When I was 20, all I cared about was partying. I didn’t do meth or heroin, but I did everything else. I flunked out of college in Missoula quickly and moved to Livingston, Montana with a girl and tried to get my shit together. I worked a few different jobs and stopped the hard stuff, but I was unhappy. I was bored.
I wondered if this was what I had to look forward to in life. 40-50 hours per week at a job I hated, a dick boss, a tiny apartment, and a dying car. No motivation, no time or money, no fun.
One day I was contemplating this bleak future while working as a landscaper. We were building a patio out of huge slabs of shale. My boss Ursula was sitting on her tractor, chatting with the homeowner, who wouldn’t let us use his toilet.I realized I was a peasant. I would never have big money or enjoyable work. No glory and no adventures.
I dropped my rock and threw my gloves and said something like, “I quit, I’m done. Mail me my check.”
I walked a mile or so home and decided that I needed to move. My girlfriend wanted to move to Bozeman. We weren’t getting along anymore.We talked about it that night and agreed to split. Cleanest breakup ever.
So I packed everything I owned in an ’83 Mazda 323. After taking out all of the passenger seats and headed west.
Image credit: www.imcdb.org
I didn’t know where I was going, but Seattle sounded cool and it was only 10 hours away. So I drove there.
A friend back home put me in touch with her brother who lived down in Olympia, WA. He invited me to stay with him for a bit.
I loved Olympia, with it’s foliage, animals, and counter culture. I found work as a framer in a week and got a 1 room apartment downtown with no windows.
It was in Olympia that I discovered jiu jitsu.
My new girl friend went to college and I would go to its rec. center to lift weights and jump off the diving board. This guy in his 60’s named Don was in the weight room a lot with me and ran a fight club inside the rec. center. He worked on me every day to come and check out the fight club. After about a month he convinced me to at least come and watch. The fight club was a few guys of varying sizes with mouth guards, gloves, and that agreed to a rule set. Shirtless of course.
Don would fight too. He had a karate background and knew some submissions. He would regularly dominate muscular dudes a third his age. He would give advice between matches and try to line up pairs for each round. I didn’t see anybody get hurt too badly and it even looked like fun. I showed up to the next session with a mouthguard and some shorts.
I think the first person I fought was a chubby Asian guy who was new like me. We flailed at each other for a minute, then hit the ground somehow, where I wound up on top. I managed to hold him down for the round.
Then I fought with Don, who immediately body kicked me, then choked me within 30 seconds. He spent the next 3 minutes beating me, but being careful not to injure me. I realized that Don had things he could teach me, so I agreed to come in the next night.
I trained with Don two or three nights a week for the next four months.
It was primal. I remember getting suplexed, breaking dry wall, head kicking a guy, and getting kneed in the spine. People would come and go, but I was always there with Don. I started getting a little better. Lifting weights became extremely boring. I dropped it and started hitting a bag and practicing gymnastics. I discovered YouTube and became obsessed with Mirko Cro Cop.
Eventually I could hang with Don. He continued to train me, but suggested I try out a real Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) gym.
I went home and googled “MMA gyms” and the first hit was BJJ of Olympia. It was nearby so I went there after work and checked it out.
It was an intimidating place, with big tattooed guys yelling and pounding heavy bags with Tool blasting at 140 decibels.
The head instructor introduced himself as Robert. He gave me a free month to try it out and told me to come back the following day. I quickly realized I was on a new level. Over the first week I was squashed and pummeled by everybody. I did my best, but felt like I knew nothing.
Robert was always there correcting my mistakes, and explaining the basic theories behind grappling and striking. I began to enjoy the grappling a lot. It seemed calm and nuanced where striking felt violent and chaotic. It could have been the coaching or the training partners, but I drifted more and more to jiu jitsu.
I made friends with a guy at the gym who was a blue belt and beat me handily every time. He told me it was because he trained in the gi and convinced me to try it.
Image credit: www.bestchoicereviews.org
Initially I hated it. It was really hot and my buddy would grab it and use it to pin me. It was infuriating. But as promised, I noticed an improvement in my grappling.
And that’s how I got started in BJJ.
For the last 8 years, I’ve had a lot of setbacks and made poor decisions. However, I’ve always practiced diligently and I still think I could be some kind of champion.
Montana doesn’t offer a lot for BJJ. We have a handful of gyms, a few black belts, and barely any tournaments.
I’ve traveled and even moved away to train, but have returned to Montana twice. Those are both interesting stories.
I’m on the road again for jiu jitsu. I bought a big Chevy van
and threw a bed in it with the goal of making it to NYC to train at some of the world’s best gyms.
I’m training everywhere I can along the way. I’ll write about the sport and my journey.