Last night Master Eddie Bravo awarded me my black belt. It has been a 9 and half year journey and probably the hardest thing I have done in my life. As I ranked up in belts and got closer and closer to my black belt I often thought of how I would feel and what I would say when it happened. I thought of all the people I needed to thank and the advice I would like to give the lower belts. Well it did not go down like that. I literally just cried like a little bitch. My throat closed up and tears just rolled down my face. All in attendance were very nice and respectful and only some light ribbing afterwords :)
My Jiu Jitsu career started when I was 28 years old going through the hardest breakup of my life in 2001. I was depressed and unmotivated in life. I had pent up anxiety and angry. I needed a distraction. My brother Scott Nelson had been training with Ralph Gracie and was a blue belt. I had gone to some of the tournament and watched him compete and had sparked an interest. At the time I was living in Eagle Rock CA and there were no Jiu Jitsu academies in the area. There was a karate Dojo down the street from my house and kind of chuckled whenever I drove by. I would peer in and see overweight people kicking and punching there way across the mat. I just always laughed at it. But this day something looked different about the Dojo. There was a banner on the window and when I got closer I made it out "Carlson Gracie Jiu Jitsu." With out thinking I pulled over and walked in and signed up. I did not talk to the instructor. I only talked to the girl that was behind the counter. I quickly plopped my ATM card down and signed up for a month of classes as well as purchasing a Gi. 2 days later my instruction began.
My first instructor was Renato Santos a Brazilian black belt under Carlson Gracie. He is an excellent teacher but after a few months he went back to Brazil but had trouble returning. (Today I believe he teaches somewhere up north in the SF area.) I next went to the west side to another academy that I will not name. I trained there for some time and got very little instruction. The Brazilian instructor had problems remembering/pronouncing/understanding my name and this caused a very strange dynamic. He would not coach me. When I spared, since he knew my opponents name he would only yell instruction to him. At my first tournament I told him I was going to be at a certain mat in 5 minutes to compete. But he never arrived to coach me. I was so angry and let down that after I got the gold medal I was marching out of the gym to leave when the instructor saw me. When he saw I won the gold he started screaming and yelling and picked me up to take me over to the "head instructor/Owner" and started screaming in joy on what "his" student did. I was angry. I was not even happy I won the tournament. I was just pissed.
I had been training for almost 2 years and I could probably count on my hands the amount of times I had actually submitted someone. And most of the submissions were with people who practically gave the submission away. I was frustrated with the sport. I was frustrated with myself. First day whitebelts would come in and I would not be able to do anything to them. Sometimes I would walk out of the Dojo with frustration tears in my eyes. I watched my peers rank up in belt but here I was not progressing. My only solace was everyone that I would roll with would would say "your technique is so good!" I was ready to quit. In my mind I was "Too small for the sport."
My brother Scott Nelson is an owner and founder of http://www.onthemat.com  he was living in brazil at the time but needed someone to go and video a tournament that was in the LA area. At this point I was done with Jiu Jitsu. I had given up on it in my head. Although I was still going to class my head was definitely not in the game. At this tournament as I sat mat side and watched as a 130# purple belt not only win his weight division he then went to win the open class as well. Jeff Glover changed my life that day. He instilled hope that a little runt like me who walks around at 135#s could be a good Jiu Jitsu practitioner. I was inspired. If I could have figured it out I would have found a job and moved to Santa Barbra to train at Paragon Jiu Jitsu.
It was time for a change. I was talking to my brother and he said he had an "INSANE" purple belt for me to train with in LA. He then introduced me to Aaron Briley whom was a purple belt under JJ Machado. My brother had let Aaron stay with him in Brazil so Aaron was happy to give me free privates. Aaron was the first person to show me how to be slick with JJ. How to turn it into a game. Fake something here to attack there. He also showed me some sweeps that I still use to this day. When we would spar he would tap me like crazy but never from power. All from setups and technique. Sometimes he would tap me with some weird submissions and he would tell me "oh my boy Eddie showed me that." It was training with Aaron that I started to build some confidence. He was also very inspiring. As a favor for giving me free privates I payed for him to enter a few tournaments. I watched Aaron as a purple belt compete and win his division like it was a walk in the park. Submitting his last opponent with a flying triangle (On a side note you can see this flying triangle on the Grapplebook Vol 1. video). The next day JJM awarded him his brown belt. 2 weeks later the Pan Ams were happening and I offered to pay Aaron's entry fee. Aaron then won the Brown Belt division submitting all his opponents again. I knew I was training with the right guy.
In my mind I told myself that I was not allowed to quit JJ unless I was a blue belt. I would stick with it until then and if I still have the same frustration then I could quit. I had been training JJ for 2.5 years and I was still a white belt. Aaron told me one day. I got some good news and bad news for you. The bad news was he was moving to Denmark. The good news was his friend Eddie Bravo whom had just tapped out Royler Gracie had opened up an academy in Hollywood.
I was still training on the west side as well as my privates from Aaron. But I figured I would try out Eddie Bravo's school. I was a bit nervous because it was a No-gi school and I have never trained no gi before. But I was definitely not happy with the current academy I was at. I walked into what is now affectionately called "the old bomb squad" gym. I sat down and waited not sure what to do. Eddie Bravo and Joe Rogan walked in. Eddie scanned the gym and locked eyes with me and walked over to me and said
"I don't know you. Who are you?"
I told him my name and like most people whom I tell my name to for the first time he said "what?"
I repeated my name a 2nd time and like I always do - i say "Cade, Like arcade or Kincaid."
"Oh Cade! Cool got it! Whats your story?"
I told him Aaron sent me and that I had only been training Gi. Eddie could not have been more welcoming and friendly. My JJ life changed on this day. Eddie's teaching style was perfect for me. He broke things down and watched all the students closely. He would have us rep techniques over and over again all the while standing over us and correcting any small mistakes. The first day I went to his class Eddie rolled with me. My first time ever rolling with a black belt. As expected he mopped me up all over the place. But afterwords he came to me and said "I want to make you my little project. I want you to be that secret weapon. People will see a skinny little white dude and think nothing. But when I sic you on them you will crush."
6 months later Eddie gave my my blue belt. 7 years after that he awarded me my black belt.
Last night when Eddie Bravo awarded me my black belt I was in shock. I honestly never thought I would be a black belt. I looked down at the belt in my hand and I remembered the months/years of frustration. i remembered getting beat up by everyone in my gym. i remembered feeling like my trainer didn't care. I remember being that guy everyone wanted to practice the new submission they just learned on Youtube. I remember desperately looking for guidance but not finding it. I never expected I would make it. All I could do was look at this tiny piece of cloth that represented one of the biggest triumphs of my life and cry. When they asked me if I had anything to say all I could say was what I was thinking "don't give up." I didn't give up.
Of course this was all caught on video and I am sure it will make it's rounds. I give everyone full permission to make fun of me for being a little bitch. I will post it on Facebook when it is available.
When I first started and was having so many problems I promised that if I ever got in a position to be able to help someone I would. As a blackbelt I am happy to help anyone with any JJ questions they may have.
Below are people who helped me in my journey:
Eddie Bravo - Whom gave me hope, confidence, and direction.
Scott Nelson - Who introduced me to the sport and always gives me gear :)
Aaron Briley - for all the free lessons and butterfly sweeps
Jeff Glover - For inspiration and being a cool dude
Bill Cooper - For inspiration and being a cool dude
Matthias Sieber - for motivating me and having faith in me. You kept me training when I would have probably just played xbox
Jason Rebel Yoga - For keeping me knowledge hungry and being a good training partner
Edwin Dean Co - For being a great training partner
Shigeki Matsuda - for being a great training partner
Ryan Gregg - showing some great passes and arm drags
The journey has supposedly ended but I know it has just begun.