ in Cleveland, Master Ricardo who stepped into my father's shoes, whether he wanted to or not, and stretched them out; Master Ricardo who taught me about control, who sees limitations as guidelines and not alibis, whose words are always with me, no matter how far away he may be. People like Master Robson, my hero, who turns every wall into a playground, every obstacle into an asset, whose fearlessness chases my own shadows away. And the ultimate guide, the North on my compass, you can think it sounds trite, but it's love. Not necessarily love between humans but the kind of love that created the Universe, that warm, benevolent, expanding energy that wants us to expand too, that love that quite literally makes the world go 'round.

Another name for love is jiu-jitsu. At least I think so. Jiu-jitsu is just energy, flowing through us and around us, carrying us along to wherever it is we are going in this life. Another name for life is the mat. Love and jiu-jitsu, life and the mat, where does one end and the other begin? Does it matter?

I came to jiu-jitsu eight years ago when I was recovering from a serious illness. I wasn't looking for healing but I found it. Jiu-jitsu gave me my life back, and then it almost took my life away one day when I trained too hard, because I got too upset, because I couldn't tell the difference between jiu-jitsu and life, because I couldn't tell the difference between side control and death, because I can't stand to see the people I love suffer, because I don't know how to feel things 20%, or 60%, or 80%, or 99%, or any way that is not completely excruciating. I can train light but I don't know how to live light or how to love light. And I forgot, I always forget, that suffering is part of the deal. Losing is part of the deal. Side control is part of the deal.  My hero didn't die, he just had a bad day. And so did I. And it's all good.

And the weird thing is that Master Ricardo was the one who really unlocked the beauty of side control for me. He was the one who showed me just how simple jiu-jitsu can be. Pass the guard, take side, submit. Master Robson, on the other hand, was the one who showed me that bottom can be beautiful too.

Together, Master Ricardo and Master Robson represent the Alpha and the Omega of jiu-jitsu - at least for me. Simplicity and complexity, top and bottom, feeling and reason. At the same time, side control has always represented for me the worst thing that can happen to any human being in jiu-jitsu. You talk about the back - hooks don't scare me. Side control scares me. And that day, at Abu Dhabi Legends, I saw Robson on his back in side control, and it scared me to death. And it took me a while to realize that Robson didn't die - he just lost. By one advantage. It's not the same. Slap hands and start over. 

Love yourz.

And on that trip to Chicago I found my teacher and my hero and I found myself, all of us alive and well, all of us resurrected through the redeeming power of jiu-jitsu, as I passed again through my own birth canal, Defiance, Ohio, a name that has marked my character and my destiny.

Jiu-jitsu the Redeemer

When I found trouble in my life the quality of defiance - that essential "fuck you" -  got me through it. I defied unfairness and cruelty and tragedy and the inexplicable urge of human beings to hurt other human beings for no good reason. Fuck you fuck you fuck you. But I got so good at defiance that I defied my heart, I defied myself and my emotions, I defied the best part of me, I defied God's purpose for me on this Earth because I forgot that the brain must be the servant of the heart and not the other way around. I tried to muscle my spirit but my spirit knows jiu-jitsu. And so I lost.

But in losing, I won. In my end is my beginning.

Love won. Jiu-jitsu won. 

And the only real opponent I have left is fear but I am hopeful of a victory, because I have my teachers, I have my hero, I have my defiance. I have jiu-jitsu.

I have all those people and all those things. I am not alone. And I have one thing more: I have a past. I know where I am coming from.

In looking backwards, I have taken a forward step. 

Moving forward, looking back.

In the pass and in your life, before you know where you are going you need to understand where you are coming from. - Ricardo Pires

Defiance, Ohio 1971 ca.

May you never forget what is worth remembering,
nor ever remember what is best forgotten. - Irish blessing

Never say die. Say DAMN! 
- Leona S. Markel