Finishing the Story

Dust Mop Jiu Jitsu: The Combat Base: Part Seven

SBG Portland-Portland, Oregon


-On changing your self concept, realizing nobody cares and leaving your gym

This is the Fifteenth article about my journey in Jiu Jitsu. If you want to know more about what this project is, you can read more about it in the first article here.

It’s also the last of 7 articles about my time as a member of Combat Fitness MMA. While I was there, I would learn to push myself beyond harder than I ever had.


Put yourself in my shoes. I’ve spent all day in Tyngsboro, MA at a tournament. It’s the fourth tournament I’ve been to and it’s not going well. I had a long slog of a gi bracket earlier that day that left me ragged and medal-less. I’ve got one more no-gi bracket that will be best 2 out of three with the same person. There’s just two of us, and I have a feeling it’s not gonna be me. We already did the first round and he beat me with an arm bar where I definitely tapped too late. As I ice my elbow, my coach, Amber Farr stands at the ready with a brace. She smirks and says, “…I mean, it’s gonna hurt tomorrow either way.” 

Amber taught the monday class. It was my first real introduction to wrestling. Instead of just learning techniques, we would do suicide sprints, wall sits, sit out and back takes, shoots and sprawls to the point where you would want to puke. I felt better having her in my corner but I wasn’t exactly feeling up to the task.

I had been psyching myself up for this tournament for a whole month. I had finally gotten my first victory earlier that day in my gi bracket but it wasn’t enough to place. I lost four matches aside from that. This was my fourth tournament and despite all the weight loss and strength training it was looking like it was going to end like all the other ones. 

The guy I was up against had never lost a match according to smoothcomp. I looked him up before my buddy Max, from Team Jucao in New York, could advise me not to. He was doing a great job of pumping me up. But still, the damage was done and I had let that get to me in the first round. 

I drag myself back to the mat and slap hands. I use an overhand headlock throw and get him to the ground. He reverses me and tries to pass my guard. I throw my legs up as high as I can and we’re both stuck in my lock down. I slowly, painfully, get my arms on either side of his neck. I think it took me a full minute, but I felt him tap. I couldn’t believe it. I had a shot of winning if I could make it through the next set. 

I got up, Amber takes my arm brace and gives me an ice pack. She starts talking to me about ankle picking. But I say I had an idea. I realized I had taken him down twice the same way. I had visualized this all week and it was happening. The ref called us back, I traded Amber once more for the brace. We slapped hands, I drove him down and we landed in Gesa Ketame. I used my legs immediately to get him in a kimura position, he escaped and fell right into my arm bar. In six seconds, I had won my first gold medal. Self concept=changed forever.

The coolest thing was the ref saying, “dude, you might’ve set the record for fastest win today.” I’ve never been able to confirm that. The match started before the refs were able to start the clock. 

I also got my first serious tournament injuries. My elbow was definitely over extended and sensitive to the touch and, the next day, I had a little bulge in my ear. It looked like something was growing in there. Alongside a gold medal, I had won me some cauliflower ear.

Or at least I thought I did. It turned out to be way worse. They sliced, drained and stitched it like everything else. But Cauliflower ear is swelling with blood. With stitches in, a cyst in my ear kept swelling up. On my ear, there was an unstoppable force meeting with an immovable object. I don’t enjoy weed, it doesn’t make me feel great mentally. But I used it that week to deal with the pain. I had to sleep on my side to prevent anything from touching it.

Eventually, they scraped it out and now my ear is fine if a little chewed looking. But I wasn’t able to roll for 6 weeks while everything healed up. While I had finally accomplished something, I had to take a pause. Ah well, in February of 2020, I had a feeling I would be back to competing in no time…

While I was waiting to heal, I went about my normal routine. Substitute teaching, graduate school and BJJ. I would sit on the side of the mats and wistfully watch people roll. Like everyone, I tried coming back from my injuries too early but my ear would be in so much pain that I had to stop. 

Despite all my hard work, achieving a gold medal didn’t change much. I got back to work on Monday and remembered that most kids weren’t in the habit of asking teachers about their weekends. Instead, everyone was making jokes about this new virus in China that seemed to be spreading to Europe. 

Rachel and I were getting bored of our routine so we planned an epic trip. In March we would go to Oregon to visit some friends. Rachel would fly to Colorado to begin working as a backpacking guide. I would keep working in Burlington until the semester was over then drive to Colorado on an epic journey visiting friends and training at random jiu jitsu gyms until I began work at the same place as her. So off we went to Portland.

Since I was there, I knew I had to visit the legendary Straight Blast Gym. SBG is known worldwide as the franchise that holds Connor McGregor. I followed other people whose path took them to SBG Portland. The founder of BJJ Globetrotters had been there as well some youtubers, like Rokas Leo, whose guidance I relied on when I was living in Korea.

The only class I had time for was a beginner’s class. I liked going to those. I usually felt like they explained a certain detail that I had missed. And my ego was still brimming over from my gold medal. 

Everyone from SBG was really nice when I got there. But since I was at a beginner’s class, nobody had seen me before and I was renting the Gi, they probably assumed I had never done jiu jitsu before. The instructor talked to me like I had never done jiu jitsu a day in my life. He was even trying to sell me on the sport as a whole and to give it a try. He told some epic story about how his son had judo-thrown a bully at his school.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool story. And if you go there, I hope you get to hear it. But my only issue with being a white belt for so long is when people talk to you like it’s your first day. The deeper issue is that I, like a dick, wanted people to see that I won a gold medal and that this obviously wasn’t my first time. Going to SBG, I learned that most wins are anonymous. I had my 15 minutes of fame. Then I learned that nobody cares and life goes on.

Now I know, the win wasn’t the important part of my victory. It was learning that I could push myself harder than I previously believed capable. I went from someone who felt like he didn’t belong in Jiu Jitsu to someone who won a gold medal in 6 seconds. From the moment I entered Combat Fitness to the time I left Vermont, I became a different person. I was stronger, faster, capable of dealing with loss and looking myself in a mirror to see past my own bullshit. 

But I had only scratched the surface of that. And I had to hold on to that just at the exact moment that the world decided that we should all be standing six feet apart from one another. I got home from Portland and a week later, the Covid-19 Pandemic lockdown started. 

Our work in Colorado and our epic trip was canceled. We quickly realized we couldn’t afford to live in Burlington without income. We made plans to move to Massachusetts to live with my family. Combat Fitness MMA would no longer be my base.

More painfully, I never got to say goodbye in person. Not to Amber for teaching me wrestling and sitting in my corner. Nor Rob for teaching me the throws that led me to victory. Aaron for driving me to tournaments and being my first friend in Burlington. Anthony for making me stronger. Vince for always being willing to answer my questions and all my teammates for encouraging me and making me better. But the era of Combat was closing and a new epoch was about to begin.

If you ever want me to visit yours and write about what it’s like to learn from you, feel free to reach out at [email protected]. You can also follow me @DustMop_JiuJitsu If you want to read my articles as soon as they’re published be sure to subscribe on my blog site!