Back on deck ...
I arrived back from Bali on the weekend - and despite a nasty bout of the dreaded Bali Belly, got back into my regular routine this week. Classes resumed at my school this week, and I have very much enjoyed being there. Tonight's classes were Novice BJJ and MMA; I had an absolute ball!
This week I have also finished a few more chapters of the third and final installment in my Rogue Black Belt series. I have done 15 out of 2o chapters. I hope to be finished by the end of next week. The it's another few day of laying it all out and designing a few internal pages, etc in readiness for the print house. After that, it'll take about two weeks to get printed, bound and delivered. I am excited about the prospect.
I am off to a great start for the new year - my calendar is pretty full till at least the end of April - but I am excited about the way it all promises to unfold.
Here's a short installment from my next book - an excerpt from chapter four - I hope you enjoy it.
Each of us brings something to the world. When people interact, they leave their mark on each other. The most content, fulfilled and happy people I know are also the ones that treat others with respect and kindness. In my experience, treating others with respect and kindness is not a result of being happy but rather a cause of being so.
Best of the best
In the months to follow, I played a far more active teaching role at the Wall Street Village Academy. The word was beginning to spread within the Los Angeles martial arts community, and some big names were walking in the door. I had the pleasure of teaching people like Chuck Norris, Howard Jackson and others who were also bitten by the BJJ bug. When compared to the Brazilians living in LA at that time, my physical skills were average at best; my teaching skills though, were another matter entirely. Although I was a relative newcomer to the art of BJJ, I had by that time developed some talent at ‘glimpse analysis’ and I could impart the understanding that I gathered from that analysis in a meaningful way to other people. It was on the back of those teaching skills that I have since built my life as a professional martial arts and defensive tactics instructor.
It was, I am sure, no coincidence that those martial artists who came, tasted what we had to offer and stayed, were also the nicest kinds of people. Chuck Norris is a perfect example of this.
One day, around lunchtime, I was teaching Chuck and his friend Bob Wall. I had neglected to lock the door, as was my usual habit when teaching private classes, and so it was that two kids walked in. They were youngsters, perhaps ten or twelve years of age. The older of the two took one look at us on the mat, stopped dead in his tracks, pointed accusingly and said ‘You’re Chuck Norris!’
‘Hey there’ replied Chuck.
‘What are you doing?’ asked the boy, blithely unaware of the protocols that would have silenced an older person.
‘Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’ answered Chuck. ‘Would you like to learn?’
In a flash both boys, having the sense to remove their shoes, scrambled onto the mat.
‘Do you mind?’ Chuck asked me.
‘Of course not’ I replied, secretly admiring Chuck’s generosity.
A half hour later with the class finished, we left the mat and saw the kids out the door. Chuck gave one a baseball cap and the other a t-shirt, but not before adorning them with his signature. I have since wondered whether Chuck, realising that their story may not have been believed upon their arrival home that day, gave them the gifts as a kind of proof. He is a genuinely wonderful person: an inspirational martial artist in every respect.
Forming friendships with people like Chuck has been a huge validation of my choice to make my living from the martial arts. People like Chuck, Richard Norton, David Meyer, Howard Jackson, Benny Urquidez and many others have lived their lives by a code of integrity and honour. Such role models have positively affected the lives of countless others by living their own according to conscience and a strong moral compass. The people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on how we live our own lives; and so I have long since learned to discriminate when it comes to who I spend time with.
Rigan Machado is another wonderful example of a person who possesses a heart of gold. Anyone who has met Rigan will attest to what a genuinely nice person he is. In fact, his warm and generous personality can easily distract you from the realisation that he is one of the most talented grapplers on the face of the earth - a real genius in fact.
I had been privy to plenty of evidence as proof of Rigan’s amazing abilities, but it somehow became even more evident several months into that particular training trip when he and I travelled to Kentucky for the National Sambo Grappling Championship
Sambo is the national combative sport of Russia. Its technique has evolved out of a hybrid mix of Judo throwing, wrestling takedowns and Jiu Jitsu groundwork, including submissions. Although many of the BJJ techniques, such as choking and guard-work are disallowed in Sambo competition, there were in fact quite a few similarities.
Rigan decided to enter the competition and asked if I wanted to accompany him up to Kentucky for the weekend. I wanted to compete as well, and so despite the fact that we didn’t even know the rules at that time, we jumped on a plane and made our way north.
Arriving in Kentucky that evening, we met with officials and filled in the appropriate paperwork. Rigan asked me to learn the rules and then explain it to him. And so after a quick conversation with the somewhat bemused president of the American Sambo Association, I formulated a sketchy idea of how it all worked. The rules, as it turned out, were quite a bit different from those used in BJJ competition, but it didn’t seem to matter much to Rigan.
‘Just find out what I am allowed to do’ he asked, ‘And I will just do that!’
I was dubious, but Rigan’s confidence was infectious and I soon found myself looking forward to the tournament.
I entered the lightweight division and Rigan entered the Open Heavyweight division. The tournament turned out to be a gathering of the various state champions from the length and breadth of America. A lot of Olympic wrestlers and Judoka also joined in as a way to rack up more competition experience. I knew it was going to be a tough day.
Rigan was called up first and walked out onto the mat with his usual quiet confidence. The match didn’t last long, with Rigan submitting his opponent in a minute or so. Submissions, though legal, were not the most common way a match was won, so there were some surprised looks among the spectator’s after he won in such short order.
Then it was my turn. My opponent was a good wrestler from America’s heartland. Unfortunately, he threw me easily in the first few seconds of the fight. Takedowns were a very weak part of my repertoire at that time. Once we hit the ground though, even though I hit it pretty hard, I was in my element and quickly dominated him. The match stalled a bit with me trying to finish him but also being distracted by Rigan yelling out ‘Don’t choke him!’ from the side of the mat. We were then stood back up to start over. The same thing pretty much happened two more times: my opponent taking me down, me dominating once the fight hit the ground. However, a near finish and dominating him on the ground didn’t score me the points he scored by taking me down. He was declared the winner.
Rigan smiled as I walked off the mat and pointed out that I needed to work on my takedowns and perhaps more importantly, my defence to them. Despite my loss, I felt good about my effort. We were still learning the rules.
Again Rigan was called up, and it was almost an exact replay of his earlier match, although perhaps a little more comical. Rigan took his opponent down easily and pinned him to the mat. Then, seemingly ignoring his opponent’s frantic and futile attempts to escape, he started up a conversation with the referee about whether it was legal to apply this lock or that. The highly perplexed referee made the situation seem even funnier by answering Rigan’s questions. To put the icing on the cake, Rigan paused to actually thank him before dispatching his hapless opponent with a shoulder lock.
Having a better understanding of the rules allowed me to win my second and third matches with armlocks. I was very happy with my performance, but had no hope of fighting in the finals as I had lost my first match.
Rigan kept doing his thing and worked his way, with little apparent effort, through his entire division. As the day drew to an end, I fought my final match to determine the third and fourth places in the lightweight division. Again, although I dominated on the ground, the wrestler’s takedown at the start of the fight gave him the points he needed to win, giving me fourth place in the overall tournament.
Rigan, on the other hand, had a very different experience. He was now fighting in the final and was paired off against Ron Tripp, five times winner of the Nationals and top American Judoka. Despite Rigan’s impressive series of wins, the crowd was still expecting Ron to once again take out the tournament.
I walked up to Rigan and told him to be careful; warning him the Ron was very good.
Rigan put his arm around my shoulders and asked me to pick any finish I liked, claiming he would win with my chosen technique. And so I did. And so he did. Thirty-nine seconds into the match, I took a photo of Rigan tapping Ron out with the technique I had selected. Rigan was a true virtuoso.
Not only was Rigan the best of the best from a technical point of view but he had a heart of gold to go with it. This was made even more evident the next morning as we ate breakfast in the cafeteria.
Ron Tripp walked in and came up to our table.
‘Hi’ said Ron. ‘Our match yesterday was a little crazy. That was some weird position we ended up in. What a freak accident.’
I couldn’t believe my ears; he actually thought he lost the match because of some freak accident. I was just about to open my mouth and educate him when Rigan said ‘My friend. Sometimes it just goes like that. Next year you will win.’
Rigan was such a nice person, he didn’t want Ron to feel bad about his loss. Such is his humility.
Rigan had consummate ability when it came to wrestling and a heart of gold when it came to dealing with other people’s feelings, but he was absent-minded in the extreme.
That afternoon we headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Los Angeles. We sat down in the departure lounge and Rigan took out his video camera. We began to watch the recordings we had made of our fight and Rigan broke them down as we did so. When it came to the study of grappling, Rigan was a real academic. He picked the matches apart in fine detail and gave me advice on how to do better. I thought I’d better get up and check our departure time but Rigan told me not to worry and had me sit back down and pay attention to what was playing on the video camera. Ten minutes later, I was determined to go and check on the departure time, and again Rigan told me to stay focussed on the video. I should have ignored him.
Finally, ignoring Rigan’s protests, I got up and went to the counter. We had missed our flight by thirty minutes! I returned to Rigan, who was still sitting on the floor staring into the viewfinder and said ‘Rigan, we have missed our plane!’
‘Don’t worry about it’ he said, not taking his eye from the camera. ‘Take another look at this takedown.’
I actually became a little mad at him; we had missed the last flight back to LA for that day, and he didn’t seem to care in the slightest. He would very happily have sat there on the floor all night, watching those videos. Time and tide mean nothing to Rigan."