Monday, January 28, 2008

A Jiu-Jitsu Career Pictorial Retrospective

Me and my dad, November of 1999 at the Gracie Academy in Torrance. Note his two stripes and my none!
I began practicing Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in February of 1997 in a small Dojo in San Francisco. It was far from where I lived and I didn't have a car, so I usually only went on Saturday mornings, when riding my bike wasn't an exercise in terror.

I was learning from one- and two-stripe blue belts. Nice guys, but that plus my mere 50 minutes of a very limited number of technique drills and 10 minutes of sparring a week meant little forward progress (but, damn if I didn't learn how to escape a headlock!). Meanwhile my father was living in Torrance, taking several classes a week from the Gracies themselves. I sure was jealous!

In August of '97 I moved to Phoenix. I found the local Gracie Training Association, which at the time was located in Chandler. Like the San Francisco school, the "Bushido Academy" was headed up by 3 low-ranking blue belts. That, plus a 25-mile drive, one way, made me disinclined to go more than an average of once a week, at first.

It wasn't long before I discovered that Megaton's school was less than a mile from where I was living at the time. Given that he was a black belt I was excited to check his place out. My first impression was negative--the school had no A/C, and the people there were not very friendly. Undaunted, I decided to take a few classes. Over the course of a week I chipped a tooth, injured an elbow, and was choked unconscious. The higher ranked students seemed completely uninterested in helping the white belts to actually improve their technique. In addition, even as an ignorant white belt the warm-ups struck me as counter-productive: escape a position when all your opponent is doing is trying to hold you in that position. Everything I'd learned in my minimal exposure to the Gracies told me that escapes were best effected when your opponent was intent on an attack.

From this experience I gained a deep respect for "the Gracie way" of instruction. I returned to the Chandler school and never looked back.

Bruises are part and parcel of practicing Jiu-Jitsu. This photo was taken in September of 1999, but it might as well have been last month, or last year...
Dig the shorts!
"Hematoma" is a word in every Jiu-Jitsu practitioner's vocabulary...
Picture from November, 2001
A slightly more serious injury (the result of a throw while I was visiting the Torrance Academy in November of 1999) to the carpometacarpal joint of my left hand...
This sucker hurt!
I know it doesn't look like much, but that one knocked me out of commission for a couple weeks.

In fact, joint injuries of varying degrees are another inevitability, if you're at all dedicated to the art. Aside from the above thumb injury, I've hurt the joint between the metacarpal and proximal phalange of my left index finger (out for over a month), both elbows (at least 3 weeks for those), the MCL of my left knee (another month off), the left glenohumeral joint (another month off), my floating ribs on both sides (chronic injuries that've kept me from an unknown number of classes), and, worst of all, a dislocation of the phalange of my right big toe that was so serious that it broke the skin and necessitated an overnight hospital stay...
Picture taken in March of 2000
The Chandler school eventually was no more. In 1999 my instructors, Nathan and Brad, teamed up with a Karate school in Paradise Valley...
Photo from November of 1999
Here's a picture of my car in the parking lot of the school, after a tow truck rolled into it. Note the Gracie sticker on the window...

We didn't stay in Paradise Valley very long. Sometime in May or June of 2000 Nathan moved the school to a room in the back of a Gymnastics school--a place that became affectionately known as "The Dungeon". There was no heat or A/C, and the ceiling was exposed fiberglass insulation (which Nathan quickly covered over with plastic). At least we had our very own cage!
Too bad we didn't have any cage matches while we were there!
Here's Nathan getting his purple belt from Relson Gracie in September of 2000...

Me and Relson, also September, 2000...
Note my one striped blue belt! Note also the shoes. I was still nervous about my toes after the injury.
The owners of The Dungeon weren't big fans of us "knuckle-draggers". It wasn't long before we were kicked out of the space. Nathan scrambled and found our current digs at Phoenix Grappling, in central Phoenix. The school's been there ever since.

Over the years it's typical for a school's set of students to change. I'm sure this is even more true of a Jiu-Jitsu school, as the art takes a lot out of you. Even if you remain free of serious injury, there's the matter of being constantly beaten up to contend with. Sticking with it over the long haul takes cultivating a certain level of humility and resolve, I think.

Here's the team in March of 2000, at the PV Karate school. Fun things to note about this picture: Nathan's a four-stripe blue belt; Nabeel Ibrahim, top row, second from right, is a white belt...

Several months later, at The Dungeon...

Here we are being visited by Rolker Gracie. I'm not exactly sure of this photo's vintage, but you can just make out that I'm a two-striped blue belt--and so is Nabeel! Also notice that, except for Heath, who is sitting to my left, all the other students pictured are new...

Another photo of unknown vintage, though I'm pretty sure it's sometime in 2002. Things to note here: Doug Moore, top row, second from left, is a white belt, as is Matt Mallery (top row, second from right); Heath is now a purple belt, while I'm still a 2-striper...

Nathan and Relson...

I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to learn from so many great Jiu-Jitsu fighters. Aside from Relson and Rolker (pictured here with me, Brad, and Nathan)...

...I've also taken classes from Rorion, Royce, Royler, Carlos "Caique" Elias...

...and a number of others that, sadly, don't include the great Helio Gracie.

I took a couple years off when I lived in Virginia, but since I moved back to Phoenix I've once again been a regular at the school (with time off recently for recovery from yet more joint injuries)--which, due I'm sure primarily to its stability from staying at Phoenix Grappling, has grown considerably, and now includes kids classes...
Note Nathan's BLACK BELT, and Matt Mallery's PURPLE!
This renewed focus has enabled me to finally obtain the rank of purple belt, after what is undoubtedly one of the longest careers as a blue belt around.
Photo taken January 28th, 2008
They say the Gracie purple belt is the hardest belt to get, period. If I am any indication, then you won't find me arguing otherwise.

6 comments:

Lisette said...

Congratulations Einzige!

Looking forward to wrestling with you soon ;)

Elizabeth said...

Rock on! The longer the journey, the sweeter the achievement!

steve said...

Way to go man. This is an excellent post--thanks for sharing.

Einzige said...

Thanks for the comments, you guys!

CobraJitsu said...

Extremely prod of your accomplishment. It motivates me sooo much. I'm a 3 stripe blue belt and I feel and share your pain. That purple belt is the big one! Come isit us at Gracie Barra Tampa!

Carl said...

Practicing this event,gives great sort of feeling and the physical exercise too,about the limited number of technique drills and 10 minutes of sparring,is good to see because the technique is important,and in sparing the time the technique is necessary which can give help in practicing well.
_______________________________
Dissertation