It’s been six weeks since my last post on BJJ Globetrotters. This post is LONG overdue, but I finally have a second to sit down and write it. In the past six weeks, I returned home, started a new job, and started training at my new home for what will be a long while until my next foray into the Globetrotting lifestyle. That said, I couldn’t just ignore this blog and NOT finish what I started. I wrote the following while sitting in a Walmart parking lot a few weeks ago, recapping the prior week:
California is unimaginably large. After leaving Yosemite, I began what I assumed would be a quick hop, skip, and jump over to San Francisco. As I drove through the California countryside, speeding past the golden hillsides and amber sunsets, I truly felt like present. I’ve been feeling that a lot on this journey: like everything is falling into place as it should.
I decided that, despite the large BJJ presence in San Fran, I’d skip over the city itself. Nothing against San Francisco, but after a five days roughing it sans shower in Yosemite, I needed to get to my next stop as soon as possible. I needed a bed, some food, a shower, and just time to RELAX. I knew I couldn’t drive through SF without seeing Big Red (the Golden Gate Bridge), so I plugged her into my GPS and off we went!
Driving through the city, with “Full House’ flashbacks from my childhood replaying in my head, I realized that this was a setting I knew well. Coming from the East Coast, New York City is somewhere I’ve been dozens of times in my life. Well, though I’d have previously thought different, it was proven: when you’ve seen one city, you’ve really seen them all. Sure, they’ve all got their own quirks, unique qualities, and hidden mysteries; but every city feels the same. Tall buildings and a maze of streets that hide their secrets like a child hides their favorite toys, only revealing them to those who deserve them.
As my Jeep marched on through the rush hour Golden Gate Bridge traffic, I looked off to the east to see Alcatraz Island in the distance; an abandoned prison settled in the middle of the bay. I felt a twinge of poeticism flow through my mind. The world we all become accustomed to, the 9-5, the bills, the routine; it all becomes a prison in its own way. I’m no longer imprisoned on this trip. I can decide to up and go anywhere at the drop of a hat. I can do what I love in any city my jeep can reach, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m not obligated to train, I’m not obligated to travel, and I’m not obligated to be anywhere. I can just BE.
After a quick exit and five minute drive, I reached the picturesque scenery I’d been looking for. Atop a massive hill just west of the GGB, I was treated to a sight of the behemoth structure. Red, rusted, and rustic in a way, the bridge towered over the bay, and the Pacific mist fell on my cheeks. I breathed in the cool air, hopped in my truck, and onwards I went.
Dancing with the Pacific Coast Highway for almost 400 miles, I drove through dozens upon dozens of small, coastal Pacific towns. Seafood shacks, Gas Stations, and kind faces passed my window and through my rear view: I was ready to rest.
Winding roads and coastal air slowly transitioned into the shaded, wooded forests of the Pacific Northwest. I felt the encroachment of nature replace the crowded streets, and all was calm. Gigantic Redwoods towered above, and roaring rivers meandered across the landscape. All too perfect for a photo-op such as this:
I rolled into Portland around 5pm on a Friday, greeted by the excitement of my high school buddy, Mitch. On my way into the city, something super important happened. Karen, my trusty steed of 5,000 miles, rolled over her 200,000 mile mark. An emotional moment, indeed, and one that was surely celebrated! After arriving, Mitch, a New York to Portland transplant, promised me a weekend of adventure in the land of redwoods, legal marijuana, and millennial delight. I was MORE than excited. But first… a nap.
After a night exploring the streets of Portland, I awoke the next morning to go catch a noon class at 10th Planet Portland; my first foray onto the 10th Planet landscape… I arrived at the gym ten minutes before class to sign waivers, get changed, etc. I was greeted by Phil Shwartz, one of the coaches at the gym. Phil, a brown belt under Eddie Bravo himself, was incredible welcoming and interested in my Globetrotting travels. As the few stragglers drifted into the gym, class begun with a short warmup.
I’ll admit, and I’m not proud of this, that I’d always been a little apprehensive of the 10th Planet system. The interesting names and the nogi oriented system gave my gi-oriented self a headache at times. Well, after training with the guys at 10th Planet Portland for two hours, I can say that I have adopted an entirely new respect for the system. Phil instructed the class on a few sweeps from lockdown, a position I always struggled passing. What I began realizing, very quickly, was how well-developed and intricate the system is. I’ve always been a conceptual learner; if I know WHY a move works the way it does, I’ll be able to apply it better than just learning HOW the move works. The small shift of the hips, the squeezing of the legs, the one inch between a submission and their escape; this is the stuff I cherish. Phil was chock-full of these little details. He spoke about how, when passing a position (in this case lockdown), the easiest way to pass is to reverse engineer the position itself. It made PERFECT sense. They need the hook on your leg to secure the lockdown, so the first step in passing is to nullify the hook. It changed the way I look at passing.
As drilling winded down, it was time to roll. I was excited to test myself, a spider guard/lapel grabbing fiend, against the NoGi warriors here. I rolled six rounds straights, one with Phil, two purple belts, two blue belts, and one of the female blue belts. I try to get a roll in with at least one of the women in class whenever I drop in; coming from a gym that has a strong female presence, I feel like I get an unadulterated sense of how the instruction at the gym is. Phil kept it really playful, trading positions, feeling out my game, and then, ultimately, dispatching me in a typical brown belt/blue belt fashion. He complimented me on my aggressive passing style, and I applauded his students, his system, and his technique overall. I had a blast rolling with the blues and purples. As I move on in my BJJ journey, I find myself having an easier time rolling with purples and browns than I do with blues. I’m noticing that blue belts in general, and this has really improved the way that I roll and train, almost try and prove themselves against other blue belts, especially visiting blue belts.
Overall, my experience at 10th Planet Portland was one I would gladly repeat. The instruction was top notch, the students incredibly welcoming, and the system is on point. Side note: I’m noticing something about a lot of 10th Planet instructors: they mimic Eddie Bravo in an almost eerie way. Had I closed my eyes, I’d have sworn that Eddie himself was teaching class, as Phil was like Eddie almost down to the mannerisms.
The rest of my time in Portland was quite an experience. Viewing Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens off in the distance, Mitch and I decided no Portland adventure would be complete without a quick hiking trip. A quick google search of “Portland Hiking” delivered a familiar name: Oneonta Gorge. I went to college in Upstate New York at the State University of New York at, you guessed it, Oneonta. SUNY Oneonta to Oneonta Gorge, Oregon. It seemed right that the last place I go before turning home share a namesake with the place this journey really started.
Mitch and I drove to the gorge to find that, and I’m quoting the online train summary, “the creek is the trail.” A mile hike into the gorge in knee-waist deep water on a hot summer day was the perfect outlet. As I reached the 100-ft Oneonta Gorge falls, I felt a growing power in my gut. I felt a scream growing. As I trudged through the cold mountain water, and the waterfall crashed at my feet, I let it go. Tearing my hands through the water, throwing it into the air around me, I screamed at the falls. I yelled, cursed, and cried. I did it. I F***ing did it. I drove my car 5,000 miles to get to the other side of this country I’ve always wanted to see. And I did it, in part, because of the opportunities and confidence I found from the sport that I love. With the roar of the water crashing around me, I was in a moment of tranquility and beauty. I was calm. Jiu Jitsu has taught me, above anything, that being calm in the face of roaring thunder and discomfort is the difference between winning and losing, between panic and relaxation, and between joy and misery. In the age old words of Bruce Lee:
“Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
Can’t wait to finish off my journey with you guys. I’ll have my next post about my trip to Salt Lake City up in the next few days! OSS!