In early September of 2015, I was furious. While not out of my usual character, this was far worse. One of my sons was being bullied at school. The current atmosphere had created a depression in him that was extremely difficult to take. There had been an issue in 6th grade when a person broke into his locker and wrote an incredibly racist comment on a white board inside. Two years later, another racial insult had come his way during a church festival in August. Now in September, he was having issues again. Luckily, this was a personality clash and not outwardly racial. Either way, the totality had taken a major toll on him. He was lacking confidence, and I wanted to bring it back out of him. Little did I know that the path I chose for him would change my life way more than it changed his.

I signed up to join Son of Siam in the middle of September. I had decided that my son needed to KNOW, not feel like, he could defend himself. I had also decided that I would go through everything that he went through with him. In order to that, I would need a head start. It turns out that I needed much more than that.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a gift from God. Ask anyone who is willing to stick it out for two weeks, and everyone will tell you the same thing. It is the first two weeks that kill you, as I soon found out. Check your ego at the door and learn to tap!

The very first class was a cold, hard slap of reality. I held delusions of grandeur when I looked in the mirror or lifted weights. I laughed at the work outs of people in my gym. After the first 2 minutes of my first class, I was not laughing any more. I was hating life and sucking wind. Warm-ups were killing me, what would the rest of it be like? Delusion was replaced by fear. It was either going to be flight or fight. Luckily, I stuck around.

After getting over the fact that I had not taken care of myself as well as I needed to, I settled in to learn. I had luckily made it into a basics review class. They were reviewing arm bars from the closed guard. The guard is a basic position in BJJ. From your back, you control the hips or balance of your opponent, some way some how. The closed guard (wrapping your legs around you opponent) is the easiest way for beginners to accomplish this. As you progress, you learn that there are numerous variations of the guard with infinite moves and combinations. Those variations were the last thing on my mind that day.

The arm bar requires a person to be able to trap the arm of his opponent between pinched knees and then use the leverage of raising hips to hyperextend the elbow joint. Doing this from the closed guard requires a BJJ player to be able to swivel his hips while under his opponent. He needs to "break" the posture of his opponent with one leg, while pushing himself into an attacking angle. All of this has to be done without allowing his opponent to free his arm, which is not easy. On top of this, I am a slow learner. I'm an athlete that learns through failure. Suffice to say, I did not do well with this first drill. As would become my mantra, "You suck at this. Keep working." So, I just kept going.

The first day ended with "rolling." Basically, "rolling" is 100%, full go, sparring with other people in class. A "rolling" session can last anywhere from 6 minutes to 25 minutes. You rotate from one opponent to the next for 3-minute, 4-minute, or 5-minute rounds. As you can imagine, not knowing anything is a hinderance to a successful rolling session. (So, to recap a little, you have 0 experience in a sport/martial art that centers around causing an opponent to submit....and you have to go 100%....and you are not in shape...and you have to make it through multiple opponents...and, it sucks.)

When you do not know anything, you go on base instinct. I weighed 230 lbs, I had strength on almost everyone there. I was going to use that. Funny thing about strength, it fades very, very fast. Even funnier is that BJJ wants you to rely on strength. A decent beginner at BJJ will embarrass you in a 5 minute round if you rely on strength. The basis of the art is to keep you unbalanced and use leverage to overcome physical disadvantages. So, after about 25 seconds of pushing and pulling and tensing, I crapped out. I was swept (basically flipped onto my back), mounted (there is no way to describe this without it sounding weird), and choked. Awesome. Start again, get swept again, get mounted again, get choked again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Now you're thinking, "where is the fun in this?" Believe me, I was wondering the same thing.

After going through the rotation and feeling like absolute misery personified, class was over. The instructor, and owner, Nathan Fitch approached me after class. He asked the obvious, "How'd you like it? Did you learn anything?" but then he asked the hard question, "Are you coming back?" Great question. I had just been thoroughly embarrassed for what seemed like an eternity. I had been submitted at least 10 times by guys that I knew that I was stronger than. I was basically rendered helpless. Was I going to come back and experience that all over again? "You bet your behind," was my response. I was hooked. If these guys could learn this art, and be this good at this stage of development (beginners mostly) I wanted in. I wanted to learn this art. I wanted to feel that, given fair circumstances, I could defend myself against people bigger than myself. I was hooked by the process of learning, by the difficulty of the movement. Oh, I'd be back!

One class turned into three classes that week. As I kept coming back, I started feeling more comfortable. I stopped "freaking out" when I was mounted (it can be really tough to breath), and I started getting tapped less. Every class I learned more moves, and moving my body became a little easier. However, the best improvement was in the relationships that I began to form in the gym. I began to earn the trust of the guys. The other instructor, a black belt (it takes 10 to 15 years to get a black belt in BJJ, so the guy is a bad mother) actually learned my name. With no ego left, I began to see myself for who I truly was. The total reality of BJJ exposed me and I began to feel like a brand new person. There was no hiding behind theory, the rubber had met the road and I knew where I stood in the world. I was improving as a person.

Part of improving came from pushing myself. When I felt like my heart was going to explode, I tried to go just a little more. It was paying off. By March, I weighed 220 without changing any eating habits. I could jog a couple of miles without breaking a sweat. My grip strength had gone through the roof and my confidence in myself was never higher. I decided that I wanted to compete in a tournament once the summer was over.

When you start BJJ, you start for a variety of reasons. Generally, one of the top 2 reasons is to learn to defend yourself. A little further on that list is to compete for your school in a tournament. I know that it was WAAAYYY down on my list when I started. However, as I kept moving along, the seed was planted. How good was I getting? Training against the same guys every day only tells you a little bit about where you truly stand. How would I do against people I didn't know. There was only one way to find out.

Beginning with the month of August, I decided that I was going to go to class with the tournament in mind. It would be at that beginning of October and I needed to improve every aspect of my Jiu Jitsu. That means technique, strength, conditioning, and understanding. I also needed to lose weight, b/c even with having lost 10 lbs, I still looked like I had chewed bubble gum under my skin. I would be competing against guys who were a very, very solid 220 plus and I didn't want any part of that. I discovered Mark's Daily Apple, and the Primal way of eating. I would eventually enter the tournament at 206 pounds.

The tournament prep was a God send. It gave me a clear goal and allowed me to have a focus. It felt like I was alive again. I felt like a competitor again. It was, and still is, awesome. I worked hard. I ate right. I weighed a good weight....and I got crushed. Try as I might, I just wasn't ready. I lost 3 matches against guys I had no business losing to. Nerves took over me and I didn't perform when I need to and those guys did. One of my training partners ran through his competition, and I knew that I was fairly close to him. The taste of disappointment with the feeling of prepping has me hooked. I am going to compete again and often.

After the tournament, I settled into a busy season at work. I kept at class three to five times/week. I kept getting and feeling better and better. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Vitor Oliveira of Grappling Fight Team and the owner of Ronin in Columbus came to our gym for a seminar. After the seminar, I received my 4th stripe (after the 4th stripe, the next promotion is a blue belt. Generally that takes 1 year to 18 months to achieve). I was so close to being recognized as someone other than a beginner. It just wetted my appetite.

On February 18th, James Clingerman came to Son of Siam for a seminar. At the conclusion of 3 hours of learning intense pressuring leverage, we lined up to "bow out." Generally, after a seminar, there are promotions, but it did not look like any were going to happen. So, I got ready to bow out. With that, Nathan announced that two new belts would be given that day. My name was called by the black belt that had refused to learn it 15 months prior (but now is a great friend) and the sense of accomplishment that I felt, I've never felt before. I've made high school All Star teams for football, played for conference champions in college. I've graduated law school and passed the bar all while raising a young family. None of that compared to the feeling I had when I got that belt. BJJ is hard. It hurts...everywhere. You get embarrassed and beat up. You expose your soul and get shown how good or bad you truly are. Most importantly, you have to make the conscious effort every single day to block all that discomfort out and go get better. You don't HAVE to go. You choose to go.

Anyway, Guru asked me if I would like to write a review of my journey so far. I gladly told him that I did. I hope that my story makes people on here want to look into joining us at Son of Siam. My experience isn't unique. Every guy at the gym has a story to tell. Let us help you create your own.
- Mexitucky, AKA Kyle.