This November marks a very important milestone in my life. I have always had ongoing hobbies and passions in my life, but none such as this.
No other sport has impacted and changed me the way this one has. No other activity has so influenced my behavior as this. No other job has given me so much.
November 2015 marks the completion of my 10th year in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
After getting my start in martial arts through Karate, I fell in love with the idea of hand to hand combat. Other friends did different martial arts and we always bickered about whose style was the best. This became a bit of an obsession during my teen years. If I had to pick one martial art to do, which was the best? If only I could see a Kung Fu expert fight a Karate master for real, then I’d know!
To my luck a cottage friend told me about this UFC stuff where different martial arts experts were forced into a cage and fought with no rules. I of course was immediately dumbfounded when I saw Royce Gracie blowing through the competition. I HAD to learn this stuff!
I started practicing BJJ in 2003 with high school friends during our lunch break, as was with most others I downloaded every BJJ or MMA instructional video I could find(destroying multiple computers in the act…. thanks limewire). This was great fun but I quickly realized I needed real instruction. There were a few places that offered BJJ in Toronto at the time, White Tiger and Mark Stables were just up the street from me but as soon as I read the instructor list at Toronto BJJ I knew that was where I had to go.
Wagnney Fabiano, Leo Santos, Mark Bocek, Rob Dicenso, Kareem El Sayed and more all taught there. It didn’t matter to me that they were almost an hour drive away in Woodbridge, that was where I had to go.
I started in November 2005 up at Turbine Drive, I believe by February 2006 the Bloor Street location had mats down and while I would still pop in up at Woodbridge that became my new home.
I was still in high school at the time, I worked at resorts and at a marina during the summer at my cottage up until that point, 2006 would be the last summer I worked up north.
I received my Blue Belt from Cesar Rezek(Nova Uniao Black Belt who took over teaching duties at TBJJ after Waggney and Leo left) on November 30th 2006. In December the owner of Toronto BJJ Josh Rapport offered me a front desk job. By early 2007 I was working there full time as the Teens instructor and general staff member. Training full time, and working at the gym whenever I wasn’t rolling.
After proving myself competent and reliable I was offered the position of operations manager as Toronto BJJ grew. I will forever be thankful for the opportunity, even though it cut into my training time.
Shortly after, we built a new striking and MMA program where we teamed up with Chute Boxe Muay Thai. Up until that point we had had numerous Traditional Muay Thai instructors, an Olympic Boxing coach from Russia, a Cuban Boxing coach and the most consistent weekend instructor Chris Sit. MMA was handled by Kareem and Claude Patrick.
When Mauricio arrived and later his brother Andre Dida, I was EXCITED. Since becoming a Blue Belt all I could think about was fighting MMA professionally. Now we had a team and instructors with the knowledge, skill and experience to help me make the jump.
And then it got even better, Ainsley Robinson(Canadian wrestling Olympian) started training full time to fight professionally, Bobby Currie(Canadian National Judo Champion) took a year leave of absence to train and fight professionally, Claude was showing up a lot, Rob Dicenso was fighting Professionally and a lot of students were at a high level. Most notably David “Chad” Bodrug, my future best man.
Then came the cherry on top. Because Mauricio had worked with him in the past, we connected with Saulo Ribeiro. Over the next year we had either Saulo or his brother Xande for a total of 7 months, helping us make the change from Nova Uniao to Ribeiro while they found us a suitable instructor.
Jorge Britto arrived. Here was an absolute bad ass of a Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Coming into his competitive prime, competing for medals against the likes of Andre Galvao during his upbringing. Fought TONS of MMA. A guy who walked the walk. And now he was my new full time instructor!
Let me just say it was an absolute vipers nest when it came time for our pro MMA training. I have never had the shit kicked out of me as hard as I had in those afternoons and weekends. You weren’t safe anywhere. Mauricio and Dida held nothing back on the feet, and god help you if you landed a punch on Dida. Claude had the nastiest liver shot I have ever felt to this day. Ainsley and Bobby LOVED to get you on the cage and dump you on your head, Ainsley was fantastic at throwing an overhand when you committed to a sprawl(I literally ate one once). Chad was one of the most stubborn SOB’s you would ever meet, never gave you an inch and didn’t now the meaning of going light. Needless to say with these guys on the mats, we were getting good, fast, in all aspects.
My favorite MMA memory is also one of the scariest moments of my life. At that time TBJJ still had a full cage, an overbuilt, ugly thing with the most painful over gauged fencing you would ever feel. The door was insanely heavy and locked tighter than Fort Knox. It was the end of the session, Jorge put me in the cage with Dida, locked the door and said “OK guys 2 minutes Knock out or Take down”! So there I have a K1 Max fighter known for his viscous KO power smiling at me stalking forward with his hand cocked back. I may have set the world record for most double legs shot in 120 seconds.
It taught me that Jorge respected my abilities but also had a sadistic streak in him.
Over the course of 2 years where my main focus was MMA I had 3 contracts signed and 2 by word to fight pro MMA. All of them fell through and realizing I really wanted to just teach BJJ I refocused my attention on the Gi.
I received my Purple Belt June 11th 2009 from Jorge Britto with Royler Gracie present. I couldn’t have been happier to receive my new rank alongside my close friends, training partners and co-instructors Mike Zaniewski and Thomas Beach. I knew how much that belt meant to all three of us.
Brown Belt came years later, Tommy already a Black Belt, and Mikey one of the most technical practitioners I have met to date. I received my Brown December 8th 2012 from Jorge.
Jorge was instrumental to my BJJ career. He was the first instructor that really put an effort into developing me and my peers, it was more than a job to him. He was building a legacy at that gym.
Always constructive in his criticism, always helping to improve. Jorge never took it easy on me. Demanded excellence from me, and never hesitating in letting me know when I wasn’t measuring up. This was especially true when it came to my instruction. I would often see him watching my classes, and when necessary would correct me on mistakes after I was done. As other BJJ instructors know, that can be the most nerve racking of situations. Knowing you are being watched, trying not to make a mistake but knowing there will always be something.
Because of that though I strove for technical perfection, it drove me nuts when I saw students who were mainly being taught by me making mistakes. The standard that I created for myself and my students were and are a reflection of the standard Jorge brought with him to the academy.
At about 8 years in though I started to realize the silent joke. There is no perfection in Jiu-Jitsu. The great “what if” that every student always asks when you’re teaching. “What if he blocks the hand”, “What if he bases”, “What if I think the Omoplata is there”?
Jiu-Jitsu is fluid, with no right or wrong, just right in the moment, and right for you.
Jorge taught me that. By demanding perfection that he knew was impossible to achieve, but the pursuit of which created the opportunity for excellence.
I haven’t achieved everything that Jorge and I expected of me as an instructor or competitor, especially as a competitor. I never will. Because its all about the next goal.
One thing I have realized is how looking back at my accomplishments and missed opportunities is silly. 10 years has gone by so quickly and I haven’t even earned my Black Belt yet. This blip of time that will barely be remembered in my martial arts career.
It may have taken 10 years, but I get how its about what you’re doing and plan to do, not about whats been done. It is all about the future, what I’m going to do next, who I’m going to do it with, and how I’m going to do it.
Looking back at the decade I have spent in this martial art, I realize all the injuries, struggle, defeats and victories were completely and absolutely worth it. I have made the closest friends of my life, found true mentors, and most importantly found myself and my calling in life.
I owe it all to Jiu-Jitsu.
Thank you to my family(Susan, Terry, Andrea) for supporting my dream. Thank you my friends and coworkers(Nacho, Mike, Thomas, Bobby, Donald, Kerry) for giving me the best reasons to push through the injuries and moments where I lacked the motivation. Thank you to all my past instructors for cultivating the foundation of my technique and love for the art. Thank you Josh Rapport for gainfully employing me all those years where I could teach, train and work full time within BJJ. Thank you to all my past and present students(Gabe, Reuben, Andrea, Sabrina etc.) for giving me the best and most noble calling to make my profession. Thank you Jorge Britto for continuing to mentor me and setting the example of what a true Professor is. Thank you Saulo Ribeiro for setting the legacy and foundation of the framework I instruct. Thank you Grandmasters Helio and Carlos Gracie for creating this beautiful art.
Most importantly thank you Alexandra, for coming into my life, accepting my weird job and giving me everything I needed to start my own legacy. Without you I would be nothing.
Thank you Jiu-Jitsu… I look forward to the next 10 years.