A month and a half ago, I could not have imagined sitting here on a plane from London to Baltimore. A month and a half ago, if someone had told me I’d be on the other side of the world fighting in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament I’d say, “are you out of your mind?” But, a month and a half ago, I got a phone call that would send me on the adventure of a lifetime.
I’m a typical college student. I go to St. John’s University in Queens, New York full-time. When I’m not studying or writing papers, I’m training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Long Island. This past semester, I got caught up with school and was not as motivated, focused, and serious when it came to training. I was even considering giving up on BJJ during that time.
Then one day, while I was sitting in class, my teammate Alfonso “Big Al” Washington sent me a text message. He asked if I was going to Portugal. I had no idea what Portugal had to do with anything. Big Al explained that the European Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Open was there and it was going to happen at the end of January. I told him I’d think about it and kept about my mundane college student existence.
A few days had past and the idea of flying to fight in Portugal to fight in one of the biggest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments in the world, after having not trained seriously in over two months was far from my mind. And then I got a text from my Dad. He told me that he randomly ran into the owner and head coach of my team Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Julius Park, at Starbucks.
My Dad described the conversation and told me Julius wanted me to fight in the European, New York, and World Championship. Now I’m not a man who believes much in destiny. However, I know when certain events are more than coincidence. So, as soon as I got the text I responded, “Sure, why not, I always wanted to study abroad.” The next day, I started my preparations for Europe. It was tough since I had not trained in so long, my teammates at Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pushed me to my limits and got me into the best shape of my life.
After all the late nights of sparring, drilling and circuits, we had finally arrived in Europe ready to shut it down. I could write a book about the amazing fights I saw during that Tournament, but the moment I found to be most memorable was the Blue Belt Country vs. Country team tournament. The night after all my Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teammates and I competed we all went out and explored the city of Lisbon. The next morning we were tired and just wanted to relax and enjoy the rest of the matches of the tournament. After an hour at the venue me, Tom Shrum, Big Al, and Matt Rihani were told that we would be participating in the Blue Belt team World Cup in a few hours. All four of us left the venue in a mad dash to the hotel to get our kimonos and try to get some rest before we represented our country.
Once we got back to the tournament we organized the team and added a new another member to Team USA, a guy by the name of Black Magic who was American by origin but resided in Germany. Here we were Team USA, created about 15 minutes before the actual competition, and running on 3 hours of sleep. From a outside observer it would seem that we had little to no chance to get past the first round of this best 3-of-5 Nation vs. Nation tournament. It would seem even more implausible when you take into account that two of my teammates, Tom Shrum and Matt Rihani were just above the weight limit for the tournament at 181 and 180lbs respectively and have never participated in a international tournament at blue belt. Despite all that was stacked against us, I knew these guys. I have spent hours in the room training with this guys pushing ourselves to the limit and knew that they the ability to accomplish anything.
Before we stepped foot on the mat as a team I told the guys to relax and to have fun, and that we should savor the opportunity to represent our country. To put a long story short, I was surprised and amazed by how our team rose to the occasion. Big Al, Matt Rihani, Thomas Shrum, and Black Magic put on some of the gutsiest and inspiring performances I have seen in any sport. We took on the biggest, baddest, and most seasoned fighters that Europe had to offer, took them on, and took them out. I still am in awe of how I saw Matt Rihani break the will of an opponent two weight classes above him in route to a thrilling victory. By the end of the day, we put all of Europe on notice and let them know that Team USA was in the building by taking the Silver Medal in the Nation vs. Nation tournament.
I learned a lot about my Jiu Jitsu game through all of the matches I had in this tournament. The first thing I learned is that I can trust my technique and no long have to rely on “going crazy” to win matches. Another thing I learned is that the game I have now fits comfortably for me not only in the practice room, but at big time high-pressure tournaments as well. When I get home I am going to perfect what I already have, and had on techniques that compliment my game. Although I won’t be getting into any specifics since I’m not sure if any of my future opponents are reading this post.
Sitting here on this flight home, I think to myself, “Would you do this again?” And I answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” This has been one of the best experiences of my entire life. I learned a lot about my teammates these last few days, and I now consider them like brothers. I learned a lot about not only Jiu-Jitsu, but life as well this last month and a half. The most important lesson, if you put your mind to something anything is possible. Before I close this post, I would like to send a big thank you to: Master Julius Park, My Parents, Master Roberto Torralbas, Alfonso “Big Al” Washington, Jon “Devastator” Delbrugge, Keith “Trainspotting” Cebula, Geoff “Flo-rida” Mueller, Tom Shrum, and Matt “Jumani” Rihani.