Years ago as a lowly star-struck blue belt I blogged about my first time training at Renzo Gracie Academy. I can't find the thread anymore but you can read the series at if you're curious:
Part 1 - http://jmsmith.org/blog/ny1/
Part 2 - http://jmsmith.org/blog/rga/
Part 3 - http://jmsmith.org/blog/ny3
Part 4 - http://jmsmith.org/blog/ny4/
Part 5 - http://jmsmith.org/blog/ny5/
Since that initial trip, our Renzo Gracie Charlotte team has gone up to train at least once a year at the Mother Ship in Manhattan and it's always a fantastic experience.
This past week we returned and it has become such a familiar place over the years. I'm no longer star-struck...but still it IS pretty amazing getting to chat about artwork before class with GSP, catch up after class with Sapo and Neiman, or watch Jake, Garry, Nicky, and Gordon prep for upcoming matches under John Danaher's Yoda-like gaze.
This year before the infamous "Murder Monday" class, we all met upstairs as a team (joined by our good friend Silver Fox!) where my buddy and teammate Dave was promoted to Brown belt. It was awesome to welcome him to #TeamBrown...but our time together at that belt would be quite short-lived!
Because MUCH to my surprise, actually to my utter shock, TC pulled out a Black belt and called my name. My literal reaction was "Shut up!!" Then, quickly realizing that was pretty much a terrible response when two Renzo black belts call your name, I quickly--yet in a daze--got up, took off my brown belt, and watched as this strange new one was tied around my waist...
It was surreal, humbling, exciting, and a little bit scary all at the same time. What made it even more special, however, was that back in 2012, Fox had been there when I was similarly surprised with my purple belt as well...
As someone who speaks publicly for a living, this was literally the first time in my adult life where I was pretty much speechless, I must admit. I stammered out some thank-yous to my teammates, to Fox, and to TC for all the beatings they had given me over the past 12 years. But it still didn't actually register that I'd just been promoted.
My friend, the legendary and always-intimidating, Black Rob (who was coaching Heather Hardy a few feet away in the cage) promptly came over and gave me the most crushing "Welcome to Black Belt" bear hug imaginable...
...and then after a quick team pic...
...we changed out of our gis and headed down two floors to the famous blue mats where John's submission grappling class had 83 people that day, and where Silver Fox helped welcome me to black belt in true fashion by tapping me at least a half-dozen times in a 6 min round! :-)
By the way, if you aren't familiar with Fox, you REALLY should be. His videos with Firas Zahabi are absolute gold! Go check them out and have your grappling mind blown:
Anyway, I just wanted to share this little tale to encourage anyone here who is either beginning their BJJ journey, or who is at a stagnant stage in their training and feels like quitting. Perservere, folks! When I started back in '06 (after a lifetime of TMA) I thought it would be cool to reach black belt by the time I was 40, but I didn't think I would and I was okay just sucking a little less at grappling day by day. Those days turned into months, then years, then a decade, and now I get to start the next leg of this lifelong journey, which I am excited and a bit intimidated to have begun!
Thank you to everyone at Renzo's over the years who has crushed me, taught me, encouraged me, and treated me like part of the family...albeit the redheaded stepchild! #SoullessGinger :-) I particularly want to thank Prof. Zed, Black Rob, Silver Fox and his guys, Ottavia, Igor, Gregor, Rolles, Neiman, Sapo, Rayron, Rayra, and of course the man, Renzo himself!
And the few of you here on the UG who I've gotten to meet and train with over the years, you are always welcome on the mats here at Renzo Gracie Charlotte; so come roll anytime you're in our neck of the woods!
Oh, and I'll be 40 in July. :-)
Blessings from Disciple Dojo and #RefugeeJitsu, my friends!
"a Lion, mighty among the beasts, and retreating from no one" -Proverbs 30:30