Grappler Unbound Part 1: Lost



I’ve written a lot about BJJ over the last few years, but most of it I never posted. Most of it was a sort of nonsensical rambling about whatever I had just endured or wherever I had found myself that day. Here they are when I feel like posting them…just because.

Here is the first one that I ever wrote  a few years ago entitled “Lost”.

It’s not hate, I have to remind myself that. I don’t hate the person that I used to be. Maybe contempt is a better word. Maybe I have it backwards and I regret the caricature that I’ve made for myself.

I feel lost.

The sun is long set over the horizon, the lights on the street glow dull and reflect the subtitles in the air. You couldn’t see it if you weren’t looking, but there is despair their. Maybe even regret.

I’m tired. I’m always tired. My bag of tricks isn’t nearly as deep as I would like to imagine for myself. The things that brought me the most success have become my worst crutch. I suppose that I could say the same that sums me up.

My gi lays in the corner, balled up and drenched. I don’t have the will to hang it up.

My body hurts most of the time now, from when I get up in the morning and I feel the burn in my legs from attemping half-assed takedowns, or the pangs in my elbows from holding out on armbars for too long when I was a whitebelt.

My neck and back are sore from….everything.

My hands feel like withered claws, constantly gripping at a collar or sleeve, though mostly a collar.

I can’t pinpoint any of it. When did it happen? Where?

The faces blur together after a while between gyms. Different gis, rashguards, patches, styles. It’s all just a kaleidoscope of life, some strange amalgamation of ideas that I never dreamed possible when I first stepped foot on the mats. I had no callouses, no gas tank. My knees didn’t hurt back then.

I can’t remember their names or faces. They all run together like sidewalk chalk being wicked away in the rain. I remember attitudes, titles, personalities, but even those have no nuance. There is so little originality when it gets boiled down.

Every gym has them: the spaz, the teacher, the sandbagger, the injured, the foul, the shark. How can these personalities all hold true? It’s like we live in some strange Jungian melodrama. A shared consciousness of identity.

Are the suits and uniforms we wear during the day our costumes? Or are the personalities we have on the mats our masks?

Which one is real?

This game made me someone else. It made me see the world and myself differently. I am not the man that I was before all this started, but I don’t know if that is a good thing. We all leave footprints on this fringe sport of fringe sports. We leave little trails of ourselves in the stories and rumors that float through the ether.

Will I leave this sport better for having been a part of it, or as just some strange punchline? A speedbump on the road to it all being respectable and recognizable as one of the penultimate combat sports.

A sport where truth is revealed in the constant, harsh light of ability.

The light is coming up again. Where will I be tomorrow?

Will it be a place where I feel at home, or will I always feel on the fringe of it all? Have I already gone too far down that road?


If you’ll forgive the moments of melodrama from when I wrote this, and the unconscionable lack of d*** and fart jokes, this was at a low point in my grappling days.

I was tired most of the time, going through the motions, plateaued both physically and emotionally by this idea of who I thought I should be.

How could anyone do this game we call Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and not have moments of self-doubt? How could anyone always feel like they were moving forward? Isn’t it the moments that we feel the lowest and yet push through that make us better?

Is it even possible to have an unbiased and pragmatic view of this sport that has so much separation through the business of affiliation and the competition for memberships?

Does anyone realize that in all my life I have searched for just one thing that made me want to even have a voice? 

I will never trot the globe, I will never make a DVD, I will never be a world champion. All I have is my voice, and if you sift through all the b***shit, I hope that you see the one thing that BJJ can do for the life of a lost soul…

It can save it.

More to come when I f***ing feel like it.

Gym Review: Academy of Combat Arts (Fargo, ND)


Off the bat, I suppose that I should admit that maybe my first appearance at the Academy of Combat Arts wasn’t exactly the most professional review I’ve ever done. I may have showed up halfway through class. And I may have drank a pitcher of beer immediately prior. And I may have forgot my grappling shorts at home. And I may have been wearing a Thundercats t-shirt instead of a rash guard…

Okay, so this was DEFINITELY the least professional I have ever done.

Still, regardless of my tardiness and what I can only assume was a linger aroma, the owner and head instructor Dylan Spicer (a three stripe brown under Greg Nelson/Pedro Sauer) welcomed me in and almost insisted that I step on the mat and work drills.

Guest instructor and BJJ brown belt Justin Chapweski was leading class when I showed up and I was, admittedly, lost.

Maybe it was the Coors Light to blood ratio in my veins, or maybe it was because he was going over some cool s*** that I rarely if ever work in my own game. Probably the latter.

From De La Riva, to reverse De La Riva, to a kind of crazy combination of reverse De La Riva/Butterfly, Chapweski showed several different sweep combinations, some of which were immediate transitions into a single leg takedown.

Very cool stuff.

Now, this isn’t the kind of gym you go to if you are looking for a cross-fit area, boxing ring, half cage or really anything more than the bare bones essentials.

But who said you need more than that? UFC veteran Pablo Garza seems to make do.

After the main instruction we worked about a half hour of drilling using a different set of rules than I’m used to (butterfly guard versus kneeling/standing, however the kneeling couldn’t submit and needed mount or back. This freed up the bottom person to work more aggressively and utilize different angles).

I had a couple chances to roll with Spicer and believe me, his rank is earned.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to a gym that had that Rocky III feel, maybe since Dave Menne’s old gym, and I had a blast.

It was a hot day, the mats were filled and everyone was working their ass off. Regardless of experience level, it really felt like everyone was trying to work technique that best fit their game. My Thundercats shirt left looking more like a used swimsuit (which I almost wore in lieu of board shorts).

For some reason, the Main Ave in Fargo has about five martial arts places within a mile, but I have to say, that if they bring half the environment that Academy of Combat Arts did, Fargo must be filled with some tough mother f***ers.

Now if they could only invent a green-turn arrow that lasted for more than five f***ing seconds. But that may be more of an issue for the City Council.

Gym Review: M-Theory in St. Louis Park, MN



It’s been a while since I’ve done a gym review, so forgive me if I’m a little rusty. Through a combination of laziness, lack of options and perhaps even animosity, I’ve been out of the scene for a little while, but I figured that if I’m going to get back into the game, I might as well do it right.

Enter M-Theory BJJ gym in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

There are a lot of names in Minnesota BJJ these days, seems like the number of brown and black belts isn’t as exclusive of a group as it used to be. Still, there are certain names that seem to rise above.

Professor Ishmael Bentley is one of those. A 2nd degree black belt under 8th degree black belt Pedro Sauer, Professor Bentley has a tremendous reputation in our grappling world. Maybe the best reputation as far as a pure BJJ grappler. This isn’t to take away from other highly ranked professors like Hirtz, McCune, Nelson and Roberto, but Professor Bentley, as proven by the huge turnout for the M-Theory grand opening, seems to draw from all affiliations with his combination of skill and personality.

Wait, did I just say that there is someone out there with a better reputation on the local scene than me? I know it’s a stretch, but you will just have to go in for yourself to see. First class is free.

…I’ve gone too long without a fart joke. My hands actually start to shake with the DT’s…don’t worry, I’ll think of something.

Maybe the problem is that I’ve been reading a lot of Stephen King lately instead of Ken Kesey. Unfortunately, the space doesn’t appear to be haunted, unless you include my getting stuck under Professor Bentley’s cross-side control.

Class consisted of a remarkably brisk warm-up, with multiple stretches and movements.

From there we touched on the very traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu style of working the self-defense application of the art, then translating the same movement to competition training. Something that I really enjoyed with my upcoming endeavors. And I hope you aren’t shy about doing reps. We worked about 30 reps each. Just 9,970 more and I’ll be an expert.

From there we worked some top cross side control options and a pretty sweet option for when your opponent hides his/her arm during a cross-side kimura attempt.

Then open roll…

I’ll save face here and just move on.

I’ve been to two other gyms in St. Louis Park and I know there is a large community of grapplers in the surrounding area. That being said, regardless of your affiliation, I recommend stopping in and checking out the gym for yourself.

If for nothing else than to be with Professor Bentley’s accent.

I swoon a little…though it is often mistaken for drunkeness as I carry a beer coozy instead of a water bottle. I find the beer farts are a good way to keep people off my back. (See, I knew I’d get there!)

Add to that 2200 square feet of mat space between two large mats and you have yourself a gym made for BJJ by a man that knows the game.

SPECIAL MEMBERSHIP DEAL: Professor Bentley is offering a 10% to the first 35 new members that sign the 1-year membership plan. There are only about 15 spots left, so take advantage of a great offer now!