Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Team Sandbaggers" and the 2011 Europeans

Last summer, I gathered a group of guys from my gym and set the goal, that we should get a medal at the next European Open in Portugal. We are a relatively small gym and has never taken a medal at that tournament before, so it was a pretty big challenge for us. Several of the guys were already very close to blue belt level, so I named us "Team Sandbaggers", because there was no way I was going to promote them before the end of the project, well knowing that they would be competing against other sandbaggers from all over Europe when they got to Portugal.

It was six months of hard training, gameplanning and a lot of competitions to gather experience. For the last four months before the Portugal trip, we did physical workouts together after BJJ class, pushing each other to our limits and beyond. We traveled many weekends to competitions and there was training in the gym almost every day.

Now, the goal of a medal at the Europeans was reached as we got three of them. But that is not really what this post is about. Results and medals are nice, but the real core of a project like this, is to me the human aspect. The way BJJ has an effect to change peoples lives in a very positive way.

The experienced guys on the team have already naturally taken on a "BJJ lifestyle", but for the less experienced white belts, an intense period of focus like this had a fascinating effect. All coming from very different backgrounds, it was really exciting for me to see them evolve into the same direction of living a life with focus on staying healthy, getting in shape, backing each other up, working towards a common goal and consuming their minds with thoughts about Jiu Jitsu. All these are factors that inevitably leads to a massive increase in skill on the mat, but that again is not the important thing to me.

Obviously, these guys all got really, really good during the project, and their level could clearly match what they were up against at the Europeans. All their loses were close and on a good day, I believe they all could have taken the gold. At the Europeans, you need a VERY good day to go all the way though, and we all knew that. But putting the increase in skill aside, these guys have really changed from the day they stepped into the gym and I met them for the first time.

The 53 year old father to a boy in my junior class, who rediscovered his interest in training after many years of judo when he was younger, and ended up becoming the European Champion.

The party guys, who were smoking daily and going out almost every weekend, but decided to stop both and completely turned around the direction their bodies were going health wise.

The guy with basically no body mechanic skills, who never quit, kept competing, lost 35 kilos and eventually became really good.

The successful real estate agent who sometimes dressed up as a Jiu Jitsu athlete, but - in my eyes - became a Jiu Jitsu athlete who sometimes dresses up as a successful real estate agent.

The young guy who was one of the first on my junior team and, despite all the interesting social things happening at that stage of life, still finds time for Jiu Jitsu and is now training with the adults, where he is technically superior than and a big inspiration for his much older training partners.

The guy who lost 40 kilos, got in killer shape and can now hit a kimura on anything with a pulse.

The electrician who couldn't get a job because of the financial crisis, ended up devoting all his time to Jiu Jitsu, won a ton of matches and who I have chosen to teach all I know about coaching kids.

The foreigner who just moved here and doesn't speak the language, but through BJJ has successfully integrated himself socially in the gym and is inspiring everyone with his training and competition work ethics.

THIS is what I think is the true art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A vehicle for transforming peoples lives and creating fantastic friendships and experiences. The blue belt symbolizes the first big step of this change, and it was a no-brainer for me to promote all the white belts after the Europeans. They are no longer the beginners, but now have a new role in the gym, where they will help and inspire our next generation of athletes. I have no doubt in my mind that they will do the job fantastically.

Besides the (now former) whitebelts, a handful of experienced guys were also on the team, and it has been really cool to see them take their skills to the next level. They are a big inspiration for everyone in the gym and without their help and support as trainingpartners and coaches, we wouldn't have made it this far together.

For putting in all this hard work, and choosing to follow me on this journey, I want to thank each and every one of these guys. When I got back home from the Portugal trip, I got this strange feeling in my stomach. Like an addict, who doesn't get his drug, I knew that the last trip for Team Sandbaggers was over, and I already missed the feeling of being on the road with the guys. Now I am going on the road alone for a while, but we have many good experiences ahead of us and I can't wait to get back home and continue from where we left off.

And for anyone who wants to join in, there is always room for one more :)


Tree Frog said...

Excellent video and it cheers me up immensely to see people successfully put their time, effort and dedication to pursuing jiu jitsu goals.

And that they had tons of smiles and good friends along the way too.

Liam Ralph said...

Nice written Sensai! :) See you in a month.


Anonymous said...

Sandbagging is way to common at tournaments. Congratulations for beating up less skilled opponents in order to inflate your egos or make the so-called "positive impact" you talk about.

Christian Graugart said...

Dear mr. Anonymous

Well, the sandbagging part of it was really more of a joke. Since we only got three medals at the europeans with 12 competitors, I don't think all we did was inflate our egos LOL

FYI all the whitebelts on the team had trained 6-12 months when we started the project.

Jeff said...

Inspiring story, makes me want to quit my job and spend all day at the gym haha. If only that were feasible...

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