“Make each movement slow, over-exaggerated and correct.  Do this over and over before seeking speed and efficiency.” 

Ethan (owner at Phoenix Fitness & Martial Arts) was coaching me to slow down, to learn.  My tendency is to want to do everything at full speed. Otherwise, I feel I’m wasting other people’s time.  

I hate it when I waste other people's time and I hate it when people waste my time.  

This perspective sometimes causes me to move to conclusive actions sooner than needed.  I know it makes me hyper-aware of others and my perception of their expectations.  

One the one hand, being aware of other expectations is good.  On the other, if all I’m doing is adjusting to meet a perceived expectation, then it’s not so good.  Perceptions can be wrong.  Dead wrong.

Moving too quickly in jiu-jitsu is often to your opponent’s advantage.  Moving quickly, especially for a beginner, can mean getting out of position, which just gives your opponent the opening they need.  Next thing you know, tap out.  

Moving too quickly in life leads to missed opportunities.  It leads to less careful consideration of words, thoughts, and the stories we tell ourselves. 

“Breathe.  Settle in.”  How many times will I hear this exhortation?

With jiu-jitsu, I am already learning there are many times when the only proper move is to breathe and be still, to breathe and consider my body position.

Taking time to breathe, even and especially when the situation seems awkward and uncomfortable, quiets the mind and brings awareness of what is real and what is a story.  As a beginner, there are few jiu-jitsu moments which aren’t awkward and uncomfortable.

When I was in the throes of depression, my mind raced with negative self-talk and despairing hopelessness. My mind moved too quickly, latching onto untrue stories and perceptions which drove me farther into the darkness.  One practice on the path of out of the dark was learning to meditate, to breathe, to focus on the breath, to calm the mind, to settle.    

Learning to meditate, to sit, was difficult.  No.  It was a dark dance between monkey mind and the space between breaths.  My mind liked to speed along on its already constructed neural pathways. The pathways of depression were deep and wide.  Interstates.   Meditation was seeking to renovate them.  Often, it felt like using teaspoons to dig a well.   Sitting and breathing was foreign and threatening.

After a concerted effort, and time spent on the cushion, 2 minutes became 5, and 5 become 10 ,and 10 became 15.  

Now, I meditate every day.  I sit. I breathe.  When my mind begins to race, I have tools to calm it.  

And now I’m adding to this skill.  

I’m learning to roll and breathe.  

Well, except when I’m getting choked.


No gi today.

I pull out one of my favorite compression shirts—camo with a large yellow Batman logo on the chest.  I bought the XXL because if I bought my usual large, it would suffocate me.  

And that’s what these guys are here to do.  

Class begins differently.  David is sick.  Ethan’s instructing today.  

“I want to teach you some warm-ups you can do in place.  Warmups you can do if you are waiting for another class or if you are at a tournament.”

We shrimp, breakdance and then learn (for me) a new movement.  It’s called a sweep and the one today is a Kimura. (There are many sweeps in jiu-jitsu).  Little do I know I’ll be doing this about 40 times in the next hour.

The move is something like this:  on your back, feet on the floor; sit up and post one hand behind you, then push off with the opposite leg and turn over toward the side the arm you posted is on.  Now you’re facing down.  This is the drill, we’re not working with a partner yet.  With a partner, you trap your opponent's arm with arm not posted behind you.  

This sweep is one way to get out of your opponent’s top guard.

We practice this sweep and then a bottom guard break.

Bottom guard:  your opponent is on his back, but has his legs wrapped around your hips—not good for you.  He has lots of control.  

“Get your arms close to your body.  Sit on your feet; get your posture.  Hands on his hips.  Then clear a little space, turn your hips a bit, step up with one foot to under his butt; then over his leg with your shin until your knee hits the mat on the other side of his leg. Then move to side guard.”

Side guard:  You are at a T on top of your opponent, chest to chest, one arm under his head, one under his shoulder, hands clasped together.  Shoulder into his chin, all your weight is on him.  

We practice the sweep and the guard break with a partner after warming up.  


Then we roll.


Ethan takes me for the first round.  

I wonder if the more advanced guys ever get tired of working with the new guys?  It’s a self-centered thought.  There goes the brain again.  I don’t want to seem a burden. I’d rather give than receive.  Up to this point, I can see that learning jiu-jitsu is all give AND take.

And I’m sure I’ll be given a lot of chokeholds and armbars soon enough.

I roll with C next. He’s at least 6’5” and been practicing at least 10 years. Rolling with him is like rolling with a tree.  Immediately, I’m taken back to jr. college and a friend I had.  He was close to 7’ and 300 pounds.  We would “wrestle” in his living room.  Mostly, he would pick me up with one arm and take me back and forth over his body like a rag doll, like watching a cartoon.

Jiu-Jitsu is designed to make size less of an advantage.  Still, rolling with a guy who has arms the length of tree limbs and hips bigger around than what my legs can grasp is intimidating.  

C is a patient and kind opponent/teacher.  

Learning something new takes thought.  Jiu-Jitsu is really a dance, when you break the moves down.  Like learning to jitterbug or tango.  

They say the brain is the energy hog of the body, consuming many times more calories than any other organ or system.  My brain must be working hard because I’m sweating, and not a little.

I’m slick, like I rolled in petroleum jelly.  This almost makes it easier to get out of holds and guard, just slide around.  Sweat also makes it more difficult for me to get a grip.

The profusion of sweat is embarrassing. During my college years, I raced road bikes.  In the winter, I trained on stationary rollers in my mom’s living room.  Imagine three aluminum cylinders, two closer together under the back wheel, one directly under the front wheel.  This arrangement gives you full steering control and the ability to fall off and hurt yourself.  Smooth pedaling lets you stay upright.  

My niece would watch me ride/train while I went nowhere.  

One day she says, “Grandma, Uncle Joel is raining.”  Sweat was falling off of me like an overflowing plugged up rain gutter.  Yep, I’m a sweat-storm.  There’s my superpower.  I’ll sweat you to death.

Does Sweat Storm wear a cape or a towel?  

C reminds me to breathe and slow down.  “You can wear yourself out while the other guy is resting, so learn to rest.”

There is a chess-like quality to this martial art:  the honoring of the opponent--your partner in a dance to submission;  the reasoning between the ears while making sure the guy you’re squeezing with your legs or arms doesn’t get away from you; the way the upper belts patiently teach the newbies.

C tells me, “Don’t turn your back to me. You don’t want to do that.  If you do, you’re done.  Always face your opponent.”  

“Always face your opponent.”  A good lesson for life.  

A few years ago, I finally realized my greatest opponent had been myself.  I dealt with my fears, my disappointments, my failures by blaming and shaming myself.  I tried to turn away because I was afraid of what I might see when I looked myself in the eye.  And when this was the case, I lost every time.  I went further into a black hole.  Only when I finally faced myself, sat with those thoughts, fears, disappointments, and didn’t turn away, did I begin to see victory.


Nice hair Sweat Storm!  (Batman)

Nice hair Sweat Storm!  (Batman)


“Welcome!  You don’t know who your real friends are until they try to choke you.”

This was one of the first replies after Ethan has added and introduced me to the private BJJ facebook group.  So this is what I’ve gotten myself into:  a bunch of sweaty guys rolling around on the floor, breathing slowly and then being out of breath--sounds like, well, you know what it sounds like.  

It’s the new world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I’ve entered.  While one might expect machismo and posturing, I’ve not seen it among the guys I’ve met so far.  There is a camaraderie here I can feel.  It’s different than other programs or gyms I have experienced.

The other Facebook replies are all welcoming and positive.  “I look forward to meeting you.”  “I look forward to rolling with you.”  

What they don’t say: “I look forward to choking you.”


I expected to be sore.  After the first class of any other fitness program, I usually have difficulty moving the next day.  I have looked and felt a bit like Frankenstein, but not this time.  Now, I didn’t do much in the first class, but I’m glad for the freedom from soreness.

To be honest, the first class was a little anti-climatic.  I wasn’t horribly anxious, and I impressed myself by staying in a beginner’s mindset.  I seemed to have “left my ego in the parking lot.”  (This is something I will hear a number of times today). 

In this class, I expect to “roll”.  This is live jiu-jitsu, full speed-ish, one-on-one conflict until someone taps out.  Ethan has already told me, “As a beginner, you’re going to feel like tapping out is all you’re doing.” 

I know this is how you learn, some instruction and then live application.

Kind of like watching kids start crawling:  

"Hey, I can push myself up on all fours."

"These four limbs move" (falls flat on belly a few hundred times).  

Then all of a sudden--"I’m flying across this room now!”

Then they move to walking:  “I think I can stand up." (pause, falls on bum)  "No, I can’t. "

(A few hundred repeats later.)  "Look at me I’m standing!” 

Take a step, fail. Take a step, fail. Take a step, fail. Take a new step, fail.  Pretty soon you’ve incorporated those foundational principles so deeply, you forget you once didn’t know them.

I’m expecting lots of failures.

I’m not sure what my visceral response will be to live “rolling”.  My parents were not aggressive people.  My dad never taught me to fight.  I usually just find ways to avoid physical conflict. Whenever I’ve been in that situation, my flight or fight response is freeze.  I just lock up, shut down.  My mind would be flopping like a fish on the dock, but my body was stuck.  This response didn’t lead to me getting beat up, but being ridiculed.  So, I always keep a low physical profile.  

In middle age, I’m less cautious about verbal conflict when debating ideas.  I’ve become much more comfortable with speaking my mind (if I actually think the other person is listening).  However, if someone really wants to get into to, I shut down and say little to nothing.  This has served me pretty well.  Better to keep your mouth shut, than to open it and prove you’re an idiot (a poor version of a Mark Twain saying). 

My heart rate goes up a few beats as I pull into the parking lot.  I take a deep breath and go inside.  I’m greeted by the smiles of Ethan and Renee.

“I need to borrow a gi for today.”

The kimono or gi is the martial arts uniform for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  (Because this martial art originated in Japan, the uniform is called a kimono by some.  Kimono means “a thing to wear.”  Today, in common parlance it’s seen as a more formal dress.  Gi comes keikogi  “training gear”. (Thanks to BJJHeroes.) 

Walking over to where the loaner gis are, I’m still amazed at how seriously clean this gym is.  It tells me they are intentional in caring for the equipment, which means they are serious about caring for the members.  As it should be, but often isn’t (and not just in this industry). 

“What size do you think?” Ethan asks.

“I’ve been on-line.  Maybe A2?”  

Ethan hands me a gi--jacket, pants, and belt.

“Holy Cow, this thing is heavy!”

Heavy woven cotton, durable and tough.  It’s unlike the lightweight TaeKwonDo uniforms my son used to wear.  The gi is an outfit made for work.  It reminds me of the coveralls my and I used to wear on the farm--made for serious abuse.  

“Too small.”

Ethan hands me a couple of others until we find a fit.  The lesser quality gis shrink a lot after hundreds of washes, so getting the right size is trial and error. 

Finally, this one seems good enough.  It’s black.  It’s awkward.  

I feel a bit like the Sta-Puff Marshmallow Man rolled in soot.  

Ethan has to go and man the desk.  I dress and am left on the mats, alone. 

Crab, ape, stiff-legged bear.  I’m working on some of my gymnastic warm ups which open up the hips and hamstrings.  Sweating already.  I do some of the jiu-jitsu moves taught in the first class:  front roll, back roll, breakdance, technical get up (am I even remembering these names right?). 

David, the instructor comes in.  His kimono pants come to mid-shin.  Clearly, he has worn and washed this many times.  Other guys appear.  Some the same, some different from the first class.  We line up again.  I’m white belt, farthest to the left. (Farthest to the right from the instructor’s viewpoint.)  The newbie.  In martial arts, you always know where you stand.

We bow and warm up:  jogging, front roll, back roll, sprawl and (a move I will come to find out is bread and butter) shrimp.  

For shrimp, you simply move from your back to a side-lying position with your butt sticking out, arms and legs close together.  It’s a bit like child’s pose in yoga only on your side.  I will do this move at least 50 times today.

David gets us going with instruction on a basic move to get someone who is on top of you, into a position where you can wrap your legs around their hips--bottom guard.

Bottom guard:  you are on your back with your legs wrapped around your opponent’s waist and feet locked.  This sounds (and feels) like a disadvantaged position, but better to be in control of their hips than to have them controlling yours. 

I’m paired with A, another white belt, but former judo practitioner.  He’s 6’2” or 6’3” and strong.  He’s also patient, which makes for a good training partner.  My nervousness causes me to want to move quickly.  Alex tells me to slow down.

“We don’t have to go fast, take your time.”  Wise words.  And not just for on the mat.  

Then, we train our first submission move.  When wearing the gi, you are free to grab it and use it to your advantage.  I’m not used to grabbing someone’s clothing in an aggressive manner (or any manner, really). Jiu-Jitsu is all about being in someone’s personal space.  This is new territory for me.  I’ve got a big guy between my legs and on top of me and I’m supposed to put him into submission? 

I don’t think about the awkwardness until later.  I’ve left my ego in the parking lot and am in beginner’s mind.  In the moment, I’m soaking it in. 

Next, we roll. 

David puts me with R, a more advanced belt.  I’m not sure if it’s blue or green; his belt is faded and my colorblindness doesn’t help.  A faded belt means a lot of washing, which means years on the mat. 

“Here’s what we do at the beginning of every roll.” he says as we bow, slap hands, give a fist bump.  

Now, we are in it.

Immediately my mind is racing.  Our heads are close together.  We’re standing up, circling each other, hands trying to find a place to grab or go. 

What am I supposed to do now?  Interior dialogue--”don’t let him get your arms!  Letting him have your arms is not good.  Ok, he’s trying to pull you down.  Don’t resist too much, but don’t let him have his way either.”

Next thing I know, I’m on top of him sideways, one arm under his neck, the other under his shoulder, my shoulder digging into his chin, all my weight on him.  Side guard.  Now what??

My breathing has gotten away from me.  I see him calculating his next move.  I don’t have a next move.  

Just hold on.  Just hold on.  

Breathe, Joel.  Breathe. 

I think our rounds of rolling are 3.5 or 4 minutes.  This one seems like 20.  I tap out a number of times.  R teaches me a few things.  I’m grateful.  The bell dings, we shake hands, bow, and he says, “First time?  Good job!”  

I think my kimono is full of sweat.

David tells the new guys to set out the next round.  

I do some stretching and watch.  The upper belts use their feet and the uniform much more than the lower belts.  There is some incidental bleeding.  The bell goes off in what feels like a minute. 

Now, I’m paired with Z, a former wrestler.  

David chimes in, “We shouldn’t let wrestlers do jiu-jitsu.”  I’m not sure what he means.  Then he says, “Work with Joel, it’s his first time.”  Yep, I’m a rolling virgin. 

Z, like everyone here, is gracious and patient.  He talks me through a few things.  “Don’t ever give me your back.  Always face me.”  He’s lean and definitely has skills.  I can tell he’s taking it easy on me.  I don’t know how many times I tap out, but the round mercifully ends.  

I’m drenched.

The class is over.

We bow and I’m ready for a shower and a meal.  My body has that calorie depleted feeling.  I like it, as it means I’ve actually done some work. 

The guys in the locker room are great. There’s the usual lying about how unskilled they are.  Then some philosophy about learning and getting better at jiu-jitsu.  

I’m in.  I decide to buy my first gi and sign the contract.

What have I gotten myself into?

My first kimono.

My first kimono.

First Class

Just a 15-minute drive from my office and I’m sitting in the Parking Lot of Phoenix Fitness and Martial Arts.  I’ve been here once before when I met the owners, Ethan and Renee Chandler, and took a tour of the facilities.  

Ethan is a high-energy, quick talking, former analyst turned gym owner.  Like many entrepreneurs, he left corporate life to chase his dream.  He brings the analyst mentality to his business, watching the numbers carefully.  However, he doesn’t treat people like numbers.  From the first time I met him, I liked him.   His wife Renee is the other part of the ownership dynamic duo.  She is friendly and thoughtful.  I think she probably keeps Ethan’s enthusiasm grounded.

My first thought when I visited was, “This place is immaculate.”  It’s not just clean, it sparkles.  From the weight area to the mats, to the gorgeous showers, everything is in its place.  I will see the same today.

My first class is no gi or no kimono (the jiu-jitsu uniform--more on that later) depending on which word you use.  No kimono/gi means regular workout clothes.  Next class, I’ll wear a kimono/gi.  Sounds funny just saying it. 

I thought I would be more nervous.  Then, I see a couple of young guys and my heart rate goes up a few beats.  Ethan had told me that the noon class was almost exclusively middle-aged guys.  Well, here are the “almosts”. 

Cue anxiety.  I’m not really sure why these younger guys bring it out, but there you have it.  I grab my bag and head to the door. 

The entry is well-lit, clean and welcoming.  Merch is on the right--shorts, gloves, pads, t-shirts, gis--nearly everything you might need for the practice of martial arts.  They also offer Muay Thai (Americans sometimes call it kickboxing.  I call it a martial art designed exclusively to inflict as much damage to your opponent as possible.  It’s a great workout, though.), self-defense for youth, personal and group training.  Ethan calls it a “training gym” because when you join, you join to train with a trainer, either in groups or alone.  Members can also come workout in the gym on their own during the off times. 

Renee greets me.  “You must be Joel.” 

I’ve already done the paperwork but now sign the release form.  Does anyone read these anymore?  Did I just sign my name to a document that says I would trust them with my body, my bones, my sinew?  Yes, Yes I did.  I’ve just given them permission to have other sweaty dudes try to choke me.  

She takes me to the dressing room.  There are two showers, toilets, sinks, lockers, and benches.  This is all pretty standard except for the fact of feeling like you’ve just walked into an upscale hotel.  Did I tell you this place was immaculate?  There are towels and toiletries available for use.  I head to a bench to change. 

Another guy comes in.  “Hey, I’m Da-veed (David).  I’m the jiu-jitsu instructor.”  He extends his hand, we shake and exchange greetings.  

“First time?” he asks.  


He goes on to ask if I have experience in other martial arts.  “I did Tae Kwon Do in high school.  Then a year of Muay Thai.”

He welcomes me with what I will discover is his characteristic big, full teeth, smile.  Then, he says, “Let’s have fun!”  (He’s a third-degree black belt with over 20 years of practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Later I find out it takes about 10 years or regular practice before you “might” become a black belt.  It’s all based on performance on the mat.  He’s also an MMA fighter.)

I follow him to the mats.  Clean.  Black.  At the far wall hang heavy bags.  Behind them are loaner gis, gloves, and pads for kickboxing.  Guys are lined up along one wall.  David is standing in front of them.  Ethan sees me and gives a wave.  Big smile.  I’m relaxing (a little). 

There are four other relative newbies today.  I’m the only one who has never practiced jiu-jitsu.  Oh goodie.  I said I wanted to be a beginner, and so I am. 

The guys range in size from David (the instructor) who might be 140 pounds and all lean muscle to a guy who is probably 6’4”+ and carrying a little bit of spare tire.  There are three BIG guys here, tall, strong and experienced.  And everything in between, white, black, brown, bald, balding, beard, clean-shaven, belly, rock hard abs, you name it, a real menagerie.

Thank God for the middle age crew. 

David calls us to attention.  We bow and start warm ups.  First, jogging around the mats, then sideways, skips, walking squats (my name for it--you jog and then touch the mat with one hand alternating sides keeping your chest up), skipping, then on to skill warm ups.  I’m already sweating.

This is where two of us get pulled aside.  We have no skill.  

Ethan leads us.  “This is how every class begins.”  

We learn to fall correctly forwards and backward. 

When was the last time I purposefully fell down?  Falling forward correctly, rolling and coming up feels awkward even when you know it’s coming.  My first instinct is to want to put my hands out.  This is why you have to be trained to fall.  Falling on the little bones in your hands and wrist with all of your body weight coming down is not a good idea.

It’s awkward, you take a step forward and then fall over the same side as the lead leg.  A somersault without using your hands.  Awkward, but better than breaking your hands or wrists. 

“If you learn anything in jiu-jitsu, learn how to fall.  It may save your life someday.”  Ethan advises.

We learn a move called breakdance.  (Yep, it looks like its name.  You start out on you stomach come up on one hand and the opposite foot, lift your hips and swing your other leg through until you are facing up with one leg held in the air.)

Ethan is a clear and patient teacher. “Don’t worry, you’ll forget some of this before next class, but we do them almost every time for warm up, so you will know them soon enough.”

I wrestled for three years in high school so the takedown and the sprawl look familiar.   Not that I can do either one very well.  

We do this over and over.  Then we get taught how to stand up correctly.  When we are on our butts, most of us want to lean forward and stand up coming forward.  This is a good way to let your opponent have his way with you.  Standing up correctly from a seated position means posting up one arm and the opposite leg and turning your hips and the other leg underneath you.  Why don’t they call this the backward breakdance?   

Mine looks like white boy dancing.   

We’re building the foundation.  If you want to have a good life, you have to have a solid foundation.  If you want to be good at any sport, fundamentals are the foundation.  Foundations are those core practices which will save your bacon when they become automatic.  Like trust, honesty, integrity, these have to be trained early and often to stick. 

Next, we are on to a hip thrust (lying on your back, feet on the floor, push your feet into the floor and lift your hips) which is a basic move to get an opponent off when you are on your back. 

I notice I’m fine when I’m rehearsing these by myself, but when we practice together, I get tentative.  My “don’t hurt anyone” instinct kicks in strong.  I shrink.  I hold back.  Maybe this is about conflict. 

I’ve grown in my ability to engage in verbal conflictual situations, but how often do you get into a physical conflict as an adult.  While I was in high school, I had a few altercations.  As soon the other guy pushed or grabbed me, my arms disconnected from my brain and my legs filled with concrete.  And conflict is what BJJ consists of.  Get your opponent on the ground and choke him or arm lock or just lock him up until he submits to you.  The resolution comes when one of you “taps out”.  

Tapping out is literally tapping your opponent and saying “tap, tap, tap”  until they let you up.  There is always a winner and always a tap-per.  Then you go again--in rounds.  On the mat, that’s how it works at least. 

The guys are “rolling” now.  I watch them and practice these new moves.  The class is over. We line up, bow, and shake hands with everyone. 

Ethan asks, “So how was it?”  “Good,” I say tentatively.

I’m still not sure what it’s going to feel like to get on the mat and roll with another student.  My heart rate goes up a bit just thinking about it.  

Rolling is when it gets real.

First Jiu-Jitsu Class:  David, our instructor, middle of first row. Ethan is the next guy to the right. 

First Jiu-Jitsu Class:  David, our instructor, middle of first row. Ethan is the next guy to the right. 

Email Enthusiasm

Ethan’s reply (I took out some of the specifics about times, etc)


Of course, I remember!  I really enjoyed getting to know you and I'm thrilled to hear from you again.  I would love to introduce you to jiu-jitsu.  I can't say enough good things about it.  Out of all the martial arts I've trained (over half a dozen in the last 25 years), it is by far my favorite.  Just the physical improvements you'll see will be worth it, but it will also boost your confidence and mood more than just about anything else.  It also has the best community and you may quickly find yourself with a solid new group of friends.

So if you are ready to get outside your comfort zone and try something amazing, come by this week.  I can't wait to have you experience your healthiest new passion!


Ok.  I’m in.  

Waiting For a Response

Forty-four hours after sending the email, and I had not heard from him.  Now, I sent the email on a Saturday afternoon and it’s just 1 pm on Monday, but my lizard brain was squirming with the flight response.  

I was looking for a way out.  

“Maybe it went to spam.  “Maybe he thinks I’m crazy or he really doesn’t like me.”  

Oh, the stories I can conjure up on behalf of a non-response. 

Then, there is the other side, the side ready to be a beginner, to learn, to grow, to practice and to fail.  I have no dreams of glory.  I do have dreams of greater mental discipline, greater physical control and better health.  I have dreams of not freezing up every time I’m in the middle of a conflict.  I dream of this new scary venture with anticipation and hope. 

Perhaps this is what every new venture holds--promise and fear, hope and anticipation.  

Maybe I’ll meet some new people on a similar journey.  Maybe these people will become friends?  Maybe I’ll find a new refuge for mind and body along with the others I’ve developed in daily meditation and writing. 

Maybe I’ll just get mangled.

At the moment, it’s all a dream, or a nightmare, waiting on an email reply.

Do Something That Scares You

I’m anxious about the email I sent to Ethan. 

Dear Ethan,

Hope your summer has been fruitful.  If you don't remember me, we met at a Synapse meeting and then had lunch after which you gave me a tour of your great facility.  You were struggling a bit with mornings at the time and we discussed some strategies for you.  I was impressed with you, your wife and your commitment.  Our time together stuck in my mind.

...And I need to get outside of my comfort zone....this is where you and Phoenix come in.  I'd like to train in jiu-jitsu because it scares me a bit and I'd like to write a regular blog about my experience/learnings as a beginner in this martial art.  It would hopefully get you some more "looks" and I would be demonstrating to my potential clients that I am walking the talk because I'm often having them do things outside of their comfort zone.  I also need to have a way to chart my progress to help with the blogging and to make it more concrete in my own mind.

So does that sound like a cool plan?

What would be the best way to begin?  I'm a newbie, so I'm putting myself in your capable hands.



What if I get hurt?  

What if I hate jiu-jitsu?

What if he thinks I’m a bonehead?  

What am I thinking, beginning a martial art at 47 years old?

(I don’t even really know what jiu-jitsu is yet other than a grappling martial art which has become wildly popular.) 

One of the reasons I sent the email to Ethan at Phoenix Fitness and Martial Arts was because I’d gotten fat.  Fifteen pounds in 9 months fat.  I’m now 30 pounds over my ideal weight.  My little bits of discipline have produced nothing but a larger belly and the opportunity to buy new pants.  I was sick of seeing my big stomach.  I cannot imagine what my wife thinks, so I don’t think about it. 

I had been working out regularly since mid-summer.  After listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast with Coach Sommers of, and seeing the results of guys my age, I was sold.  The Gymnastic Strength Training is lots of mobility (strength plus flexibility) and core work, which I desperately need.  Because Coach Sommers coached Olympic gymnasts, and because most mobility is contingent on connective tissue, the program is beautifully and intelligently incremental.  He doesn’t want anyone to get injured and not be able to train.  So I wasn’t feeling pushed out of my comfort zone, yet.

Ultimately my goals include having the best mobility that I’ve ever had.  This will take a minimum of two years, more like five, in all reality.  Incremental is good.  I’m not in the mood to get injured and just add more body fat to the 25% I already carry around. 

As a relationship, executive, and strategic coach, I often invite clients to do something new, something seemingly scary.  When they do, they begin to see how they are capable of so much more than they originally thought possible.  Physically, I had not challenged myself for a long time and stuck with it. 

In 2015, I decided I would run a 50 miler.  Now, I’d never run more than 10 miles at one time, but because it scared me, I took on the training.  Once I built up to running over two hours at a time, I found I was in a brain fog for days.  The fog was like a hangover that hung on.  I changed my diet, my fluids, hot and cold showers, whatever; nothing budged the fog--if I had run for over two hours.  I stopped running.  I felt so much better.  So much for that challenge.

I spent the next several months doing very little for my physical health.  In the spring of 2016, the pounds began to come on and my waist began to expand.  These inches and pounds were unlike others I had gained, they didn’t want to come off.  Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t perfectly disciplined, but who is?  

Finally, I got frustrated and knew I needed a bigger change, a challenge.  I also needed to build my “inner citadel” (Ryan Holiday) -- the mental and physical toughness to deal with conflict and challenge differently.  (More on my neurosis in later posts)

Then I heard Tim Ferriss interview Jocko Willink.  Willink is a former Navy Seal and a real badass.  In his second podcast, Jocko told the listeners to practice/train jiu-jitsu because it was the best mind and body training he had ever done.  

He was speaking to me.  I listened to my intuition which said, “Email Ethan.”

That’s when the anxious questions began.