By Paul Winter
Last week, I was a guest at American Combat Club in Orlando, Iron Legion Jiu Jitsu’s parent school.
The event was Convocation, brain-child of “Merciless” Mitch McElroy, owner and head coach- his idea for it was simple:
Put out the word to all area black belts and have them gather at one spot each month to share knowledge, train, and of course – roll.
All other belt colors are welcome as well, and at the end of the evening, the black belts start at white belt and work their way up through the ranks, eventually having a match with every belt level.
The vibe was high at the new ACC location on Orange Blossom Trail, where the smaller, but much more comfortable (dare I say “intimate”) space lent itself well to the “family style” training session Mitch was looking to capture.
The mats were packed with young and old, belts of all colors, and the incense burning near the door gave a “temple” feel to the whole proceeding.
The night kicked off with Mitch addressing the assembly, explaining some of the backstory of the gym and its emblems and symbols, as well as some great stories about the early days (never knew those wrestling mats in the cage were…*ahem* “borrowed” from a high school wrestling program), and explained what the Convocation would be all about.
He turned things over to the very first individual to earn an American Combat Club black belt, Rick Webster, and ACC’s own Scott Ross, who had been chosen to instruct the class.
Mitch’s philosophy is “fights start standing and so do we,” so some excellent Judo details were taught on the Sumi Gaeshi, followed with Rick dropping some knowledge bombs on the tried and true armbar, adding some elements I’d never seen into my game- thanks Rick!
As the drills started to come to a close, there was a commotion in two different areas of the gym, as two ACC brown belts, Donald, and Iron Legion’s own Terry Bourgeois were seemingly attacked by two groups of people.
Being in on the situation, I knew they were being awarded that highly coveted prize they’d obviously been after for a long time from the state of their ragged brown belts:
The black belt.
After the (I’m told) customary friendly beating, Mitch presented the two with their belts- before tying them on, he looked them both in the eye and said:
“You were supposed to quit.
Before you put that black belt on, think about everyone who started this thing with you, and isn’t here anymore because they quit at white belt, or blue, or purple, or brown.
And now you get to experience the journey all over- the new beginning of black belt, and pass on information to the next group of students, so they can eventually beat you, and earn theirs.”
The rolls started in earnest after that, and following a mauling by a few black belts, and some great times with many others, Mitch’s words stuck with me as I returned to my tiny house Airbnb on Lake Fairview.
Everyone is always looking for some secret in Jiu Jitsu- but the fact is, there isn’t any.
Like every other good thing worth having in this life it comes down to discipline, dedication, and time invested.
No new technique or Brazilian master is going to change that.
You have to put in the time, and maybe one day you’ll get that coveted black strap- just don’t quit.
Train hard. Tap early. Ask Questions. Stay on the mats.