Hi, my name is Ogi, and I am a BJJ addict.
It is almost 10 years since I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Suffice to say, a lot has happened during that time. In a decade, I got a university degree, almost finished a Ph.D., I had a few jobs, got married, got divorced, and somehow, ended up teaching BJJ as a full time “job”. It seems that there was a reason why Jiu-Jitsu remained the one consistent thing in my life from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties, which is a crazy period in life on its own. Somehow, this crazy sport where we grapple on the ground wearing funny pyjamas has become a huge part of my life. And yes, I am aware that I am a BJJ addict, and I am proud of it!
When I was 6 years old, my father got me into Judo. I guess I was too much of an energy bundle to handle at home. I hated it. Back then, I was not the kid that wanted to spar, I was always afraid I was going to lose. And I did lose, a lot, and did it in front of everyone, given that we did sparring sessions with two students fighting in the middle of a circle formed by everyone else.
After a couple of years, the Judo club, which happened to be very near to where I lived, closed. Immediately, I went into Karate. I spent the next decade punching and kicking (back then karate was a full-contact sport, even for children). A diagnosis of myopia (short-sightedness) meant I had to stop competing because I couldn’t get hit in the eyes. That prompted me to look elsewhere and a journey through Aikido, Krav Maga, Thai Boxing, and even MMA followed (so much for not getting punched, I know). Somehow, BJJ was the last one I tried, perhaps because there wasn’t any back then.
The first time I went to train Jiu-Jitsu was really a different experience. With almost 20 years of martial arts training under my belt, I never thought I’d get dominated so much by a blue belt who was pretty much my size. I had no idea what was going on. Despite my best efforts, no amount of watching UFC or training grappling as part of Krav Maga, and even Judo, could have prepared me for that experience. After that first session, I knew I’d be back for more. I just had to know all that stuff they did to me. Little did I know that I had become a BJJ addict already.
Flirting With Pain…Every Day
The first few months of BJJ were… nasty seems like a good word for it. I’m a 150 lbs guy, with a solid level of strength for my size, and good conditioning. When I started BJJ I was in immense shape. And it had absolutely no impact on what happened on the mats. Every training, I got destroyed beyond the point of belief. I trained Judo at the same time and had started teaching Karate again. I was doing Karate and Judo sparring almost daily, but nothing got close to the craziness of BJJ. It was like those Judo sparring sessions back when I was a kid all over again. However, this time, I knew that I had to convince myself that losing was the way to actually learn.
It took a while but I got into it. The first competition went by, first stripes on my white belt, meeting the mythological creature that is a black belt (our instructor was a blue belt at the time). It all happened within a year of me starting to train. A BJJ addict who could no longer be helped by any means, I stopped doing Judo, and MMA, and only kept up with Karate because I met a girl there that would eventually become my wife. BJJ, however, was my sole focus. Going to training in that small basement (the door opened up like a hatch, literally) was the highlight of my day. Moreover, the three days a week I got to train were the happiest in my week.
After about a year and a half, I was already all-in. I started looking at my first DVDs and started discovering there’ a lot more to BJJ than what we did at the academy. First experiments began, and, me being me, it had to be something unorthodox. While most “white to almost blue” belts in the gym were looking at closed guard or armbars, I decided I’d learn the Tornado guard. How? By watching DVDs, of course.
The short version of events, it worked and I did manage to get the hang of it. It took drilling with religious dedication for about 6 months. Even people double my size were now flying across the gym, and I had a fair amount of success with it in tournaments as well. The only drawback was that I had no idea how to learn Jiu-Jitsu, especially form a source like a DVD. The end result – a pretty bad hernia in my neck that I discovered halfway through blue belt.
Since then, the pain of BJJ injuries has never stopped. Even as I am writing this, my right elbow is killing me (and the funny thing is, I have absolutely no idea why). I have a badly bandaged big toe on one foot that’s missing the entire nail (a result of takedown training). Not to mention my almost completely ligaments in my knee are locking up at various intervals without any logic to it. Just the life of a BJJ addict, I guess.
The first moment I saw a purple belt was in my first ever competition. That was the moment when I knew I had to get to that belt. I already had black belts in other martial arts, but I had never worn a purple belt. Moreover, the way they moved, like two cats doing a gracious battle was exactly what I wanted to do. It just so happened, I got my purple belt fairly quickly (just a year at the blue belt). Of course, that just meant I stayed at purple for longer (3 years) but for me, that didn’t matter. In fact, I enjoyed it. I don’t know about others’ experiences, but it felt somewhat sad when I got a brown belt and had to take that purple belt off. I still have it hanging in my bedroom, and look at it with nostalgia every single day.
During purple belt, I had to stop competing because of all the injuries that kept piling up. That sucked because I took up an office job just to be able to pay my way through competitions and have time to train after the 9-5 shift was done. Too banged up (especially the neck) to even think about competing, I found a different focus in teaching. That meant that I had to devote even more time to Jiu-Jitsu. As a textbook BJJ addict, I only saw it as a good thing. Somewhere along the line, I got married, and everything seemed to click. At first.
It turns out, dedicating yourself to addiction can really be tough on others. Even if you try and justify it by saying you’re doing things for them. Suddenly facing “grown-up problems” I threw myself into BJJ even more, trying to provide for the family via the addiction. I guess I already knew that I would never stay in a 9-5 job my entire life, and was looking for a way to make what I love my way of earning for a living. It didn’t bode well for my marriage though. Even though BJJ was not the only, or main reason for divorcing, spending so many hours in the gym, planning classes, drilling, teaching, rolling, etc certainly factored in. My marriage was over, but it also brought about a big revelation – it was easy to overcome.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu might be brutal on the body, but it is incredible on the mind. There are lessons hidden in that crazy pajama-grappling art, that not many other aspects of life can teach you. I am a curious person by trait and I have many interests and hobbies. I am a veterinarian by trait, with a special incline towards small animal surgery. Also, I like to brew craft coffees; I do animal photography; can write strength and conditioning programs for anyone, etc., etc. Nothing I do in life has taught me so much about, well, life, in the 35 years I’ve been trotting around this flying ball we call Earth, as much as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has. And most of all, I have my BJJ addiction to thank for being able to overcome everything that life throws at me.
“First They Laugh At You, Then They Respect You, And Finally, They Want To Be Like You”
When I first told my friend that I was to compete again (hadn’t done so since high school days), back when I was a BJJ white belt, everyone laughed. “You’re crazy”, “you’re 25”,” you’re already old for competing”, “young guys will eat you up”,” you’ll be 40 by the time you’re a black belt”. Fast forward a decade, and now I have most of my friends training in the gym, taking my classes, and starting to show signs of being a BJJ addict themselves.
It really was like the quote says. At first, everyone thought I just found a new toy to play around with. People said that I had crazy ideas, they said I should focus on work, get married, have kids, and perhaps train just so that I am in shape. Me being me, I didn’t listen. I went about things my way, realizing I am a BJJ addict probably during the short period between the referee saying “Paroooo” and raising my arm for the win in the first-ever match I had at my first ever tournament.
Looking around now, I wouldn’t have things any other way. I currently work mostly with BJJ-related stuff, whether it is online or in the gym. The academy is running strong (it ended up as mine through a weird sequence of events) with four adult groups and two children groups in the midst of the Corona pandemic. And there are new people signing up almost daily.
Already a very avid traveler, I discovered BJJ camps, which helped me meet incredible people, learn even more about the art, and travel to crazy places. In just a few months I’ll be off to spend 10 days in the Caribbean, training BJJ in literal paradise. With potential romance blooming in the most unexpected of places, life couldn’t be better at the moment, and it has nothing to do with what people thought I should do with my life. Those that saw me as a BJJ addict were right. They just didn’t know that they’d try to become one themselves, after seeing what the Gentle Art did to me during the past 10 years.
What Really Matters To A BJJ Addict
That I don’t know. I will never assume ever again that I know what matters in life. I can only go by the feeling I have at the moment. And, if I like something that is going on, I’m doing it. If I don’t, I’ll stay away. It is as simple as that. Among many other things, BJJ has thought me that not everything is for everyone. People pick what they’re good at, or interested in when they train and tend to specialize in certain areas of the sport. In life, it is pretty much the same.
BJJ is just like life, endless and ever-changing. If you’re doing Darce chokes to everyone at the moment, a few years down the road you might turn into the “escape guy/girl” with your focus shifting completely. That is what we call progress in Jiu-Jitsu. Then, how could we say that doing the same thing in life over and over again for 30-50 years is progress? Why fear change so much on the grandest scale of our existence, when we’re looking to do it in the microcosmos of Jiu-Jitsu every time we’re on the mats?
I have no idea what really matters, to be honest. I know what makes me feel full of energy and happy about life though. It is seeing the change that happened to me, happen to others on the mats. People leave the academy with huge smiles on their faces after every class. People start talking to each other, really talking and not about everyday stuff like bills or the weather. They find meaning in what is happening on the mats, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I have the chance to send people home happier than they’ve walked in every day. To me, that matters. There’s a meaning to everything when I see the change that made me realize how I wanted to live, start to brew in others.
Yes, there are constant battles and challenges in life. Yes, we need others in our lives, partners to share moments with. But, just like in BJJ, there are ways of conducting those battles. Begin a BJJ addict has taught me that you won’t win every battle. However, even when losing, you’ll learn, and you can apply that knowledge to all the battles that follow. And, just like there’s no perfect BJJ training partner, you’ll probably never find a perfect life partner. You can get pretty damn close, though. Especially with someone that has a similar vibe to yours, even if it is for just a little while.
I have absolutely no idea what the future will bring. All I know is that it will have something to do with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and trying to use it to help people embrace change, progress, and figuring out how to truly live. Well, that’s my path, at least, and I’m enjoying every single second of it.
Hi, I’m Ogi, and I am a BJJ addict. You wanna roll?