Hello again all! I hope everyone who attended the Caribbean Globetrotters Camp had a blast; I was incredibly jealous! I’m less than a week away from embarking on my USA Jiu Jitsu Journey, and I can’t imagine how I can get any more excited!
On a more somber note…
I graduated college this past Saturday with my Bachelors degree in Geology. Woo! Although this day brought feelings of joy and pride I’d not felt before, it also brought something incredibly sad. This past Friday, I had to say goodbye to my home away from home: Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy. This tiny, tucked away, “Never Back Down”-esque gym was the gym I began my jiu jitsu journey at, and I’ll forever be thankful for the guys and gals of OJJA for the past four years. I figured the best way to pay tribute to my crew of killers would be to share the story of myself and OJJA. So here goes…
I first walked into Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy when it wasn’t OJJA. Originally “Infinity Jiu Jitsu”, this gym arose from a small crew of killers out of a Tae Kwon Do studio in Oneonta, New York. This crew was led by Matt Martindale, who was a blue belt at the time. Martindale, along with his following of dedicated students (shout outs to Wyatt, Ryan, Anthony, Harley, Ben, Genista, Justin, and Callagy), eventually outgrew their shared TKD mat space, and decided to open up their own school. All it took was a dilapidated basement space under a real estate office, some elbow grease, and dedicated students to turn this…
After. Future NoGi Pans Champ Ben Dixon pictured.
In late September of 2013, Infinity Jiu Jitsu opened its doors with a seminar/promotion by Tai Kai/Team Balance Black Belt, Dennis Sugrue. Matt Martindale received his purple belt, and the first crew of OJJA blue belts were christened! In the time I’d train at this school, I’d watch Matt get his brown belt, Wyatt get his purple, and these blues all get their purples as well.
As luck would have it, I’d step into the Infinity Jiu Jitsu doors roughly a week after their opening. I remember hiking a mile up the road to the gym, a walk I’d repeat dozens upon dozens of times for the next two semesters, only to find the door tucked away down a slightly sketchy driveway. I cautiously, but excitedly, walked in the door and was greeted by Matt, the instructor. We briefly talked about my experience with jiu jitsu, and I mentioned my older brothers. I but on my shorts and athletic shirt, and stepped onto the mats for the first time of many. Years later, Matt admitted his first thoughts of me:
“When Mike first started, I assumed he’d be this annoying college kid who’d be gone after a few weeks.”
Little did he realized that I dove in, rather headfirst. My first class involved learning a basic butterfly guard pass… before I even knew what butterfly guard was. I felt so bad for my drilling partner. Justin, if you’re reading this, sorry for headbutting you when I dove for the underhook.
And that was only the beginning. It became apparent to everyone in my life that jiu jitsu was taking over my life. I’d be in the gym four days a week, and when I wasn’t? I’d be looking at BJJ videos on YouTube.
This is a tough one. I can think of so many unforgettable memories from OJJA: Popping my IBJJF cherry at NoGi Pans 2015 (I lost first match, but spent the whole day watching my teammates succeed), receiving my blue belt after an exceptionally hard belt testing along with some of my best friends, Saturday NoGi hour-long rolls, getting brutally hip tossed into the floor by white belt Tyrell, etc. But if I had to choose ONE moment… I’d go with one of the most recent: our first Purple Belt testing. On April 22nd, OJJA hosted a massive belt testing in which our first crop of blue belts got promoted to Purple Belt. The energy in the room as my brothers, the guys who’d been beating me up for months-years, struggled through the final phase of the test, was palpable. I’d just received my third stripe on my blue belt, but that didn’t matter. As the beat of our hands against the mat reverberated through the room, I felt proud. Proud to be part of my team. Proud to have trained with these men. Proud to have been able to sharpen my skills alongside this crop of eventual black belts. It was inspiring, and you bet I shed some man tears.
What I Learned About Myself
That’s a tough one. I really believe that I am a completely different person since I began training at OJJA (for the better, of course!) That said, when I think about what I learned most about myself is my love for teaching and coaching. I didn’t realize this until the start of my second to last semester of college; August 2016 or so. I returned from a summer of jiu jitsu and climbing, eager to rejoin the ranks and get back into the swing of training with my home gym. It’s important to mention that, while I was home from college for the summer and the winter, I continued training at a gym not too far from my house. In fact, I mentioned this gym in my first blog post as the gym my older brother, Dan, started training at. This school is now a Tony Passos affiliate, and anyone who has trained with Tony Passos knows that he’s very concept-heavy. Fewer moves, more concepts. This was invaluable to my growth in jiu jitsu, and I’ll talk more about this in a later post. For now, I’ll say that, upon returning to college last semester, my experience at both gyms, combined with my place as a higher ranking blue belt, led a few white belts seeking me out for tips and tricks. They’d ask about particular armbar setups I’d been using, open guard concepts, how to stay heavy on top/escape from bottom, etc. I didn’t hesitate. This “coaching” (a term I use loosely) status continued to grow throughout the semester, and I found myself coaching many of my teammates in tournaments over the last few months.
In February 2017, I had a superfight for Global Grappling League up in Ithaca, New York. The fight was at night, but during the day a tournament was held. Before the event, Matt asked me if I’d be willing to help coach the guys competing at the tourney. Again: didn’t even hesitate. To my surprise, I ended up coaching every competitor of ours that day, with all of them making the podium in one way or another. I’d never really felt that type of pride until then.
My crew of easily coachable teammates. Loved the feeling of having them listen to me, and respect me enough to take my advice to heart!
A few weeks later, one of the seasoned white belts, Jude, asked me to coach him at the upcoming NAGA Albany tournament. This was an honor. Jude and I have always had a strange relationship; him being a high school junior, he always has some form of sass to sling my way. He’s a 10th Planet Fanatic; he actually ran into Keenan Cornelius in the bathroom after his loss to Gordon Ryan at Grappling Industries, and ACTUALLY ASKED HIM, “Hey, that was a really great match. Why didn’t you use more rubber guard?” Need I say more about his 17 year-old sassiness? I, on the other hand, am an open guard, gi-oriented jiu jitsu aficionado. So, to have my sassy teammate request me to coach him was a big deal. I spent the whole day coaching him: warming him up, coaching from the sidelines, drilling beforehand, etc. He took Gold in the Gi and Silver in NoGi.
@JudeJitsu rocking his gold medal and 10th Planet sign. We had some choice words about that sign, and we sure made him pay the following Monday during rounds.
On the subject of coaching, I need to briefly say how training at OJJA really changed my outlook on competition. I was never the most athletic kid in high school; I powerlifted, but hated organized sports. I never would’ve imagined that at 21 years-old I’d been winning blue belt superfights, competing on an international scale, coaching teammates, etc. I came to love competition at Oneonta Jiu Jitsu. I truly believe that competing in jiu jitsu, while not for everyone, is an invaluable part to growing in not just jiu jitsu, but in life.
Training at OJJA taught me the invaluable skill of dedicating myself to something fully. I was lucky enough to have training partners who called me out when I missed a day of training. I hope to find a gym someday that creates this type of atmosphere where everyone holds each other accountable for their goals!
What Did I Love Most?
Honestly? I loved how unassuming our gym was. To anyone on the outside, it’s a nitty and gritty. But to us? It’s home. Not only is it home, but we tear it up on the competition scene from this home. Ben Dixon, a new purple belt, took Gold at NoGi Pan Ams in 2015. Chris Callagy competes in more or less every tournament he finds. Harley Davis, through his connections with Grappling Industries, has paved the way for OJJA and their relationship with the budding organization. Jude tears up grown men in the adult division as a teenager. We’ve got medals from more or less every tournament scene in the Northeast hanging from our rafters, and belts hanging everywhere (NAGA, IBJJF, GGL, Newbreed, Grappling Industries, etc.)
Just a small part of our “Wall of Experience”
Special Thanks and Shoutouts
I’m not sure if they’ll read this, but there’s a ton of people I could thanks for getting me to this point. Without OJJA, I wouldn’t be writing this post for BJJGlobetrotters. I’d never have gotten sponsorships, superfights, medals, and, most of all, the confidence to be comfortable with discomfort. Rolling and training and drilling with everyone at OJJA has made me the man I am today, and I can’t imagine my life without it.
Matt: Thank you for coaching me and teaching me for these past four years. You’ve built an amazing community at the gym, and we wouldn’t be anywhere near what we are without you.
Wyatt: Thank you for exposing me to, and challenging me with, the NoGi side of jiu jitsu. I’ll take your wresting wisdom on my further endeavors. Sorry I never got to do that magic show!
Harley and John: Thank you for taking me under your wings during my first few months at the gym. Having training partners like you is why people stick around.
Ben and Tank: Thank you for challenging me. Plain and simple. I had my hardest rolls with you two.
Croteau and Yuri: My blue belt brothers. Croteau, I’ll miss your bald-man commentary and our backhanded compliments. Yuri, I’ll never, EVER miss your leg locks.
Jude: Keep training, fill my shoes.
Leonardo: You’re gonna go far, my friend. Keep training and get those blues!
Heather, Felicia, Christine: Thank you for always rolling with me, even though I’m like a puppy who doesn’t know his own strength. You guys are the core of our female presence at the gym.
To Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy: Thank you for the laughs, the frustration, the pain, the injuries, the bumps and bruises, the memories, and the like. Thank you for being there when I was having panic attacks at midnight and needed somewhere to go relieve the stress. Thank you for being my family. I love you all!
My crew; spy my bald head! This was taken after the Purple Belt Test last month. This was the last time I would ever receive a promotion from OJJA. Love these people!
The last class crew. Definitely a bunch of people missing, but doesn’t change a thing. Love these guys. Thanks for the memories, fellas.