Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward All

Have you ever seen the spy comedy “Sneakers,” starring Robert Redford and a stellar ensemble cast?

I won’t entirely spoil it for you, but the good guys win, and as part of their victory, they are able to extract certain promises from an agent of the US government, played ably by James Earl Jones. Some ask for favors for themselves, small or large. One member of the protagonist team, the blind Whistler, asks for something different. He asks for “peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men.”

It’s a great phrase, despite its use of “men” as a generic for “people.” The phrase is drawn from the King James Version of the Bible, and is used in Christmas Carol. I’m a secular person, but it’s tough to deny the power of ritual and symbol, especially when it’s supposed be used to build togetherness. When the holidays work right, whatever your faith tradition, they make you happier than you were before, remind you of your connection to your fellow humans, and make you grateful for all you have in your life.

Yet the holidays can be a tough time for people, religious and secular alike. Not everyone has a family experience that resembles a heartwarming film. Not everyone has the capacity to celebrate. And while religious texts are supposed to be preaching unity, it seems like all we see in headlines is division. During these holy days, this seems wrong.

I have a charity project or two that I’m not quite ready to announce yet. But it’s Christmas Eve, and the project might be thematically related to this, so I want to say something about it. Also, I want to do my part in reminding you that while people are capable of doing great harm, we’re also capable of incredible acts of compassion, self-sacrifice, and love.

All I can say about the project at this time of year is this:  When I think about the world’s religions — and, in fact, the world’s people — here’s what I want to be thinking about.

These stories have a common thread: at enormous personal risk, human beings stood up to protect others who were ostensibly not like them. That’s powerful. Like I said, I’m an avowed secularist, but these examples weren’t hard to find, either. Human history is replete with stories like this, of those truly courageous souls who welcomed the stranger and chanced losing their lives — in many cases, to save someone they didn’t know.

Look in all the holy books, too. You’ll find it. Love your neighbor as yourself. Whoever kills an innocent will be regarded as a murderer of all humanity. What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow human.

That’s not about the specific religion, of course. It’s about the people, and the way we interpret text. If you’re looking for excuses to hurt people, you’ll find them. (Truth be told, I wish you wouldn’t). If you’re looking for reasons to see the better angels of our nature, I hope you find that, too — whatever your faith or lack thereof.

One of the things I love most about jiu-jitsu is that it, too, can be a unifying force. I believe that, or I wouldn’t be doing it. That’s a hint about the project, too. We should find more items of significance that unify us.

Everyone has difficulties that come into their lives, and this time of year can amplify those feelings in the same way that it can amplify good feelings. You might not be in a war zone at this time of year, and I hope you aren’t, but you don’t have to be in order to make a real difference in someone’s life. That same King James Bible, I recall, has some passages about giving gentle answers, turning the other cheek and loving those who might consider themselves your enemy.

My New Year’s Resolution is to respond to hard things by getting kinder, and by thinking about new ways to help the world. This is easy to say. Harder to do. Like most hard things, it’s worth doing. Jiu-jitsu is like life: it’s a constant struggle between what’s right and what’s easy.

I want peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. I want us to do that and I believe that we can.

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

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Charity seminar in NC by Royce Gracie Black Belt Roy Marsh

Quickly: Roy Marsh is a good friend of mine, a great guy and a tremendous teacher of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. He has graciously offered to teach a seminar at the gym I attend to benefit two great charities. It’s a $20 minimum donation, which makes it possibly the best value seminar of all time.

If you have trained with Roy, you know how good he is. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself. Come learn great stuff and help out great causes.

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The Thank You Post

I wanted to write this post before the tournament this past weekend.

It’s easy to be grateful when things go well. Besides, good decision-making is about putting a good process into place, not about results: if you make quality choices, quality results follow. If you’ve done all you can to prepare well, that’s really all you can hope for, so it’s appropriate to thank the folks that have helped you prepare no matter how the event itself goes.

The best laid plans go astray, though, especially where travel and making weight and living up to other responsibilities goes. So while I meant to make this post Friday, I’m making it now, and I can gratefully report that the IBJJF New York Spring Open went as well as I had hoped it would.

A longstanding goal, finally realized.

A longstanding goal, finally realized.

I took double gold, both in my light feather weight class and in Absolute. I competed in Master 2 blue belt, and got two really good, tough matches in. I don’t really talk about my goals a lot, for a variety of reasons, but I’d always wanted to win an IBJJF absolute gold. The closest I’d come was bronze at the NoGi pans last year, and I thought that might be as close as I’d ever get.

But I trained so, so hard for this tournament. Really tried to do everything as correctly as I possibly could. It took a lot of discipline, and I’d be proud of the way I trained even if I hadn’t gotten the results I wanted. You can’t control how your matches go, but you can control how you prepare, and I prepared harder and smarter than ever before.

Semis in absolute.

Semis in absolute.

No one does anything like this alone. There are a lot of people that I need to thank, and my Facebook friends have already put up with an enormous amount of jiujitsu, so I’m thanking them all here.

First and foremost I have to thank my coach Seth Shamp, who is black belt under Royce Gracie. Seth’s the best instructor a guy could ask for: technical, a gifted teacher and passionately devoted to his students. Best of all, Seth believes 100% in you. I think I could’ve been facing Cobrinha in finals and Seth would’ve said something like: “OK, Jeff. This guy’s truly great. A legend of the art. But I think you can do some things with him! We can do this! Here’s the plan.” That kind of support you can’t put a price on.

"Jeff, this guy is big. Don't sweat it. Here's the plan." -- Seth Shamp

“Jeff, this guy is big. Don’t sweat it. Here’s the plan.” — Seth Shamp

I also want to especially thank two other Royce Gracie black belts, Jake Whitfield from TJJ Goldsboro and Roy Marsh from Sandhills Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Jake and Roy live and breathe Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and each has taught me so much in the past few years, either directly (through instruction) or indirectly (through beating my ass while training). Along with Seth these guys make up my Holy Trinity of BJJ instruction.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to express my gratitude to every single one of my training partners at Triangle Jiu-Jitsu in Durham and Triangle Jiu-Jitsu in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Every day you guys and ladies work me hard, kick my butt and make me better, and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful to you.

I want to shout out two guys who especially inspire me from Roy Marsh’s school at Sandhills BJJ. One is my friend Brian Freeman, who needs to get out to Durham and train with us soon. The other us Alec Cerruto, who is a great young man with sick jiujitsu and an even better attitude. Alec is donating money for every match he wins this year to help feed underprivileged kids. I’m going to add to my own Charity Challenge this year and donate $10 for every match I win to Alec’s “Submit Hunger” project in addition to my own charities. 1546056_10203210941781386_331295106_n

Alec Cerruto, submitter of hunger.

Alec Cerruto, submitter of hunger.

Broadly, I’m also in the debt of all my brothers and sisters on Team Royce Gracie in North Carolina — Chapel Hill Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Forged Fitness Raleigh and Cary. I appreciate everybody who took the time to help me train for this, including my friends at Gracie Raleigh and Pendergrass Academy of Martial Arts. We have a great jiu-jitsu community in North Carolina and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Just a couple of more important people to thank: I want to be sure to thank Boomer from Cageside MMA and Toro BJJ. Besides making great products and letting me design really fun BJJ gear, Boomer does a lot — behind the scenes and not — to help local fighters, BJJ practitioners and human beings generally. I can’t say enough good things about the gear he produces. I could say even more good things about him personally.

Finally, I’ve thanked Eric Uresk already multiple times, but for the first time I’ve been working with a nutritionist, and let me tell you — it makes an incredible difference. Eric’s a genius, and his WellFit program works. If you’re interested in taking nutrition seriously, let you know and I’ll put you in touch.

I am definitely leaving some people out that deserve thanking, but this is already long. I’ll have to leave it here and thank the rest of you in person. Rest assured, though, even if this is a one-time post, I’m grateful to all of you, all the time. So thanks.

You all make me make this face ...

You all make me make this face …

And do this when I walk through airport metal detectors.

And do this when I walk through airport metal detectors.

 

Charity Challenge 2014

Last year, I decided to donate $10 for every match I won to a couple of great charities. Some generous donors offered to match me, and together we raised $720 for the Women’s Debate Institute and the George Pendergrass Foundation.

We even made a giant novelty check!

We even made a giant novelty check!

I had so much fun doing it, it’s time to run that back. My first tournament of the year is going to be the US Grappling NC State Championships on April 5, and shortly thereafter the New York Open on April 12. My tournament schedule isn’t going to be as ambitious as I initially believed — life got in the way — but there will still be plenty of competitions. I plan to do all the local US Grappling tournaments, the Atlanta Open, the No-Gi Pans and the Montreal Open. I’m also going to the Mundials again, and I might try to sneak in one more big tournament as well.

What does this mean for you, the charitable-minded blog reader? It means you can help in one of two ways!

Pledge your support by donating based on the matches I win: Fill out this Google Form and you can pledge to donate either on a per-match basis, or just to drop a flat donation to the wonderful Women’s Debate Institute or the George Pendergrass Foundation.

* Share this post on Facebook and Twitter: The more people that see this, the more potential supporters. Tell your friends! The more donors we get, the more we can raise.

Last year, we did some very cool donor rewards. I plan to do something like that again, something probably BJJ gear-related. I’ll keep that a surprise this year. Like Indiana Jones said, it isn’t about the fortune and glory.

There you have it. Wish me luck, and please give generously.

Final Tally For The Charity Challenge

When the year began, I knew I wanted to compete a lot. Competition makes you better, and you get to travel with your friends, and getting high-quality matches against guys you don’t know is fun.

A little extra motivation adds something, though. Before the first event of the season, I decided to donate $10 for every match I win this year to the Women’s Debate Institute, and an additional $10 to a second charity that blog readers could select. The winner of that vote was anti-cancer charity the George Pendergrass Foundation.

Now, the year isn’t over. I could conceivably still do Montreal, or Miami, or the No-Gi Worlds. For two reasons, though, I decided to wrap things up this weekend. First, I’m old and tired. I also have a few nagging injuries I’d like to let heal.

Every year, the Pendergrass twins — both black belts who have a great school, PAMA — hold benefit tournaments with US Grappling where proceeds help support the foundation. As it happens, the fall tournament was this weekend. It seemed like perfect timing to finalize the results and hand them a check.

That was all planned. What wasn’t planned was me getting sick the week before the tournament. As it happens, me getting stuck in a house for several days + Theraflu = me making an absurd giant novelty check. But then, how often do you get the chance to make an absurd giant novelty check?

Note: there is no "First National Bank of Berimbolo." Yet.

Note: there is no “First National Bank of Berimbolo.” Yet.

I want to thank the awesome folks who offered to match my donations to one charity or the other. Your generosity meant that every win this year was worth $45 to charity. I want to thank the Pendergrass brothers for doing great work to fight cancer, and for being great sports about my goofy check. And I want to thank everybody in the grappling community for the support, and in advance for your support next year.

Without further ado: the results.

FINAL CHARITY PROJECT STATISTICS
Total Matches Won For The Year: 16
Total Raised For Pendergrass Foundation: $480
Total Raised For Women’s Debate Institute: $240
Grand Total: $720

This money isn’t going to change the world, of course. But it’s the end of the year, we did some good, and because I stashed the cash a little at a time, I didn’t miss the money. I just thought of it as additional entry fees. I plan on doing this again next year, too — and you can get involved! More on that below.

Another cool thing about the tournament this weekend: my first two t-shirt designs for Cageside MMA came out. It was fun, and kind of surreal, to see people walking around wearing my shirts. Surreal in an awesome way, kind of like making a giant novelty check while hopped up on Theraflu.

One of the shirts, the “Just Train” shirt, you can see me wearing above. The writing inside the shirt consists of common excuses people use for not training. The other is a reference to this part of the old Gracies In Action tapes:

In-joke shirts for grappling nerds are the best.

In-joke shirts for grappling nerds are the best.

Finally, I want to say this: I had such a blast doing the charity project this year that I plan on doing it again next year. Again, I will be donating $10 for every match I win to the George Pendergrass Foundation and the the Women’s Debate Institute.

The only difference: this year I’ll be actively soliciting more people to match either some portion of my donation or all of it.

In the next month or so, I’ll be posting the tournaments I plan to attend next year. That way, if you’re interested in splitting costs for a tournament we can travel to together, or if you’re interested in donating to support the cause — or both — you can get in touch with me and we can set it up.

Thanks for reading. Let’s do this again next year.

Atlanta Open Recap

It was a weekend of firsts in Atlanta. For the first time, I worked a table at an IBJJF tournament (more on that below), and for the first time (spoiler alert), I took gold at an IBJJF event!

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Shane, you’ve looked better, homie … but then, so have I.

Working the table was actually a productive and fun experience. For one thing, I got to work with some incredible black belt referees, guys like David “Rock” Jacobs and Marlon Loor Vera. You learn a lot seeing how knowledgable and accomplished black belts approach matches — and it was fun. I also got to work a Lucas Lepri match and get a front-row seat to watch Bruno Malfacine.

The picture above was taken right before the adult blue belt final, and I’m including it because it was represents the weirdest table work story of the weekend. Usually, the matches come bang-bang-bang, one right after the other. But the final was delayed. The match runner came by and said “we’re going to give this one 10 minutes: we’ve got some puking happening.”

“Which guy?”

“… both of them.”

The run through the division had gassed both guys so much that each of them vomited not once, not twice, but roughly two dozen times. When we thought we had the match ready to go, one of the guys had to rush off the mat for one final stomach evacuation. Good times!

This is what happened in the match. (Don’t worry, it’s safe for work and life). This is probably the best way it could have finished.

The other reason I enjoyed working the table is it gave me something to do other than sit around thinking about my matches. A common problem I wind up having is getting stuck in my own head and winding myself before matches. Having something to focus on only helped. (My mental strategy was to think like this: hey, the worst that can happen is I lose a jiu-jitsu match. I’ve lost lots of jiu-jitsu matches! Been there.)

The only unfortunate part: I really enjoy hanging out with my teammates and taking pictures. I didn’t get to do almost any of that. Next time!

A few notable things from the tournament:

* I’ve been a blue belt since June 2012. During that time, I’ve trained so much that the IBJJF declared my belt too worn and frayed for competition. This made me almost as happy as the medal, at least after I was able to borrow a belt from another Team Royce guy (thanks, Braxton). Some people say it’s frayed and worn because I wash it too much. I prefer to think it’s the training, but it’s true that I’m anti-belt-microbes.

* In the gym, I play around with all kind of new, fun and risky techniques. I’ve been known to berimbolo on occasion. But in this (and most) tournaments, I didn’t do anything that isn’t on the Triangle Jiu-Jitsu blue belt basics curriculum. This was exactly how I’d hoped it would go: the fundamentals work and you can never drill them too much.

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Good things happen when you put a hand in the collar.

I had two matches in my division and one in absolute. All three were against good guys and accomplished competitors. Unfortunately, I lost my absolute match by advantage in the last 30 seconds — the guy tried to pass and forced me to turtle, giving up the advantage. But that match taught me a lot and gave me some things to work on in the future.

I felt good about both matches in weight, too. I pulled guard in one match and played top in the other after getting an ankle pick takedown, so I got to work both top and bottom game. I’d give you the full play-by-play, but no one really cares about that but me and my mom. And mom’s visiting in three weeks, so I’ll get to tell her in person.

You can also read my awesome teammate Kim’s recap as well. So let’s get straight to the photo and the Charity Challenge update!

First IBJJF gold!

First IBJJF gold!

Quick recap for those who are new to the blog: I’m donating $10 for every match I win this year to the Women’s Debate Institute. But to encourage others to get involved, I asked people to vote on a second charity to benefit as well. I’ve told some folks this, but the winner of that vote was anti-cancer charity the George Pendergrass Foundation, edging out other worthy causes like Reporters Without Borders, RAINN, the Wounded Warrior Project and Carolina Basset Hound Rescue.

A few gracious people offered to match my donations — and, in fact, another person has pledged since my last post — meaning every win this year is worth $35 to charity so far. There are still a ton of cool rewards you can win if you get involved, including a bottle of the rarest and best beer in the world, Westvleteren 12. Check out all the ways you can get involved and help.

And now, let’s tally the results! I won seven matches this time around, adding to the total from before. Here’s where we’re at:

CHARITY PROJECT STATISTICS
Matches Won This Tournament: 2
Total Won For The Year: 13
Money Raised For Charity: $70
Total Raised So Far: $455

REWARDS UNLOCKED
Custom Photoshops: 2
Private Lessons: 1

Grapplemania Recap

This blog post will be organized into two questions.

QUESTION THE FIRST: Is it weird that two or three of my favorite matches from this past tournament were ones I lost? 

U.S. Grappling’s Grapplemania tournament just wrapped up. It’s always a fun and well-run tournament, and I decided to do six divisions: all the 30+ divisions in gi and no-gi, all the young man weight divisions gi and no-gi, and both 30+ absolute open weight divisions. (When U.S. Grappling posts the complete results, I’ll tell you how my team did, but for now I just have some anecdotes).

I knew doing six divisions meant I would be really tired by the end of the day, but I didn’t realize exactly how tired. I’d done all eight divisions on two occasions, and only one of those gassed me out this hard.

Part of it was competing against guys with super cardio: one of my opponents that I faced three times used to be a professional runner, and he’s great at pushing the pace to tire you out. Part of it was doing absolute: you’ve got to work pretty hard to stop big guys from passing your guard.

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The thing is, when you’re tired, your technique takes over — because it has to. Rickson Gracie has said that he’d exhaust himself before certain training sessions just to be sure he wasn’t muscling anything or using explosive athleticism.

Now, I don’t have muscles or explosive athleticism to begin with, so you can be sure I’m using all technique by the middle of the day.

Don't sweat the technique.

That’s why I think my three favorite matches were ones where I came up short. In each of these matches, I gassed hard. But I was able to fight through that adversity and survive, relying on technique to do so. I always try my best to win, but one of my main goals for the tournament was to focus on the training and learning aspect of competition as well. I’ll give one example of these matches to demonstrate what I mean.

In a six-minute blue belt match, I faced that tough, skilled opponent with great cardio I mentioned before. For the first third of the match, I was doing well. Then, the pace he forced me to fight at made me bonk, and bonk hard. I seriously felt nauseous. That’s when he passed. It got worse from there: he flowed through a series of bad positions for me — took knee on belly, mounted, went back to knee on belly, etc. Ugh.

Out of necessity, I went into survival mode. I told myself, “you have one minute of hard rolling in you during this match. You have to survive the onslaught for three minutes, and then just go full-out and try to submit him.”

And that’s what happened. I didn’t win, of course, and lost by a lot of points, but I was really happy with my survival skills (which are at the core of jiujitsu) and with the fact that I’ve gotten to know what my body is capable of.

No win for you this time!

No win for you this time!

At the end of the day I had three silver medals and one bronze out of seven divisions. Sure, I would have loved to get one gold or pick up one or two more medals, but on balance I’m happy with how I did.

 

QUESTION THE SECOND: Does anyone know where to buy a giant novelty check?

I ask because the year is half over, and one of my donors and I want to deliver the charity project funds with one of those comically large Ed McMahon-style checks.

Heeeeeyoooooooooo!

Quick recap for those who are new to the blog: I’m donating $10 for every match I win this year to the Women’s Debate Institute. But to encourage others to get involved, I asked people to vote on a second charity to benefit as well. I’ve told some folks this, but the winner of that vote was anti-cancer charity the George Pendergrass Foundation, edging out other worthy causes like Reporters Without Borders, RAINN, the
Wounded Warrior Project and Carolina Basset Hound Rescue.

A few gracious people offered to match my donations, meaning every win this year is worth $25 to charity so far. There are still a ton of cool rewards you can win if you get involved, including a bottle of the rarest and best beer in the world, Westvleteren 12. Check out all the ways you can get involved and help.

And now, let’s tally the results! I won seven matches this time around, adding to the total from before. Here’s where we’re at:

CHARITY PROJECT STATISTICS
Matches Won This Tournament: 7
Total Won For The Year: 11
Money Raised For Charity: $175
Total Raised So Far: $275

REWARDS UNLOCKED
Custom Photoshops: 2
Private Lessons: 1

Next stop: the Atlanta Open on Aug. 31. I can only do one division there (two if I get really lucky), so there won’t be as many matches for me. But Team Royce Gracie North Carolina is going to take a big group of people, so hopefully we can make some noise.

Tournament Wrap: NC State Championships

My first tournament of the year — and the first one that counts toward my charity project — was this past Saturday.

More than 300 people entered US Grappling‘s NC State Championships this weekend. It was one of the biggest tournaments I’ve seen in North Carolina, if not the biggest. It was a very cool environment to be a part of: people drove down from West Virginia, Virginia and Washington, D.C. to compete.

I had several great matches against very tough competitors. There are some seriously skillful individuals in my divisions.

Before I get to the results — hey, I’ve got to keep some semblance of suspense, even though everyone reading this was probably at the tournament except my mom — I want to say two things: first, I’m grateful for the two people so far who have agreed to match my donations to charity based on the number of competition matches I win this year. With their help, every win this year is worth $25 to charity. I was stoked to cost myself and my friends some money.

Second, this weekend made me think about the process by which we improve at jiu-jitsu. Primarily, my instructors and training partners are the people that help me get better on a day-to-day basis, and I owe them a lot. But in competing against good BJJ players that I don’t roll with on the daily, I notice different details about the techniques I use, and the techniques others use against me. Those competition matches always teach me a ton about what strides I’ve taken and what else I need to work on. So thanks, guys.

As for results: Out of of the four divisions I entered, I came away with two gold medals and one silver. I won gold in both men’s and 30+ no-gi at my weight, took second in the 30+ gi, and didn’t place in the men’s gi. I lost in the first round to the same dude I faced in the 30+ gi finals, a really tough and technical guy.

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Yes, I’m rocking my Green Gi patch and rocking my Cageside Fight Co. gi. Shillin’ like a villain.

My teammates also performed righteously, when US Grappling posts the final results, I’ll share a complete list of their medals. Just don’t want to leave anybody out, and we had a ton of entrants.

I had entered all the absolute divisions as well: was looking forward to getting a bunch of extra matches in. Unfortunately, I have a nagging knee problem that I tweaked in my last match at weight.

Don’t worry, it’s nothing serious — but it still wouldn’t have been the smartest thing to play guard against dudes over 200 pounds with a gimpy knee, so I bowed out to roll another day. I love doing absolute, but I do enough dumb and fun things that I didn’t feel like adding to the list.

How’d it go for charity? Here are the numbers:

CHARITY PROJECT STATISTICS
Matches Won: 4
Total Won For The Year: 4
Money Raised For Charity: $100
Total Raised So Far: $100

REWARDS UNLOCKED
Custom Photoshops: 2
Private Lessons: 1

CHARITY VOTES (the standings for the second charity I’ll give to):
George Pendergrass Foundation: 5
Carolina Basset Hound Rescue: 5
Reporters Without Borders: 3
RAINN: 2
Wounded Warrior Project: 2

Remember, voting is still open: I’m donating to the Women’s Debate Institute already, but will donate to another charity chose by people who vote as well. Right now, leading the charge are two local charities, the anti-cancer George Pendergrass Foundation and Carolina Basset Hound Rescue.

There are still a ton of cool rewards you can win, including a bottle of the rarest and best beer in the world, Westvleteren 12. Check out all the ways you can get involved and help.

Thanks as always for reading! Big fun this weekend. Next stop: Submission Only Greensboro.