Your History at GB: From Despair to Hope through Jiu Jitsu

“Jiu Jitsu is life.”  I know it’s a common euphemism uttered by Jits practitioners all over the world.  It’s spoken on the mats, put on social media, on Jits t-shirts and proudly displayed tattoos, but I didn’t think it was a statement that is taken literally.  In a country of ‘big is better’ we use language like this all the time to exaggerate our interest in something.  I doubt if I said “Lady Gaga is life” or “Monopoly is life” I would get a Spartacus-like reaction with people jumping up and pumping their fists in the air in agreement.  And if I tattooed those statements on my shoulder or arm I think my family would try to stick me in a mental hospital. 


So, how can an activity be so important that many practitioners utter this statement that I have overheard tons of times?  Jiu Jitsu is life.  Was it some secret everyone knew but me or was it nonsense spoken by overenthusiastic people?  How can a father of three boys say this phrase and mean it when clearly his children are his life?  Gracie Barra would show me what it meant, which is the ultimate lesson that Jiu Jitsu can teach.  Let me explain.

Professor Marcelo Ribeiro , Mark and Professor Marcelo Mattos
Professor Marcelo Ribeiro , Mark and Professor Marcelo Mattos

In the beginning part of 2012 I made the decision to kill myself.  I didn’t have a plan as to the how or when, but I was confident it would happen sooner rather than later.  I lost my father to cancer a few years before (mom would follow suddenly in May of 2013), my job in upstate New York, my home, car, friends, and life as I knew it.  I also had a debilitating neck injury that hampered my right arm strength, so I lost the ability to do the things I loved such as tennis, guitar and martial arts (Krav Maga and Muay Thai).  I would struggle to go to whatever temp job I had at the moment, go to my mother’s couch and just sit there until the next day.  I gained weight, would watch others enjoy their lives while I felt helpless as my mind spiraled down into darkness.  It was then that a change of scenery presented itself. My brother said I could stay with him in Nashville, Tennessee until I found a job, which I agreed would be a great idea.  I didn’t consider this offer a savior to me, but rather an opportunity to forward my suicide plan because my mother would have no chance of finding my body, a prospect that I found unsettling.  I was intent on ending things sometime after I got to Nashville…..and then Gracie Barra came along.

When I arrived in Nashville my brother gave me the tour around town and I noticed that Gracie Barra Brentwood was only 3 miles from his home.  It was the first time I saw a Gracie studio (they aren’t very plentiful in upstate New York) of any kind and since I once traveled in martial arts circles the name ‘Gracie’ has meaning.  I don’t remember what made me try the introductory class, curiosity maybe, killing time before I kill myself.  It was there I met Coach Gabriel and the man who would play an unknowing hand in my salvation, Professor Marcelo Ribeiro, a 3rd degree black belt under Carlos Gracie, Jr.

Me and Caio
Mark and the World Champion Caio Terra

The class was filled with students of all adult ages, body types, handicaps and abilities.  Fathers were training with their sons, brothers with brothers, friends with friends.  It was so welcoming and I remember not feeling awkward at being overweight and having an obvious physical limitation.  I saw in action that it’s not the fastest, the biggest, the most agile, or the most flexible that wins as other martial arts dictate, but it’s the most mentally prepared that dominate.  Leverage over strength. Your mind over matter.  I made friends quickly and kept training, eventually earning promotion after promotion.  I lost weight and my neck got better and my right arm got stronger.  The thought of ending my life faced away, with thoughts now going toward submissions, YouTube videos of Buchecha, and magazine articles on drilling tips.  I realized one day that I had a new extended family, and when my mother died in May of 2013 (something that would’ve been the last straw if I didn’t have GB in my life), my extended family and Professor Marcelo embraced me, told me they were here for me and to get my butt back to the mats to show her how you will honor her memory.  Without that kind of support I don’t know if I would’ve made it out, but it’s what families do.  It was then that the greatest lesson revealed itself almost magically in a puff of smoke.  Jiu Jitsu is intertwined in our lives, supports us, allows us to communicate better with our family and friends, focuses our thoughts, and gives us confidence.  It’s different for everyone; it can be the mortar that holds your family together allowing you to better communicate with your children, it can be your escape in a stressful time, or in this busy world it can be another form of the dinner table, bringing family and extended family together in commonality.  And Jiu Jitsu, like life, is a teacher, it never stops evolving and the knowledge it imparts is never finite; you learn until your last days.  Jiu Jitsu is life….indeed it is.

To wax poetic is not my style, but I too now say “Jiu Jitsu is Life” without flinching.  GB and Jits pulled me back from the edge and illuminated a path that will get me my black belt somewhere in a future that I’m excited to see.  My thanks and extreme appreciation go to Professor Marcelo, who unknowingly replaced my pain with a new pain, the pain of sore hips, biceps and shoulders, and the pain of having to wait until the next day for another class!!! Gracie Barra is family, and Jiu Jitsu is life!!!!! OSSSS

Credits:  Mark Simmons
Gracie Barra Brentwood