You know you hear a lot about guy like my old training partner BJ Penn or Mike Fowler that get their black belts in record time. The prodigies the guys we all look at with awe. Me I’m on the other side of that curve.
I started training BJJ just after UFC 2. My good friend Rob Carter was already training with Reylson Gracie and was a blue belt. After watching the UFC with him we went down and trained at his school a few times. I was living in Huntington Beach, Ca which was basically the fist fighting capital of the USA. Obviously Gracie Jiu Jitsu was the martial arts to be training at the time. I only got a few days of training with Rob at Reylson’s but I did get a tshirt and a hoody and I found just wearing those around could keep me out of bar fights. The Gracie name was already well known in Socal.
Like most of us from the 90s generation of BJJ Royce and the UFC hooked me right away. Unfortunately money and distance kept me from training a lot at Reylson’s in 94 but in 95 I moved up to Silicon Valley and found Ralph Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Ralph’s soon became my home, I quickly changed my whole life around so I could train more. I moved closer to the gym, changed jobs, and did what ever I could do to train more.
Ralph was my first real Jiu Jitsu instructor and he really help shape my game and life in to where I ended up today. Bobby Southworth taught my first class there and lucky for me the mat at Ralph’s was full of talent. I got to train with Kurt Osiander, all the Penn brothers, the Camarillo brothers, Greg Rivera, Kevin Graham, Cameron Earle of course Gumby and I met there. I ended up meeting many of my closest friends to this day on the mat at Ralphs.
Ralph’s at the time was one of the best Jiu Jitsu teams in the country. Often Ralph brought in some of the best guys from Brazil to train with us. That is where I first met Nino Schembri, Ralph brought him in telling us he was the best guy in Brazil. He was amazing and all of us at Ralph worked hard to study his game an mimic his fluid submission based style. Some with more success then others.
I spent almost 2 years getting to my blue belt from Ralph. I competed three times and got silver all three times. Tournaments were few and far between then. Being a white belt was so frustrating and I was so happy to get my blue belt from Ralph. Back then getting a blue belt from Ralph felt like getting a black belt anywhere else. It was hard to get.
On September 11, 2001 Gumby woke me up early in the morning saying the twin towers had been attacked. I jumped out of bed and went to watch in his apartment. It was that day I decided I was out of there and I was moving to the Jiu Jitsu mecca of the world Rio de Janeiro.
In only two months I sold everything I own down to three boxes and a suite case. I jumped on a plane and in two days I was in Rio looking for a place to live. Thankfully Master Carlos Gracie Jr. helped me get settled in Barra de Tujica with an apartment just around the corner of world famous Gracie Barra.
For the next 3 years I lived in Rio training at Gracie Barra and traveling the country from the Amazon down to the south to Florianopolis. Training, traveling, competitng, and documenting the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu scene and lifestyle.
While I was there I got to train with some of the worlds greatest BJJ players and real BJJ legends. Reconnecting with Nino there was one of the best experiences for me. His whole family was very nice to me and I spent a lot of time training with him and his brother another black belt named Pepe.
Brazil is where my major injuries really started to happen. First I tore a tendon in my knee took me our for quite a while but I was able to train a little with my bad knee. However towards the end of my time in Brazil I separated two ribs and fractured two others while training wrestling with Darrel Gholar. Gholar was a great coach but I was wrestling with Brazil’s top MMA guys at his class where I was more than a bit out classed. My rib injury was bad. I missed over a year of training. Mostly because I kept thinking I was ready to go back and I would re injure myself quickly after starting to train again.
I had really hoped to get promoted to purple belt while I was living in Brazil. But unfortunately it just never happened. I retuned back to the US and visited with my instructor Ralph Gracie and he honored me with my purple belt after 4 years of being a blue belt. I competed quite a bit at blue belt in Brazil and also when I was back in the states. I had three only golds at blue belt but a bunch more silvers and bronzes. Competing in Brazil was very hard the level of talent there is amazing at every belt.
After my injury healed up I moved back the the USA. I was now living in Los Angeles. Far away from my team at Ralph’s up north so I joined my brother training with Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet. Eddie’s was a great place to train. Eddie had just started developing his system and a lot of his guard techniques originated studying moves that Nino was doing in Brazil. Of course Eddie’s is a no-gi specialist so at purple belt I spent a lot of time training with out the gi.
Things moved fast in the MMA world then and we ended up opening the OTM Fight Shops. This Started taking up a lot of my time and also moved me to the south bay of Los Angeles where I started training with Rigan Machado and his team for a while. Unfortunately during this time of training with Eddie and Rigan I suffered a continuing back injuries that took me off the mat quite a bit.
Then to my surprise Nino ended up moving to Los Anglese and opening a school close to my house in Manhattan Beach. This was an exciting time for me to get back to training with my old friend.
Nino is a great teacher and his school developed quickly with both new students and other higher belts coming to train with him. After 6 years at purple belt Nino promoted me to brown belt. It was a great day and I was really honored to get promoted by him. Nino has always been a BJJ idol for me.
Unfortunately an old injury came back to haunt me bad. It turned out when I had hurt my ribs in Brazil training I had also fractured 3 of my vertebras in my lower back. I never had my back x-rayed in Brazil my ribs hurt so bad that I never even thought about anything else. So I had been training for almost 8 years on a broken back. This explained the reoccurring back injuries. It was really devastating leaving the doctors office learning I had broken my back.
The fractures in my back had caused ruptures over time in my discs and while on a trip to China making gis I blew out the disc between S1 and L5 in my lower back. I did this running down an escalator with luggage in my hands. I felt it when it happened but I really had no idea how sever it was till I woke up the next morning and could hardly move.
This injury turned out to be a a disabling injury that sent me back to the USA for a major surgery and took me off my feet for 6 months and off the mat for 3 years.
Anyone who has had a bad injury knows how hard it is to come back and start training again. You don’t come back to where you left off you start all over again in some ways. You lose strength, timing and techniques. It is really frustrating. And, re injury is always in the back of your head.
I feel like I have had to give up on Jiu Jitsu in my life 3 times due to injury each time the doctors telling me I should give it up but I have never been able to. Although when I lay on my back for 6 months drugged up on pain pills I often thought I was an idiot for not giving up on it twice before.
It took a long time to get back to walking normal again, I still can’t run to this day but I have slowly made my way back no the mat and training again although consistency has been hard with injury and work. I still popped in trained a bit and got to see everyone.
I been back training sporadically when body and work allowed for a couple years when I got a chance to go down to Costa Rica with the Sub & Surf camps. it was an awesome trip and while I was there to my surprise my good friend Jeff Glover decided he was sick of seeing me in a brown belt on and promoted me to black belt! It was truly a huge surprise and didn’t expect it at all. I really appreciated the nice things Jeff said about me and why he felt me getting my black belt was over due. I think having been in Jiu Jitsu so long a lot of people thought I was already a black belt. So when the news hit the internet it really blew up. I got over 300 Facebook messages in one night. That was very much appreciated.
There was one uncomfortable part to it thought. When Nino promoted me to brown belt he had asked that I get Ralph my original instructors blessing, which Ralph gave us. But since getting promoted by Jeff was a total surprise I hadn’t had spoken to Nino about it and I felt a bit uncomfortable about it. Nino has been teaching me Jiu Jitsu since I was white belt back at Ralph’s and both him and his brother the whole time I was in Brazil.
Luckily for me I was able to speak to Nino about what had happened. He was very supportive and told me I did deserve my belt after 17 years of training and when I got back to the school we had a very nice promotion ceremony there with all my fellow team mates there with me. Most people only get promoted once to Black Belt but I got lucky and got promoted twice. I guess since it took me twice as long as most people to get promoted it kind of made sense.
I really want to thank Nino for all the years of help and support from white belt all the way to black belt he has been helping me on the mat. He is an amazing instructor and I am proud to be a part of his team and his school.
Its funny how times passes so quick, sometimes I feel like I just started training Jiu Jistu. I am glad that I stuck it out and at 43 years old I finally reached my goal of Black belt.
In 17 years there are just too many people for me to list out them all out to thank them for their help. I know I would forget people and the list would just be too long for anyone to read. So if you are a friend of mine thought this wonderful world of BJJ we all share I thank you for it all.