Week Three: Moderation and Balance

Week three on the diet has brought me to many thoughts and realities about Polycystic Kidney Disease, and my place within it…perhaps. It has been a week of endings at school, continuance at jiujitsu and beginnings of the summer. So many personae and identities to blend: father, teacher, martial artist, musician, writer…

It is Father’s Day and I decided this morning to take a devil may care day on the diet; I do not want to forget that I am trying to stay alive to live and not eek out a meagre existence without experience or joy of a good meal with family that does not include Cronometer at the table. I also know not to let that line smudge so that I descend into a Hell of getting back to ketosis a week later. I never forget that I am fortunate enough to see a long horizon in lieu of death sentence on my PKD. I am in this game of Ren.Nu to make long term changes to keep me going as I am as long as I want. I also know that MOsT of these changes are positive, doable and will have a great affect on the quality of my life. But a great thing soon can become a cult of sacrifice and I know better; I studied vampire cults and identity construction for my Master of Arts at McGill University. Too much is often worse than not enough.

Enough philosophy. How has the diet been going? I think very well. I feel less dead at 4pm, though I have had a few headaches along the way. I enjoy my weekly text check-in with my nutritionist just to see what she sees. It helps and makes it worth the cost of the program. The KetoCitra is good. I actually like it as a drink. Caveat emptor: it is awful as a sports drink. I had some in the car before jiujitsu so I used it and ended up with a massive headache after 8 rounds of 8 minutes of combat. Bad idea, genius. The group sessions help remind me that there are others doing the program who have more and fewer challenges than I do at this stage. I am always interested to see the difference between Canada and the USA when it comes to food and medical experiences. The sessions are a bit of a slog, but they probably need to be.

I have been doing my own meditation program as usual with the Waking Up app. I spent a long time finding the best mindfulness approach for me as a way of letting go of the fear of death, pain and illness that comes along with PKD. I do not think I could have done the MRIs or the sclerotherapy procedures without Sam Harris. My preference, but also a suggestion for others. I expect to always use the app especially now that he has added lectures by others about Self, duality and Buddhism.

Jiujitsu has been rough. I have zero power still. Opponents have 100 percent and adrenaline. Still, this is what I do, and lost 15 lbs in a month have made my body so much more fluid. I am losing one session a week, but I did a 6.6 km run instead of the second session in 40 minutes just to get my body moving at a keto-friendly pace. With a week of day long training sessions in Estonia in a few weeks it is in my interest to find a balance between what I can do and what I need to do, both in terms of carbohydrates and exertion.

Ketosis is slippery. I am just holding on at the bottom end of light nutritional ketosis this week. That is fine for my current goals; I feel pretty solid, am losing weight and have a reasonable mindset, I think. From my experience before, things will get hairy in two weeks as those voice of “reason” start chiming in. People will say: “uhhh, you look too thin.” or “aren’t you too old to be doing this; you need to eat. !” I am fine with that. The beard had to go or I would resemble Rasputin pretty quickly.

What motivates me? My daughter had her first ballerina recital at age five. I want to be here for her as long as I can. I want to be mobile, pain minimal and active for as long as I can until I cannot. She mischievously asked me whether I would die from eating her candy this week; she wanted to know whether it had to be hidden, I think. Life is extraordinary, and I appreciate the struggle, because it gives me the beauty of a summer night motorcycle ride, a blistering blues guitar solo, a perfect Jiujitsu strangle or a profound conversation with a friend. I can avoid a doughnut for that, can’t you?

When the Centre Cannot Hold: Switching Jiujitsu Gyms

It was inevitable. Despite pretending that all would be well and that I could just ride out change at my gym, I knew it was time for me to move on and find a new crew. Opportunities take people places, others feel slighted by random, perceived slights, and then human drama begins to play out like Shakespearean plays performed by second rate actors. Exit stage right [chased by bear].

I will certainly miss my opportunity to teach beginners class; it was a rare chance for a purple belt to share some of my knowledge with white belts in a class format. I doubt that I will be given such a chance again, so I truly made the most of my six lessons. In the end though, I was always quite aware that people only want to learn from black belts with tonnes of competition experience at the highest levels. It is all good. What was especially thrilling was that I chose to give stripes the four of the students who had been working really hard before and after the Covid restrictions, had missed out last promotions in September and who were also moving on in the time ahead. Our professor, Igor Mocaiber, approved of my choices, and I was able to give each of them just a touch more motivation as they continued their journey.

What I find is a little more challenging is becoming a ronin at purple belt. Walking into new rooms after kidney surgeries, Covid layoffs and self-doubt is not an easy task. When I left Toronto No Gi, I was a white belt with 2 years experience. Sure, I walked into a very tough room at Budo Canada, but no one had any expectations for the gringos. Over four years and 10 competitions, I had a pretty solid understanding of who I was and what I could do on the mats.

I have spent the past year developing a Squid Guard with the lapels, a few open guard sequences, a mount that ends up in a few different submissions and a few other things. But my game has become a little more relaxed, as I was rolling almost exclusively with white belts so that I could actually get in hundreds of reps on what I was working on. How would I feel going into new rooms, as a human target with a purple belt? I would soon have the answer…pretty awful!

In my local area, I am pretty lucky to have two great gyms: Action Reaction MMA and RevMMA. The first is largely competition-based with a wide variety of students and it would allow me to remain a part of the Cicero Costha family. A few challenges for me will be that the team is pretty large and keeping my kidneys safe might prove a rough proposition with eager, young competitors hoping to tap a purple belt.

Given that Action Reaction is closed for two weeks as they move locations to a larger facility, I figured that I would start with RevMMA . Rev is a multi-combat sport gym whose jiujitsu program is led by black belt Joel Gerson and now affiliated with the Gracie Academy out of Torrence, California. I had taken a full day workshop with Rener Gracie and Brian Ortega a few years back, so I knew what I was getting into. The focus would have some elements of self-defence and an emphasis on very solid foundations. Safe, playful training with a lot of steady pressure.

I decided to jump right in with a Gracie Combatives class at 7pm, followed by an Advanced class with rolling afterwards. Gracie Combatives is a foundational sequence of 32 Techniques that is repeated on schedule for new white belts until they successfully attend a set number of classes and can demonstrate an understanding of these basics. Attendance is tracked on white cards that students take to classes. If I am totally honest, then I have to admit that I was stressed out and nervous because few things are worse than showing up to a class where everyone else knows what is going on as white belts and I have no idea as a purple belt. The language and vocabulary are strange, and while I have a boatload of knowledge, I have zero Gracie Combatives knowledge. Oh boy, it was going to be a rough night.

Fortunately, Joel connected me with a passionate adherent of the system, Daniel, and as we worked through the day’s two main techniques and four minutes of the punch-block series. While it may seem unbelievable, I learned A LOT about BASE and increasing mount control/pressure. I also felt pretty stupid. Like really bad at jiujitsu. So then it becomes a question of whether I can defeat the voice of my ego to rebuild the paradigm of my jiujitsu experience. Can I accept that I will feel like I have started BJJ over from square one? Good question.

For the second part of the evening, I dragged my ego into the Advanced class. We worked on a pretty awesome half guard smash pass that felt very much like a Mendes brothers’ technique based on multiple leg weaves and staples. Again, I felt like I walked away with a technique that would greatly improve what is my A game.

Rolls were hard, but excellent. With my first partner, a purple belt, I controlled the first half of the roll and then played defense in the second half. I was a distracted by my own cross collar grip and lost control of my leg freedom. Next round was with Joel Gerson, and that was never going to go easily for me. While I did what I could, two armbars and a defeated Squid Guard later, I was just happy to still be able to walk. Finally, I had a round with my white belt partner, Daniel. His defense in mount was pretty solid…except for that last second wristlock. I was gentle.

In the past 48 hours, I have had to question a great many things about my jiujitsu; what I want, who am I, who do I want to be, am I ever going to find a place to consider home again? Hard to say, really. As my daughter woke up quite sick with a fever in the middle of the night, and having been put into a bad mood from one of my parent- teacher interviews, I feel pretty distant from the moment without jiujitsu to take my attention back to Centre. Another week and I hope to have chosen between Exit A and B.

Open Source Jiujitsu: The Ronin Reality

Jiujitsu aspired to become a cult. After reading Rickson Gracie’s insightful (and unexpected) book, Breathe it becomes difficult to say anything more. My academic area of study was identity construction and the formation of cults, and I have always been fascinated about how faux religions are systematically formed through adherence to rituals, ranks and repetition of mythical narratives. From strange polygamous arrangements to gangster-like school wars, the Gracies seem like villains in the final score. But is any school all that different? Aren’t we all villains if given the opportunity for outrageous sins?

As a practitioner of Brazilian jiu-jitsu for almost six years, I have bowed to the venerable portrait to old man Helio in countless gyms, and been told about how the great master was old, sickly and adapted judo to create his art. In reality, polygamy, hustling, legal actions by one crew against others, and the splintering of a whole family name across America are at the foundation of a grand pyramid scheme to make money and gain power. Good. Now that is out of the way, can we address the fact that such a hustle is still played as rumours of sexual abuse and harassment shake the scene this month through the community? Unless practitioners acknowledge the shadier side of the sport, progress will become more and more challenging. Jiujitsu is a game and a hustle, but there is more.

Jiujitsu is also a path towards real salvation. Like so many corrupt roads, Jiujitsu holds real gems of truth and wisdom at its heart. The masters become corrupt with power, but the art remains pure simply because it has made the leap to open-source. Jiujitsu no longer remains the secretive fetish of a few black belts, but rather it has crept into the digital realm and is being taught throughout the world under a multitude of banners. Some of those schools remain cultish, while others see the value of evolving to the demands of a consumer culture who source builds from components rather than buy the complete machine. As Kanye speaks in “Otis”:

” I get it custom, you a customer”

And jiujitsu is really about what YOU make it. Certainly, you can join a gym, follow their curriculum and 10 years later come out the other end as a black belt. However, what good, what transformation and self-realization can be attained through that? I see so many pathways for people in jiujitsu practice, but the valuable ones are difficult and without glory for the ego. So many talk about how BJJ destroys the ego, but then go onto the mats and roll like monsters in a Japanese horror fillm. Bad vibes are human, even in jiujitsu, but that does not mean we can simply avoid the dark and hope the bullies, the perverts and the abusive disappear. They often do, but not without pressure from the light, and action by those who believe in something greater. As far as jiujtisu changing people, I tend to agree with John Danaher in a Stuart Cooper clip:

“I don’t think that jiujitsu changes your personality that much. I think that who you are when you walk in will be accentuated by jiujitsu…but if you are an asshole when you walk in the door, then jiujitsu will make you more of an asshole.”

But if you do not like a gym. If the vibes change because of a few bad apples, then either leave for another or accept that you might need to train on the side with friends, go to open mats more often, watch instructionals or save some money to go on a BJJ Globetrotters intensive camp. Find your tribe, your master, your flock, but also take responsibility for learning the techniques and style you want to play, because it will represent you as a human on the mats. If you like to grind elbows into eye sockets, wristlock small people and ignore taps, then good luck. I will not train with you, not because I am weak, but rather because I choose not to reward that game, and I want to roll with people who want to learn. Giving you five minutes is taking away five minutes from another person who might truly appreciate some time. The Ronin makes his own path. His choices are his own. The Samurai serves the Master who promises indulgence.

So here we are. BJJ Fanatics sells the latest tech for study and instruction. Social media is bursting with videos of fancy moves and wisdom nuggets. BJJ Globetrotters aspires to make it all “outside the box”, and then Rickson Gracie chooses to breathe a compelling narrative that reveals his admiration of the Japanese bushido as the truest form of the warrior. The father, uncles and children come across as lesser beings scrounging for gold and progeny, while he looked upward. He did not always succeed, but he gazed upward. But, of course, these are just my opinions, and I strongly encourage all people to examine concepts, myths and legends for themselves to uncover what is fact and what is convenient fiction and marketing.

At the end of the day, there are so many truly wonderful people out there to train under and with. Paths may divervge and converge along your journey, but there will always be a new mentor awaiting you; even if he can only be found in a mirror.

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