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My parents have been a huge part of my life and have been so unbelievably important in my development. My mom in particular, used to always tell me that one thing she admired about me was my heart.

I moved away from home when I was 18 with next to nothing in my pockets and then moved to NYC when I was 25 with even less. I remember I used to call her to talk about the obstacles I’d be enduring, however serious, and she would always tell me one thing she loved about me was my ability to fight through everything and overcome my issues one way or another.

“Fighting is the best thing a man can have in his soul” -Master Renzo Gracie

“Ever since you were little,” she’d say, “You’ve always been a fighter”.

I never really knew what she meant other than I felt like she admired how I handled adversity.

A few years back, I was competing. Mind you, I had never really had much success competing as a white belt and as a blue belt I had even less success for my first year. I remember after having my blue belt for about 10 months or so (I had been training for about 2.5 years at this point), I entered a competition here in Texas.

I registered for two divisions. My first division, I won my first match on points and lost in my second by a dumb mistake.

My second division started a couple of hours later and to be honest, I had already resigned myself to losing. I even told a training partner, “Who cares, I’d really rather be eating a cheeseburger right now.” I believe I added, “If I hadn’t already paid for the tournament, I’d might as well leave.”

My next division started and I won my first match by submission. I couldn’t believe it.

My second match started and I won by another submission… At this point I was floored. I was doing so much better than I had thought.

My third match was way tougher and I barely won by a couple of points that if I recall correctly, I was able to sneak through somewhere mid-match.

Right before the finals, I had resigned myself again to losing. The psychological barrier I had imposed on myself was this: “I’ve already exceeded expectations, there’s no way I’m going to win.”

I think my professor knew something was up and pulled me aside to talk to me. What he told me would bring out the competitor in my that my mom always saw.

He reminded me of how much I have sacrificed in my life to get where I was hither-to. He reminded me of who I was and what I was about and told me that nobody will ever take that from me.

“This is your championship. You’ve given up a lot and you’ve trained so hard and your opponent will not take that from you. Nobody else wants it as badly as you do.”

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My professor, Alexandre “Dande” Santos, has been a driving force behind the successes I’ve had in Jiu Jitsu. I don’t think I had ever really believed in myself until that moment and I ended up taking gold in a very hard fought battle between myself and quite possibly one of the toughest opponents I have ever faced.

He awakened a giant within myself and taught me what it was like to know I deserve the reward behind my efforts. His words that day have helped me through so many competitions. Win or lose, I keep moving forward and understand that the sacrifices I’ve made would be in vein if I just gave up.

So, with all that said, to Professor Dande. Thank you for showing me what confidence is truly about in the fight. Thank you for helping me believe that I am worth that gold medal despite the outcome and thank you for helping me realize what it means to be a champion both on and off the mats.

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