After a week and a half of settling down in the new apartment I started looking for different places to train. I had already done quite a bit of research so I already kind of knew what gyms I wanted to check out. There was one gym in particular that I had my heart set on. It was literally a 5 minute drive down the street from my new place. I was interested in this place because I knew that one of the best fighters in the world trained there and that really excited me. I signed up, tried it out, and the gym didn’t end up working out for me. So I continued my search. I told myself I wanted to evolve more in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I knew there was some great Muay Thai in the PNW, but I knew I would eventually get to that. What I wanted immediately was a place where I can enjoy and dedicate myself to my ground game.
It was a Thursday night and I was debating on what I wanted to do. Should I go to this school and try, should I go to that, never mind Iam not going to do anything at all! My wife comes home and basically kicks me out of the house like “You better go find something”. Good thing I had my gi all wrapped up because I did just that, I went to The Gracie Barra in the town I was living in. When I walked in, I noticed there was a nursery style set up for kids. Toys, books, a kids table. I was thinking that this was a good start because I would be having my 3 year old at the time with me during the day. I was then greeted by the manager of the gym. He was very nice and asked me to fill out a waiver form and questionnaire just so they can know a little more about me.
After I was done filling everything out, he asked if I had any experience with BJJ. I said “yes”. He said “That’s good. Sorry I’m just asking because it’s leg lock night”. Right away I’m thinking oh shit. I walk in the training room and onto the mats on a no-gi night with my gi pants and bright yellow T-shirt. I was ready to train. The professor of the gym came and introduced himself to me. His name was professor Josh. He was a nice guy and really chill. He partnered me up with a member and we started doing leg lock drills. We must have done about 6 drills in a row, I’ve never done any of them. It was great to learn some new things my first night there!
I went back in for a morning class the next week with my 3 year old son at that time. I wanted to see how Parker would adapt to his new setting and what could soon to be his new routine. I was a stay at home dad with him during the day and worked at night and weekends. Parker adapts really easy and I was really happy to see that he had adapted to this new place. I made it through a whole training session with only having to take breaks to take him to the restroom. He was playing the whole time I was training. I was really happy he did well that day because I knew right then and there we’d be back to turn this into our little routine.
I was lucky enough to stumble upon this special place in Kirkland, Washington. Not only did Gracie Barra Kirkland elevate my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game, it made me develop a love and appreciation that I never had for BJJ. Of Course I knew Jiu Jitsu. I am a professional fighter that has trained in mixed martial arts for over 12 years. But that didn’t matter. When I was on that mats training, it didn’t matter what my profession was. It didn’t matter that I had fought in the UFC. Training BJJ there was my escape. It was my escape from the pressures that came from fighting. The pressures I did not know how to take a break from. The financial pressure, the status, the title of “UFC Fighter”, none of that mattered cause nobody gave a shit. Nobody there wanted to prove anything to me. And that made me for once feel that I had nothing to prove to anyone either.
Not only was I doing BJJ 5 times a week, but I also managed to get some kickboxing and sparring in. Twice a week one of the instructors who they called Ben the “brofessor” would gather up a bunch of the local fighters in the area and we would get together and spar. He always made sure I had some bodies to work with. I definitely appreciated him for that. There were also so many newbies and hungry young potential fighters willing to learn. It was fun training and sharing some of my knowledge with them.
After a couple weeks went by I had a pretty set training schedule and I was eager to compete again. I decided to sign up for a bjj tournament that I had about 3 weeks to train for. It was a fun goal I wanted to accomplish so I decided to go full on BJJ with no other combat training. This not only made me think more like a BJJ competitor, but it also gave my body and head a break from getting kicked and punched. It was a much needed one because training full mma and taking hard shots to the head and body can definitely wear your body and mind down. I took my preparation for the bjj tournament seriously and I went full gear for the next 3 weeks.
The non-stop training for bjj gave me a chance to pick my professors brain a little more. I paid attention to everything he was teaching and even managed to get hours of rolling and drilling in with him.. I was lucky to get a lot of one on one time in with him while I was there. His name was Professor Josh Baccalao and he was the head instructor at gracie barra kirkland. Josh was a life-long martial-artist that competed at the highest levels of BJJ competition. He has also had his fair share of MMA professional competition fighting in promotions like M-1 Global. It was cool that he has some all around mma skills and we were about the same size. This made me not only see him as a professor, but as a training partner. He became my main training partners in Washington. We drilled, rolled, exchanged ideas every morning. My game is definitely elevated from that.
I later found out that Josh not only fought in mma fights and grappling matches. I learned that he once fought for something bigger, much bigger. I learned that he had just finished fighting for his life. Josh had just finished beating from his battle with cancer. Last year he was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma. It is a very rare form of cancer. He was a father to a little girl. As a parent myself, it is the scariest thing just thinking about my two boys growing up without their father. After numerous tests and a major surgery, he had just recently been cleared and cancer-free. Josh will always be an inspiration to me, he is a true fighter.
Three weeks pass by and the day of the tournament has arrived. I was excited to compete again. I felt confident in my training and was ready to put my skills on display. Although I’ve had 40+ fights, neither of my two boys have ever seen their daddy compete live, not even on TV. I always made sure they didn’t watch my live fights because you just never know what can happen. Eventually they might want to see me compete live one day before i retire, so i figured this would have been a perfect ice breaker for me and for them. I took double gold in both Gi and No-Gi. I had a blast competing. Every time I I had a match, I could hear my two boys cheering me on. HAHA They even tried to run on to the mat when I was on the bottom. They loved seeing my hand raised each time. They were so proud of me. Bringing my two boys on the podium with me collecting my 1st place medals, Man that was a special moment.
I just want to thank everybody at Gracie Barra Kirkland. I want to thank all the members, coaches, and professors. Thank you for being such great training partners. Thank you for letting my toddler son destroy the play area while I was training. Thanks for accepting my kids and all the other kids so that their parents get a break and train. You guys will always have a special place in my heart.