The Long Road

The Long Road

The road to a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ Black Belt for me has been a really long windy road.  It all started back in 1999 when I began training under Martial Arts Unlimited (formally Progressive Martial Arts) Instructor AJ Weimer.  At the time the program was termed Jiu-Jitsu Submission Fighting.  The original curriculum had a lot of striking and would basically be an MMA program by today's standards.  It had all the elements necessary of a Jiu-Jitsu or BJJ program on the ground, although there was a lot of emphasis on Boxing and Muay Thai too.  In 2003 I earned my Black Belt in that program (I was in an accelerated program due to military relocation).  I had these workout sheets to complete that consisted of break-falls, 100 shrimp or hip escapes from Mount, Cross Mount, etc.  AJ was working with Royce Gracie at the time to demonstrate the power of Jiu-Jitsu to the Army to replace their current hand to hand combat training.

In 2005, I was back in the US and began teaching Jiu-Jitsu on base.  We had a few people interested in competing and so began the transformation of my Jiu-Jitsu program.  More emphasis on the grappling and less on the striking.  I had the opportunity to get to attend a few BJJ seminars with Professors Carlos and Rigan Machado, as well as a Professor Relson Gracie seminar.  I wanted to join RCJ Machado BJJ, I just didn't have enough money for the affiliation.  Then in 2011 or 2012 a Gracie Blue Belt moved to Sumter and began training at my gym.  At that time we had an open mat policy and on weekends anyone could come in for free and roll.  The Blue Belt was the first person to ask my Jiu-Jitsu lineage and I didn't have and official line back to anyone of note.  AJ learned his training from Joe, and he received his training from Charles.  Wasn't sure of much past that.  Well, the Blue Belt left to become the head instructor at a rival school and the term they used was they were the only Official BJJ school in town.  Also, I had a couple of students that wanted to compete in the Open events and again I had no direct lineage to follow to allow them to compete. 

In 2013, I attended a seminar with Professor Helio Soneca and he had an affiliate program I could afford, so I joined.  I hosted several Professor Soneca Seminars and continued to attend other BJJ instructor's seminars if they were in the area.  Professor Soneca is pretty old school (nothing wrong with that), he uses rolling and time in grade as well as time in training for promotions.  Upon signing up with him, I was linked to another school and one of their members (non-Black Belt) said I would be a Blue Belt in the Helio Soneca BJJ until Professor could evaluate me.  That was fine, and I wore that belt without issue.  I continued to teach my original grappling program, yet began implementing elements of what I was learning into my classes. 

About a year went by and I had the chance to attend another Professor Machado Seminar and scheduled a private lesson as well.  During the training, he asked about my rank and I mentioned I had never been evaluated by a BJJ Professor.  He had me do several moves as well as some rolling with him and he presented me with a Purple Belt.  At this time my school was a bit more mature and I joined the RCJ Machado BJJ Association as they had curriculums, videos and lesson plans for me to follow.  I maintained my affiliation with Professor Soneca as well, as I really liked what I was learning from him as well. (Note I am hundreds of miles from either instructor, so I only get training once to twice a year with them).  This was a major issue with other schools in the area, although I had let both Professor Soneca and Professor Machado know about the other.  I also purchased and wore proper affiliation gear at events and such.

Professor Soneca and I talked and he said Professor Carolos was the ranking BJJ coach, so Professor Carlos would have to do all my rankings.  I was fine with that and that is what happened from 2014 and on.  Still so much backlash from other schools, however, I did my best to support whenever either professor was close enough for me to attend.  I had a similar conversation with Professor Carlos about all this and the funniest thing they both said was those "other people" don't pay your bills, so don't worry about them.

This past weekend Professor Carlos Machado awarded me my BJJ Black Belt.  After almost 20 years of consistent training along with a lot of training seminars and some competitions, the day has finally come.  So my advice to anyone is to stay the course and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Thank you to AJ Weimer, Professor Soneca, and especially to Professor Carlos Machado.  

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