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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.

The Right Words Matter: Aboriginal Terminology in Mainstream Media

The best measure of the under-representation of Indigenous peoples in mainstream Canadian media is the common misuse of the terminology related to them, their communities, and their issues. There are numerous examples to cite, but the one I hear regularly that irritates me the most is referring to a community as a “First Nations reserve”.

The term “First Nations reserve” is sort of redundant and it doesn’t really make sense. A community is either a “First Nation” or a “reserve”. No one who’s Indigenous would refer to their home as a “First Nations reserve”. I notice broadcasters from across the country make this mistake often. The CBC, where I work, is no exception. I actually addressed this recently in an email to my colleagues, which I’m adapting here. I explained that when we use a misnomer like that, Indigenous viewers and listeners roll their eyes and we instantly lose credibility.

I understand how that particular term came about and why it causes confusion. Recently, “First Nations” has arisen as an adjective to describe Indigenous people. Along the way, someone decided that a reserve needed to be described as “First Nations” (using the adjective), and it stuck. But by that logic, it’s like calling a small, non-Indigenous community a “towny town”, or in another way, a “white town”. It just sounds silly and weird. It’s perfectly acceptable to simply call a community a First Nation. I come from Wasauksing First Nation. It’s kind of like saying New York City (although Wasauksing is far less glamorous but far more gorgeous).

Being correct with the terminology used in mainstream media means a lot to Indigenous readers, viewers, and listeners. There’s still a big rift between Canadian media and people from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, so it’s imperative that journalists be sensitive and diligent with their words. Mainstream media outlets are sometimes the only connection between Canadians and Indigenous people, so in order to tell the stories properly, journalists need to get the words and ideas right. In many ways, they’re making up for the historical shortfalls of the Canadian education system.

As mentioned, “First Nations reserve” is just one common error of many, and my motive for bringing this up is to highlight two essential online resources for covering Indigenous communities, issues, and stories in Canada. One is Reporting in Indigenous Communities, the brainchild of CBC’s Duncan McCue. It’s a comprehensive hub for context, terminology, scenarios, protocol and other vital information and pointers for journalists about to embark on the Indigenous beat. It should be the first stop for the unsure, the unfamiliar, and the unaware.

For an extremely useful reference on proper terminology, the Strategic Alliance of Broadcasters for Aboriginal Reflection (SABAR) created a handy guidebook on key terms. You can either download it or search the online database. A quick visit there prior to making a call to do research or set up an interview can help ensure the right words are used for the right people/communities. Those words can make or break a story.

While it’s easy gloss over proper parlance and cultural sensitivity as tedious political correctness, the foundation of journalism is supposed to be telling a story fully and correctly. That includes getting the words right to do the stories (and the people in them) justice.

Legacy

I’m extremely pleased to announce that my new novel Legacy will be published in the Spring of 2014 by Theytus Books. Theytus published my debut collection of short stories called Midnight Sweatlodge in 2011. Their new managing editor, Paul Seesequasis, has tremendous energy and an exciting vision for Legacy, and I’m really happy to be working with them again. Here’s a brief synopsis:

In the winter of 1989, Eva Gibson is a university student living in downtown Toronto. She’s homesick for her community in northern Ontario, but she’s determined to get her education to one day return home and serve her fellow Anishinaabe people. After a rare night out with friends, she is beaten to death by a man whom she met at a bar. It’s a devastating loss for her siblings, who continue to mourn the violent loss of their parents just three years earlier. Tragedy becomes the Gibson family’s legacy. Back on the rez, Eva’s brothers and sister struggle to cope with their losses and redefine their legacy in the years after her death. Some turn to ceremony; some turn to vice. All the while, they contend with a creeping sentiment of revenge.

More to come…

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