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 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?

Through the Fog of War: Returning to The Way

Jiujitsu is filled with truly talented individuals, and yet it leaves a wake of fallen casualities. Since I began practicing BJJ I have seen hundreds of training partners disappear from the mats; some return, while some simply are missing in inaction. Injuries, life responsibilities, disappointment with where they fit on the belt hierarchy and a myriad of other reasons take people away from whatever the reason that they chose to begin the journey. It might be possilbe that a few individuals had meagre goals for their participation and once that blue belt was achieved, the rest of a long, stuggling path seemed pointless.

As an educator, I tend to understand what motivates students to thrive, achieve and participate. Positivity, personal recognition, specific grades in an area of passion and even peer pressured support are all routes of engagement that can keep students in the classroom and pushing towards understanding. What seldom works is negativity, relentless struggle, promises of careers or Ivy League schools, or angry parents who always want more from a child. Upon reflection, I think our mats also function on the same foundations. If you want to keep a student or training partner, then they need to hear positivity about what is being done, feel connected to the other members of the academy and perhaps most importantly, feel like he or she is making progress in the right direction towards goals. Safety, both physical and emotional, is possibly another factor that we seldom speak about during the “grind” of training, but no one wants to deal with bullies or ego-maniacs trying to show “How dominant I am, Bro. I am barely even rolling hard because I am also humble”…as they rip an arm in a kimura or perform their “signature move”: the flying knee on belly cartwheel to inverted triangle choke. Ta-dah.

As I move forward at a new jiujitsu school in Toronto, Action Reaction MMA, I am looking for those people who can offer me a space from which to continue to hone my skills and learn more about this art of movement. I will avoid the negative gossip. I will ignore the brain wondering about promotions or belts. I will direct my own goals for myself. I will enjoy my time rolling and learning on the mats in the year ahead; fun and positivity are my main purpose this year, because that is what I need to stay on the tatami these days. I do not need Bros who need to validate themselves on my body. I do not need to feel like conspiracies are afoot about who deserves that next belt based on that last roll with an upper belt half his size and twice his age. Jiujitsu is not about fighting hard, but rather it is about avoiding strength through technique so as to increase the chance of not wasting energy before the clock has run out. And some days the clock runs for round after round after five minute round.

I am always surprised how one cautious, heart-wrought decision can suddenly push one off in a new direction. Once I found my new gym and signed up for a year, I also was able to procure a spot in a new ketogenic diet program tailored towards people with polycystic kidney disease. While the cost will be somewhere in the $2000 for the 3 month program, I feel like it is a great opportunity to lose some of the post-Covid weight and ensure that what I think is a healthy diet for me is also a healthy diet for my kidneys. It is going to be a bit of a long road through some hungry moments when cheeseburgers or poutine calls my name, but the benefit of being able to even spend one more full day out of dialysis or kidney failure with my daughter and wife make the challenge worthwhile. Who knows, I might even get to Lightweight division by the time World Masters rolls around in Septemeber.

The second step was to commit to the upcoming BJJ Globetrotters Beach camp in Estonia this July. I bought the camp ticket last Spring, but with a pandemic and war on the Eastern front, it felt like I would have to abandon the trip for an easier visit to New York City to train. With these other two decisions, I found the will to take a bit more of a risk and head to Estonia for a second time. As you may be able to tell from previous blogs about my experience with their community, a Globetrotters Camp can be a life- changing experience if you love the idea of spending six days training with like-minded people from around the world. For me it has always been a place where I can reset, be reminded of how much I love my wife and daughter, and just focus on one thing for a while. I can just be me for a brief time each year.

So where is all of this leading me? I have absolutely no idea at the moment, but I can say that I feel more alive than I have in quite some time. Just having things to look forward to in a positive way, adventures with new people and mindsets has been truly invigorating. I do feel like I have some new goals forming; that for the first time since the pandemic I can finally plan with hope and aspire to pushing myself to do more than just show up, more than just go to my garage to keep learning independently for no particular purpose or goal. I know that I am still fascinated by some of the open guard and lapel techniques that I have been working for the past year. Connecting those techniques through movements feels like time well-spent. I also realized that I still have a place for no gi in my training now that I have swtiched gyms and have the camp coming up. It is much easier to bring spandex in carry-on luggage than kimonos. Plus, The Truck and Berimbolo entries are becoming easier for me post-kidney surgeries. Taking out a few cans of pop worth of cysts help with the inversion and stomach compressions.

I do know that none of this is about achieving a brown or black belt. Even if I am never promoted again, I made it to my ideal goal: purple belt from a black belt that I respected. The rest in terms of belt hierarchy and promotions is not really that important UNLESS my actual jiujitsu develops to that level. I need to grow into my purple belt and enjoy this moment, because in the end there will never be another purple belt stage for me, so I need to experience it fully completely. Others may fight to become a fictional king of their little mat fifedom, a kingdom where they sit like Macbeth and tell tales of how they, too, once were warrior. But I am no king. I am an adventurer or maybe a conjuror. I want to tap the sources of knowledge and run with the widest group of practitioners that I can before I die. I want to explore the depths and the widths of the art without fear, dogma or an ego which closes doors of opportunity to me. Maybe one day, my wife and daughter will join or re-join jiujitsu, but that is only for me to gently encourage as time passes. I certainly want them to feel safer when I am no longer with them, and perhaps in some sense that is why I continue to write: to share my hopes and fears with others when I am no longer here, nor there.

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