For the love of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Getting my blue belt from Pat Cooligan at the Ottawa Academy of Martial Arts, December 2014

Getting my blue belt from Pat Cooligan at the Ottawa Academy of Martial Arts, December 2014

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu changed my life. It made me more dedicated to my health and well-being. It set out solid goals for which to reach. It provided a new level camaraderie and friendship that I’d never before experienced in sports and recreation. Most importantly, it gave me a whole new physical and mental challenge that’s always a lot of fun.

BJJ is a martial art with roots in Japan that was modified and refined in Brazil in the 20th Century. Simply put, the sport combines grappling, wrestling, and Judo in complex sequences of ground fighting. Its history is very interesting, and its evolution is impressive. Today, it is a crucial element of modern mixed martial arts.

I got my start in BJJ in late 2009 when I lived in Winnipeg. Two of my friends, Wab Kinew and Gabriel Daniels, had picked it up a year or so prior, and suggested I try it. I went for a couple of trial classes at Rodrigo Munduruca’s school and was hooked right away. It was one of the hardest workouts I had ever done. Learning the techniques was fun, but it wasn’t easy. “Rolling”, as it’s called, is a constant struggle for dominant positions and submissions. Failure to dominate results in being physically crushed, or having your limbs painfully twisted. After those initial classes, I was exhausted and sore, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I signed up by the end of the week.

It became my primary physical activity. I still ran and lifted weights at the local YMCA, but BJJ took over. I was going at least three times a week, when my work schedule permitted. My strength and endurance increased. My mental focus sharpened. While BJJ is an intensely physical sport, it’s also very cerebral. Knowledge of technique and strategy is a matter of tapping out or making an opponent tap. It’s imperative to always be thinking many steps ahead.

While I fell in love with the sport, my time in Winnipeg drew to a close. I decided it was time to move closer to home, so I went to Toronto just a few months after starting BJJ. I was in transition; not really sure where I was going to end up for good. So I was on hiatus from my newfound passion. It was a tough break, but once I settled in Ottawa for good, I signed up at the Ottawa Academy of Martial Arts in late 2010. I found the same positive, fun, and challenging environment there, and couldn’t have been happier to resume rolling.

Unfortunately, I suffered a major back injury unrelated to BJJ that kept me off the mats for many months. Other physical setbacks kept my training sporadic for most of my first year in Ottawa. But I recovered fully and was able to get back into it on a regular basis, and I haven’t had any injuries since. Despite the intense nature of the sport, I’ve never been hurt because of it, other than countless bruises and a few twisted ankles and fingers. Because of the tight spirit of team training, everyone looks out for each other. We’re all friends, even in the heat of battle.

On the mats, I’ve met people of all social, cultural, and professional backgrounds. I’ve rolled with cops, electricians, students, lawyers, government workers, teachers, ironworkers, and the list goes on. It transcends cultures. I’ve never been involved in a recreational activity that’s so culturally diverse. Something I have been delighted to notice is the growing number of Indigenous people putting on the gi and getting on the mat. There are many positive and inspiring stories, like this one about a young mom in Saskatchewan who’s a top-ranked fighter.

I believe that’s because of the strong sense of community BJJ promotes. I also believe it’s because the sport is so accessible and beneficial, and it speaks to the spiritual and physical goal of healthy living that’s deeply ingrained in many Indigenous cultures. Some may even argue it speaks to the role of the protector that’s a crucial part of those cultures as well. Either way, I highly recommend it to everyone.

Late last year I received my blue belt from Professor Pat Cooligan at OAMA. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. BJJ has been a long journey for me, and it feels like I’ve taken a major step. To accomplish something that’s so physically and mentally difficult is hugely rewarding. I plan to continue on this path for as long as I can. Hopefully I’ll meet you on the mats.

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Top Ten Albums of 2014

Here’s my annual year-end favourite albums post! 2014 was the most eventful year of my life, and music highlighted the great times and pulled me through the tough times. What were your favourites?

Tanya TagaqAnimism

Although my top pick usually goes to what I listened to the most by the numbers, this year, sheer importance and merit greatly overshadowed my customary criterion. This masterpiece combines powerful traditional and contemporary musical elements, created and fronted by a true visionary and genius who has an unwavering passion and dedication to her Inuit throat singing roots. The accolades and awards are well-deserved.

The New PornographersBrill Bruisers

This album was the nicest surprise of the year for me. I’ve been a fan since they first formed as a quasi-supergroup, and I believe this is their strongest effort since those early days. The songs are catchy, fun, and sometimes eerie. There are intriguing layers to hear, and the result is the feel-good album of 2014.

Ty SegallManipulator

A lot of bands these days try hard for that throwback, straight-up rock n’ roll sound, but few pull it off. Leave it to this young gun to do it properly and put his own stamp on it. When I hear albums like this, I know that rock n’ roll will never die.

Run the Jewels 2

Loud and fun enough to be a party album, but serious enough to relay some important messages. This power duo of rap put together some real bangers, and invited some pretty stellar guests on board, including one of my all-time favourites, Zack de la Rocha.

Antemasque

This is the latest branch in the At The Drive-In family tree, specifically off-shooting from The Mars Volta. Unlike that incarnation, this is straightforward rock music in powerful, conventional doses. I found that focus enjoyable and refreshing.

MastodonOnce More ‘Round the Sun

Yes, they are a changed band. But listening back to Remission, there are many underlying elements of rock music there, so a full departure from metal to rock shouldn’t be so surprising, in my opinion. The guitar work is as intricate and compelling as ever, and any player should appreciate this album.

Killer Be Killed

Metal fans either loved or hated this album. I’m in the former camp. This “supergroup” pulled together a pretty fun and heavy collection of songs that incorporates influences of each band from where they come – Sepultura, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Mastodon. It was my driving album of the year.

Jack WhiteLazaretto

In my eyes, he can do no wrong, and this was a huge step up from his first solo album (which I still really enjoyed). I think the White Stripes was just a gimmick to get attention so he could get to this point of musical freedom.

Death From Above 1979The Physical World

If this came out soon after their breakthrough album, we likely would have forgotten about it and them altogether. But because it’s been so long, I was interested. Although it’s nothing new or groundbreaking, it is their signature sound, which is just as compelling as it was a decade ago.

Digging RootsFor the Light

Soulful, serene, and sexy. They continue to make me proud to be a fan and a friend.

Honourable mentions:
Freeman
The Great SabatiniDog Years
The MelvinsHold It In

Top Ten Shows of 2014

The end of the year is a time to reflect and make lists. It’s no secret that I’m a big music fan and attend a lot of live shows. As I do most years (I forgot last year, for some reason, even though I saw some stellar performances), I’m going to post my favourites here.

Tanya Tagaq
National Arts Centre
Ottawa
November 7

Tagaq @ NAC November 7

Tagaq is one of the most important musicians in the world right now and she proved it with this transcendental 75-minute set. It was a non-stop, mostly improvised performance that riveted us all in that small, intimate room. I am still struggling to effectively put into words what I experienced that night.

Propagandhi
Ritual
Ottawa
August 13

Propagandhi @ Ritual August 13

It had been five years since I last saw these punk/thrash legends live, so I was long overdue to have my face melted. They’re tighter than ever and showcased their brilliance with an awesome career-spanning set. Hopefully it’s not another five years before I get to see them again.

Queens of the Stone Age
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 8

QOTSA @ Bluesfest July 8

Next to the day I got married, this was my favourite day of the summer. Germany beat Brazil 7-1 in the semifinal at the World Cup, and soon after the whistle blew I got to see one of my all-time favourite bands live for the first time since they released their great …Like Clockwork album. I wish they could have played a little longer.

Jack White
Parc Jean Drapeau, Osheaga Festival
Montreal
August 2

Jack White @ Osheaga August 2

While I enjoyed hearing the new songs live (which are a big step up from the tunes on his first solo album, in my opinion) the best part about seeing Jack White will always be experiencing a set list that draws from the catalogues of his various bands, including The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, and The Raconteurs. This performance showcased many of those classics, and as usual, the White Stripes songs were way better with a full band.

The Sword/Big Business
Foufounes
Montreal
February 26

Big Business @ Foufounes February 26

These are two of the most unique bands in rock/metal, so seeing them on a double bill was really killer. Both were touring on solid recent albums that were among my favourite releases of the previous year. Big Business is strangely melodic and rhythmically powerful; while The Sword is an electric guitar player’s dream band with a loud, crushing throwback riff-based sound.

The Great Sabatini
Pressed Cafe
Ottawa
January 11

The Great Sabatini @ Pressed January 11

This Montreal metal quartet is one of those bands that is impressive just to watch. Their riffs and beats pound together and against each other in a loud, burly display. Tapping your toe or bobbing your head along is nearly impossible.

A Tribe Called Red
Sault College
Sault Ste. Marie
May 3

ATCR @ Soo College May 3

I’m used to seeing ATCR either in clubs or on big stages at festivals, so it was a nice contrast to experience an all-ages show in a big community gym. Regardless, their music transcends venues in its ability to bring people together and make them dance.

Against Me!
Parc Jean Drapeau
Montreal
August 2

Against Me! @ Osheaga August 2

The last time I saw this band was at Bonnaroo 2010 when the frontman was known as Tom Gabel. Now, she’s Laura Jane Grace, and seeing her perform as herself was both intense and heartwarming.

George Leach
Westfest
Ottawa
June 13

George Leach @ Westfest June 13

Very few others out there slay the guitar like George can. I’ve seen him many times over the years, and his stage presence only gets bigger and bigger. Don’t miss him when he plays in your town.

Lady Gaga
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 5

Lady Gaga @ Bluesfest July 5

I loved her show. So what?