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Martial Arts Inspiring Story - Eric Reese

By Created: July, 2017 - Modified: April, 2018

I'm here to tell you my story and how I'm scared it might end. My name is Eric Reese and my story starts 13 years ago when i was 10 years old.

Back then, I was a football player. I was good at football. The coaches liked me, but I didnt have a lot of friends on the team, and it seemed as though I didn't fit in.

One day after football season ended, my neighbor offered to take me to karate class. For me, this was exciting. All my favorite movies were about martial arts (ninja turtles, 3 ninjas, power rangers) and my favorite of all time was ''Blood Sport.'' I know a 10 year old that loves a grown up movie; it's funny.

Anyway, my parents were young and split up, so I was raised by my grandparents my whole life. And well, they were grandparents, so they didn't like the idea of me getting kicked in the teeth, so they said no. The next week, was the same story, no again. Then finally the day came; they got tired of me begging, and I went to my first karate class.

It was different. I didn't have to depend on my team to get the win. I was independent, and I was happy.

It was short lived, however. A few short months later, my grandfather took a job, and we moved an hour away from everything I knew and loved. No big deal. It happens, but at 11 years old, it is depressing to have to make all new friends at a new school in a new town.

For about a year, I did nothing as far as athletics. Then I found out my neighbor was a high-ranked belt in TKD. He was in high school, and I was in middle school. So he took me under his wing and taught me everyday for two years. Then it happened again... It was time to move... this time 2 hours away from anything!... in the middle of the country, which was perfect in every way except making friends and doing anything socially.

By this time, I was 14 and once again did nothing for a whole year. At 15, I was in my sophomore year of high school, and I signed up for the wrestling team just because a buddy of mine begged me to. In my first week, the freshmen that, of course, had been wrestling since pre-school were mopping the floor with me. I got hip tossed and cradled countless times in that first week. They were ruthless. But something happened to me on that first week. I was humbled.

I had a challenge in front of me and I took it on full force. By the second week, I did everything to these guys that they did to me, and I even started to be a challenge for the varsity guys. It didn't take long, though, for me to realize that I was in a familiar place again. I was still an outsider.

Don't get me wrong, I was very social in school and had no problem making friends but outside of school, I was poor white trash. I didn't go to parties or get togethers with the kids from school and even worse was that the entire wrestling team had the same people on that team since pre-school. They were the team that the parents in the community built from childhood. This meant that I didnt belong I wasn't in their cliche.

All the same, they were nice enough to me for me to stay on the team.

My second year, I wrestled half the year as a varsity wrestler. Some people were impressed that a guy just in is second year was wrestling at the top. I was by know means a ''great'' wrestler, but I got good in a short time. Especially in Pennsylvania, wrestling is huge. PA is the #1 ranked state for highschool wrestling in the nation, so you have to be good.

My senior year, I started the season very good up until I was driving home in a snow storm after practice and wrecked my car. I rolled over three times and slid on the driver side for 25 feet. Luckily, I wasnt badly injured, but I had small nerve damage and can't feel the left side of my nose, and I pulled all the muscles on the left side of my back. My wrestling career was over.

As soon as I healed, I found an MMA gym that was 1 hour and 45 minutes away, and I began training again. I stayed there for two years and was barely able to afford the membership, which eventually led to me becoming the wrestling coach and winning my first two amateur bouts. Unfortunately, the owner canceled the MMA classes and now only teaches TKD at that gym.

About two months later, I started training with team barbarian in Sunbury, Pa. I was only there a short time because it was 3 hours away, and I was only working part time. I could not afford to travel. For about 4 months, I got a full-time job and didn't train until I found that the town that I moved to had a Gracie Barra gym near by where I worked.

I seen on an MMA forum online that they were having a seminar with professor Marcelo Ribiero of GB Nashville. So I went there, and I didn't even have a gi - just my old MMA shorts and t-shirt. So they let me borrow a gi for the seminar and, in my first roll, I arm bared a blue belt. But every roll after that, I got smashed by smaller younger guys.

Of course, coming from wrestling roots, I was getting choked out every time. Once again, I was humbled and accepted the challenge after that first day.

I must have shown something, because Marcelo pulled me aside and told me that I need to come back the next day. So I did, but professor Marcelo went back to Tennessee. I spoke to (then) brown belt coach Marcelo Mattos, and I signed up for the BJJ classes.

I was still working full time and could only make it to class once or twice a week, but still, in the first month, I got my first stripe. Month 2, I got another stripe. Every time I got a promotion, though, coach Marcelo would whisper in my ear that I need to come more often so that I was doing the system correctly.

After this, I started calling off work to make it to class more. Which led to me getting a new job that ended before class. So now, I was training every day. On my fourth month, I got my third stripe, which meant I could train in the advanced classes, which meant training twice a day, everyday.

Then I started helping out at the gym and coaching the kids' classes. My first tournament ever was the IBJJF New York Open, after only 4 months of training BJJ, I got third place there. The guy I lost to, I was beating him by points when he grabbed my arm. My MMA experience told me to stand and yank my arm out, but since we were in the gi, he was able to grip and finish the armbar. The same guy won the NY Open that day and has won two world titles since that day.

Skip ahead a little. I got my blue belt after 9 months. I had caught up to some of the guys that were there since the day the gym opened but something new had happened. I felt welcomed and accepted. Nobody judged me, and there was no cliche. There was people from all walks of life, but we all became friends. I went to cookouts, sports-bar fight nights, and traveled together with all of these people just because of jiu jitsu I finally fit in.

I finally had a team that, even though I didnt have to rely on them, I knew that i could.

For three years, I had a fairly successful BJJ career. Eventually, though, like always I started to run low on money. The gym was nice and let me train several months without paying on time as long as I promised to catch up. After I had kids, work and family took over and BJJ, although still extremely important to me and my family, became unaffordable.

It's been a year and a half now since I have been on the mats. Coach Marcelo is now Professor Marcelo Mattos and has changed the gym name to TigerShark BJJ. I still keep in touch and tell them I have high hopes for returning. I'm only 23. I still have time to take that next step in my BJJ career but I'm held back by money.

Jiu jitsu is on my mind 24/7. I teach my wife and kids at home, and I plan to return to the gym this summer. I believe my story can be inspiring to many people for multiple reasons. I'm not special in any way, but no matter how many times I'm told that I cannot do something, I still fight to do it. No matter how many times life threw me a curve ball, I kept fighting to focus on my goals, and no matter how many times while following my dreams that I didn't fit in, I didn't let it slow me down.

It is also inspiring to people that may have doubts on whether or not they should sign up for a BJJ class because I have proven that whether or not you are a competitor or someone that wants to get fit or learn self defense, BJJ is for everyone, and as a team and a community, everybody fits in.
I hope you enjoyed my story and i hope you find it inspiring. Thank you!

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Eric Reese
TigerShark BJJ
Carlisle PA 17013