Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Stories of 6 New Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu Black Belts

Here in Toledo we recently had the promotion of 6 brown belts to black belts. And instead of me telling you about it, I thought they should have a chance to tell us where they came from and/or what a BJJ black belt from Saulo and Xande Ribeiro and Chris Blanke means to them. These are 6 stories from truly wonderful teammates, teachers, coaches, and RJJA brothers. It’s definitely a long post, but I promise each and every story is worth reading. So let’s congratulate them on their achievement and commitment and honor them by reading what they wanted to share. (….THANK YOU to all of you who took the time to write!!) 

RJJA Midwest Black Belts at Promotion Day.

Aaron Ard

Jiu Jitsu hurts! … So I learned to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, confront my fears, understand my limitations and control my emotions.   Put another way – Jiu Jitsu is a good way to get know yourself.
Jiu Jitsu is an intellectual challenge that I took on the first day I walked through the door and continue to relish.  I often compare it to a chess game where strong will, concentration and imagination are required to be successful.
I found considerable value in the journey to black belt. Countless times I thought my goals were impossible only to surprise myself at the result. Through hard work, my game has evolved slowly and embodies not just my personality but my coaches’ personalities as well. 
To get a black belt from Chris, Saulo, Xande was nothing short of amazing.  It is not often that someone experiences affirmation from the people they idolize.  Their mentorship is reflected in my game and something I hope I can pass on to my students.
I have avoided writing this snippet (as requested by Meghan) about what the black belt means to me for some time now for a couple of reasons. First because I feel that anything that is written down can be used against you later and second because I am not sure exactly what a black belt really does mean. However, Meghan is just so doggone nice and full of false hope for the future that I can’t deny her request. I am just thinking on paper here so forgive me if I sound like one of the kids at the School for Kids Who Don’t Read Good.

Let’s start with what I am not. I am most definitely not a badass. I still get tapped by the colored belts on a regular basis. This does not bother me in the least. Jesus I am 48 years old and I am genuinely happy to be able to still play around on the mat like a little kid. Definitely not a badass attitude.

I am not physically gifted. I have been plagued for years now with some “minor” injury” or another and I just do the best I can. As of matter of fact the injuries usually result in my game improving as I can’t force whatever I was previously trying to force in whatever situation that caused my dumb ass to get hurt in the first place.

I am not the smartest guy in the room. At Toledo JJ we have – off the top of my head – one doctor and two folks in med school, one attorney and two folks in law school, one university professor, one ex-accountant, professionals, tradesmen, business owners, and college students. It’s actually humbling and a real pleasure to get to hang out with all these folks.

Well, if I am not a badass, I am injured regularly, I am not all that intelligent, and I am kind of old how did I get a black belt? Do I really deserve one?

Well, I suppose it is because I never quit. It is the biggest cliche in martial arts. A black belt is a white belt who never quit. So a lot of folks are meaner than me, more physically capable than me, and more intelligent than me but I will never, ever, ever quit.

A black belt also means that I have had great instruction and excellent mentorship. Chris Blanke has been the best instructor and one of the best friends I have ever had and I am proud to be his black belt. It also means I have made some great friends. Noone grapples alone and you don’t get through ten years of bjj without a mountain of help from your training partners. I must not be a complete asshole if Chris believes in me and so many others are willing to share the mat with me – although that could be just to beat up on me. Hey, maybe they don’t like me and I AM an asshole? Oh well, I suppose that can wait for another day.

For any attorneys out there the names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent. Book ’em Danno.

Dr. Michael Lee

As a 21-year-old college kid, I started learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu on a blue tarp in a sunny California backyard sprinkled with dog poop. I still remember these twice-weekly meetings taught by a blue belt. It seemed like magic to me. I wrestled in high school, so I was not a complete stranger to the mat, but I was mesmerized by how these pajama-wearing jiu-jitsu guys could effortlessly make me submit with a joint lock or choke hold literally within a few seconds of a sparring match.

Years later, I joined an actual BJJ academy when I was finally able to afford the tuition. I still couldn’t afford a car, so I took the bus an hour each way to continue learning this incredible art. When I started these classes, I thought I had the basics down from those backyard sessions, but I remember going against another white belt who made me tap out over and over again within our five-minute match. I realized at that point that I still didn’t know anything. It took me six months to finally execute my first submission against a resisting opponent in class, another year to win my first match in competition, and yet another year to finally earn my first belt promotion.

Now, as a 33-year-old, I was recently awarded my black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. For all intents and purposes, this is essentially the last belt in the progression and the longest belt rank held by a life-long practitioner. It is a symbol of my progression from humble beginnings in a journey that started nearly 13 years ago. It hasn’t always been easy. There were times when I didn’t think I could progress, when I questioned if all this effort was even worth it. There were many failures along the way, on and off the mat. Beyond physical techniques, this journey has taught me patience, persistence, and perseverance. Looking back now, I can say that it is absolutely worth it.

These days in class, I do tap people on a regular basis, and sometimes they make me tap, too. Some days I still feel like I don’t know anything. A black belt doesn’t make someone invincible. At the most basic level, my black belt is my instructors’ acknowledgment of the technical ability I have attained within the art. I am eternally grateful for Saulo and Xande Ribeiro for leaving their home in Brazil over a decade ago to come to the Midwest to spread their love for an art that has now touched thousands of people. Trust me, I know how hard it can be to leave home and travel far away to pursue a passion and dream. I am humbled and honored to be awarded my black belt by my instructor, mentor, and friend Chris Blanke, who has taught and encouraged me in jiu-jitsu classes and tournaments, and also supported me off the mats as I struggled with medical school, with my own self-doubts as a new physician, with dealing with my dying father. Even beyond all the cool submission techniques and tournament medals, perhaps the most important thing I’ve gained over the years while pursuing my black belt is the friendships I have made along the way. To every teammate with whom I share every roll, every drill, every transition and submission, you are the reason I keep coming back, and I have so much love and respect and appreciation for you that these clumsy words cannot even begin to convey, that this beating heart can barely contain. Thank you.

My goal as a black belt is continual improvement. I’m always looking to make my technique more efficient, more effective, more beautiful, more graceful and fluid. And as an ambassador and representative of the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, now is the time for me to give back, to encourage, to teach others, and to inspire, just as I was inspired as the 21-year-old kid on that blue tarp in the California backyard so many years ago.

(I don’t miss the dog poop, though.)

Justin Wehr

The path to black belt is a long and difficult journey. My journey began about 15 years ago. When I was younger I was small compared to my classmate. This made me an easy target for bullies. In hopes of building my confidence and teaching me discipline my mom started me in Ju-Jitsu. I was addicted to it the moment I set foot on the mat. When I was 18 I received my Black Belt in Ju-Jitsu under Shawn Chitwood. Now, 9 years later I have achieved my black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

I have learned many lessons along the way. First Jiu-Jits
u is hard, there are not many sports in the world that test your ego, heart and body every time you train or compete. To succeed in Jiu-Jitsu you must be humble, and leave your ego at the door. Another lesson I have learned along the way is that Jiu-Jitsu is not about physical strength. It’s about technique, leverage, and patience. Jiu-Jitsu is designed for David to beat Goliath. Jiu Jitsu is a lifestyle and it has helped me deal with life’s ups and downs.

Reaching black belt to me means you have competed against yourself and came out on top. I test my ego, heart and body every time I step on the mat. Achieving Black Belt means I have finally won, I have passed the test. Saulo said it perfect at the black belt promotion when he said “Jiu-Jitsu is hard, it’s designed for you to quit”.

It’s an honor receiving my Black Belt from Saulo and Xande. They’re legends in the BJJ community and I can only wish to acquire a small percentage of the BJJ knowledge that they possess. I would like to thank my instructor Chris Blanke for always pointing me in the right direction. Your mentorship and friendship is truly humbling. To the Chitwood Brothers, thank you for your instruction, guidance and friendship throughout the years. To all of my training partners past and present, thank you for always being there to push my Jiu-Jitsu to the next level. To my Mom, thank you for starting me in the Martial Arts and for your countless sacrifices throughout the years. To my amazing wife Kelsey, thank you for understanding what Jiu-Jitsu truly means to me, and for always supporting everything I do.

Many people see a black belt as the end of a long journey. For me, receiving my back belt is only the beginning. I hope to be able to not only build on my current knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu, but also share that knowledge through teaching. I will always be on a mission to improve my Jiu-Jitsu, with the goal of making my Jiu-Jitsu as technical and effortless as possible. Jiu-Jitsu will always be part of life. I will continue to train and teach until my body will no longer let me. Live Arte Suave!



Brent Insco

On Saturday April 27, 2013, I had the honor of being presented with my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black belt from Saulo and Xande Ribeiro. Words are hard to describe the amount of respect and admiration I have for these two brothers. To be recognized for my years of hard training by them is the biggest honor they could have bestowed upon me. 
Jiu-Jitsu has always had an impact in my life. It has taught me humility, discipline, respect, perseverance, and mental toughness. Jiu-Jitsu also gives me challenges on a daily basis; my favorite of these include solving problems with techniques and learning the timing of when to execute them. Other challenges that are not necessary enjoyable but a part of the art include dealing with minor injuries and having to fight through intense fatigue.

The most intense fatigue I have ever had to fight through came in 2007. I was testing for purple belt aka the “Hell Test” as Saulo would call it. This test was a hybrid of Jiu-Jitsu fighting and Navy Seals training. Saulo would have us do sparring in different positions while only being able to defend. In between rounds of sparring, we were required to do intense bodyweight calisthenics followed by carrying one of our sparring partners. The only way you would fail is if you quit. If you stopped, Saulo would simply count to ten. If you didn’t get up at the end of ten, you failed the test. During such fatigue, the first voice in your head says to quit. This was the easiest option. The second voice was self-doubt. I remember doubting myself several times during the test. One of which was when I was carrying my partner, who out weighed me by fifty pounds. I was carrying him fireman style and all of a sudden, I collapsed due to fatigue. I remember clearly hearing Saulo count out loud, “one, two, three…” and it echoed over and over in my head. At that moment, I became so motivated and driven not to fail, that I was able to reach down deep inside and find the energy to stand back up. After that experience, I knew that I could face any challenge ahead of me on my black belt journey!


Scott Layton

I started in Japanese Ju-Jitsu in 1993 as a way to keep in shape for motocross when I couldn’t ride. The Ju-Jitsu I trained was a really good mix of Kick Boxing and Judo. It wasn’t anything like Karate or other traditional martial arts at the time. The best way to describe it is MMA with a Gi on. We kicked, punched, did takedowns and we grappled when we hit the ground but only for 10 seconds. I was immediately hooked and started training every day to the point I had almost quit motocross. After a month or so I started to compete and get rank. The belts in Japanese martial arts came fast, I was getting promoted about every 3 to 6 months and I was competing once or twice a month. The UFC came out that same year and they were promoting Royce Gracie as a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. I watched Royce beat everyone and it got me really excited because I did Ju-Jitsu too. What I didn’t know was Ju-Jitsu and Jiu-Jitsu were not the same.

A year or so later I was at a tournament and I met a Kung Fu guy named Chris Blanke. Chris was there for a referee clinic and he was talked into competing. I watched Chris fight and realized what he was doing looked just like what Royce was doing in the UFC. I live in West Virginia so I would travel to northern Ohio to train with Chris as much as I could. I would watch Gracie VHS tapes, read books and get techniques from anywhere I could. I continued to compete in Sport Ju-Jitsu but my strategy had completely changed. I would use my kicks and punches to close the distance but all I cared about was taking them to the ground. Sport Ju-Jitsu gave me the opportunity to travel and train with some of the best people in the world but I got burned out. I went back to motocross but I would try to stay in touch with my martial arts friends I had made.

After years of racing, motocross had brought me back to martial arts. My body was destroyed from injury after injury and I figured Jiu-Jitsu would make a good rehab. I started to feel really good after about 6 months. The chronic aches, pains, stiffness and just general stress was fading so I started to train for competition again. What I was training though was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu not Sport Ju-Jitsu. I was using every opportunity to make my ground game better. Everything changed when I started to visit Chris Blanke again. Chris had moved through the ranks and was only doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Saulo and Xande Ribeiro. I knew this is what I wanted to do to so I competed one more time in Sport Ju-Jitsu in Brazil but after it was over I gave all my gear away. I got with a few likeminded people and we started training Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu on our own. What happened next was one of the proudest moments of my life.

I started going to Ohio once or twice a month to train and I competed in one of the first RJJA tournaments. After winning the tournament Xande told me to come up front to get my medal. Xande was putting the medal around my neck and Saulo snuck up behind me and put a blue belt around my waist. To most people a blue belt doesn’t mean much but after all the travel and training it was starting to pay off. A few moments later, Chris received his black belt. Jiu-Jitsu is everywhere now but when we started there were only a few blue belts to search out and train with. Now 10 years later I finally earned my Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt and I know this is only the beginning. I would like to thank Warren Owsley for introducing me to martial arts, Teddie Malone for being a great training partner through the years and many more, and to Xande and Saulo for bringing the best Jiu-Jitsu in the world to Ohio. A special thank you to Chris Blanke for everything he does and for being a great friend inside and out of Jiu-Jitsu.



Farewell to the Classroom

I have officially had my last classroom lecture of my life – not to say that the hard work and learning is over by any stretch. I have been sitting in a classroom [well… I don’t know how much I

First and last days of school!!

sat still when I was in preschool] for 20 years, and finally at 23 I leave the comfortable and safe world of desks and lecture halls behind. I am both incredibly excited and truly terrified that all my future learning will come from real patients and not just cases studied from in books. It is one thing to read about how to treat an MI and an entirely different one to use that treatment on someone having a heart attack!

I’m feeling slightly nostalgic. Some of the greatest times in my life have revolved around school. I met my best friend on the school bus when we were 11 and we used to pass notes in class (we were terrible at covering it too).  I learned the preamble to the constitution with School House Rock. I dissected my first frog in 7th grade and was so grossed out I could barely look at it. I learned the value of a great novel in high school literature. I found my love for writing in AP US History. I learned Spanish, Math, and Chemistry with great friends. In college I began to debate about philosophy, religion, sociology, and morality. I have grown into the person I am today because of everything I’ve been able to learn and apply inside and outside the classroom.
First, ahead of me I still have my final exam in Organ Systems next Tuesday. Then we have our comprehensive year 2 exam next Friday. And starting next Saturday I will begin my 38 days of board studying. I have alluded to it several times – on June 11 I take USMLE Step 1 (U.S. Medical Licensing Exam). There are 3 steps required before you are a fully licensed physician. Step 1 is honestly the most important test of my entire life. It is 322 questions over 8 hours. A passing score is a 189 and the national average is usually around 220. You don’t get a good score? You will not get a good residency. It’s that simple. So what does it cover? Everything we’ve learned in 2 years of medical school. (Check out my bookshelf that’s actually missing four 2″ binders)

What I’ve learned in 2 years

To prepare, you study for 14 hours a day (I will be doing 7am-9pm) including 138 practice questions a day and studying high-yield books. I will get a 3 hour break on Saturdays to visit the academy and try to stay sane with my favorite jiu jitsu brothers and sisters (literally just visiting since I’m officially off the mats for 6 weeks due to a broken foot). 

 This quote feels incredibly relevant to my immediate future:
William Osler once said “Medicine is learned by the bedside and not in the classroom. Let not your conceptions of disease come from words heard in the lecture room or read from the book. See, and then reason and compare and control. But see first.”

Ready to take the next steps on my journey. Thank you to every friend, teacher, and classmate I’ve ever had. You challenged me every day inside the classroom to learn and outside the classroom to apply my knowledge to make me a better person.

So long, cozy lecture hall!


Hello, doctor’s offices!

Saulo and Xande Seminar

So this happened…..
Saulo and Xande Ribeiro and me!
And it was awesome! We spent 3 hours training with two of the very best jiu jitsu guys  – I may be biased but I would say THE best – in the world. The class started with a little bit about the RJJA philosophy and its birth here in the Midwest. We then did the longest warmup of my life – 50 minutes of Ginastica Natural. It’s all about movement and its usefulness in BJJ, which is true. But let me tell you, the next day I could barely walk because it felt like the equivalent of 300 squats. Xande then taught some techniques that involved holding onto the collar, and I got to work with a truly great female blue belt! I really think that that one simple thing will help me out of a lot of bad situations. Then Saulo worked on guard passes and tweaked a few things that I was doing wrong (I’m excited to see how much better they work now). The whole time they were taping what they were teaching for BJJ Library, which was cool! Because you know what you’re watching actually works and you can see how they teach it to a group (of mostly blue belts). Then we did a drill (not sure if you would call it a drill or a game or a challenge or what) where half the people played open guard and half the people had to do the 4 passes as quickly yet effectively as they could to everyone playing guard. I think that ended up being about 11 people so you had to do 44 guard passes in about 6 minutes. It was actually really fun! Until my team lost and we had to do pushups – that was not so fun. We ended the night with everyone having a chance to grapple with Xande until he submitted you. My goal was to last 20 seconds. I think I may have lasted 40 before getting triangle choked. I HAVE to remember both arms in or both arms out. Either way – I got to train with XANDE how cool is that?!

Saulo and Xande Seminar 4.11.13 at RJJA Plymouth


It was my first time meeting Saulo and Xande (since I have only been at it for 9 months and they usually visit once a year) and it was incredible that I got to attend a seminar that they both taught! I think Xande said it was the first time they’d done a seminar like that together in years (maybe since he was a brown belt). Needless to say, it was awesome. Not only are they truly world-class competitors, but they are also really  fantastic teachers. So overall it was a great seminar. I learned a lot and am going to bring a lot of it back into my training at the academy this week! I’m definitely going to need it…. we will now have 4 black belts who train regularly at our academy! Here’s to many more years of hard training with the best right here in TOLEDO the birthplace of RJJA! And thanks to Saulo and Xande for a great seminar!

….stay tuned for a very exciting post about promotion day and quotes from the new black belts themselves! …..

BJJ & Self-Defense

Exam on Tuesdayon the endocrine/GI systems which is weird and throwing me off because our exams are usually on Fridays. But I’m excited because after the exam I have dinner plans with a classmate then plan on training! That’s the best way I know to make a day slightly better where you wake up at 5am to start studying for your 3 hour exam at 1pm.

Runsafer Seminar
This past Thursday I got to be a part of this program called Runsafer. Todd Williams started it (a 2 time Olympic distance runner holding 21 US titles AND a BJJ black belt…  gosh the people in BJJ sure are awesome). He teaches runners about being safe and we demonstrated some basic grip breaking if they grab your arm, using your feet on their hips to break a choke from closed guard and stand up in base, then a hip bump sweep. I loved when everyone thought sweep was just about the coolest thing ever (non-BJJ readers: you start on the ground with them on their knees and your legs around their back and end up completely on top of them). Chris reminded me that when you first see it, it looks like magic. To this day, I still think it’s magical when I can sweep a guy that has a lot of weight on me with ease and using no muscle. BJJ will always seem magical to me!

It was also a great reminder that BJJ is applicable in real life. I genuinely love the aspect of competition jiu jitsu where I can pull guard and try (usually unsuccessfully) to berimbolo or pull off fun sweeps and just worry about jiu jitsu and not being punched or kicked. But it’s also a bonus that I do have a really good self-defense base to fall back on. I’d like to think that if an (unarmed) guy took me to the ground I would be able to successfully defend myself and get away (based on the presumption that he has never trained in jiu jitsu before). [Side note: My brothers have been kind enough to let me prove to myself that if a guy much larger than me knows no jiu jitsu and doesn’t throw a punch I am more than capable of locking in an omoplata or RNC at will.] It was a really cool experience to get to share some of those techniques with others this week! There’s also been this video floating around about called Jiu Jitsu for Women that sort of shows that women can in fact use jiu jitsu as self-defense and stop an attack (so you should take 2.5 minutes to watch it).

So a big week is ahead! Like I said, I have my exam on Tuesday. I get to go to a Saulo AND Xande seminar on Thursday (which, the excitement I am feeling cannot be put into words. I’m sure that will get its own dedicated post on Friday), and on Saturday there will be the promotion of 5 new black belts in the RJJA Midwest! So there’s going to be a giant party – it’s going to be epic. (There are going to be FIFTEEN black belts training together here in Toledo this weekend. Is that amazing or what?!)

Incredibly excited! Check back on Friday to see how the seminar went and Sunday to hear about the new black belts!