Is 30 old? When I was 15 it wasn’t even a question. Yes. Yes, 30 is old. Dinosaur old. Like Great-Grandma listening to George Washington sell 8-track-tapes on the transistor radio during the Civil-War old (you may have to fact-check me on that one). But now, looking back at 30 from wayyyyy up here in the nosebleeds at 36, I can tell you no. No, it’s not. Not even close to old. Now… fifty, that is old. (*Make mental note: In 14 years write a scathing editorial about how 36 year old Me, was a short-sighted condescending young punk). So, 36 isn’t exactly young, but it is definitely not old.
What I have noticed is that things seem to take a little longer to heal when I ding them. Ligaments and tendons are less forgiving. It seems that the cartilage in my knees is now more like wet construction paper than reinforced industrial rubber. Violent, explosive movements carry a higher price-tag than they used to. I actually have to weigh the potential icepick in my joint soreness that “Future-Tomorrow-Nick” will have to endure, that 20 year-old Nick would have done without a second thought or any negative repercussions, when I am about to do something athletically spectacular.
Is 30 old? No. But 30 is when I made the decision to start training BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). Looking back with salt-and-pepper haired wisdom, with more than over half-a-decade of training under my belt, I wish I had started earlier in my life. What was I doing in my 20’s that was so darned important? Curls? The elliptical? Reverse grip barbell curls so the veins in my forearms would really stand out when I walked down the beach? Sheesh. I want to go back in time and choke that kid out (Also to tell him to stop checking himself out in the mirror and flexing. What an absolute tool).
If only I knew then what I know now. Like my Grandmother used to say, “If, If’s and but’s, were candy and nuts, you’d be a black-belt by now.” At least I think that’s what she used to say. Maybe not. My point is I look at the young guys in my gym today, guys in their 20’s flipping, spinning, arching, flying… and I cringe. I cringe because I just think about how bad my back, or shoulder, or knee, or how now I have this thing with my left hand where it feels like someone is taking a ball-peen hammer and smashing my metacarpals to powder whenever I make a fist, would hurt if I still trained like that.
Then I look at the really young kids and laugh. They are so goofy. They just roll around and have fun and play. The instructors have to make training like a game for them to keep their attention. And it works. And they have a ball. I can’t wait to get my boys in there. But the question I always circle back to and ponder is, where would I be if I started training when I was 6? With three decades of discipline and instruction and Jiu-Jitsu culture. Well, unfortunately for me that wasn’t a possibility.
I grew up in Southern California in the 80’s and came of age in the 90’s. When I was five I sat in awe and watched as Ralph Macchio took on the entire Cobra Kai Dojo, and Crane-kicked his way into the pop-culture lexicon, in The Karate Kid. Deliberate sideways Karate-chops thrown with emphatic, “HIE-YAH”’s were the weapon of choice when battling a foe on the playground.
Everyone you knew had a Brian Williams-esque story (too soon?) about how a while ago, before they moved there (wherever “there” was) and you knew them, they took Karate for a few years and they were almost a black-belt before they had to quit. We all wanted nun-chucks and did our best to build our own elementary school do-it-yourself versions. PVC pipes with a rope, two sticks with a chain screwed to the end of each, or if you were in a pinch you’d grab some forgotten snowflake Christmas wrapping paper, remove the cardboard tube, break that bad-boy over your knee… and voila!
Now I am a tad-bit too young to have seen “Way of the Dragon” at the time of its debut, but Bruce Lee fighting Chuck Norris may have caused a tear in the martial arts space/time continuum. Later in the 80’s Mr. Norris kicked and shot his way through “Missing in Action” and “Delta Force”, and paved the way for the plethora of bulging bicep-ed, kick-throwing, one-line snipping action heroes of the 90’s. But in 1988, The Muscles from Brussels Jean-Claude Van Damme, starred in what I consider to be one the greatest no-holds-barred, mixed martial arts fight movies of all time, “Bloodsport”.
(As an aside: In 1993 when I saw Royce Gracie choke his way through UFC 1 in what I at the time, called Karate Pajamas, I was in awe because one of my favorite movies had just been brought to life.)
That was how I saw Martial Arts. Flashy kicks, and snapping punches thrown in blinding combinations too quick for the eye to see. Whenever you hit someone, Indiana Jones would snap his whip through a two-by-four off-camera. At least that’s how it sounded. The bad guys would always win in the beginning, but then after a severe beating, our hero would gain a powerful, righteous second wind and finish the fight with a dramatic strike that was framed just right for the screen. So went the 90’s, and I left that decade feeling that I had a pretty establish spot on the physical toughness “I can win a fight” hierarchy. I was so horribly misinformed.
Now physically, I am a bigger person. Have been my entire life. I played football in college and excelled at competitive power-lifting. My father was a professional bodybuilder and I literally grew up in a gym. I was raised to believe that the stronger and bigger you were, the tougher you were, the more people you could potentially beat up in a fight. At a touch under six-feet tall and depending on the day, I floated around two-hundred and thirty pounds (still do), I felt pretty confident in my abilities. I got into a few scuffles in college (mostly with drunk idiots), and I bounced at a few nightclubs to earn some extra cash once football season ended. I was tough I tell you. Tough.
I wouldn’t learn how truly un-tough I was until close to a decade later in my life when I began my martial arts journey. But the story of my BJJ beginnings is a story for another time. Stay tuned.
Nick Gerasimou is currently a BJJ Brown-Belt under Juliano Prado, at Total MMA Studios / BTT OC in Tustin CA.