Tuesday, June 2, 2015

So...I Got Promoted to Black Belt

Professor JD Shelley & Me
I will apologize in advance that this post will probably sound like I'm rambling.  I will do my best to keep it logical and organized but I can't help the fact that trying to summarize 7.5 years of training while keeping it reasonably concise is a lot to ask.

Last night I reached a big milestone in my life and Jiu-Jitsu career.  I was awarded my black belt by my Professor, Joseph D. Shelley (2nd American black belt under Romero "Jacare" Cavalcanti.  I began training February 2008 as the age of 30.  I played soccer competitively from a young age up until my late 20's.  I began training Muay Thai at NDBJJ in 2006 and thought I would NEVER have anything to do with the "grappling stuff." Looked like too much work to be honest.  The truth was I was going through a difficult time in my life, a recent divorce, financial difficulties, among other things.  I didn't fully commit to Muay Thai because of I was out of shape and the commute was not ideal.

Fast forward to 2008.  I'm driving by the old gym and think to myself..."it's time to make a change for the sake of your own health."  I dropped in to simply observe and see what it was like to go through a routine beginner class.  I sent an email to JD Shelley to introduce myself and that I would be coming in to try a class.  Well I did...and I loved it.  It gave me something to focus on that I was missing in my life, a place to exercise, somewhere I could learn something, and work out the competitive side of my personality.

As a newbie it didn't take long for me to recognize the upper belts were vastly better and more knowledgeable than myself and other fellow white belts.  I found Jiu-Jitsu to be incredibly challenging and frustrating at the same time.  I just kept going back no matter how good or bad my training sessions went.  It didn't take long for me to "buddy up" with a couple other white belts and even a couple upper belts.  I did my best to get to know an upper belt that had been at the gym and with JD since the early 2000's.  I even met him back in 2006 during Muay Thai and he was nice enough not to punch my face off during my first class while he was prepping for an MMA fight.  He fought professional MMA and was an instructor at the gym.  I'm not going to lie the guy was a bit standoff-ish but I persisted to get to know him and ask lots of questions. That guy would go on to get his brown belt in 2008 and his black not too long after.  I was lucky enough to see him receive his 1st & 2nd degree black belt promotion last night.  His name is Shervin Alavi and he has become not only a good training partner but a good friend since then.

Keith Wilks another fellow white belt training partner has been a friend as well since then.  We have both shared promotions ever since the beginning through last night.  There have been countless other people that have come and gone for various reasons and I can't name them all. There is still a small group of us "old guys" now which even to me..."we aren't ALL the old guys" because Lord knows there were many before us.  That being said it has been an absolutely difficult, at times frustrating, and many times fun, exciting "journey" (I hate that word) to get here.

Keith Wilks, Shervin Alavi, & Me
I've endured my fair share of injuries along the way, set backs, personal & professional challenges, you name it.  I'm just a regular guy like most people reading this.  None of this would have been possible without the love and support of my family.  I was lucky enough to meet my wife right after I began training in 2008.  She has been there every step of the way.  She is the person that has had to put up with me when I've had a bad day at the gym, the office, etc.  Lindsey has always known this was important to me; she has been and will always be my #1 fan.  I can't say enough about that really. My parents and daughter without a doubt have also been crucial to support and help me get here even though they don't fully realize their roles.

Lindsey & Me

Lucky Dude!
Feb 2008 - White belt
October 2009 - Blue belt
December 2011 - Purple belt
November 2013 - Brown belt
June 1, 2015 - Black belt

I've competed in my fair share of tournaments with successes and some failures.  I'm currently 38 and even when starting this at the age of 30, my ability to participate in tournaments is and has been limited at best.  I have a professional career, a family (3 children), among other obligations so keeping everything balanced has always been a challenge.  I'm very lucky I have had a good support system in my wife and family.  I have sacrificed an unbelievable amount of time with them to get here so soon.  For that I appreciate what they have been willing to sacrifice for me.

Note: I have competed at every level and have been lucky to record most of my matches.  I am missing some from last fall at Five Texas 2 I hope to upload.  If you are willing/interested to see any of my matches over the years you can find them on my YouTube channel:

I began teaching as soon as I received my blue belt and have continued on since then teaching kids and adults of all levels including private lessons.  I immediately discovered that teaching was a big passion right away.  It helped me understand things better and gave me a new outlet to communicate with people.  I enjoy seeing people learn and can also share something that I am passionate about.  If you have seen my blog then you have an idea how "into" Jiu-Jitsu that I am.  I study it and my life revolves around it.

Some people along the way have and continue to ask "how did you get promoted so fast?"  The answer is simple.  I kept coming to class and training.  It didn't stop there though.  I focused on improving certain aspects that were problematic for me in the gym while rolling or at competitions. I never took breaks either unless I was injured.  The longest break I took over 7.5 years was three months for a broken foot which I just recently have come back from.

I'm not a super star; I'm an average, athletic guy that simply remained focused and always continued to learn and evolve.  That is what is important to me in Jiu-Jitsu.  That is not the same for everyone as we all have varying levels of interest but that is the most simple way to answer that common question.

I also found along the way that as people would come and go, and some even came back...it was important to me to eventually earn my black belt but it was even more important to get it from MY coach, Joseph D. Shelley.  He has never been known to "hand out belts" and has incredibly high standards especially at the black belt level.  Lineage means a lot to me and he trained with some of the best.  You may not know my coach but if you do, you know that he is one of the toughest guys you will ever encounter on the mats.  He's a 2 tour Gulf War veteran (Marine) and a two-time Nogi Worlds Champion 2008 & 2010.  Even at his age (early 40's) you would never know it by the way he rolls on the mat and his dedication to the sport.  He is and will always be MY coach and he is also my friend.  I am grateful for the time, energy, and opportunities he has given me over the years.

I can't thank every single person that has helped me but I will list the most influential people that come to mind not previously mentioned above.

-All of my training partners
-Every guy that stepped on the mat against me in competition
-Robson Moura
-Reilly Bodycomb
-Sean Roberts
-Michelle Nicolini
-Caio Terra
-Mendes Bros
-Bruno & Rico Bastos
-Gustavo Dantas
-Manny Diaz

My lineage:  Rolls Gracie--->Romero "Jacare" Calvalcanti--->JD Shelley--->Me

Some of the the NDBJJ Black Belts in attendance last night


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