Starting BJJ a little later in life may have been the best blessing of my life, after my wife and family of course. At 37 and overweight, I was a weight lifter and played competitive softball. Every year I gained a few pounds and got a little more out of shape. At 264 pounds I decided to make a change. I knew John Rallo from playing softball and knew he was doing MMA. I contacted John and he told me about his academy Ground Control. We spoke for a few minutes and he recommended I try BJJ. I did a class on a Tuesday and thought I was going to die. I tried another on Thursday and the results were the same, however, I did find myself losing 5 pounds in 3 days. Although I wanted to never go back my wife said give an open mat a try where I could go at my own pace, so, I did the Saturday Open Mat. At 260 pounds or so, getting owned by a 170 pound blue belt was very humbling. I decided at that moment I had to continue, truthfully, not knowing where it was going to take me.
In 2009, after training at Ground Control for nearly 2.5 years, our family moved to North Carolina. I found a new home at Evolution Mixed Martial Arts. I was welcomed like family. I had been a Blue Belt, earned at Ground Control under John Rallo, but, in 2011 after an extensive talk with John we agreed I should be affiliated with the current academy I am training at. I spoke to our Black Belt Jeremy Owens and told him of my conversation with John. Later that year I was awarded my Purple Belt under Jeremy and Charuto Verissimo. Although Evolution was my home, my travels for work took me from North Carolina to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and many places in between. I trained whenever I traveled. I built a network of gyms across the country, that, when I was in the area I was able to train at. This allowed my Jiu Jitsu to grow and it allowed me to grow as a person. Meeting people from all walks of life and having 1 thing in common, that was Jiu Jitsu.
In 2014 I was awarded my Brown Belt by Jeremy Owens and Charuto Verissimo. By now I had been traveling the area for many years. I not only had training partners but I had grown a Jiu Jitsu family. I looked forward to traveling to continue to grow that family. The more I grew my family, the more I understood what Jiu JItsu is, not as a sport but, as a way of life. I was traveling back from Charlotte in September of 2015. Before I left Charlotte I heard someone mention Mission 22. I didn’t really listen to what was said but the name resonated in my head during the 4 hour drive home. I decided to look it up and see what it was about. I was impressed by what I saw. I knew I didn’t have the funds to donate at that time but something in my head told me I needed to do something. I put it off for a few days, not mentioning it to anyone, then one day it came to me, use the network and family I had built to try to make a difference.
I decided to try to put my Jiu Jitsu family to use. I called Origin Gi company to ask if they would be interested in my program and if they had any old stock or other gis they could help with. To my surprise, they loved the idea. They made a commitment to send me some gis. I then contacted Billy Dowey in Raleigh NC whom I knew had a close relationship to soldiers on Ft Bragg, again, to my surprise, Billy loved the idea. He told me about 18 gis he had in his office that I could pick up. I knew then this idea was possible. I set out to be the difference in the lives of those that swore an oath to protect and serve our country and communities.
I am very blessed to have the journey I have been given in this martial art that has become my way of life. Dedication, sacrifice, integrity, and honor are all what I live my life by today because of jiu jitsu. Understanding that jiu jitsu is not what I do but who I have become has been the best thing to ever happen to me on a personal level. Those first few days of wanting to quit replay in my mind all the time. Everytime I think of where my life would be without jiu jitsu I get choked up. Jiu Jitsu hasn’t made my life easier but it has made taking life, easier. The good times are better because of the out look jiu jitsu gives me. The bad times aren’t so bad for the same reason. Why? Because I know every time I step on the mats, everytime I bump fists and slap hands, I am going to be better at the end of that round, at the end of that night. I am going to make better decisions because in jiu jitsu, making the wrong decision has a price, therefore, in life the decisions we make have a price. Each decision only has 2 out comes. One outcome is, it enhances your life for the better, the other outcome is it harms your life in some manner. Knowing this and excepting this makes you think more of your decisions prior to making them. This is what Jiu Jitsu is to me.