In October 2015, I earned a first degree black belt in Counterpoint Tactical System under founder, Master Zach Whitson. It was one of the highlights of my year and my life. Accepting that belt from my instructor is a moment that I will cherish for the rest of my days. I am proud of that accomplishment. I also knew then that belt wasn’t the end of my journey. I had come a long ways and worked so hard, but I also had great examples in my instructor and the leadership of CTS to know that there was much more to learn. Seeing Master Whitson continue his studies in Catch Wrestling and the internal martial arts just demonstrated that learning never ends. When I woke up the morning after the award ceremony, I held the black belt in my hand and decided it was time for a new white belt.
I knew which white belt I wanted to put on as well. As usual, though, life got in the way. It took me some time to get started, but since January of this year, I’ve been training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Saint Charles Mixed Martial Arts. Mike Rogers, Tracy Taylor, and everyone at the gym have been fantastic. During my time there, I’ve attended classes led by various individuals. While each had a different method of instruction, the quality was uniform across each session. The approach is detailed demonstration and drilling. Though the bar is set high, each instructor has been incredibly supportive. Each one believes I can understand and apply the technique. They aren’t just passing time; they care about my improvement. To me, this is the staple of a good team; SCMMA seems to have a philosophy that all ships are lifted by a rising tide. In other words, by increasing the skill of their training partners, they increase their own skill. While no one has said this explicitly, it’s demonstrated by the actions of everyone I’ve trained with.
SCMMA is a part of Team Vaghi, under Professor Rodrigo Vaghi. Professor Vaghi is a fifth stripe black belt under the legendary Rickson Gracie. So, the lineage is legit as can be, but the school doesn’t just rest on the laurels of its history. SCMMA is adding its own accolades to an already impressive history. The school is home to professional and amateur mixed martial artists, competitive grapplers, kickboxers, boxers, and non-competitive types like me. The atmosphere is fun and friendly. When a competition comes up, the gym rallies together to support the athletes. Overall, it’s a great place to learn. The atmosphere is one of improvement, and the instructors and senior students lead by example. They push us; they challenge us; and they inspire us to be better. Egos are in check; no one just tears me apart despite the fact that many could. Progress is the reason we’re at the gym, and every day that I walk through the doors, I leave better than I was going in.
Right now, my focus is on how to survive and defend. Sparring is fun, and I’m learning much more than my mind can absorb. My current goal is to work on my escapes, learn to relax, and not be the spazzy white belt. My conditioning has improved by leaps and bounds in the short time that I’ve been there. I know a few submissions but am not able to pull them off in sparring. Yet. During rolls, I’m focused on surviving, defending, and trying to get the better position. Some times that strategy works; often, it doesn’t. I tap more times in an hour than a telegraph operator did in the 1890’s. I am consistently sore, but I love it.
In fact, my enthusiasm got the better of me in the beginning. My fitness level wasn’t where it needed to be, and I pushed a little farther on a sore hamstring than I should have. Instead of listening to my body, I kept going and strained a hamstring. Luckily, I didn’t tear it, and after a short rest period, I slowly got back to work. That’s the only injury that I’ve had so far, and I did it to myself. What I learned is that my body wasn’t as balanced as I thought it was. I’m right handed, and that imbalance became very evident in the first couple of months. The left side of my body took longer to recover than my right. In fact, it was my left hamstring that I injured. But as time progresses, the gap in fitness is decreasing. My left arm and leg have to work harder than the right, but they’re catching up. These lessons in fitness and my own personal health are incredibly important.
It’s fascinating the number of similarities in concepts between Cacoy Doce Pares and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Although, it makes sense because Cacoy Canete was highly ranked in Judo, and BJJ evolved from Judo. The emphasis on technique and not forcing your opponent are general concepts shared by both. Setting up traps, paying attention to your opponent’s energy/intention/pressure, staying relaxed, chaining attacks while maintaining good defense, etc. These concepts are shared by a number of martial arts. The similarity that interests me most is sparring. Both Cacoy Doce Pares and Jiu Jitsu consider sparring as a chance to learn, to experiment, to test, and to improve. I’ve seen the SCMMA instructors and senior students put this into action. Often, the advanced students will put themselves into a disadvantage when sparring with me. They’ll then work their way out of it to a superior position and then to the submission. If they wanted, they could smash me from the start, but they are demonstrating how to learn in jiu jitsu, how to improve, and how to be better.
Does this mean that I’m quitting CTS? No, of course not. That’s a scarcity mindset. I still teach three sessions a week and do my own solo training once a week. That doesn’t include note review, blogging, or watching videos. My current CTS goal is for the second degree black belt at the 2017 Iron Mountain camp, and I’m hosting the fourth annual seminar with Master Zach Whitson on July 30th (more details coming very soon!). This blog will stay dedicated to STL Counterpoint because I don’t know enough about BJJ to write effectively. But I will include announcements or good stories as they occur. Jiu Jitsu is an additional area of study because I’m deficient on the ground, and this lets me shore up my weaknesses. Plus, I like the group. SCMMA’s a fun place filled with interesting people.
I’m enjoying this next phase of training, and it’s been fun to mix it in with my CTS studies. BJJ is a slow, long journey. You don’t go to SCMMA for belts; you go for the knowledge, and there is so much to learn. As instructor Tracy Taylor said, “The game can be played but never won because my true opponent is myself. And I can always improve.” Saint Charles MMA and Team Vaghi are the right places for me to improve my skills and to achieve new goals. Stepping through those doors and putting the white belt on was the right decision. It’s a different world than the one that I’m used to, and I’ve learned much just by observing others in the gym. It’s inspiring to see their dedication, their hard work, and their improvements. Whether in victory or defeat, the team has your back. Whether in victory or defeat, there is still work to be done. For me, SCMMA and Team Vaghi are where I want to do the work. If you’re interested in starting a jiu jitsu journey, then come out to Saint Charles MMA. I highly recommend it. You’ll be treated to world class instruction in a supportive environment that will push you past your boundaries. This team will show you that you’re tougher than you think and you’re more capable than you believe. At least that’s been my experience. If you do step on the mats, you’ll see me there: learning, making mistakes, improving, and tapping.