Started my 365 quest at around 7pm tonight. As usual, with camera bag on shoulder. If there has been any night so far that I thought would leave me empty-handed, it’s this one. I lost count of how many people I approached, all of whom I found on the streets, all very friendly and inquisitive, but none willing to step in front of the camera.
No clue of where to go, time burning and migraine setting in, I wander the Valley, eyes beginning to sag, motivation in question.
Two hours in when I pass martial arts studio Gracie Barra. The lights are on, half a dozen or so serious looking martial artists working out. As I rip past at 45 miles per hour (really 55, but who’s speeding), the vision of what just blurred through my passenger window forces me to rubber neck. Knowing that this is my spot: Quick speed brake, an illegal U-turn and I’m parked right in front of the place.
I grab my stuff, walk in and learn my first lesson. “No shoes on the mat.” Great! haven’t even opened my mouth and I’m surely about to be bumped out to continue my hunt. How wrong I am!
Turns out my presence is welcome. I first meet Sammy, you’ll meet him shortly. Second lesson, “this place is all about respect.” Sammy introduces me to head instructor Juan Pablo Garcia who is intrigued to be part of 365.
Third Lesson, “humility and perseverance are key.” We’ll get to other lessons soon, but these are foundational to what I learn.
I wish I had the time to write a novel entry about Juan. The man has paid some serious dues. But in respect of my under 1000 word commitment, I’ll do my best to be succinct. Hard for me to do at times. Especially with interviews like Juan’s.
Juan is to the point. Ecuador born, world traveled, has competed in MMA events everywhere. I really mean everywhere; globally, two in the good old United States. We talk of his path, but first and foremost he says, “I am living the dream.” Then he tells me of how he got it, now a nationally respected instructor and champion competitor.
Too much to write, I’ll let you know the short answer, “This guy is self-made.” No sponsors, family money or hand outs. He’s worked hard and you can see the self-respect in his eyes. He shares stories of living in martial arts studios, sleeping on mats by night and cleaning by day, all in trade for room, board and training. Money is not his focus, perfecting his sport is. More lessons; perseverance and passion
I just sit in his office and listen to his history, doing my best to take notes. There is just too much to write. One thing is evident, he is careful to not take all the credit for his success, making it known that I must acknowledge his professor, Alberto Crane. I add this to my list of lessons; respect, honor, diligence.
I haven’t even stepped onto the mat and I’m getting grounded.
Juan invites me behind his desk to look at a YouTube video he opens. It’s him winning countless tournaments. His specialty? Grappling. It was hard to see his face in many of the clips. Annoying how the referee constantly covered it with the raising of the victory arm.
Had to dig these facts out of him: Florida State Champion, Vegas Open Champion, NAGA Champion for 3 years. I’m pretty sure there are more, but he is pretty closed lip about it. Another lesson; humility.
All in all he is a fairly focused and serious guy.
A couple of things did bring a smile to his face.
• Where he now is in life
• Thoughts of his son
• His love for teaching
• An invitation to bring myself and my family to train with him
What about Sammy?
I promise Juan a DVD of the photos we shoot. Sammy steps up in volunteering to come to my house to pick up the disk.
I thought I learned enough for the evening. School’s not over yet.
Sammy Stat’s teach me of focus, mature patience and listening to the heart.
• 26 years old
• Carnegie Mellon Graduate
• Multiple Degrees, Behavioral Economics, Policy Management, Engineering Studies
• Did I say he is 26 years old
• Credits martial arts to his happiness and balance
• Blue Belt, almost a Purple Belt (I’m sure he’ll be Black soon)
• Plans to go to Wall Street later (He’s seen to many of his peer’s burn out too early)
• Can survive Juan pinning him in a cradle (It’s a serious pin, I watched him gasp for air as Juan tightened his hold)
Juan / Sammy, Thanks for the schooling. I may take you up on those mat lessons. Although, I’ll pass on the cradle, thank you.