Something I’ve mentioned before, but not gone into terrible detail, is that I’m one of three of my family members that trains Jiu Jitsu. While I write this post, myself and both of my older brothers, Dan and Larry, also train! Needless to say, family gatherings are always interesting. It’s unfortunate, but we all live in different places, so we don’t get to train together too often. Dan and I both live on the east coast, though we train at different gyms. Larry, the oldest, currently trains out of Brazilian Top Team North Dallas under Leo Machado. Lucky for me, I had planned on passing through Dallas to stay with Larry from the early stages of planning this journey of mine.
Out of the four of us, I fall as the younger middle child. I’ve got a little brother, Jack, then Dan is older than me, and Larry is older than Dan. At one point, all four of us were training BJJ, but financial reasons kept Jack from continuing his journey. Don’t worry, Jack: you’ll join us once again! He’s attending John Jay College in Queens come the Fall of 2017, and he’s already committed to starting up again.
You’ve all heard my story about how I started training, so I won’t bore you. Dan, however, started Jiu Jitsu before any of us. I may be getting the number wrong, but he started training about eight years ago in 2009. We had just moved to Mount Kisco, New York: a small suburb of Manhattan, tucked away in Northern Westchester County. He started training with a ragtag group of guys out of Black Dragon MMA one town over under Brandon Durham, at the time a Royce Gracie Purple Belt. Dan advanced quickly, dedicating his life to the sport and earning his blue belt in six months. He’d stay at blue belt for another six years. In that time, he attended culinary school, graduated, worked in some of the most exclusive NYC restaurants, moved across country, lived in Dallas, trained out of BTT Plano (now BTT North Dallas) with Larry, moved home, and started training regularly again with Brandon Durham. In January 2016, he earned his purple belt from Brandon (whom received his Black Belt not five minutes later). I attended the ceremony; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get emotional. Seeing my older brother get his purple belt was an absolute inspiration. He’d attended my blue belt test six months earlier, and having him there meant the world. He’s the reason I started this sport, and I can’t thank him enough.
Although Larry got started later than Dan, he was no stranger to grappling. Larry started his wrestling career in 6th grade back in 2002. Larry was a force to be reckoned with on the wrestling scene of Southern New York, and earning a varsity record of 128-24. He’d go on to wrestle until his junior year at Johnson and Wales University. Following his graduation, he moved to Dallas, Texas to start his career as a financial advisor. It was here that he started training BJJ at BTT Plano with Leo Machado. His wrestling background allowed him to quickly move through the ranks, and his dedication to the sport was apparent. His competitive mentality, bred by years of wrestling at the high school and collegiate level, drove him to competition. He’s a multiple time IBJJF Open champion, he medaled at Worlds in 2016 at Purple Belt, and recently took home an IBJJF Pan Ams Masters 1 title at 2017 Pan Ams. Not long after, he was given his brown belt by Leo Machado and Diego Gamonal.
It’s always been incredibly inspirational being the little fish in a family of sharks. Whenever I struggled training, I had a support system to fall back on. Because we live so far from each other, keeping in touch is hard. Jiu Jitsu to me has always been a type of glue that holds my relationship with them together. I’ve never verbalized this, and they might be surprised to hear it, but jiu jitsu allowed me to rekindle our relationship in times where it’s been strained. I always look forward to seeing the four of us as black belts one day.
Now that the mushy stuff is out of the way, I can talk about the traveling! After my, er, interesting journey out of Memphis, I hit the road to Dallas. The drive from Memphis to Dallas is almost entirely done in Arkansas, or, as I like to call it: Land of the Same Scenery. It’s literally four and a half hours of the same. Freaking. View. Regardless, I rolled into Allen, TX around 4pm on Sunday, the day before Memorial Day. After a quick shower, myself, Larry, his girlfriend, and housemate/childhood friend Freddy piled into his truck (it is Texas, after all), and drove to a Brazilian Steakhouse in Dallas to grab dinner.
Oh. My. Lord. I’ve had Brazilian Steakhouse, and it holds the top spot as my favorite dining platform, but this place was a new level. For $50, I had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Worth every single penny.
We returned home for the night, and I got to enjoy the luxury of an actual bed for the evening. Sleeping in my Jeep is cozy, but a bed will always beat out the dirt bagging lifestyle. We woke up for 11am open mat and made the 20 minute drive to the gym. We arrived to find that no one was there; turns out Larry hadn’t realized that Memorial Day open mat was at 6pm instead of 11am. Oh well. We warmed up, set the timer for six minutes, and just started rolling. We’d had some exchanges back and forth, but he smashed me. I swept him a few times with my SLX/X-Guard in the early rounds, and the little brother in me felt good. He wasn’t accustomed to my game, but quickly reverse engineered my game and shut it down completely by the third round. After rounds, he asked me to walk him through what I was doing with the X-Guard, and what sweeps I was using. I’ll admit, it meant a lot for him to ask me for tips. Something about my older brother, a world-class competitor who I look up to, asking me for advice on the position was touching. He proceeded to give me advice on my game in the most Older Brother fashion:
“There’s on glaring hole in your game. A f****** Semi Truck could drive through it.”
He talked about how I need to work on my guard retention skills and how I need to force my game better. He gave me some invaluable tips on pressure passing, a big section of jiu jitsu I’ve not explored a ton. It was more or less a private lesson from a World Class Purple Belt, and now brown belt.
We went and grabbed lunch at a little spot called Velvet Taco in Dallas. As expected, these were the best tacos I’d ever had, hands down. If you’re ever in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, this place is a must. Their falafel tacos were off the charts delicious, and I’m not even a huge falafel fan.
After chilling out at the house for a few hours, and a quick nap, we hopped in the car again for 6pm training. This session was much more packed. Two brown belts, two purple belts, three blue belts, and three white belts on the mats. I had seven six-minute rounds with two to rest. I’m still working on my gas tank, which has always been a struggle. The rounds went as expected: getting beat up by the brown belts, holding my own against the purple belts, back-and-forths with the blue belts, drilling with one of the white belts. I rolled with one of the purple belts who just dismantled me. He completely shut my game down. The top pressure was insane, and he got me stuck in reverse Kesa Gatame more than once. It was the only roll of the day that I got frustrated, which doesn’t happen often. At the end of open mat, I worked with that purple belt and he gave me some great tips on making space and escaping that position, which I appreciated immensely. After a quick photo, class ended. I offered to mop the mats before leaving, a gesture I make a point to make at every gym I visit, and did just that.
Larry and I made our way back to the house, talking more jiu jitsu and listening to some comedy. We never had a close relationship growing up, mostly owing to the eight year age difference between the two of us, but jiu jitsu really brought us together. I always call him after I compete to talk about my matches, and he combs over my videos to point out any flaws. Between him and Dan, I’ve got my pick of the litter when it comes to coaches.
After a quick Texas BBQ Memorial Day dinner, I did some laundry, relaxed on the couch, and got some rest. I didn’t know the next time I’d be sleeping in an actual bed, so I made the most of it: I shut my alarm, and passed out. I woke up the next morning and gathered my stuff for the eight our journey to my next destination: Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Larry suggested this awesome Thai restaurant to grab lunch at before hitting the road, so we did that. We talked about his career, my destinations for the rest of the trip, food suggestions out west, etc.
We finished lunch, said our goodbyes, and I hit the road. After pulling out of the restaurant parking lot, everything for this point on would be new territory: the farther west I’d been and will be. The journey is looking bright, and I’m excited for what the future holds!