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