I have been involved in martial arts for about half my life now, beginning with karate when I was around the age of six. I earned my second-degree black belt around the age of eleven, and then I quit. In the years following, I never felt like I learned the tools and techniques to truly defend myself. Years later, I got the itch to start training again, but I wasn’t as interested in jumping back into karate. I was looking for a more realistic style of martial arts and that is when I found Jiu Jitsu.
There was a gym just minutes from my house, which is associated with the longest-running Jiu Jitsu school in Pittsburgh called Steel City Martial Arts. I debated on joining for about a year and after researching their lineage, I went in for a free class in 2017, and I haven’t looked back. I was hooked. I filled my afternoons and nights with training. I adjusted my work schedule to fit around my training and took college classes online, which only gave me more time to train.
By the time I was four months into training, I was going to seven jiu jitsu classes a week and had gotten back into karate, even helping to teach karate classes. In 2018, I earned my third-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do Karate as well as my blue belt in Jiu Jitsu. I maintained this schedule for nearly three years; balancing college, working, training, and teaching classes.
However, in March 2020, things came to a hard stop with COVID-19 shutting down everything, including my gym. I found myself with reduced work hours and nowhere to train. During this time, I focused heavily on lifting and began to find a new balance between work and school. Gyms began to reopen after a few months, but unfortunately my gym did not reopen. I decided to take this time to focus on finishing my senior year of college while working full-time.
Even though it was something I loved doing and was passionate about, I honestly wasn’t sure I’d ever get back into training. Life wasn’t panning out that way at least. However, things changed in the spring of 2021 when the now-owner, Santino, of Steel City Martial Arts, reached out to me to check-in and see how I had been.
I knew Santino for almost as long as I had been training, and this small check-in made such a big difference to me, and I was back to training Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai just two weeks later.
At the end of 2022, I tested for my purple belt. There are interesting statistics out there about students’ progression through belt ranks and an online source for Gracie Jiu Jitsu (GJJ) calculated that only 5% of blue belts make it to purple belts. Although I’m not one to worry about the color belt around my waist, I’ve been working towards this belt for more than four years. I’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into my training and I’ve seen what I’ve learned manifest in so many other ways.
Jiu Jitsu has provided me a comradery that I haven’t found anywhere else. I truly have found a second family at my gym. The mats are accepting, non-judgmental, and humbling. You must learn to trust your training partner to take care of you, just as you take care of them. You help each other and encourage each other to keep coming back and improve. Through many injuries and countless competitions, I’ve learned that training isn’t about winning. It is about pushing past your mental and physical barriers. You must find the will and drive to continue, even when you feel like quitting, and always keep yourself open to learning more.