Renzo Gracie Portland

What I’ve Learned After a Year of Jiu Jitsu

Disclaimer — Written from a knucklehead white-belt’s perspective.

Jiu Jitsu was something that I had always heard people mention, but never really knew what it was all about. As a fan of watching UFC fights and listening to podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience and The Fighter and The Kid, I had heard the term thrown around a decent amount. From Rogan’s podcast especially, I’d heard about all of the benefits he gets from training Jiu Jitsu and thought, “shit, should I give it a shot?”

The only problem was I really didn’t know where to start. My friend Kyle Leonard and I decided that we would try it out — but in all honesty, talked about it more like a couple of bros talking about opening a bar together after a few beers. “Dude, let’s do it! It’s gonna be sick!”

It wasn’t until I saw a post on Facebook about the BJJ 101 course from a school on Mississippi St. called Renzo Gracie Portland. The Gracie name sounded sort of familiar to me, but to be candid, I really didn’t know much about the Gracie family the time. This was enough, however, to build enough credibility in my mind to say “Screw it, enough is enough — This is a good school. It’s time to just go for it”. The 101 class looked like the perfect entrance into BJJ. An introductory course. Fairly mellow. And (I hoped) filled with more students just like me, trying BJJ for the first time.

March 2nd, 2015: BJJ 101 — I walked onto the mats at Renzo Gracie Portland for the very first time. Nervous as hell but excited about trying something new. I remember the first class like it was yesterday. We drilled one sequence over and over again. A simple trip take-down to the back, and finish with a rear naked choke. I did my best throughout the class trying to balance looks to my coach as to appear like “Ok, I’m tracking you” and actually comprehending/applying his instruction. As if appearing like “I’m listening” was something I should be doing. Idiot.

We wrapped up the first few classes with some pushups, body squats and sit-ups. I remember think “Holy shit, I’ve gotta get in shape if I wanna keep up here.”

Picture taken after my first BJJ 101 class

The 101 class @ RGA PDX lasted 2 months and proved to be exactly what I was hoping for and SO MUCH more. It was the perfect way to enter the world of BJJ for a knucklehead like me that knew basically nothing before beginning. Both from a technical perspective (actually learning techniques) and also a social perspective… you make friends and get to know everyone at the school. I know I’m not alone when I say that the people you meet in Jiu Jitsu are some of the nicer and more welcoming/helpful people around.

One of the main reasons I made it through the 101 class and am still training today is because of the instruction from our Professor, Aaron Milam. Aaron is patient, articulate, and made the class easy to understand for us beginners. It seems like it would be easy for him to get annoyed with idiots like me who don’t always pick up on a move after the first time he explains it. However, he always came around to make sure everyone was on the same page when learning new techniques. Aaron is the best. Top notch professor. Top notch person. I’m truly lucky to train under him.

In tandem with Aaron, I think it’s important to call out guys like Tim Dalbey and Carsten Carlsen. Both of these guys helped me out in the 101 class and still do to this day — Both are amazing teachers in their own right. They are also killers on the mat. Wow.

After the conclusion of the 101 class, we were given the option to join the school or part ways. The choice was easy. I was hooked. I joined and haven’t doubted that decision once.

Life after BJJ 101

After I completed the 101 class, I almost had this sense of “Okay, I know a few moves, what’s next?” (dipshit) So I decided to take it to the next level and go to the 7pm class — Or as some of the upper belts call it, “The Slaughterhouse.” Man, was I in for a rude awakening. This was the first time that I was exposed to what live rolling is like. Needless to say, the term “Slaughterhouse” turned out to be a very fitting name.

I was in over my head and decided to run through most of the 101 class again before coming back. Over time I kept attending more and more of these slaughterhouse classes and simply realized that it’s okay to get my ass kicked. In fact, it’s a good thing. I learned this after a roll with one of the upper belts who recently received their brown belt. I apologized to him for essentially sucking so bad during our roll… his response was classic — In a partially joking tone — “Dude, it’s all good! You think I don’t like destroying you?” The people at Renzo’s are awesome.

It’s absolutely insane to me that I have been training for a year now. It feels like it was just yesterday when I was nervous to walk on the mats, wearing my Shoyoroll Gi for the first time, and trying to figure out how to properly tie my belt. (Yes, my first gi was a Shoyoroll. I got some funny looks for that one. But hey… Look good. Feel good. Roll good. Or something like that, right?)

Alright let’s get to it… This list could go on forever… but here are a few things I’ve learned/taken away from my first year of training BJJ:

#1 — It whips your ass into shape. Quick.

It’s not that I was really out of shape or overweight… but to say I was IN shape before I started BJJ would be a lie. I’m about 5'9" and was pushing 180lbs at the time. Not ideal.

My workouts before Jiu Jitsu consisted of playing basketball once or twice a week, lifting a few times a month, and every once in a while mixing in a short run.

My diet at the time — Shitty. A typical week would include a mix of Pizza, Chipotle, Chinese food… you get the picture.

Since beginning Jiu Jitsu, my training schedule has typically been around 3–4 nights/week (sometimes more, sometimes less) of going to class. I now mix in more running and have purchased some kettlebells for strength training. At this point, the reality is, I only do those two exercises to hopefully get better at Jiu Jitsu by adding additional cardio + functional strength.

My diet — Getting better. Not to say I don’t still love ice cream and pizza. But, I’m doing a way better job of mixing in more healthy food/greens. Mainly… So I feel fresh/good at class.

Pro tip: A quick way to slam a ton of nutrients/greens into your system — Kale Shakes. I started mixing these into my diet this year. The one I’ve been making lately doesn’t taste very good, but it gets the job done.

Recipe: Frozen fruit, fresh kale, Onnit’s Earth Grown Nutrients and coconut water.

These days, I walk around anywhere between 155–160lbs and legitimately feel the healthiest I’ve felt in my entire life. I owe all of that to Jiu Jitsu.

Side note: Height — Still only 5'9"

#2 — It’s addicting.

There isn’t a day that passes that I’m not thinking about Jiu Jitsu. I am genuinely bummed when I don’t make it to class. I wake up the next day itching to get back after it.

These were my first two Gis

I also find my mind at random times just wandering to Jiu Jitsu. My day-dreaming has been taken over by thoughts like “How did that move work again?” or “What step am I missing there…” and I’ll start drilling moves in my head. It’s strange, I know.

Side note — The addiction has spread to “fashion” for me now too. As of March 2, 2016, I own 6 Gis (which is completely unnecessary) and a number of rashguards too. I have to imagine that number will continue to grow.

#3 — You get your ass kicked. And it’s a blast.

I’ve been training for a year now and was recently given my 3rd stripe (each belt has 4 stripes before you get promoted to the next level.) To this day, I get absolutely steamrolled by most of the people that I train with.

Each class I find myself in the most compromising, twisted, and sometimes painful positions I could ever imagine. Though I do my best to stay safe or even escape from these spots, more often than not, they result in me tapping out. Essentially, I get my ass kicked on a daily basis. And I love it.

The beauty is, because there’s no striking, injuries are few and far between. The only minor injuries I’ve sustained to date have mostly come from me just being an idiot (knock on wood).

#4 — Damn, it feels good to compete again.

I grew up playing baseball at a fairly competitive level. Baseball was life. Competition was something my friends and I thrived on. Us vs. them. I loved it.

After my days of playing ball had come to an end, I lost that sense of competition. I lost that thing that I was training for. To be completely candid, it was almost a little depressing. Not because I missed baseball specifically, I just missed competing. It’s seriously tough to go from competing at a fairly high level on a regular basis, to having basically nothing that gets your competitive juices going.

I tried running in some races, playing city league sports… nothing really satisfied the itch. Until I found Jiu Jitsu.

The competitive juices and the feeling of having something athletic to work towards is back for me. And I absolutely love it.

Will I ever compete at a high level in BJJ? Odds are… probably not. But It’s something to work towards. And it’s something I love doing.

My only advice to anyone reading this who has the smallest level of interest in trying it out… Give it a shot. I did one year ago and have found something that I plan on doing for as long as my body will allow.

Where I train: Renzo Gracie Portland.