Victim Positions: Denial, Anger, Acceptance and Creative Non-Victim

It has been over two decades since I would have considered myself anything close to an academic, but some books, such as Margaret Atwood’s Survival, have stood with me along my own personal journey as philosophical ways forward. While it was an early, theory work by Atwood, the book has kept me aware of how we all need to progress through the challenges that devastate us throughout our lives. For me, Polycystic Kidney Disease has brought me through the whole gamut of emotions just as a misdiagnosis of bipolar manic depression and my jiujitsu training has taken me through the highest bands of the human spectrum and the lowest depths of Hell. In the end, I strongly believe that the greatness of the human condition is to experience as much of the bandwidth, to create the greatest surface area that one can with his life, is the goal. As Tennyson’s Ulysses asserts: ” I shall drink life to the lees!”

Now this particular blog entry is not really about PKD. I write one entry a week now to explain my experience with the Ren.Nu Program out of California and a ketogenic approach to dealing with the disease; but really, this is a personal blog to reflect on my progress through jiujitsu, which for non-practitioners is basically a combat art that puts one in the most uncomfortable positions imaginable, under pressure for rounds upon rounds. If you cannot imagine another human’s sweat dripping into your pinned eye socket or feeling an oppressive weight upon your stomach for minutes that feel like hours, then you need to live a little to get closer to death. Basically, it is mindfullness in its most profoundly awoken reality. When I explain it to others who do not roll, I often say “Your most horrific fears and places of discomfort are where I have learned to hang out and practice my calm, meditative breathing.” It gives me a massive advantage in this game called life, but it does demand a heavy toll of passage. In terms of Atwood’s positions, it is my way of becoming a creative non-victim.

Jiujitsu has gotten me through some claustrophic MRIs. Jiujitsu has helped me deal with the equivalent of a guitar string being inserted into my abdomen to perfrom sclereotherapy four times, and it has helped me deal with having a tube hanging from a cyst for a week out of my abdomen (my greatest fear). I am still here, and that is why I spend so much time meditating, reading philosophy and training to learn how to destroy non-trained human beings by strangling them or ripping off a limb: it brings me peace in the way an actual warrior finds peace in the fog of war.

So how is my jiujitsu these days? It has been an interesting year. I have gone from the Covid-era to a post-surgery era to being a teacher era to being the worst student in the room (but it is an amazing lion’s den of a room) in a few hundred days. That being said, I am about to embark on my first return to a BJJ Globetrotter’s Camp in two weeks in Parnu, Estonia. Estonia happens to be where my wife’s family escaped in post-war, Soviet occupation. It is also a really cool EU country where the JitsVulcan, Priit Mihkelson hails from, and it is his system of defense that I use in my rolling to keep my kidney’s safe against large men (250 lbs) who are trying to kill me.

Now the last time I trained with the Globetrotters, I was just awarded my blue belt, was naively heading to compete at World Masters 2019, and was super-excited to have some time with my friend Angel from California who I met in Iceland. He showed me this lapel guard called Squid Guard and we became instant friends. In the space between I have worked hard on the lapel guard, I trained in a cold garage wearing socks during the two years of Covid in Toronto, and I dreamt of one day being able to just hang out and be a part of a Globetrotters Camp one more time. It is funny, but I remember every damn class I have taken at these camps. From meeting Carlos Machado to being a poor uke for Chris Haueter to having Chris Paines pin me for a whole round just by pinning my elbows together, I made my way through Iceland despite being sleep-deprived from our first year with our daughter. The next camp a year later was funded by selling a bass guitar, and I got to learn some lapel wizardry from Mike Van Dammen after a hilarious drinking session about how I ate nothing but puffins in Iceland. I ate pig knuckles with Ben from Japan, the best fried chicken bao with Angel and went on a Pirukuud tour through Tallinn. What did I take away? I built a reasonable open guard and then vastly improved my leglock entries with Charles Harriot. Heading into next week’s camp, the sky is the limit even if I just want to be chill, hang out, love being alive and see if Christian Graugert has any new “jiujitsu for the beach” moves.

What is my game like these days? Ahhhh. Arrggh. Ummm. I play a lot of Running Man to Turtle a la Priit these days at Action Reaction MMA. Those two positions I have down to black belt level, but I need some kind of Hawking and a better Panda (specifically to avoid the Bow and Arrow Choke) to round that part out. My top game is a knee slice based on a seminar with Gui Mendes, a lot of time with my Brazilian coaches, and some Gordon Ryan instructionals from when I used to write for BJJ Fanatics. Once I pass, I am about riding mount for the Ezekiel, armbar or cross collar choke. It is based on a lesson with Kurt Osiander, an instructional from Roger Gracie and a Globetrotter class from Christian. The game I wish I could play is more like a Margot Ciccarelli Underworld approach to off-balancing with some Keenan lapel guard and Ryan Hall leglock game. I am not there, but I will try nonetheless as an almost 50 year old male.

The camp will be one thing that I have seen as a crack of light through the darkness for the past year. It has motivated me to try the new diet, lost 12 pounds, train hard and be positive in the face of so many places where I could be in denial about my skills and weight gain. I could just be angry and hate the world. I could give up jiujitsu or stayed at an easy club with status. I could have just accepted my doom as sooo many other PKD warriors have had to: I have a disease for which there is nothing but a long road to dialysis and that is that. Instead…here I am, a creative, subversive non-victim ready to keep ducking the executioner and trying really, really hard to offer the community another paradigm of what it means to be a warrior, a hero.

To end, here is a little clip of my school end song to send off the rest of my peers. I chose David Bowie’s “Heroes” as that is what resonated most at this moment. So thus begins the summer, I hope the hundred of readers who have found this site throught Dr. Weimbs continue to follow until the summer’s end.

Week Four: Angels and Demons of Ketogenic Diets

One stop solutions, all-in-one answers, and that damn screwdriver on your Swiss Army knife tend to leave you disappointed at the end of the day. I feel like ketogenic therary in its hardcore iterations may well be the same kind of experience; that being said, for me it remains the best game in town. Perhaps the hardest part of any diet remains the question of how sustainable it is for the body and mind over a long period of time within a certain social culture. It is much harder to go ketogenic in a colder climate where carbohydrates and sugars are the common response to a lack of fresh vegetables/greens and some darn depressing weather. Personally, my body hates the winter; I absolutely would rather live somewhere like Bangkok, Spain or Hawaii. However, even as I edge towards only 6 years before retirement, I know the value of the having a superb, almost accessible medical team with all of the hi-tech kit my kidneys could hope for. I feel fortunate to have been given three sclerotherapy sessions to drain four large cysts off my kidneys over the past year. How easily that might happen in Bangkok is questionable at best.

Now access to the best medical resources is one thing, but becoming a patient who seems like a good bet for such access is the hard part. If one thing drives me to stay healthy, lose weight, drink water, adapt my diet and maintain a positive mindset, then it is to appear like a better choice than the other patient who smokes, drinks, eats Cheetos all day long, and feels like a 5 minute walk is a vigorous workout. Survival of the fittest when in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But let me be clear: none of this can happen without helping to build a better PKD community experience for everyone. If I can help one or two people somewhere in the world to rethink their diet or mindset once they are diagnosed, then writing a blog about my experience or participating in the Ren.Nu program is the least that I can do.

So, how has this week been? This is my hardest week of the year, as my wife is chaperoning a Indigenous Awareness school trip on the other side of the country, my five year old daughter needs a lot of ice cream and shoe-shopping to cope with no mommy-time, I had 140 school reports to write, a jiujtisu class to sneak in. Very little sleep, massive amounts of caffeine and some familiarity with my old friend alcohol, would all be the challenges of a week like this, but to pretend that weeks like this do not happen would be highly detrimental when considering the sustainability of this diet. As the week came to an end, I was surprised to see how well I came out of it by Friday morning. Yes, I went over on carbohydrates. Yes, I am out of ketosis. But…and it is a big BUT, I feel pretty awesome overall. My body feels healthy and my weight is around 171-173 lbs of fairly lean muscle. Hence, the message that I took from the week is deeply founded in the reality that I can survive a week of less than optimum behaviours, thought I doubt that would continue for more than 7 days.

Perhaps what I found most interesting was that while my body told me that I needed carbohydrates, I readily compromised with the choices I went with. Instead of a hamburger bun, I would added 1/2 cup of brown rice to curried ground beef with dandelion greens. Instead of a nice piece of lemon cake, I went with some heavy cream and strawberries. There was no fast food options chosen, and pizza never appeared in the pantheon of my cravings. Maybe one idea to take away is that the idea of cheating is easier to deal with when your cheat options are still healthy by anyone’s standards. Yes, I know that the program swears off things like bananas, rice, almonds, spinach and red meat, but I personally feel that some of those elements should remain in tiny quantities while I am still functioning with fairly solid kidney function. That level of function will undoubtedly degrade over time, but a slower degradation is my personal goal. I am not attempting to eradicate my 50-100 cysts, I am just trying to outlast them to the end of my life.

As far as ketosis goes, I am mostly in a 0.5-0.7 low level for my ketones, and that is okay for now. Once my weight loss stops (it will once the love handles get eaten up), then I will slowly edge my ketosis up. Once I start being able to recover from the stresses of year end, it will be much easier to sleep a full night and a bit into the mornings. I only have a few days before the family goes camping and then I am immediately off to Estonia for a BJJ Globetrotters Camp. It will be pretty hard to tell how many classes I can do on any given day, but I feel like I can do 2-4 hours of camp a day with just some time spent watching from the mats’ edges. I am really hoping that the meal plan gives me a decent healthy factor of choices with the “vegan” option, but given the sheer number of calories burnt in a session, I am pretty sure that my body will just burn the glycogen before it can even settle in my muscles.

The opportunity to train with a large group of European players can only add more depth to both my game and open up a whole different paradigm to the martial art. I could also just use some fun, some conversation and a few days where I can be quiet. Train. Eat. Sleep. Train. It will also be super cool to have another chance to hang out with my friend Angel from California. Covid took its toll on our correspondance, but it will be reassuring to see how his game has evolved in two years passing. He was the first to introduce me to the Squid Guard and the lapel game that I have been working so hard upon over the past few years.

Week Four has been decent. I am not setting the world on fire, but I am settling in to the diet lifestyle in a way that finally seems sustainable for a long haul. Whether the blood and urine labs in September will confirm that this is the right approach for me remains to be seen. I suppose that I am finding my own way, and hopefully along the way I will inspire a few people through this blog to find their own way. Whether that involves KetoCitra or keto or calorie counting or meditation or whatever, the point is that we can all forge a pathway towards a slightly improved health outlook. For my own part, it has been quite a long haul with a lot of fear, anxiety and negative surprises founded in the fact that most doctors are not particulary good at giving any guidance to their patients beyond “there is not much you can do, so don’t stress and drink lots of water.” It felt like idiotic advice 4 years ago, and it feels even more irresponsible now.

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?

Week One: Chasing Ketosis

The past week has felt like a dog chasing a car, and I really see no end in sight. This marks the end of the first week of the dietary project I have been looking forward to working through for almost the past year. Basically, I have signed on for a 12 week nutritionist-supported keto-therapy diet out of California with the Ren.Nu group, which is connected with Santa Barbara Nutirents who produces a medical food for polycystic kidney disease, KetoCitra. It was a bit of a stretch for me to decide to engage with a sort of pre-clinical trial based on a ketogenic variant diet, especially when the totally cost would be around $2000. However, the reality is that the money is pocket change when one looks at his or her health. To me, the science looked promising, and considering my last attempt at keto allowed me to compete at the IBJJF World Masters in 2019 in Las Vegas, I knew there was potential. If I could even learn a few tricks, a few more ways forward, or at least come to understand the disease better, then the 12 weeks would be well spent. In a worst-case scenario I would lose some weight post-Covid and maybe feel a little disillusioned. As long as there are no voodoo rituals involving chickens and ancient spells pushed through cosmic crystals, I will accept the outcome.

I am a skeptic. I never gamble. I take risks, but only those that I am mostly in control of the main parameters. I also understand that Hope and Will can often “damn the genetics” and with a touch of science, magic is possible. Not Harry Potter magic or woo-woo New Age stuff, rather the unexpected leaps that a Carl Jung writes about in Synchronicity: the exception to the rules. Let’s face it, the rules seldom even make sense in our universe, so I see no real reason to expect all narratives to end the expected way; the best stories seldom do. They all end, but not in the way you expect.

How has it gone? Hmmm. Good question. I would say that I see positive changes in my eating, and I am back to being hyper-aware of my eating in a mindful way. The issues with water retention last month appear to be self-correcting, and I actually like the taste of KetoCitra. I had a tonne of blood taken for tests, and my initial results show significant improvements my eFgr and creatinine levels from March and November (probably based on my sclerotherapy procedures in December). I also feel super weak, brain foggy, exhausted and I feel frustrated with the challenge of balancing out a way of eating that meets the criterion of the program. At the end of each night, I am either too high or too low in calories, too high in carbohydrates, too high in protein, too low in fat or just hating the whole damn thing. The darkly toasted bread dripping with butter and jam calls my name. I just trudge off to bed and ignore the siren calls…for now.

Jiujitsu is probably the hardest obstacle to maneuver. It is a combat sport based on being fueled by carbs, caffeine and acai bowls. A single session of 90 minutes might rob me of 1100 calories and all of my glycogen stores on a normal night. When I do not have 1100 calories to begin with by then, it gets a little hairy in there when you get thrown in with some world-class black or brown belts. When the opponent is trying to rip your limbs off and you are fueled by avocado and a prayer…you get the picture. Suggestions always range from taking time off to doing yoga instead or maybe some gentle stretching; one of the main reasons for my work on my health is so that I can continue to train, so stopping training kind of defeats the purpose. Becoming injured by a carbed-up 26 year old at the end of a sweaty night also defeats the purpose. The dilemma ensues.

I do not know how other people are functioning through this first week yet. My ego tells me that it cannot be good for them, but then I am probably wrong. Other people can often follow the recipes and eat from a plan, whereas my brain demands that I use the recipe as a starting place and go from there. I don’t know; I will figure it all out by the end of the 12 weeks because I have to do so. Who knows, maybe it will get easier. Perhaps my nutritionist will have a eureka moment or my body will learn to perform on fat as fuel by the time I start my intense week of training at the BJJ Globetrotters Camp in Estonia in mid-July. Time reveals all, just as a butterfly flapping his wings in Brazil may cause the siren calls of carbohydrates to cease in my ears.

I should note that I already did a run with ketosis in 2019. I found that it was useful in terms of weight control, lowering of inflammation and pain, and self-esteem, but that it was unsustainable beyond a 3-4 month time frame. The body (my body) simply rebelled and said that enough was enough. Weight slowly crept back up with a bump in Covid due to the unavailability of fresh food in Canada, and no amount of exercise can counter social isolation, lack of community, and eating canned soup or frozen chicken fingers. I guess I see this diet program as my first decisive step back into the world post-covid. A hard, difficult step to be sure, but all great journeys begin in chaos and uncertainty.

I do have the distinct advantage of already having self-implemented a meditation routine using Sam Harris’ Waking Up app (by far the best meditation resource on the market). I have a digital scale (Withings), blood pressure monitors (Qardio), heart rate monitors, macro tracking app (MyPlate), an intermittant fasting app (Zero), and other tech that all integrate seamlessly on my iPhone. I have the metrics, but I do not have all of the answers.

Over the next few weeks, I will write a few reflections and see how my main health factors are progressing or declining: weight, stress, blood pressure, blood glucose, mental health, jiujitsu play, and any pains or aches in my flanks that normal come from the preceding factors. The goal here is not to write a review of Ren.Nu, Santa Barbara Nutrients, KetoCitra or anything personal about others. The goal is just to share my voice and perspective on a challenging disease which needs participation in groups like this if there is to ever be any long term progress. This week was about beginning the chase without ever expecting to hit ketosis nor having the car run over me. While there is great value in becoming a PKD Warrior (as I often see in social media posts), I feel that my true value in the community is as more of a magician or charlatan with cheap parlour tricks to entertain but provide riddles and rhymes to engage the little inspirational part of the mind. No warrior can sustain a war without end or purpose, but with a great story the weakest citizen can take down tanks and topple governments. With just a sprinkle of the magic that is a compelling story…anything can happen.

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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