I walked in, unsure of what awaited me. To my front, a wooden box that holds shoes when students are training. To my left, a large black and red mat. A mat I would, in time, spend countless hours and lose countless amounts of sweat; a mat where I would be broken and fixed; a mat that would grow to be as comfortable as my king size, memory foam mattress. I was now a new student at National Martial Arts in Oak Ridge, TN.
I grew up on UFC. As a child I remember pushing in the VHS recordings of the first few UFC events and watching these grown men battle in the honorable and timeless tradition that is martial combat. I remember seeing Royce Gracie, standing calmly in his white gi, preparing himself to cut the greatest fighters around down to size. I remember watching in awe as this much smaller man completely dominated all who stepped forth to him in the octagonal caged battlezone.
Growing up, I always wanted to study martial arts. Bruce Lee movies made me want to become a Kung Fu master. Jean-Claude Van Damme films made me want to be a champion kickboxer. Jackie Chan inspired me to be a Karate expert. Unfortunately, my parents could never afford for me to take those classes when I was young.
And now here I was, a 28 year old father of 2 with a bad back, right elbow, right ankle, and no willpower to get out of bed in the morning…stepping onto a mat in a Martial Arts school for the first time to take my first lesson in BJJ.
I am 6 months into my journey in BJJ. A white belt (no stripes). I puked twice that first day. Now I don’t puke at all. It doesn’t hurt the next day like it did then. Best of all: I am constantly getting better. Faster. Smoother. I am learning.
You cannot step onto a BJJ mat without being humble. Not for long. Soon you will see that blue belt that is half your size (and maybe half your age) isn’t sweating as he dominates you with ease, instructing you the entire time. Soon you will see that fighting without a punch can often demand more effort than full contact sparring. Soon you will see that you aren’t as in shape as you thought. Soon you will see your muscles and strength mean absolutely nothing when faced with smooth, practiced technique.
I train 3 nights a week, occasionally more. In January, with 3 and a half months experience, I competed in my first match. I lost by rear naked choke to a very skilled opponent. I moved on and continue to train.
I started when my wife and I started a separation. I needed something. Anything. I needed an outlet. I found it in BJJ. It has done more for me, mentally, than any therapist or drink or vice could. I gives me…peace. It leaves me drained of everything inside me, no matter what bullshit has occurred lately. It all goes away on the mats. It’s just me, my training partner, and the mat as we begin the game of chess that is Jiu-Jitsu. Make no mistake, it is a game of chess…only the pieces are pain and victory is so much sweeter.
I am stronger and faster than I was. My stamina is much higher. My cardio level has improved (even as a smoker). But more importantly? My confidence is through the roof in comparison to where it was. I have made new friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise. All because I decided to walk into that school and take a chance.
I would recommend BJJ to ANYONE. I don’t care your age, gender, fitness level, or weight…and neither does the mat. The moment you step into that life, you’ll have done more for yourself than the vast majority of the people in this world. It will transform you for the better. If you’re local, NMAOR is a great place to start your journey.