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