3 min read

21 years to get my blue belt.

21 years to get my blue belt.

My first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class was freshman year at the University of Illinois in 1998. UFC had just introduced BJJ to the world a few years earlier, and I didn't appreciate how fortunate I was to have a brown belt (!) instructor in Jack McVicker despite living in a town of 60,000 people surrounded by cornfields

I trained inconsistently during my five years in Champaign-Urbana. I picked up some stuff but never really progressed. I've told the story of that chapter of my life elsewhere, but suffice to say that "inconsistency" was a dominate theme.

I left school without a degree in 2003 – and with it, left jiu jitsu. Of course, I didn't think I had quit. I thought I was just on hiatus. There were even a few false starts over the ensuing 14 years, but I never cultivated the right combination of routine, motivation, and discipline to make it stick.

Truthfully, I hadn't found a way to make any fitness routine stick, and as I moved into my late 30s, and it became increasingly apparent that I could either actively improve my fitness, or my fitness was going to rapidly decline. The days of physical stasis were past. My daughter, Emma, was getting bigger, and I found myself hesitating before getting on the floor to play with her, and exerting extra caution when picking her up.

Soon after we moved to New York, I realized that Marcelo Garcia Academy was just ten blocks from my office. In a different sport, this would be like Serena Williams opening a racket club within walking distance and teaching classes herself. You either take advantage of the opportunity, or admit that you're never going to do it again.

On one hand, I always thought I'd get back into jiu jitsu. On the other hand, I never thought I'd get my Blue Belt. Lingering in the back of my mind was the fear that my jiu jitsu story would be: he had a good opportunity, dipped his toe in, didn't follow through.

Of course, my real fear is that being the broader story of my life.

Finally, one day in March 2018, I had a therapy appointment where we identified my desire to develop more "grit."  I walked straight out of therapy and into MGA. And on December 18th, 2019 – one week before my 40th birthday – I was promoted to Blue Belt by Marcelo Garcia.

At MGA, I have the privilege of sharing the mats with past, present, and future world champions. I will never be world class at jiu jitsu – but I like being in the room with guys who are. Seeing their dedication to the sport forces me to be real that BJJ is about my 5th priority in life.

Between family, work, and other activities where I choose to spend my time, I'm only going to train 2-3 times a week, ~3 weeks a month. But as I've gotten older, it's been the areas where I've replaced intensity with consistency where I've seen the most growth. 2-3 times a week isn't much, but I've stuck to that cadence for over two years now – and that's something I was seemingly incapable of doing in my 20s.

My longterm jiu jitsu goal is simply "to still be doing it in ten years." The night of the belt promotion, I told this to Paul Schreiner. He said, "You know the funny thing... if you achieve that goal, you'll probably be a black belt."

Photo by Ric Ricard