A few months ago I posted my jiu jitsu story and how it irrevocably changed and improved my life. I recieved an amazing outpouring of support that I truly never expected. I was then recently sent this incredibly awe-inspiring and motivating story from a girl I met through jiu jitsu who was inspired to write her own jiu jitsu story because of mine. She has now graciously agreed to let me post her story, and I am unbelievably honored and humbled to call her my friend.
Most people that stick around in BJJ will say the same thing, “BJJ changed my life.” For some people, it has saved their lives. My journey into BJJ is not one of heartbreak or coming from sad beginnings. But I fully agree that BJJ has changed, improved, and revolutionized my life.
I was adopted when I was a baby and raised by a very loving and amazing family. Elementary school years were difficult, I was picked on and bullied and had maybe 1 or 2 friends throughout my childhood. I was an active and athletic child and very serious about gymnastics for a while. My parents put me in a Japanese Jiu Jitsu class when I was in 4th grade and I loved every second of it. I was a military brat, and go figure, as I got really into Jiu Jitsu we moved. As I got older, my interests fell elsewhere. I played volleyball, basketball, and tennis throughout junior high and high school. I was never big into “fitness” per say, I worked out because I had to. I ran because our coach made us. I lifted weights because it was “weight lifting day.” When I started college and such, I stopped working out completely.
When I was 21 I had a car accident that completely changed my life. I passed out at the wheel of my car while entering a busy highway. My car went head first into the median and I was t-boned by another vehicle. The impact of that collision went into my head. I do not remember this or most of what came next in my recovery. According to my medical records I suffered an initial loss of consciousness and was taken to the hospital in stable condition. It was in the hospital that my parents were informed that I had suffered a traumatic brain injury. I was hospitalized for a little over a month and went through outpatient rehab for another several months. To be honest, my recovery was remarkable. I was initially wheelchair bound and allowed to walk with assistance in physical therapy. It was noted that I was dragging one of my legs and, fortunately, I regained full mobility. Once I was done with outpatient rehab, the lingering question was “what caused my syncopal episode?” Through multiple doctor’s visits and tests, it was found that my fainting episode was caused by an undiagnosed cardiac condition. This was fixed immediately. But, I was left with permanent brain damage.
I was adamant that I wanted things to return to normal and I moved back to San Antonio. Upon my return, I was fortunate enough to still have a job, but I went through multiple adversities: still in school, no car, and mentally screwed up from what had just happened. I played the victim and went through a “why me,” phase that only lasted for a short time. Slowly I was able to get my life back together, both mentally and with material things. My amazing parents, boyfriend, and friends had my back and supported me every step of the way. In all honesty, if I didn’t tell you, you would never know I had a brain injury today.
I had no idea, but I was about to fall in love with BJJ.
When BJJ came into my life, I was not at a low point. I had finally finished school and had the time to find a hobby or something that interested me. I was very interested in Muay Thai and getting back into martial arts. I found a gym, that according to the reviews, had an actual authentic Muay Thai instructor (that is a difficult thing to find). What I didn’t realize when I scheduled my initial visit was that the instructor had recently moved away. I made an appointment to find out more and ended up signing up for classes. I had no idea, but I was about to fall in love with BJJ.
My first class was terrifying and very intimidating. I was out of shape, I had no clue what I was doing, and I did not know anyone. I did not take to BJJ well when I started. I could barely make it through the warmups. I was not taking to the lessons well, I was out of my element, and I felt very out of place. I was so slow through the warm ups that I created a “slow lane” when we shrimped down the mats. If I didn’t move, I held up the entire class, yes, I was that slow. In my first few weeks, I used to debate whether I wanted to go to class. The classes were great, but I was so bad that it was embarrassing. I remember my boyfriend telling me one day, “You might as well go. You have already paid for it, so every day you don’t go is like throwing away money.” That one statement is really what made me go to class. And eventually, to laugh it off, I used to have a mindset of, “let’s see how I can humiliate myself today.” When I started at my gym, the fundamentals class was new and the class was small. The small group of about 5 people that went regularly became the reason I would show up in class. Along with my instructor, they were so motivating and encouraging. They did not care that I was slow, out of shape, and not really understanding the techniques. I physically pushed myself further than I ever had. I remember speaking with someone who had been there for about a year about how great and challenging the sport is. He told me that it changed his way of thinking and that in everything he did, he started wondering how it would affect his jiu jitsu. I was impressed by his dedication, but did not relate to what he was saying at all.
I eventually got to a point that I refused to quit.
When I earned my first stripe I was so excited, I was also intimidated. I was still not athletic and was now eligible to train in the competition class. That was another scary adventure, I felt so out of place. The techniques were more complicated, the large group of higher belts I trained with understood everything so effortlessly. Fortunately, I had my fundamentals teammates and instructor in the class as well. They, along with others, continued to work with me to understand the techniques, push myself, and encourage me. One of my teammates used to always say “believe” when we were rolling and I was struggling. I still say it to myself when I’m rolling. I eventually got to a point that I refused to quit. Over time, I slowly started to get it.
Then came tournaments, after my instructor felt I was ready he encouraged me to sign up, so I did. I trained as hard and as much as I could. He even pushed me to go running and I really dislike running. I remember a couple of times, I pushed myself in training to the point of exhaustion that I would lay on the mats and tears would run down my face. It’s not that I was crying, I was just so happy and proud of myself that it was the only emotion I could feel at the time. I did not win in that tournament. I was proud of myself for stepping out on the mats and I really learned a lot from my matches. The competitor in me really lit up and I signed up and trained for more tournaments as time went on.
It’s hard not to look at BJJ as a metaphor for life; never give up and never quit.
Tournaments have really taught me another lesson; 1st place isn’t everything. I haven’t won a tournament yet, but I know that I will. I have the heart, the drive, and the dedication to do so. It is difficult to be told that stepping out on the mats is a win in itself, but it is also not an incorrect statement. A teammate of mine once told me that there is no one out there better than him because there is no one out there that has had to go through what he has had to go through in life to get to where he is. That statement really got into my head. He was right. There is no person out there that is better than ME, because no one has endured what I have gone through to get to where I am. Stepping out on the mats, whether in competition or in my gym, really is a win because I am alive. I endured my childhood, survived and recovered through my accident, have persevered through adversities, and have wound up here. Each tournament I compete in, I take a minute to step back and enjoy the moment. Really take in the atmosphere, feel the nerves, step on the mat and know that win or lose I’ve already won. It is difficult to know that I have not won a tournament yet, and it does get hard telling myself that stepping on the mats is an achievement, but I know that if I don’t stop I will achieve. I will earn my championships; but until then (and after) I will embrace the process and I will never quit. Every day is one day at a time, and being better than you were the day before. It’s hard not to look at BJJ as a metaphor for life; never give up and never quit.
What happened to that small group from my fundamentals class? A few of them quit, some of them moved away, and some of them just don’t train as much as they used to. My professor is still amazing and he is still there. For the most part, we have all remained in touch and will always continue to push and encourage each other. I don’t know that they will ever understand how fundamental they were in my journey. BJJ has enriched my life fully and created relationships that words will never be able to describe.
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