More and more often, fellow team mates are asking me ahead of time to be their drilling partner for an evening’s class. I’m not sure why, although I always wear a clean gi and brush my teeth immediately before class, and so obviously that doesn’t hurt. Or maybe because I’ve finally learned to leave my over sized ego at the door as a little humility and a smile goes a long way. In any case whenever I’m asked, it’s always welcomed.

One of my favorite experiences is rolling with someone new, as occasionally a newcomer will attend their first class, and often I end up sparring with them at some point during the evening. At some point, I can just hear someone saying, “Oh great, so that you can beat them
up, right”? Actually the opposite is true. For me, there’s no satisfaction dominating a newcomer, especially one who might be hesitant in joining the gym in the first place. More often than not, when rolling with a new student, I’ll think of my experience with the black belt that I referenced in an earlier post, in this case, who, even though quite capable of choking me unconscious, instead showed me how he could easily control someone without causing injury. I believe that’s real skill.

Speaking of visitors, an unspoken guideline in rolling with someone you just met, is to take it easy for the first minute or so as to better get an idea of their skill level and temperament, but of course, like life, not everything goes to plan.

I remember one evening in particular, a visitor asked me to roll – someone half my age, and built like a football player. Still a white belt at the time, I was predictably nervous, but decided to go for it anyway. Remember the part about taking it easy at first? He obviously didn’t get the memo, and bam! Like a battering ram he came at me with everything he had for a double leg take down, knocking me backwards onto the mat.

My first thoughts in the span of second ranged from, “Oh crap, what do I do now?” followed by “Just embrace the suck and deal with it!” Fortunately I chose to embrace the suck, wrapped my arm around his neck and shoulder, and flipped him over onto his back.

He looked dazed and confused for a moment while staring at the ceiling, but he brushed himself off and after a moment we went after it again.

Before you could say “kuzushi,” he came after me again at 100% for another double leg take down, knocking me to the mat as before! Sure enough, I put his head into the same guillotine like counter and flipped him over on his back again.

Third time, you guessed it, the same scenario. While asking myself how he thought this same attack would work, this time my left knee accidentally connected with one of his ribs, apparently injured a few weeks previously and unknown to me at the time. In short order, he winced in pain and shrieked so loud that it created a temporal rift in space and time such that just when the gym walls stopped shaking enough for my teammates to figure out what happened, the gym became deathly quiet while everyone finally looked at me and someone said, “Hey, Gaga, why are you beating up the new guy?!” We all got a good laugh at that, including the guest, and fortunately the visitor and l left on good terms.

Recently a young man got promoted in rank, someone I’ve gotten to know for the past two years or so. Very tall, with a great spirit and a sense of humor. We likely hit it off as well as we did given that our collective sense of humor is about as dry as a salted cracker left out in the hot desert sun for two weeks. At the same time he was promoted in rank, we learned that he is soon leaving for a couple years to live abroad. Certainly bittersweet, but we’re all very proud of him and excited for him on his new journey. After class, he came up to me, and in between a handshake and then a hug, thanked me for all my help over the past couple of years.

Given how much I’ve struggled in my own journey, I was so floored and humbled I literally took a step back in shock as I had no idea. Knowing how long it takes me to learn any skill, including jiu jitsu, this was something I had not expected to hear. I can say from personal experience how everyone at Inverse has had a positive impact me in one way or the other, either through a friendly conversation or a tough roll on the mat. Even beyond that I’m quickly learning things, including my own weaknesses that extend far beyond my physical.

Makes me think of the expression, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

Now if only there was a life changing activity available that would allow me to improve myself physically and mentally while making new friends and learning a form of self defense at the same time?

-Bryan C.