How I got my start -- in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Originally posted TUESDAY, JUNE 21, 2011

I’ve been a UFC fan for years, even before it was acquired by Zuffa. I was fascinated by the anything goes, hand-to-hand form of combat. I suppose it reminded me of growing up in Hawaii. :) The UFC was also enjoyable because it helped answer the question, “What martial-art or fighting style was most effective?” Karate? Kickboxing? Boxing? Wrestling? Ninjutsu? What matters more, size or technique?The UFC provided a forum, the octagon, to settle the long-standing fight-world debate. Everyone had a theory, but no one really knew for sure. What became crystal clear even today is that every fighter must have a background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or they WILL lose. It’s just that simple. My background was mostly striking, so I wanted to try out this ground fighting stuff.A co-worker, also interested in the UFC, and I found a local BJJ academy in San Jose taught by black belt instructor Tom Cissero. Tom has a passion for the martial arts and, more importantly, for his students, as he deeply feels that they are a direct reflection upon his life and value as a person. Yes, he takes his craft that seriously, and serious he is. Tom is abrasive, aggressive, and combative, attributes covering up a heart of gold. In the academy Tom will push you hard, harder than any place else, to make you good. Whether you like it or not, and he cares enough to do so. That’s why I stayed with him the better part of a decade.Anyway, my 6’2” - 300lbs, and let’s face it, seriously fat and way out of shape frame walks in -- admittedly with a little bit of big man ego. I see Tom instantly trying to size me up. Of course he had me figured out in all of 5 seconds as you’ll read in a moment. After signing the waver, doing some drills, and learning a couple of submissions I began to familiarize myself with the basic rules and gym etiquette. Then came sparring time. Tom loves the sparring sessions more than anything else. Probably because it measures your progress in stamina and skill.Tom pairs me up with, and I kid you not, a 150 lbs or less woman in her mid 40’s and says let’s see what you can do. She’s a purple belt with several years of BJJ experience, but I’m thinking to myself WTF!? She’s half my size! I’m going to squash her! Then of course the whole situation is running counter to my internal man moral code, never fight girls. Not being given a choice, but also not wanting to be disrespectful, I decided to go really easy as I didn’t want to hurt her or anything.The bells sounds, I come slowly forward towards her, she quickly closes the distance, spider monkeys to my back, chokes me, and forces me to tap out inside of 10 seconds flat. I was shocked and a little upset. Here I am going light and she takes advantage of me. Clearly she’s not playing around. To hell with this, no way I’m going to let that happen again! No more Nr. Nice Guy.We touch hands, signaling to begin again, but I go harder this time trying to put her back on the mat. She again somehow sneaks around under my arm, like an octopus, and chokes me with the same damn move! To my credit, I lasted a few more seconds that time. This scenario repeats for about 4 to 5 minutes in the session, and for the life of me, as big strong guy, I could not keep this tiny older woman off my back and robbing the oxygen from my brain. Oh, and all the while she is speaking to me in a calm instructive voice. Humiliation is the best word to describe.At the end of class I’m thinking to myself, there is something to this Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stuff. However, that wasn’t the most important thing to me at that particular moment. There was no way I could go on about my life happily knowing that a such a women could kick my butt so easily. Call it machoism if you like, I don’t care. It was clear to me that I had to keep training BJJ at least long enough to beat her. It only took three years. Fortunately for me by that time the motivation to simply get better and enjoy myself became my primary driver.By the way, that woman is still training there. So if you are a big guy, and plan to drop by for a visit, don’t say I didn’t warn you. You could quickly find yourself on a journey to becoming a BJJ black belt.