Shrimping Out of Life: Starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

By: Carlos Soto
July 31, 2017

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Shrimping Out of Life:  Starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Five months ago, my four-year old was hospitalized for an aggressive bacterial pneumonia. It was, without question the darkest period of my life.  Heading into his illness, I was already in bad physical shape. I didn’t exercise regularly, I ate too much and I worked all the time. I had become, by all accounts, an “after-school special” for the 30-year-old. A cautionary tale of the forty-something, heart attack in the distance. In a banal manner, I justified my physical and mental shape as an ephemeral, lazy base-camp I was at for the moment. A place in life where the indulgence of food and drink is a short-lived pause before a herculean, physical excursion into a healthier me. That is until my son’s illness.

Adding a sleepless month, defined by two separate hospital stints and resulting in a chest tube to relive a plural effusion in his small lungs, destroyed what little was left of me at this base-camp. It made me question everything I was doing in my life. Every other night I would swap places with my wife and spend the night watching my boy struggle for breath, and every morning after I caressed his face goodbye, staring at two perfect brown circles filed with fear, I promised myself and everything I know that if he made it, I would do everything in my power to not be that cautionary tale.

On every drive to and from the hospital I passed a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy. I had tried it once in the past, in another city, and with instructors that seemed more like drill Sergeants than teachers. But this place seemed different, even from the road. It was brightly lit- like an operating room. It illuminated the entire shopping center at night. And it seemed so clean. From a quick drive-by, I couldn’t see a stitch of clothing or debris on the floors, and the mats looked constantly disinfected. More importantly, everyone seemed like they were hiding a secret- grinning with the content confidence of knowing something no one else knew.

The night before my son was released from the hospital, I dropped by and signed-up for a three-day tryout. I was hooked after my first class. The pristine nature of the academy was complimented by a friendly atmosphere mixed with a series of cultural rules like organized handshakes at the end of every class that in no means felt forced or fake. Unlike the handshakes that we often experience as children on a sports team, this one seems to commemorate the friendship found by surviving an insane workout, followed by a period of instruction and concluded by a session of active sparing where students wrestle, or “roll” as it is referred to, until they are submitted by a choke or arm/leg hold.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been often described as chess on a mat. And in a similar fashion, Jiu-Jitsu has rules towards regarding the way the two bodies can move, only these rules are dictated by the laws of physics paired with strategy and experience. Like chess, there are seemingly infinite possibilities. From day one they drill the importance of technique and attention to detail over brute strength – a mantra shared by every level of the art-form.

The head of the academy, Lucas Lepri, is a living manifestation of this mantra. An unassuming man by stature and size with arguably the most welcoming demeanor I have ever known. Lucas is also a towering, living legend in the sport. When I started training in his academy he was going for his fifth International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (IBJJF) World Championship (2007/2014/2015/2016/2017)- one that he won without ever conceding a point to an opponent.

Like Greco-Roman wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in competition is a point-based system whereby points are awarded to those that can get their opponents in certain positions on the mat and within the allotted time. Unlike the Greco-Roman, however, Jiu-Jitsu awards the match to those that either have the most points by the end of the match or submit their opponents by having them give-up and “tap-out” or face the possibility of passing out or breaking a limb.

This journal is a bi-monthly chronicle of my experience with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). It’s also an homage to this captivating art-form and those that like me benefit each day from being able to leave life at the mat and work towards to the common goal of making themselves and their colleagues better at BJJ.

Shrimping Out of Life is a blog by Carlos A. Soto as he attempts to survive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu while attending the Lepri BJJ premiere Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training center in the Charlotte metro area- a member of one of the most dominant teams in the history of the sport, Alliance Association Jiu-Jitsu.