Last year, Michigan was hit with one of the worst winters in years. My wife Adrian and I packed everything we could into our car with our two dogs in tow. We pulled out of our driveway and began our drive westward; toward Las Vegas, NV.
This was less than 1 year after buying a brand new home. So, the obvious elephant in the room was: Why would we do such a thing…!?
At the time, I told myself it was because I wanted to compete at the highest level again. This time, my goal was to compete in the prestigious ADCC tournament the following year in Brazil. That goal never materialized.
Looking back on it, that was a small part of a larger problem. What I really desired was to surround myself with elite competitors and to be a student again.
As the motivating and supportive person she is, Adrian pushed me to make a change. Besides, she’d always envisioned herself living and working all over the world. It was an opportunity for us both to try something new; something different.
As an instructor, I felt I had failed my students. I was unable to instill in them the love I had for MMA and BJJ. The love that grows in you until the sport(s) finally become a part of you.
When this happens, there’s nothing else a person would rather do than be on the mats training. That love of training is also what drives a person to hold themselves to a higher standard then the average person.
During the five years it’d been since I returned to the U.S. and opened my own gym, I was only able to see that change in one or two of my students on a consistent basis. I blamed myself for it. Feeling like a failure, I was at a loss for words… Was I asking too much? Were my expectations too high?
For that reason, I was done teaching. I wanted nothing more to do with it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Mediocrity scares me. No one strives to be normal. I wanted more out of life. More out of my students and I was unable to show them the “way”.
When we arrived in Las Vegas, we chose to train at Drysdale Jiu-jitsu. It was this single decision that would ultimately motivate me in so many ways.
My goal was to be a student in every sense of the word. I didn’t want many people to know much about my accolades in the past. I remember one morning Adrian and I showed up for class. We were shown a takedown by the instructor and broke off into pairs to drill.
I partnered with a guy named Michael that was relatively new to the sport. He sensed that I had a little experience under my belt. He asked me how long I’d been training for and if I had any fights. I casually mentioned that I’d been training for a while and had fought a few times.
Then, out of the blue, walked in UFC vet, Phil Baroni. Phil and I knew each other from our days training together at AKA; American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, CA. So, the cat was out of the bag… I had more experience then I let on to believe… But, lucky for me, not many people in Vegas knew much about the sport’s earlier years in Japan. This was comforting and allowed me to simply be a student.
What stood out the most to me from day one was that Drysdale Jiu-jitsu is a successful gym in a very competitive city. More importantly, Robert Drysdale is committed to maintaining a high standard and unwilling to compromise when confronted by students unwilling to put in the extra work.
Belt promotions are few and far between. Those that do earn rank are by today’s standards, way ahead of the curve.
To that point, here in lies the problem in my opinion. Years ago, it took an average of 8-13 years to get a black belt in Jiu-jitsu. In this new age of online belt testing and curriculums allowing students to earn a black belt in nearly half the original norm, the once high standards are getting lower and lower each year.
One day I pulled Rob aside and complimented him on his ability to keep everyone so motivated to compete and do well. The students hold each other to practicing a very high level of jiu-jitsu. I then asked him how he was able to do it…
Rob thanked me for noticing and went on to explain that it was not an easy feat. He continued: “Do you know how many people I’ve had leave and join another school because I wouldn’t promote them?”
I got the feeling that there have been many… I can comfortably say that if you earn a belt at Drysdale Jiu-jitsu, you are most likely in the top 25% percentile world-wide for that given rank. Rob went on to explain that in Brazil, holding a student back was considered honorable. It’s a symbol that the instructor truly believes in their athlete and wants the best for him or her.
This was meaningful to me for various reasons but, above anything else, it was validation about how I felt a teacher should be. The fact that 100s of people trained at the gym proved to me that I was not wrong for expecting my students to show up daily and work hard. Rank promotions are not mandatory. Demanding the best out of a student is not only honorable, it’s in their best interest.
In this day and age where “the customer is always right” and participation trophies are given (I hate that!!!), this is a rare thing.
As the months went on, I began to think about teaching again….one day.
With that, the universe in the form of a Mario Sperry black belt named Rafael Haubert gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. I was offered a job in the United Arab Emirates.
Today, my wife Adrain and I are living in Dubai where I am the head MMA instructor at Team Nogueira Dubai. Re-energized and confident in my newly found ability to not only expect more, but also help motivate and show my students the path to achieving their dreams.
Without the experience of training at Drysdale Jiu-jitsu and more specifically, learning from Robert Drysdale and other instructors such as Rafael Dominguez, I’m unsure whether or not I would have found my way back to teaching.
They showed me the way. They put me back on track when I was lost. For that, I would like to say: THANK YOU!