I never imagined myself as a West Coaster.  I was born in Brooklyn, came up with the bass of hip hop and the horns of salsa and the sea of diversity that is New York’s people.  I graduated from NYU, taught in the South Bronx, immersed myself in the world of non profit causes.  It was there, too, that my love of jiujitsu was born, on a TV screen, watching Royce Gracie in the first UFC.

The violence of the event jarred me.  It was raw and unpolished, unlike the violence of pro wrestling, my childhood passion.  I remember the first fighter’s tooth flying out of his mouth as he ate a round kick.  Bang!  My father, a lifelong boxing fan, observed: This is cheap fighting.  What man hits another man while they’re down.

And, then, Royce walks in, arms on the shoulders of his brothers. The Gracie train.  The clean white gi.  The focused eyes.  And, as everyone knows, he used technique to overcome his adversaries.  The use of technique appealed to me.  I was a nerd.  A small one at that.  And I was growing up in a section of Brooklyn where nerds were vulnerable.  The idea that technique could level the playing field was revolutionary for me, and left a deep impression.

My actual beginnings with jiujitsu were at a Jeet Kune Do academy’s grappling class I took in college.  It instantly became my favorite.  Although frowned upon, I covertly attended a class at Renzo’s with a friend.  It was a different universe.  Renzo had just come back from Pride, and his arm sported the war wound from his battle with Sakuraba.  I was star struck.  My second class, some months later, Renzo taught a simple mount escape.  I used it in that Saturday’s grappling class on a guy easily twice my size and who knows how many times my strength.  It hit me then – strong, sound technique can be an equalizer.

I eventually trained at Renzo’s for a while and had the honor and privilege of being taught by Shawn Williams and John Danaher.  My attendance and commitment were inconsistent though, and so was my growth.  At one point, I decided a clean break was needed so I could start over.  I went to Alliance and trained for a short stint with my then (and still) idol, Marcelo Garcia.  Again, my lack of commitment meant little growth.

A year or so later, I had another new start – at Ronin Athletics, a high-quality gym run by Christian Montes and whose BJJ class was instructed by Erik Ryerson.  As I neared 30, I told myself that I either treat this like a practice, like something that needs my continued and consistent attention, or I don’t love it as much as I say I do.  It was somewhat like the turning point where a man emerges from his immaturity and realizes that it’s time to commit to his woman, career, or whatever it might be.   I finally saw my game grow over the course of 2 years, incredibly thoughtful instruction, and a superb group (read: family) of teammates.

But here I am, in Oakland, a new start in my personal and professional life, and a new start with jiujitsu.  I signed up at Eduardo Rocha’s gym, which, as luck might have it, is only a 20 minute walk from my apartment.  Prof. Rocha is a 4th degree black belt under Royler Gracie and my first two classes have been better than expected, filled with a relearning of the basics and some tough pre-class circuits and post-class sparring.

I’ve always meant to start this blog, a way to track my evolution in skill level and thinking with regards to the gentle art.  It could have started when I was at Renzo’s, or Marcelo’s, or Ronin.  But, it starts now.  A new start.  I hope my sharing adds some value to your own experience of the art.

Intelligence over violence.  Technique over sheer agression.  Restraint over brutality.