Hello to all! ¡Hola mis amigos! Olá meus amigos! Bonjour mes amis!
As I type out this blog post on my almost decade old-Macbook, I find myself at a loss for words. Had you told 13-year-old me that within ten years he’d be a sponsored athlete; that he’d be on the cusp of graduating college, preparing to leave on a seven week journey to do the things he’d love most in the world… well, 13-year-old Mike Barr would’ve awkwardly laughed in your face.
My name is Mike Barr. Before I go anywhere with this, I have to thank BJJGlobetrotters for giving me the opportunity to share my story, my journey, and my experiences with all of you. I am humbled by their interest in my upcoming odyssey, and hope that my words can do it justice. Now, back to my intro.
Like I said, my name is Mike Barr. Bald Mike, Baldy, Magic Mike, Mikey, Unicycle Guy, Tightrope Guy; all names I’ve been known by as of yet. At the moment I’m writing this, I am 21 years old, on the cusp of graduating university, and am, like most twenty-something grads, absolutely thrilled, yet terrified, to be entering this new chapter in my life.
A slightly chunky, even more slightly awkward 13-year-old Mike in the flesh.
After a serious amount of thought, a few beers at the Red Jug Pub in my small college town of Oneonta, New York, I decided that my first blog post to all of you should be, well, about what go me here in the first place. Don’t worry; I’m not here to share my life story. I’m here to write about BJJ, and write I shall!
I was introduced to grappling at a rather young age. Though my parents never really ventured into the world of martial arts, I am the younger middle child of a family of four boys. Needless to say, living room wrestling and basement smackdowns were a normal part of my formative years. Additionally, weekend wrestling tournaments were the norm for my family; my oldest brother, Larry, wrestled for much of his life (6th grade to his junior year in college). I didn’t care much for it back then; the tournaments were boring and I didn’t understand the sport as a quiet seven year old.
My first introduction to BJJ, however, is rather typical for today’s practitioners; I recall watching UFC around the age 8 or 9. Around the same time Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell were at the peak of their rivalry, my older brother Dan had started training at a small hole-in-the-wall MMA gym a small hike from my house in Mount Kisco, New York (a small suburb of New York City).
My first BJJ class was somewhere around 2006/2007, and it was during this haphazard period where Dan was desperately trying to get me involved. I remember walking into Black Dragon, putting on a smelly, white jacket that seemed WAY too stiff to move around in. I tried, and quickly failed, at tying my pants; pants that dragged past my heels and tripped me up rather easily. Dan helped me tie them hurriedly before we sat in a circle and stretched. We were never terribly close, and still aren’t, but I’ll never forget that class. I recall everything being so strange and foreign; the movements were so difficult. I found myself struggling with a kimura from the closed guard as Dan and Sifu Brandon guided my pudgy eleven-year-old body through the motions. Before long, the white, stained jacket had seemingly gotten tighter and heavier, and constricted my breathing as it enveloped my chest like the worlds worst hug. I couldn’t breathe, and the panic attack was imminent. I tore the jacket off, tossed it aside, and sat on the edge of the mat until class ended, embarrassed and ashamed.
Though Dan’s surging confidence in BJJ interested me for a time, I became focussed on another area of my life, music. Between this interest and my hellish first class experience, my BJJ journey had been forced into dormancy. For the next few years, BJJ was simply something that existed. It was nowhere near what it would become, but it never really went away. I’d watch UFC and think, “Oh, there’s a triangle,” or “Oh, he’s got back mount.” I’d occasionally scroll past a Flying Triangle tutorial on YouTube, inevitably dragging my little brother downstairs to practice. I never succeeded.
My high school years came and went with minimal exposure to the martial arts; a gym-class judo unit here, a self-defense seminar there. Though this was fun, I was much more involved in my artistic interests for most of high school (read: I was a theater nerd. No shame.) And alas, as the summer of 2013 drew to a close, my family packed up my dad’s white Jeep Cherokee, we piled in, and off I went to my first semester of college at the State University of New York, College at Oneonta. At the time, I was in a long-distance relationship with my high school sweetheart; a relationship that definitely took a toll on my health. I was pretty overweight, out of shape, and had an overarching negative view of myself. I needed something to get myself back. I needed a release.
At the time, my oldest brother, Larry, had been making strides in BJJ. He’d transitioned from collegiate wrestling to BJJ roughly a year prior, and was absolutely killing it on the competition scene. After seeing him medal at the Dallas Open as a white belt, I decided on a whim to check out any BJJ schools in my college town. Oneonta is a small town of about 14,000 people in upstate New York, located smack dab center between Albany and Binghamton. Needless to say, it’s more or less in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t exactly optimistic when I’d searched “Oneonta Brazilian jiu jitsu” in the Google search bar.
… and then something popped up. I couldn’t believe it. I clicked on the first link: Infinity Jiu Jitsu. They had a pretty simple website; class schedule, About Us, Instructors, etc. After clicking on the “Member Rates” tab and seeing “Unlimited Training only $80 a Month”, I knew I had to pull the trigger. A few clicks led me to their Facebook page, where I then conversed with a nameless representative who invited me down to the gym that coming Monday for my first week of training. As it turned out, I had contacted them barely a week after they’d opened up shop at their new location. They had advertised a free first week, which excited me.
On October 2nd, 2013, I trekked the mile up the road to the gym and… couldn’t find it. I came upon a Real Estate office and a gas station, but no gym. I called the number they’d given me, and spoke to a surprised male voice who said, “Oh! It’s below the Real Estate office.” I walked down the hill, saw a small sign above the door that simply said, “Jiu Jitsu”, and walked inside. The rest is history. After walking out of class that night, I promised myself I was coming back. I grabbed a business card off the desk, and kept that card on my person every day for that first year of training. It was in my wallet, in my pocket, or in my backpack for 365 days and it always brought me back.
Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy before it was OBJJA. The business card that changed my life.
I could write for hours on my days and nights spent in our little gym for hours (and I plan to: stay posted!) In the four years since walking into that tucked away slice of BJJ heaven, I’ve become the best version of myself. Jiu Jitsu has given me peace that no music ever has, and to this day remains my greatest passion. It is a part of who I am, and is my source of peace. For the 12 hours a week that I train, nothing else exists in the world. I’m not worried about the classes stressing me out, the rude and unpleasant customers at work, the papers that need writing, etc. I’m beyond proud that I’ve been able to watch as this gym grow from a few guys and girls rolling at Infinity Jiu Jitsu to the Pan Am Champ producing crew of monsters that Oneonta Jiu jitsu Academy has become.
I am so humbled to share my upcoming journey with everyone reading. I hope to meet you in my travels and share my love for this lifestyle we share! Follow me on Instagram @mikebarr93 or @koh.magic for constant updates on my trip! Until next time, go train!