Friday, August 19, 2016

Burning out at both ends...

I never wanted to let anyone down in my life, especially myself. I always “put it all on the line” and ran a mile a minute. Needless to say, I always bit off more than I could chew and never sat still long enough to let my ass hit the chair. Sleep?  I'll sleep when I am dead, I thought. I drank a pot of coffee a day and treated my body like a wasteland.  I slept maybe 5 hours a night, when I was lucky. I was always running  high stress mode so I had no appetite, I never ate and when I did it was whatever was most convenient. I drove my car into the ground driving 300-500 miles a week. My house was a disaster. My cats were neglected. I never made time for my friends or family. I never made time for myself. I never took care of myself. I was destitute. I poured every penny I had into chasing my dreams but I forgot about myself.  I forgot the most important component. 

It was just a matter of time for me. I lived like this for years None of us are invincible, but I thought I was. All of us can go from living our lives like "normal", then BAM! your life is turned upside down. Before you know it you are staring up at the world wondering how you have fallen so low. I never truly understood how quickly one can plummet to the bottom until I found out the hard way, as I usually do. I ignored all the warning signs.  Not only that but I arrogantly gave the “finger” to everything and everyone that tried to warn me.  

Now when you hit bottom, you can choose to sit at the bottom and feel sorry for yourself or begin that slow climb out of the crap hole you fell into. Which is easier?  That is hard to say. It is not easy to sit on the bottom and let the darkness consume you, but climbing out sure as hell isn't easy either. Either way the choice is  your own. 

For me, I sat for a while and let the darkness take hold. Then I realized it was all lies. Once you start to feel sorry for yourself it is a vicious cycle. You lie to yourself like crazy. You find more and more, and countless reasons to kick yourself in the ass and keep yourself down there. Happiness, what the hell is that!!! You give up on any hope you have of anything ever changing. You believe that your life is a piece of shit and it will never go back to what it was. Because of a combination of horrible anti-seizure drugs, I hit the lowest of lows. I was 100% ready to check out. Why not? I was already out, so, why not make it permanent?
But then I snapped out of it. First, I got off the drugs that depressed me and made me suicidal. Then I realized something, if I was supposed to check out, it would have already happened.  When I had my first grand mal seizure I remember my thoughts before I blacked out on the mats were, "Well if this is how I die, then at least I am doing what I love." I was surprised when I woke up. There was a reason I did wake up again. What is that reason? Well I intended to spend the rest of my life trying to figure that out. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Adventures in Colorado Day 2: Next Time Hope for Sunshine

My first day in Denver, I mostly saw the inside of the arena.  When I finally went outside, the sky was blue, the sun was out and the weather was perfect. Everything was crystal clear and beautiful. The air felt crisp and refreshing. Then the next morning, the day of the first GIG-Denver, I woke to a “winter wonderland” of snow.

Any other time I would have been ecstatic to go play in the snow and eat snowflakes. But NOT today! My desire to venture up to the snow capped mountains and play in the snow had manifested, but unfortunately the snow was brought to me. I didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t just snow, it was a blizzard! I never had a blizzard to deal with during a GIG event in TX, thunder storms maybe.  I wanted to cry but didn’t. I put my big girl pants on and with the support of Seth Daniels, Lana Hunter and James Bollinger, the show went on as planned.

Once we were on the road, the hazards of the situation became much more real. The roads were slick and dangerous. Thank god Seth was driving us. I wouldn’t know what to do if I were behind the wheel. The usual fifteen minute drive took us forty-five minutes. Once I saw how bad it was, I didn’t expect anyone to show up, but I was proven wrong. 

Thirty-seven women and girls bravely ventured out into the blizzard to join us. The event was amazing! It changed my perspective on a whole different level.  Seeing those smiles and hearing that laughter throughout the event as girls made new friends made it all worthwhile. Although I will admit I was disappointed that the weather had prevented the ninety-seven girls who registered from showing, but it wasn’t about the number of girls that were there. It was about the experience of those who had joined us had and how this event had helped to break down the barriers for the females in the Colorado BJJ community in a way that had never happened before. That was priceless.

Truth be told, this was also my first experience at a female event outside of Texas. I walked in blind not knowing what I was getting us into as I had never been to Colorado before nor had I ever trained with girls from the state. GIG had never hosted an event outside the state of Texas and Colorado had never had an all-female event like GIG Denver Special event. I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. 

Afterwards, all I wanted to do was to play like a five year old in the snow. I made a snow angel, but failed at making a snowman. I got altitude sickness, but survived! So in the end I got both my wishes, to play in the snow and to bring GIG to Colorado. Boom!

None of this would have been possible had it not been for awesome people like Seth Daniels, Lana Hunter, James Bollinger, Milly Malloy, Rossie Snow, Elizabeth Tran, Easton Training Center, our sponsors and all of the amazing girls of GIG in TX and CO. This was yet another historical moment for women in the art. And that is just the beginning.

More details about GIG Denver Special Event can be found at

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Adventures in Colorado Day 1: Exploring Unfamiliar Territory and History is Made

My escapes to Denver this year were exactly what I needed. Although my trips entailed more work than play and little to no sleep, there is nothing more freeing to me than breaking the cycle of normalcy and stepping outside my comfort zone. There were a lot of firsts on this adventure, which has now opened new doors. Perhaps I am a gambler or believer or maybe just a fool. But one thing I am certain about is that no matter how bumpy the ride, in the end I am usually pleasantly surprised by the outcome and if not, I see it as just another lesson learned.
The very first trip in my life to Denver, Colorado was the weekend of February 17th and 18th. The weekend started off as I landed   around 11:00 pm Friday night. Lana had flown in a few hours earlier and was patiently waiting for my flight to come in. We met up in the baggage claim and snapped our first Colorado photo!  And the adventure began.

As soon as we stepped outside of the airport terminal it became very apparent that it was in fact still very much winter. The temperature was about in the 20’s. Needless to say we were freezing. Being from Hawaii and only living in Southern states, I am still amused by simple things like snow on the ground and being able to see my breath.  Let’s just say winter is still a novelty.

The next day started off at around 6:30 am which seemed much too early after going to bed at three o’clock am. Reluctantly, I rolled out of bed; we grabbed some coffee and headed out to the F2W Tournament of Champions VII. I was super pumped and ready to roll!  

This was the first BJJ tournament I’d ever photographed outside of Texas and the set up was just like most local tournaments. Only this time I didn’t know most of the competitors, coaches or referees. But I was ecstatic to see a few old friends among the crowd and finally be able to put faces with voices of those I had spoken to before my trip. But what made it even more perfect was having Lana Hunter and Gaby Muller with me all the way from Texas. 

I knew the scene was growing, but I was completely blown away by the size and strength of the Colorado BJJ community. The level of talent especially impressed me. One of the fun parts about photographing Jiu-Jitsu is getting to see the different strengths each region has. For instance the level of Judo implemented in this tournament was unlike any I’ve seen in TX. There was this itty bitty little girl that was legit. I had so much fun watching my new friends and TX friends compete! Everyone was so welcoming and I immediately felt at home and as though I was with family. 

The night ended with one of the coolest things I’ve ever witnessed. Something I thought would never happen. Something that Dana White used to be very much opposed to, the first UFC female bout- Rhonda Rousey Vs. Miesha Tate. The fight ended fast and with what has since become Rhonda’s signature move-the judo arm bar. This was perhaps one of the nastiest arm bars I’ve ever seen in progress. But it wasn’t so much the outcome of the fight that mattered most. 

These two tremendously talented athletes showcased their abilities and made history. They opened the doors for female fighters and earned respect as athletes in an otherwise male dominated sport. I was inspired and moved. The symbolism and timing was perfect since the first Girls in Gis event outside the state of Texas was about to happen in Denver the following day.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

If can, can. If no can, no can.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve been able to blog. Life got ahead of me and I had to play some catch up. A lot has been going on. There’s lots of more stuff to write about, but that will come soon. In the meantime, take a trip with me back to paradise…

I went home to Hawai`i in September for a few weeks to be a guest and photograph my best friend’s wedding on Maui. Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is the one I’ve spent the least amount of time on. This was my first real adventure on Maui. I was so lucky to have stayed in Haiku which is kind of like the North shore on Oahu with nice surf, old style Hawai’I wooden porch houses and friendly laid-back type people. I had the most awesome host. The first morning when I woke up after 17 hours of traveling, I walked outside and heard roosters crowing, smelled sweet plumeria and ginger and felt the cool ocean breeze against my face. Immediately I knew I was home. Life moves slower in the islands. Why rush? No worries. Just cruise. If can, can. If no can, no can. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Enjoy every minute…that’s what it’s all about.

 Maui was beautiful and time moves even slower than it does on Oahu. I really felt like I was living in the moment all the time. Hours felt like days. It was a nice change. Instead of documenting events, I was living   life and making memories. I laughed so much and enjoyed spending time with my extended family and being a part of my girl’s wedding. I couldn’t be happier seeing my friend marry a guy that is obviously a soul mate and understands how lucky he is to have her. I know they will have many happy years together. 

I always love spending time with other people’s family. I find it interesting to see the similarities and differences between my family and my friends. Perhaps it is the similarities that make us friends to begin with. We understand the same type of “crazy”. Ha! Ha! I love how over the years, my close friend’s families have become extensions of my own. They are my family too. 

I had so much fun at the Dragon Fruit Farm! A strange looking fruit that tastes amazing! I got to aqua ball! What the heck is an aqua ball? It’s one of me most fun things to do on Maui! Check it out…

Check out the video Aqua Ball

After a week of gallivanting around Maui, aquaball’n, watching my girl get hitched and kick’n it with my extended family, it was time for me to see my own family on Oahu. It was a quick thirty min. flight from Maui to Oahu. Flying into Honolulu, the island and high rises looked huge in comparison to anything on Maui. 

 It had only been nine months since I was last back home on Oahu.  It seemed like much longer than that. Usually I take a good month or so to spend at home, but this time I only had a week. My usual “go with the flow attitude” wasn’t going to work if wanted see family and do some of my favorite things. This part of the trip was about reconnecting with family, my roots and birth place. It’s always refreshing to go home, recharge and put things back into perspective. I got to camp on the beach, spend time with some of my family and friends, hike, surf, swim, relax and lay out. It was perfect. I only wish it was longer.

I always learn a lesson after returning from home. This time the lesson was to realize what is really important and that life goes fast. We don’t know when this crazy ride will end. That’s why we have to cherish each day and be grateful for everything and everyone in our life. Be thankful year round! Hope you had an awesome turkey day! Aloha!

Friday, August 17, 2012

One Love. One Family. One Legacy

It is hard to believe that it has been almost nine years since I fell in love with BJJ on the mats at Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. The support and insight of my old instructors, Phil Cardella and Christy Thomas, helped make me who I am today and guided me to where I am in life.  As I look back at my experiences, some of the best days of my life were spent on those mats. But the most important lesson I learned from Phil and Christy was to love Jiu-Jitsu. This is what continues to carry me forward through my Jiu-Jitsu journey.

It has been over a year now since I went looking for a new school. I spent six months exploring other schools in the area and meeting new people in the community. What I’ve realized over the past year, is that no matter where we come from, how rich or poor, young or old or whatever are our goals, it is our love for the sport, art and science that unites us. Jiu-Jitsu is that link that connects all of us from our otherwise separate lives. We are all a part of that community.  By supporting each other and working together, we can help the sport flourish even more. 

I think the strength and potential of our community starts within the confines of our homes, or in this case, our academies. It is the lessons and values we learn in the home that cultivate the type of community around us. By having a strong family unit and community supporting us, the opportunities and potential for growth are endless. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is what it is today because of a family. Each members of the Gracie family have contributed to the growth and evolution of BJJ. By stepping on those mats each day, we are all a part of that family and legacy. We all shape the future of tomorrow. 
Now I’ve found my home at Gracie Humaitá Austin. I chose to make this my academy for several reasons.  It was made up of a combination of some of my BJJ family, I knew the training was top notch, and most importantly, I believed in something that was just starting to form.    I could see that this academy had great potential to be revolutionary and most of all, I wholeheartedly believed in the potential of us all and how we could impact and shape the future of the sport and art. I knew that this was the place where I could reach my maximum potential alongside teammates. Together we would bring each other up the ranks and learn how to become better people in the process. Because we all came from different places, we had even more to offer each other. I had no doubt that together we could all achieve our goals and reach our fullest potential. 

In less than a year after starting at Gracie Humaitá Austin, together with my instructors, team and family, we are cultivating a place for world class training, building a strong team of competitors and a solid foundation for a community that extends beyond our academy walls. The strength in the foundation we are building together will help flourish the sport and art in a positive direction while preserving the tradition and legacy of the Gracie way. Everything I saw before is coming true now.

I got my first taste of Gracie Humaitá straight from the source in Brazil two years ago. To this day, I still remember so much of what I learned not only about BJJ but also about life and the importance of family. Even though the classes were all in Portuguese, I didn’t find this to be a problem. It wasn’t the words that told the story. It was the actions. I studied the movement and how it looked when it worked. I learned more in a month than I had in a year. I also learned about the culture of Jiu-Jitsu and the importance of family. Although I couldn’t understand what they said, I could tell how much they loved, respected and supported each other based on body language and their interactions with each other. I could see the level of pride they took in their team, family and home. How they helped each other and worked together to make each other better on and off the mats. Although I wasn’t on their team, they took me in as their own and looked out for me when I was in Brazil. It didn’t matter what the patch on my back said, it was that universal passion and love for BJJ that made me part of their family. 

Little did I know that two years later that source would be brought to me. 

Paulo Brandao or otherwise known as Coelho (rabbit), is the newest edition to Gracie Humaitá Austin family.  He comes to us from Manaus Amazonas Brazil. His experience is like no other Black Belt in Texas. He earned his black belt eighteen years ago alongside legends like Saulo Ribeiro and Vini Aieta on November 27, 1995.  He is a world champion competitor and a world class instructor. He is undoubtedly the real deal. 

I’ve learned a tremendous amount in such a short time from him. I can only imagine where we will all be in a few months as we all grow and evolve together. We are very fortunate to have him a part of our academy and our family. I’ve trained with Donald Park for over three years and know the true value of his instruction and leadership abilities. I am confident that all of us together and with the support of one another, can evolve into a new era and further the legacy and traditions of the Gracie way. The sky’s the limit.

 Having pride in our homes and our families is crucial to the success of the family unit and community at large. Loving and respecting each other is part of that.  I feel honored to train with some of the most talented and determined men and women in Texas. We have the makings for one of the strongest teams and women’s teams in Texas, not only because of our talent, but also because of the sheer determination and unifying love we all share for BJJ.

We are sending a few teammates up to the Europa Torque Tour this weekend. I know they will represent us well. Good luck everyone! We are all behind you!

Just like in Brazil, in Hawai’i there is a unique sense of family that brings communities together as cohesive units. Everyone helps out each other and looks after one another. We are more than neighbors, friends or family, we are an ohana. The beauty of ohana is that it can extend beyond blood relationships to include everyone who shares a common bond. Jiu-jitsu is the bond for us. 

The bond is a spider web that starts in our “homes” and in our hearts. It weaves its way around the world uniting the lives of many. Thanks to the Internet, UFC and those that work hard to contribute to the community to make the sport progressive, the reach and connection is even further than it ever was before. No matter where we train, whom we train with or what team we proudly represent. We are all a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are bringing a sport and art to the front lines, building a community and shaping history. We are all family because we share a love for BJJ. We love it with all our hearts. It’s in our blood. We live for it. It’s who we are.


Friday, August 10, 2012

A Postcard From Over The Edge...

As a kid I always loved going on “road trips”, but the only problem was that I lived on an island. Sometimes my family and I would go to the North Shore of Oahu, which is about an hour away from Honolulu. In Hawai`i, one hour translates to six. It’s all a matter of perspective. I never thought I’d get my fill of road trips and then along came the summer 2012. 

For the past few months I’ve pretty much lived out of my car. I’ve traveled all over Texas this summer  as I had intended to do last summer. Except this time, I wasn’t on a BJJ (training) tour of Texas. It was traveling to document BJJ & MMA.  Over the course of the past few months, I’ve blown through Dallas, Houston, Killeen and San Antonio countless times. My poor lil’ old car has put in some serious miles this summer trying to keep up with the BJJ and MMA explosion in Texas. The rising temperatures and gas prices have coincided with the growth of the  BJJ  & MMA community here in Texas. It warms my heart to see how Jiu-Jitsu and MMA has continued to spread and impact  more people’s lives.

 Even though I love BJJ with all my heart, I always felt like something was wrong with me because I didn’t geek out and watch BJJ videos compulsively like some enthusiasts do.  Then at this year’s Mundials,  I finally got in touch with my inner BJJ junkie.  At first, I was really sad about not going to compete at the Mundials. This year was the first time I sat at home and watched the Mundials from afar but little did I know how much more I could fall in love with BJJ by sitting on my butt 2,000 miles away from the action. Much to my surprise, I  was glued to the screen watching the Mundials every free moment I had. One hour would unexpectedly turn into four or five. It was then that I realized that no sane person would watch that much BJJ, I must really love it! I became that overzealous BJJ fan and subjected social media to my rants and obsessive updates. That was just the beginning. 

I recently returned to training again after slightly re-injuring my knee in June. It was just a tremor compared to the massive attack of April. I took precautions this time and took a month and a half off training to only focus on physical therapy. I have to be careful now, because I can’t afford to be on crutches again, especially not during the busy BJJ tournament season. 

Over the past few months I have continued to watch and photograph between 10-20 hours a week of live BJJ at tournaments, MMA fights and classes at Gracie Humaita Austin. I’ve also spend 15-20 hours a week editing photos. I never thought that watching BJJ would really do me that much benefit without practicing it, but I was wrong. It was how I’ve been watching it, that has changed things for me.

Each time I return to training it’s been different. This time I think I came back extremely ready and focused. After the Leticia Ribeiro Women’s Grappling camp, I was pumped up and ready to train. Instead of training on the mats, I’ve been doing it in my mind. I’ve taken on a new outlook and gained a new understand for the movement behind BJJ by photographing it. By taking on a fresh perspective, I’ve expanded my awareness some. Sitting and watching is good, but chasing the action behind the camera is what makes the difference for me.

As a photographer, I am always hunting for that extraordinary moment that shows the raw emotion and captures the essence of the split second victory shot. In order to get it,  I turn to my BJJ knowledge  to predict the possible sequences of movements and directions the competitors may move for a submission or position.  But not all matches can be predicted. I definitely have been caught off guard by some. 

Texas has some very talented athletes of all ages and sexes, but my favorite divisions are the kids and teens. It’s amazing how technical they are and how precise they are in their delivery at such a young age. It’s absolutely beautiful! The future of BJJ is bright because of these kids and teens.

Lately I’ve been studying the movement of BJJ in order to get the best shots for my clients. The added bonus is  that I’m learning more about Ju-Jitsu in the process. I am starting to see angles, lines and shapes in the movements and realizing that how well you can draw along the lines and make the angles determines the effectiveness of a move.  This new phase is the coming together of my artistic and athletic sides. I’m excited to see what’s in store next. 

The BJJ summer tournament season isn’t quite over and I’m not ready to tap yet. I am sure I have more lessons to learn and adventures to be had. Check out some of my latest work at