De volta à faixa branca (Back to white belt)
I feel completely lost. Things that should make sense don’t. Up is down, left is right…..white is branca. I am humbled and at times defeated, yet I have this desire to figure out what is going on. I keep coming back, and each time I come back, things get just a little bit clearer. I am white belt again, a white belt in Portuguese.
I have always wanted to learn another language. I tried taking a Spanish class in middle school but was kicked out after only a few weeks due to several “disagreements” with my teacher. She never did appreciate my humor. Anyways, since becoming a devoted student to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and making friends with several Brazilian instructors and students, I thought it only fitting that I try to learn to speak the language. My wife was nice enough to buy me Rosetta Stone’s level I Portuguese series, now all I have to do is practice.
After about 5 minutes into my first Portuguese lesson I was transported back to 2006, the first day that I walked into Claudio Franca’s Jiu Jitsu Academy in San Jose. I had finally decided to give this Jiu Jitsu thing a try and showed up to the afternoon class for my first lesson. The instructor at the time was a purple belt named Evan who was a really nice guy, he welcomed me to the academy and had me sign some waivers that essentially stated that if I died or was seriously injured during my training there it wasn’t their fault. Of course I had no gi so I was training in my gym clothes and even kept my socks on…what a dork. Now it was time to warm up.
The first warm up consisted of trying to pass your partners open guard with one hand behind your back. Looking back, the drill is a great way to learn to get around your opponents legs without relying on the use of both hands for say a Toreando pass. It also gives the person on bottom a chance to learn to use their hips and hooks for defense, but keep in mind that at the time I had no idea what an open guard was, let alone how to pass it. I was partnered up with a massive blue belt. He was an ex college football player who probably weighed 250lbs or so and although his weight wouldn’t really matter at the time, his understanding of hip movement and the open guard did. I remember just running around and spinning in circles trying to get past his legs. I am an athlete, how is this so complicated!? To say I was frustrated was an understatement (by the way, after about a minute or two I was completely gassed from expending all of that energy and going nowhere.) Now it was my partners turn to go. The best way to describe my open guard then would be to imagine putting a turtle on his back and…yeah, you get the picture.
For the remainder of the warm up I was taken through a series of six different “snake moves” which teach you how to move your hips and the rest of your body in ways specific to Jiu Jitsu. I remember thinking that these movements were so silly at the time (mostly because I couldn’t do them). I remember asking myself what does any of this have to do with fighting? We finally finished the warm up and I was relieved to be done with these strange drills, now it’s time to learn how to kick some ass! Surely I was about to learn some bone crushing throw or joint snapping submission….nope. Evan proceeded to take us through the proper way to finish a clock choke from the turtle guard. I don’t own a gi, I don’t know what a collar choke is, and what the f*#k is a turtle guard? This was my first lesson in the gentle art.
What made me come back? I hadn’t learned anything about fighting (so I thought), I didn’t submit anyone, I felt completely uncoordinated, and I didn’t know it at the time but I was about to get submitted multiple times by a small woman. I decided to give it a month and see how it played out. I bought a gi, and started attending classes two days a week. Each class I was left with more questions than answers. Everything was foreign. I was lost. I was humbled and defeated many times but I just kept coming back.
After a while, I started to learn the meanings of basic words. I didn’t have great pronunciation and I couldn’t spell the words right yet, but I could see the word and match it with a corresponding image. I wasn’t ready to put sentences together let alone paragraphs but I trusted that if I just kept going it would make sense eventually. This is what it feels like to be a beginner. Practice makes perfect and just showing up to class is half the battle. Forrest Griffin of the UFC was recently awarded his black belt by Robert Drysdale. When asked in an interview how he was able to attain his new rank, he replied in classic Forrest fashion, he said “Just keep showing up to practice and eventually you will stop sucking”. I think Forrest is dead on. There will be many times where you feel that you are not making any progress and you’ll become frustrated. If you just keep showing up to class and participating you WILL get better. Jiu Jitsu has taught me to apply this philosophy to everything I do. That includes learning Portuguese. I know that if I turn on the computer and practice, no matter how frustrating it may be, I WILL get better. I know I will eventually learn to put sentences together, then paragraphs, etc. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to write a whole blog entry in Portuguese!
*Coming up- A report on Roy Dean’s latest project…I can’t wait to tell you about it! I will also be reviewing a new gi from Submission Fight Company, nice looking gi, how will it perform? Stay tuned!