Cycling to BJJ – onto a New Sport

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Over a year and a half ago I, with my wife and children, moved to Texas from Los Angeles, for family reasons, starting a new phase in my life. It has been an interesting transition, moving away from an amazing city, as well as all my friends that I had made during the 22 years living in LA. Moving also meant that I was leaving the local cycling community that supported me and helped me grow into a decent cyclist. These incredible people also encouraged me to start racing which led to amazing adventures and experiences.

I was primarily an endurance athlete in high school and college (track & Field, Soccer, IMG_0009Rugby, combined with a few years of Karate). After college, other than playing some beach volleyball and working out at the gym I didn’t do much else from a physical standpoint. I moved to LA at the end of 1994 where I continued to go to a gym. In 1999 a retired captain of the Serbian Rowing Team, Slobo Svrdian, who was then a high level master’s rower, spotted me having lunch at the deli I used to go to in Marina del Rey. He told me I had the ideal body for rowing and persuaded me to start. In only six months, I started rowing for his team and we won and placed in a number of prestigious rowing events. I stopped rowing in 2002 because my personal and work life got in the way. The reality of adult life can really cut into one’s training!

So without rowing to help stay in shape I became a gym rat again at Gold’s in Venice. In JensLATRIByCruse2006 I started to train for triathlons after being encouraged by my strength and conditioning trainer, Rob Robinson, who became a really good friend. Over time I developed a knee issue through running, so I transitioned exclusively to cycling. As a cyclist I started from scratch with no cycling experience (no group riding experience, no peloton etiquette, no idea about race strategy, etc., etc.), but because of the support from some serious cyclists, who took me under their wing, I progressed much quicker than if I had tried sorting out the competitive cycling world by myself.

Racing bikes was some of the most fun years ever. The competiveness and team camaraderie combined was like a drug! So many highs! Participating in bike races pushed me to do the necessary training in order to be a rider within a competitive team structure. Because I started cycling so late in life, and my larger than average frame, I was never going to be a “star” rider…but I was strong and became decent enough to help team mates win, whether it was lead out, catching a break, developing a break, or protecting a rider in the peloton. I became a good team “worker,” or in cycling lingo a “Domestique.”

All riders know that falling off the bike is inevitable. The saying goes, “it’s not “if” I fall off the bike, it’s “when” I fall off.” In 2007 I crashed in a race. Little did I know I toDSC_0100tally wrecked my left shoulder. It functioned ok until 2014 when it totally gave out and I needed surgery. After surgery the surgeon recommended that I stop riding. That was the end of any competitive cycling. The risk of coming off the bike again and hitting the same shoulder was way too high. It took 2 years to get my shoulder back to 90% (it will never be 100% since I have some cartilage missing, and will probably need a shoulder replacement at some point). With no competition on the horizon as a motivator, and my involvement with a new fitness start-up company, Sirens & Titans Fitness, my training on the bike quickly decreased from 6 days a week, to 3, then 2, then 1 times a week, until even that whittled down to nothing.

After the realization that cycling was over, I was a little depressed for a number of reasons, including not having a race schedule to motivate me to seriously train. Therefore, it became increasingly difficult to maintain my fitness. Over time I knew that if I didn’t find something soon, I would not be in a happy state physically or mentally!

For the longest time I have always wanted to try Brazilian Jui-Jitsu, which is a grappling Patchsport. I actually would regularly drive past a BJJ studio on Lincoln Blvd around Venice, near my home there. I would crane my neck out of the car window, as I drove by, to try to see inside, which I never really could. Even though I wanted to I never stopped because at the time being a serious cyclist I really didn’t have more time to even think about another sport, if it wasn’t going to help my cycling.

Earlier this year, I went online and found a BJJ studio, 10 minutes from my home. I called and then met Marco Aguilera, the coach and owner of Aguilera Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Studio/Team Brasa in Prosper TX.  The reason why I called Coach Marco, after doing some on-line research, his studio appealed to me Studiobecause he was a competitor himself. It appeared that he was the type of person who practiced what he preached. After meeting him there was no doubt in my mind that he was the right coach for me.

My rule has always been, whatever sport I have decided to participate in, to pick and select a coach who competes, or has competed, at a highest level in the sport I want to be coached for. Practical “real-life” application is more important to me than theory. Coach Marco competes successfully in some of the most important BJJ competitions in the country. Being so new in the sport I was lucky to have found Marco. There are many BJJ studios around, as with everything else, there are good and bad ones. I was very lucky to find an excellent one!

What does BJJ teaches me about life?

By starting BJJ there are a number of realizations that the sport is teaching me early on. These, for me, are definitely examples of how a sport intersects life.

When I first started I thought I was going to dominate, a force to be reckoned with, based on my strength and athleticism. I am not alone thinking this, since it’s very common for many White Belts coming into the sport, who have been successful in other sports, to think the same. Well, it became apparent very quickly that although strength helps a bit it is technique that will generally win the day! When I realized this it kind of knocked me DSCN0899down a little. Knowing that one of my attributes, physical strength, which I have applied successfully in other sports can easily be nullified by technique. This realization forced me to open up very quickly, and to be honest with myself. Open to be able to take in what is being taught and honest with myself to understand and realize I know absolutely nothing! AT 55 I know NOTHING about BJJ. In essence I am going back to pre-school.

When you do not know anything about something you are totally vulnerable! Not a comfortable place to be, at least for me. In order to learn I needed to accept being weak and helpless (lack of knowledge). At this stage many people give up BJJ because they cannot handle the thought of starting something from the beginning and realizing that it will take a lot of work to progress in this sport. I knew very quickly that I had to find humility. Humility is needed in order to understand that I am just a j1beginner, the lowest man on the totem pole. I had to put ALL my pride aside and put all my trust into my coach’s hands, as well as that of my teammates. I had to give myself up to the process. Without doing that I was going to go nowhere within this new environment fast!

The necessary humility created more emotional feelings within me. I became so much more sensitive to my actions on the mat, for instance when my coach provided feedback that my technique was poor during a particular roll. It made me feel horrible about my failings, and that I may not be picking things up as quickly as I felt I should. But, very soon this raw emotion turned into something positive, with the realization that you just need to let things flow. BJJ is a lifelong journey and there will be so many ups and downs. You realize that part of growing in BJJ is learning to handle these ups and downs and to be open to learning new things. Listening to critique and recommendations is an opportunity to improve and get better. The incredible thing, I found, regarding this sport, is that everyone I have met so far wants to help and see me improve. By being open you will receive so much more

If you are having a bad day in cycling you can hide away in the peloton. In BJJ it’s all you, you are exposed, and your technique, your strength and weaknesses are available for all Clifton_Beach_5to see, whether you have a good or bad day. You are basically naked, the real you is right there, and there is no pretending, no hiding. This sport exposes pretenders very quickly. It forces you to try hard, give 100%, to be respectful, to listen and welcome the input from the coach and your other teammates.

Coach Marco explained to me that you should NEVER compare yourself to other people in the sport, but to compare yourself to you. The question you should always be asking is “am I better than I was last week, last month, this time last year.” If the answer is yes, then you are making progress. Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous proposition, since there are always people that are going to be so much better than me, such as people who have studied BJJ since they were a child, people who learn quicker, people who are stronger more athletic than me.

BJJ emphasizes the need to know your craft and apply what you have learned, and continue building on it. BJJ develops a thirst for knowledge. You will NEVER know everything. There is always something new to learn and to improve on, you can never settle or rest on your laurels. It forces me to concentrate and learn, because without this learning I would never progress and improveTunel en la vía férrea (FEVE) Ferrol - Ortigueira

BJJ teaches you hard work. To learn you need to make a serious commitment and go and train at least 3-4 times a week, minimum, in order to retain, improve, and progress.

The nice thing about BJJ is that the opportunity to learn is always available. Even if you are injured you can still improve, by going to the studio watching class and taking notes, watching You Tube videos, or actually go to take class and work around your injury by working on the techniques that do not affect the injured area. One learns not to make excuses. There is always a way.

On top of all this you learn that incorporating competition is also very important to your improvement in the sport. BJJ is like any other new activity or sport one participates in;

Frist Stript

Professor/Coach Marco presented me my 1st stripe. So elated!

there are extreme highs and lows. You think you are making big strides and then you feel you are in a rut and not progressing. Sometimes, due to these challenges, even the motivation to go to class goes…but you cannot stop because you have a tournament coming up!  You know at the tournament eyes will be on you regardless of your level. You are representing your coach, your teammates, and yourself. I would never want to let them or myself down. I want to always be the best I personally can when it is time to compete. This is the motivation that forces me to work on all the little details and put in the time prior to a tournament, even when getting to class is hard, I’ll do everything I can to get there.

 

“I’m not an artist, and I want to take risks, and when the possibility of failure occurs, it’s because the idea is all exciting or interesting as a high wire act, and sometimes you’ve got to fall off, just by virtue of the fact that you’re constantly trying to evolve and do new things” ­- Peter Morgan

 

~ by Jens Wallrabe on November 1, 2017.

2 Responses to “Cycling to BJJ – onto a New Sport”

  1. This is awesome, Jens! I’ve loved these posts. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I love that you’ve been so willing to step out of your comfort zone time and time again. That’s the dear friend I know. XO, Julie

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