Jiu-Jitsu Wanderer Receives His Purple Belt

Cut from The “About Me” Tab, Dated January, 2012:

Blue Belt

From August 2007 until October 2008 – barring summer ’08, which I spent traveling and training in various locations throughout the Southwest – I continued to train with Miguel Tinajero at McAllen Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and compete under the aegis of Texas Punishment Crew. That November, I moved to Austin and, following the advice of Jason Ebarb (of Texas Punishment Crew), signed up at Relson Gracie Austin. Run by Relson black belts Phil Cardella and Richard Giberson, and brown belt Christy Thomas, their academy was where I hung my hat for nearly a year. October 2009, I moved to South Korea and began training at Action-Reaction Jiu-Jitsu (액션리액션 주짓수). Classes were taught by a brown belt named Sung-Shil Kang (강성실), who received his black belt from Rubens Charles “Cobrinha” Maciel while I was there. Between October 2010 and March 2011, I split my time evenly between Miguel Tinajero’s McAllen Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy and Carlos Diego Ferriera’s school in Mission. Sometime in the beginning of March, I moved to Austin on an impulse decision and returned to Relson Gracie Austin. In June 2011, I decided to follow Donald Park, a David Adiv / Royler Gracie black belt, in his attempt to create something unique in the Jiu-Jitsu World. In all, I’ve had my blue belt for more than four years.”

Aaand on March 26, 2012, I received my purple belt from Donald Park!  I had my blue belt for four years, seven months.1

The one not wearing the black belt, that one’s me. And that particular photo has 154 likes, 45 comments on Facebook. I am famous.

My chest is peppered with bruises from the gauntlet. I took my gi and rash guard off, then walked as slowly as I could humanly manage as people whipped me with their belts. Try as I might, I just can’t be a complete Boss Hog Gangster and, I think, it was one of the goddamn Lashes of Death from one of the brown belts that first made me wince in pain. I made it about 40% of the way though, without a single indication that I was human. Not bad for a tree-hugging, without-fail-I-cry-three-times-while-watching-The-Fountain, “In Rainbows”-makes-me-watch-the-rain-from-my-window-for-two-days, terribly eccentric aspiring writer.

But I realized that the jiu-jitsu gauntlet is something I’m only going to do two times in my ENTIRE life .2 Two times! I was about to do 50% of all the gauntlets my entire life will contain! So I deliberately made the decision to be as tough as I could possibly muster that Monday night. The bruises on my chest stand as proof.

Lots of topics I wanted to touch on, but this whole ‘promotion’ thing is taking the front seat this week.

So let me say that, irrespective of my performance on the mat or at these past few tournaments (admittedly, I did well – but these were also small tournaments), I had not one single goddamn clue I was getting promoted. So let me recount the events…:

We were drilling the “Xande sweep,” something I think, in my humble opinion, I do well.3 My instructor looked my way as I executed the sweep, and gave me the “What the hell was that?” scowl. So he stops class, pulls me in front of everybody. “This is a move you should be able to feel. Roli (the partner in my guard), don’t tell him anything. At some point, just lean forward. Justin, close your eyes and sweep him.”4 So I close my eyes, thinking “Alright, don’t fuck this up. I do this sweep well. I hit this on good people. He moves, I hit it. He moves, I hit.”

Roli moves, and I execute the sweep correctly. Alright, no big deal. Do it again, our instructor says. My eyes are closed; and Donald’s voice is getting closer – he’s giving instructions, pointers, to the class. Something falls by my head. Roli leans forward, I hit the sweep, come on top, and open my eyes.

There’s a dark plum-colored belt beside me, laid out like someone had taken a wet, cooked noodle and thrown it my direction.

“Whose is this? I don’t recognize this color of belt on any of my teammates. ‘Stranger Danger, stranger belt danger.’” I’m scanning the faces, looking for the owner of this belt…why is everyone smiling and looking at me? Wait. What? Why am I being congratulated by Donald? What did I do?

‘Hey D, someone intentionally dropped their belt on me…but I don’t know did it,’ I wanted to say.

Then the moving speech came. Then my instructor and I grabbed opposite ends of my nearly-dead blue belt, and tied it one final time. Then came the gauntlet. Then I had a roll with a friend and brown belt, and did well.

It was incredibly surreal – a little too surreal for me to enjoy at the moment, actually.

Despite the copious amounts of alcohol I imbibed that night, I dragged myself to class the next day. And when I got on the mats, something about wearing the new belt lulled me into suspicion that maybe I’m dreaming – not a fantasy-type dream, per say.5 It is more like I’m dreaming the kind of dream in which you go about your morning routine, leave the house, arrive at work, only to discover, to your own infinite chagrin and limitless embarrassment, you left your house naked and are now standing in front of your coworkers completely naked, bringing upon them a stark revelation of what the Stork saw.

But then we start rolling, and I only notice the color is different.

I’m writing hungover again, my audience, in case you couldn’t tell. I must end this ramble.

Thanks for reading.

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1. I accidentally told a few people, yesterday (the 27th), I had had my blue belt for “5 years, 7 months.” In my defense, the night of the 26th, starting at midnight and running until approximately 6:30 in the morning, I drank 3/4ths of a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black – what Christopher Hitchens called his “amber restorative.” My brain is going to need a few more days before the math skills return to normal levels.

2. There was no gauntlet when I got my blue.

4. Paraphrasing.

5. In those dreams, I discover I can fly. Or – in another real dream – I discover that it is raining sticks of butter. And as I pick one up from the ground to eat it, I discover my teeth are actually pencils. “Well, that’s okay,” I decide. “My pencil-teeth can almost certainly chew this butter up, no problem.” Then I discover that my pencil teeth are unsharpened. So I start searching for a pencil-sharpener, find one in a field of grass, and start sharpening my teeth. I catch another one of the sticks of butter floating gently to the earth, and as I carefully sink my pencil-teeth into it, feeling the “Finally! I am fucking starving!” relief, I remember I’m on a diet. So I spit out the little bite I had managed to pry off. “Oh yeah, that’s why I’m so hungry.” Such is life, right my audience?

Detailed Breakdown, Plus Match Footage

Here is my play-by-play of the two purple belt matches I had.  This is entry is like a telepathic insight into my mind while I’m grappling – not that everything I do in a match has an explicit purpose, with its explicit continuation, done with explicit foresight — but I’m working on it.  One day, maybe, I will.

Match 1.

I immediately pull guard; and after 20 seconds worth of struggling, I have him in full guard. If you look closely, you see me trying to set up the “Xande Sweep” – one of my go-to moves from closed guard, when the guy’s posture is good. My opponent abandons the hand on my hip for an underhook. I start pursuing the so-called “Flower Petal” sweep – though it’s not quite the right position for it. I suspect that even if the sweep does not work, an armbar might fall out of the struggle. He regains his posture, but (a) is no longer controlling my ability to sit up and (b) has his left arm all by its lonesome / palm-down on the mat. I go for a kimura, which he defends. Anticipating an explosive defense from him, I was not planning on struggling for the kimura so much as hitting him with the “Bump Sweep” (Over-The-Shoulder Sweep?). The sweep works.

As I’m falling into top position, I put my right instep on his right thigh to stop from being put into any kind of guard. In the few scrambling seconds after the sweep, his arm was in a great position to be kimura’ed. I lock up and start applying the submission. Some confusion arises because my opponent is deaf – the ref thinks he has tapped. And to be fair, his arm was bent pretty damn far at 1:07 – 1:10, without a realistic recourse for escape. But he says he’s fine. So the match recommences.

Just immediately slapping on the kimura again struck me as unfair, but it’s available from 1:47 to 2:00 or so. Becomes available again for a few seconds at 2:04 (or so), but he’s quick and turns to his side and gets to his stomach. I try to follow to the back, no good. He beat me to the punch. While struggling to attain top position, however, he came up one arm in, one arm out. He loses top momentarily, and I briefly threaten a triangle from the back. As he again assumes top, the triangle from the back turns into a normal, unlocked triangle. Lacking a bit in the ideal angle, I lock it up in reverse and pursue a reverse armbar – in the intervening scrambling seconds as he got to top, he had made the mistake of putting his arm in the pocket between my head and shoulder (while in someone’s guard). He stands to defend the reverse armbar. The angle is better, now, for a normal triangle, and I make the switch. He steps over me to avoid the triangle, and we both roll off the mats.

We get moved to the center of the mat; and he’s started in an unlocked triangle, but with his arm controlled. My left hand shoots atop his head to control his posture – I’ve been trying to cement a habit about triangles, “At all times, keep at least one hand on his head to control his posture.” I lock the triangle. Again he steps over to defend the triangle. My legs are locked tightly this time, and we have a lot of mat space. His arm got extended in the process, and I start applying the armbar – however, my first priority is retaining the strong strangulation with the triangle. Both his legs are wrapped around my body, taking away the angle my hips need to finish the armbar (it wasn’t quite right, from the beginning). I abandon the failing armbar, and start addressing this ‘legs around my body’ business – lest I lose my beloved triangle. As I start fighting for a mounted triangle, he taps.

Time: 2 minutes, 6 seconds

Score: 0 (1 adv) to 0

Match 2.

Something about the opening seconds of the match makes me suspicious that I am about to be thrown.1 I pull guard by sitting down. He has control of both my legs. This is a no-no. You can see me fail to break his right grip on my left leg several times – at it was about that time I began to worry that maybe this guy is really good and that pulling guard might have been a dumb thing to do. In those few seconds he had measurable control on my legs, however, he did really try to pass. I finally manage to break his grips. He fails to either regain control of my legs, or otherwise put me on my back. This is a mistake. He is leaning forward without much control on me, so I try, and catch, ankle pick.

Again as I’m transitioning to the top, I try stuffing his right leg to avoid any guard. This is unsuccessful. I’m in a half-closed, half-butterfly. He has an underhook on my right side. It’s very live. So I’m trying to pass low to my left, out of respect for a potential sweep on my right. As I slowly fought for good posture (then the associated pass), he snagged both underhooks and a full butterfly guard. In terms of controlling him, this is suboptimal for me. I try a little sprawl pass, just to see if I can initiate some exchanges in the guard. No dice. He is doing a really good job of not letting me control him, and takes a strong overhook on my left arm. I’m concerned about the sweep on that side now, and gain my posture to remove my arm. Again he takes a nice underhook – I just can’t seem to stop this guy from sitting up – and then stands up in base, and is nearly out of bounds too.

Nooo, this is entirely unacceptable! I snag one of his leg, and immediately “run the pipe” (to make sure he doesn’t go out of bounds). I am completely airborne at 1:24. Correct technique? Almost certainly not. When he falls, he puts me in a half-closed, half-butterfly guard. The big difference is now he is on his back, and I have an underhook on my right-side.

I push his butterfly hook between my legs, and end up in half-guard. The week before the tournament, I think it was, we had a week’s worth of lessons on the half-guard. During the match – I say this without an ounce of exaggeration – I realized that I had the four (or so) things you need to control someone while in their half-guard. After the realization struck me, I just tried to pass and succeeded.

In sidemount, though, he did a good job of not making mounting or attacking a real option. At 2:06, I abandoned the cross-face I had with my left arm, with the intention of pursuing a kimura on his left arm. He took that opportunity to begin escaping. So I transitioned to the other side (via north-south) with the intention of picking up a kimura on his left arm. He turned hard onto his right side in an attempt to escape to his feet. In that little scrambled, it suddenly made sense to transition to the armbar, which I do. He has placed his left hand (that’s the arm being armbarred) underneath my right calf, stopping the submission. At that moment, I’m focused – more than anything – on not letting him escape the submission. ‘I can deal with various defenses once I stop him from escaping.’ He almost makes it to his feet, but falls back. I changed the angle of my pull on his arm, to make getting to his feet much more awkward. His hand is still being my leg, close to my Achilles tendon. I turned my hips to my left, kick my right leg straight, and simultaneously pull on his arm – his arm is freed from behind my leg, and is extended very quickly. The gentleman tried snapping several times to tap, he told me later.

Time: 2 minutes, 11 seconds.

Score: 5 to 0

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1. Getting thrown pisses me off to the highest level of pisstivity. Not necessarily being taken down, but specifically the act of being thrown.

Gracie Grappling Cup 2012

This past Saturday, March 10th, 2012, I competed in Boerne, TX at 187 lbs. Aaand at purple belt, my lovelies. Aaand, I got first place. Let me tell you, my audience, all about it.

The week of March 5th – March 10th

Monday: I received an email from my instructor asking me to compete.

Tuesday: I chose the 187 pound division and signed up.

Wednesday: To make sure I have the cardiovascular endurance to press the pace of the matches (if necessary) / as a basic diagnostic tool for my current, hereto unknown fitness level, I ran3.3 miles, rested five minutes, ran 2.2 miles, rested five minutes, then ran 1.1 miles. To my happy surprise, I did not die of a heart attack or feel like I was dying from a heart attack.

Thursday: My teammate, whose – not entirely tangential to the facts at hand – real name is that of a mythical bird, agrees to help with the ridiculous plan I concocted to get to the tournament on Saturday without missing work.

Friday: “Operation Ridiculous” is placed into effect. I went into work at 9 pm…

Saturday: And got out of work around 3 AM. It is now technically Saturday morning. My teammate and I picked up one more teammate; and the three of us start driving to San Antonio around 3:30 AM in the morning. 5 AM, we arrived in San Antonio at a friend’s house and slept for two hours.

We wake up, are out the door by 7:30 AM, and the whole world should know they had a very irritable, sleep-deprived “Jiu-Jitsu Wanderer” on their hands.

Fast forward until 3 or 4 PM, and it’s finally time for me to compete. My first match lasted perhaps 2½ minutes. I finished him with a triangle, and no points were scored on me. My second match, again, lasted some 2½ minutes, no points scored on me. I finished him with an armbar.

Aaand that’s it. First place. Taaa-daaa. Footage exists somewhere of these two matches. As soon as I procure it, I’ll post it. The second match I had was particularly instructive, as I spent some time in the guy’s half-guard. The week prior to the tournament, the topic of several classes had been half-guard – and there was a precise moment in the match, while running through the checklist of things I need to pass while in someone’s half-guard, when I felt the conceptual points from the prior classes suddenly and forevermore “make sense.”1 Then I just passed, and the gentleman was never able to recover a tenable position.

What else? I was super disappointed at the fact there was not an Absolute Purple Division. The white belts had one. The blue belts had one. There must have been 20 purple belts at the tournament, with approximately half of them competing in some capacity. What gives? Whose decision was this?

Anyway. That about wraps up the tournament write-up Afterward, we drove back into Austin and went into work. Holy Moses, I was tired. And even by the normal bouncer-standards, I was exceedingly irritable.

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Sorry about missing yesterday, my audience. South By Southwest is here all week, and I work downtown. So the hours have been a little crazy lately.

One last thing. Did anyone see the footage of the argument someone started with Ryan Hall?!

That poor, wanton, obviously mentally ill person should, starting this year, make a yearly pilgrimage to the Parthenon. Once there, he should buy the finest goat in all of Athens and sacrifice it, in perfect accordance with the methods of propitiations put forth by the Cult of Athena, to Ryan Hall. This idiot should, I say again, perform this pilgrimage once a year until the year of his own death. I’m not kidding.

Thanks for reading.

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1. Presumably, they always “made sense.” What I would say for clarity’s sake is this: For the first time, I felt like I understood the key points to passing a half-guard on an experiential basis.

I Love Ronda Rousey

My Love Letter To Ronda Rousey.

[First press play on this song]

Ronda,

Hello. My name is Justin. Congratulations on your recent win against Meisha Tate and becoming the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion. I was at work while the fight was going on…but if I could have watched it, I would have.

I was writing to say that I am President of the local Austin branch and the National “Ronda Rousey Is The Most Beautiful Woman In The World” Association. And I’m writing to say that I’m madly in love with you; and that I want your babies.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First of all, this letter should not freak you out or ‘be weird’ because, well, we’ve actually met one another! Maybe you remember? Harken back, if you would, to your fight with Sarah D’Alelio in Las Vegas that happened on August 11th, 2011. I was the guy with the giant, red Rs painted on my body – one on my chest, one on my back. I was holding the sign “My heart’s ‘Rowdy’ for Ronda.” Sometimes when I cheered for you, I felt like you could hear me inside the 2,500 seat stadium at the Palms Casino Resort. What I do know for a fact is that the camera which pans on the audience stopped on me for a few seconds – maybe there’s a chance you caught a glimpse of me, slovenly drunk as I was?

Or…I know you had a lot going on that night, so it’s okay if you didn’t see me. But what about your next major fight against Julia Budd? I paid full price for the seats right by where the fighters make their entrance. You looked so beautiful, like a Whitman poem, making your entrance in a pink gi. I was the guy being restrained by the ‘event security’ because I was trying to come up and say hello to you. Duh, those Neanderthals working the security didn’t know I was a personal friend of yours. The nerve of some people, I’ll tell ya’. Anyway, I’m positive now that you remember me. “Justin? Oh yes, Justin!” I imagine you saying. I was also the guy positively bellowing – over your coach, I might add – “Try doing that armbar thing you do! There ya’ go! MY HEART’S ROWDY FOR RONDA ROUSEY!”

“My heart’s ‘Rowdy’ for Ronda.”  But this might be the lithium talking.

And yes, it turned out my heart was a little too ‘rowdy’ for the esteemed staff at the Palms – I was kicked out of the establishment, without refund I might add. But I’m told that you ended up winning some fifteen or twenty seconds after I was literally thrown out the side entrance by three giants; and I’d like to think I, in some small way, contributed to the eventual breaking of Julia Budd’s arm.

So we’ve practically almost met before already was the point.

And I don’t think you yet realize – because we’ve only just met – just how compatible we are. Give me a minute to briefly explain some points of high compatibility we share. Consider this, for example: You are billed as being 5’7. I am 6’1 – meaning I am taller than you. For long-term compatibility, it is essential that the male be taller than the female. You have medaled on the national, international, and the Olympic stages in Judo. I have medaled in several statewide Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, and once got 3rd place – having lost to first place by three advantages – in Incheon, South Korea. That’s me medaling on the international stage.

Sure, you might be able to consistently and effortlessly toss me to the mats using the most embarrassing and elementary of judo throws. But baby, that’s where I want to be with you. Maybe some people think I deserve a punch in the face for writing that. Well, bring it on whoever wishes to espouse that opinion BECAUSE I am willing to bet 5,000 Korean Won that I am the fastest runner in the ENTIRE history of people who blog about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.1 Bar none.2

“You cannot punch what you cannot catch.”

And sure, my Mom could be right when she says your neck is probably thicker than mine. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And this beholder has beheld the most pulchritudinous of beauties in my long and inglorious history of behelditudes – even more than that hippie who used to actually sleep in trees for real.

In your most recent fight, I held a sign which said “If you love me back, Ronda, and want to marry me, you’ll finish this fight by armbar.” I was the one holding the sign in one arm, while flailing my other arm around like a maniac – I felt like you were sensing me holding the sign, even though I was in Austin working the door at a club, and you in Columbus!

By god did you lay on Tate two of the most hellacious armbars ever, with the second one finally dislocating her elbow in truly excruciating fashion. I knew you were attracted to me, but I had no idea you felt that strongly. So yes, I am taking this to mean that you, too, are absolutely madly in love with me and are looking to settle down.

For some reason – I’m sure you’re very busy these days – you have neglected to contact me. At your earliest convenience, please shoot me an email at thejiujitsuwanderer[at]gmail.com. I’m an old-fashioned man, and would still like to propose to you in person. But, and I’m sure you’re unaware of this, the security guard of your apartment complex told me in no uncertain terms “You are forever banned from this place. If you ever try to bring flowers to this apartment again, I’m going to have you arrested.” He obviously just doesn’t understand our love, and is probably just jealous of what we have together.  If you could iron that out for me, I’d really appreciate it.

I’m counting the days til we are united once again, my love!

Bringing a ring the next time I see you,

Justin

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1. About $4.45.

2. Unless someone is actually faster than me – which is totally possible – in which case, I bar that person from consideration.

Gracie Humaitá Austin: Tuesday Class

Tuesday and Thursday are the days for hard training at our academy. It’s the day we set aside all the worries of the world, warm up, then wholly and honestly come at one another with the best of our abilities. “You gotta have your mind right when you come to these classes,” said a new addition to our team after class, a purple belt from another academy. He threw up the first time he attended this class. Off the cuff, by my count we have had at least three people throw up from Tuesday/Thursday class.1 The “I think I’m going to throw up” sentences are always met with “Do what you gotta do, but make sure you come back” by someone in our team.

After 45 minutes of hard rolling, we spend the last 15 minutes of class working on takedowns. Separated into over 160 lbs and under 160 lbs, I noticed a lot of action on the other side of the mat. This gritty, Space Cadet of a white belt was struggling for the top in a takedown battle with Donald, our instructor.

And though relative to us – his students, I mean – his technique is essentially infinite…:

And at any moment, he could probably do one of these to us:

“Gracie Humaitá Austin: A Shaolin Temple-style beating so bad, you will honestly espouse the belief that you are Uma Thurman afterward.”

But for the briefest of moments, it seemed like this Space Cadet might actually win this tussle. Takedown, both of them land on their knees and struggle to stand again. Sacrifice throw, but our little hero does not let his back touch the mat and again struggles to his knees. He shoots and grabs a single. Donald’s leg in the air, he executes the takedown well. But Donald turns around at the last second, and only his hips touch the ground AND they’re up again! They are up at it again! Donald again throws him to the mat. They both scramble for a moment – and it suddenly looks like our Space Cadet has an anti-gravity patch on his gi – then D finally establishes his position on top.2

The serious looks in the two combatants faces immediately melted away. It was serious; but it was also in the spirit of friendly competition. Their struggle made them, in some infinitesimal way, a little bit better than they were before. I immediately began clapping, and would have clapped my hands raw – because displays like that inspire me – if more people had joined along with me.

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I was supposed to write a blog entry today.3 But I ended up writing a novel of an email to a friend of mine about the Origins of Morality instead. It was meticulously researched, and ended up taking most of the damn day. What I really want to do is write a science entry.4 Consider that on the agenda sometime in the near future.

Just to be clear, ahem, the Shaolin Temple-style beating was a joke – I’ve entertained my belief ‘I am Uma Thurman’ years before I joined the team!  Thanks for reading!

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1. As I typed that, I realized that I work on Thursday nights for the past seven months or so and really have only been attending the hard training on Tuesday. Assuming equal distribution, we might actually have had six people throw up.

2. I suspect that I’ve got the order of these series of takedowns wrong. In my defense, I was in the “Over 160 lb” section.

3. Technically yesterday now.

4. I’m writing that on the whiteboard I keep by my bed right now. OH! Or maybe a travel entry. I really haven’t written one of those yet. Maintaining a blog about my interests turned out to be more difficult than I initially imagined.