Life Lesson: You Never Know Where Someone’s Coming From

In contrast to the last post, everyone’s the new guy sometime, something else I’ve learned in BJJ is you never know where someone is coming from. Loyal readers of this blog will know that I started BJJ at 34 after essentially being a couch potato for 20 years. I came in a blank slate. All I knew about BJJ was what I saw in MMA fights. I didn’t think that meant I knew how to do anything, but basically it meant I knew the term arm-bar, rear naked choke and mount.

A couple months after I started there were a few more white belts that started. It would have been a big mistake for me to assume that they were starting from the same base I was. In fact, one was a high school wrestler. While that means he didn’t particularly enjoy working off his back, it also meant he knew lots of ways to distribute his weight and enforce his will.

A few months after that, I was sparring against a white belt I had never seen before, within a  matter of seconds (30 maybe?) he had taken me down and arm barred me. We were talking later and he told me that he used to be quite active in BJJ (and possibly did some MMA, I’m not sure.)  The point is, I can’t look at someone and know their skill level. Just because you’re a no stripe white belt does not mean that I should beat you (and I guess just because you’re a blue belt doesn’t mean I should lose to you.)  One question I get asked a lot by friends who know I’m learning BJJ is “So does that mean you can take anyone in here?”  My standard answer is now “I can probably hold my own against someone who has absolutely no training, including wrestling in high school 15 years ago. But we don’t know who those people are.”

Perhaps the ultimate example of this was earlier this year. We had a seminar with two guys from Nova Unao, Leo Pecanha and Wendell Alexander. Both of these guys are world class black belts. In fact, I feel like calling them world class black belts is a bit of an understatement. The seminar was great. One thing that stood out to me, though happened before the seminar started. When I got to the gym I saw Wendell and Leo. Their reputations had preceded them.  As I looked at Wendell he looked like an in-shape 40 something. I commented to one of my teammates that if you saw Wendell walking down the street you’d think “That guy looks in shape. I bet he watches what he eats and goes to the gym.”  But there are bigger dudes than this guy. Guys who bench more than he does, or have bigger arms. The thing is, Wendell could incapacitate you with relative ease if he had to, and you would never see it coming, because in a lot of ways, he’s just another guy.