One of the things on my short list for recovery after my amputations was returning to training in Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Grappling had been a big part of my life when I was younger, and I spent many a teenage weekend at one wrestling tournament or another. As I grew older and got out of school I would eventually transition from greco-roman wrestling into the "gentle art" of Jiu Jitsu. One of my proudest moments was crawling back out onto the mat for the first time after I lost my legs and fingers.... That is until recently.
In august of this year I was asked along with my trainer to bring my amputee Jiu Jitsu skills to the NubAbility All Sports camp in DuQuoin, Il. This awesome group of people host a sports camp and other events every year for limb different kids, teaching them how to be competitive in their sport against fully limbed opponents and teams. I was selected to coach wrestling and grappling, and I had no idea what kind of life changing experience it would be for me.
Taking off my legs and prosthetic hand and crawling out on those borrowed high school wrestling mats was like coming home for me. I hadn't actually been on true mats like that in years, and those mats were filled with some of the greatest and most athletic kids I have ever had the honor of meeting. All were limb different, from either birth, accident, or illness. Hands, fingers, legs, feet, every one of those kids had something missing that made them unique, but they all also had something in common they were missing.
Adversity. Self Pity. Anger.
I saw none of these things in those kids. They were all as happy as could be, and were all so very comfortable in their own skin. That is an important thing to understand looking from a recent amputee's perspective. I have experienced all those things, before and after I lost my limbs, and I know many amputees who still deal with those things every day.
But not these kids.
Working with these young athletes I expected to be the one teaching, but I was the one doing most of the learning. Those bright smiling faces taught me very quickly that the adversity I sometimes feel because of my amputations is all in my own mind, and of my own making. These kids have spent their entire lives limb different, and they don't care. They are not angry about it, they have no self pity, and they don't act at all like they deal with adversity over their limb differences. They just have fun.
When you go to a Jiu Jitsu seminar it is tradition that you have the person that taught you sign your gear if they had an impact on your GJJ game. I have trained with and had my gear signed by UFC champions as well as Masters and Professors of Gracie Jiu Jitsu. They taught me important things, and I wanted to remember that moment.
My proudest moment since returning to the grappling mats happened at NubAbility camp. Every one of my wrestling and grappling students/parents signed my coach's shirt. They taught me some very important lessons out there on those mats. There is no such thing as adversity unless you make it for yourself, and you don't have to ever let self pity or anger into your life.
Yea, I want to remember that. Thanks to the camp kids and their parents for teaching me that valuable lesson.
B Neil Brown