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Grounded Roots With Evan Stuart

Grounded Roots With Evan Stuart

Introducing Evan Stuart. Husband, father, police officer, and new student of the art at Carlson Gracie Grand Rapids. This is our first conversation in a series tracking his journey from white to black belt. We begin at month eight.


Ben Van Doren: This is our first talk, so what I wanted to do is to set the ground for the long term conversation. What brought you to Jiu Jitsu? What were the challenges? What were the concerns? How many months have you been training?

Evan Stuart: Oh, about eight months. January is when I started

Ben Van Doren: Okay cool. So eight months in. At this point, you're probably getting pretty comfortable on the mats.

Evan Stuart: Yeah, for a white belt at eight months in.

Ben Van Doren: Sometimes white belts don't realize how much they have advanced. A white belt that's one month in is a totally different grappler than 30 days prior.

So with that in mind, what made you want to start training?

Evan Stuart: So, my journey has been chopped up over a number of years. This is the third gym I've been a part of in about 10 years. I started out of the police academy. I started at a local gym in the Jackson area, where I'm from, and rolled there for eight months. When I got a job over here on the west side I got out of it, never finding a new one. Probably two years ago, I went to Black Lion for about three months, but work schedule and life kind of got in the way.

Now at work, I'm not working in a patrol capacity anymore. I'm working in our training unit. My direct partner is a member here and one of the big things that we're pushing at our department is Jiu Jitsu based defensive tactics. I decided that if I'm going to be helping teach it, I should actually be training it outside of work. I believe it brings a little more credibility to the instruction. My work partner invited me down to our gym to try it for a couple weeks. I was told that our gym has Adopt-a-Cop, which was appealing to me because that kind of takes the financial burden away. And so, with encouragement from my partners and recognizing the benefits of doing it, I started training again. The GST that we do at work, I could see the benefits in it. I figured if I could get up a broader range of capabilities, training outside of work, it was only going to benefit myself

Ben Van Doren: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of great conversation in what you just said. So many things going on there. So, in terms of coming in, you're doing this because of your job. You're in the police force. Do you think that you would be interested in this if that wasn’t the case, If you were not in that role?

Evan Stuart: Probably, but I don't know that I would do it without some outside encouragement, going into the gym, because it's so easy to make excuses with life and kids and all the other things. Whereas with this, it's job related. It kind of takes a little higher priority, but I was always interested. Growing up watching MMA and thinking that stuff was cool. I always thought it was neat, but that was never really a driving force to do this. It was just cool to watch and maybe I should go into a gym and check it out. So it's tough to say. Like I said, it's always intrigued me, but I'm not sure I would have done it without my line of work.

Ben Van Doren: It's interesting you say that, because there is sort of a gap that I run into talking to people. Everyone thinks it looks cool in casual conversation. Everyone will say, Yeah, I'll go try that out, but very few people actually do. So what's the gap there? For us, people who want to grow the martial art, we’re trying to figure out what that gap is so we can bridge it.

Evan Stuart: You know, and not to jump ahead of you, but I think for me it was easy to justify it for work but the added benefits once you get in here with how many of the lessons learned applied to life itself. If I had a crystal ball and knew all the lessons I'd be learning that I can apply to my kids, my family, my day-to-day stuff outside of work, I think something like that would have drawn me in. However, I don't know how to bridge that gap of, how do you really explain that without actually experiencing it?

Ben Van Doren: I think that what you just said is the message in itself, I don't think it gets out there enough. As coaches, as gym owners, as students, we need to say that more. It's not just about being a fighter or watching the UFC and thinking that's cool to be able to submit people. This sort of translates to a much bigger picture about what we do in our life. As martial artists we just have to do a better job of telling that story, which is what this is about. You know, I'm trying to get that message out there, it's hard work though.

So the life lessons comment, I want to come back to that, but I don't want to get too far ahead of some of the things that you're talking about so far. One of the things you mentioned earlier, and this came up in the other Grounded Roots conversations I had, was that it is a financial burden. It's something that's a hurdle to get over and you don't know if you would have done it without the Adopt-a-Cop sponsorship. Do you think it wouldn't have been worth it for you? Not now I mean, now you're already on the mat. You're already doing this for a while, but if it wasn't for that program would you have started?

Evan Stuart: No, my wife and I talked about it. We knew there was an opportunity at my gym to get a full scholarship and you know that was awesome and that was certainly a draw. But Mike here was nice enough to give me a month, or even a little over for free, just to get me the exposure to it. And obviously, he needed to see that I was committed and I was gonna keep showing up before he would give something like that out. So I had the conversation with my wife and understood the benefits that I'm really getting from being here, from training, and we were fully prepared to pay to train. It 100% would have been worth it, and that was our original plan. It just so happened that before it even came to that Mike offered me The Adopt-a-Cop scholarship,

Ben Van Doren: Mike's a great guy, who's done a great job building that gym over there. I remember when they opened. They've expanded a lot in a short time frame. So he's doing a good job over there.

Outside of starting Jiu Jitsu, you have some incentive because of your job, right? You already knew what it was. You suggest some interest just from watching UFCs and stuff growing up. Once you got started and were actually on the mat, was there anything that was hard to acclimate to the training regimen? There are the skills of rolling, the balance in your life. You have to adjust to these things when you start training.

Evan Stuart: The physical demand wasn't too bad. I've always been somebody to work out and fitness has always been a big part of my life. Jiu Jitsu is a little tougher than I think most people realize with how quick you can get winded. But the biggest struggle for me, and it's what I still struggle with, is understanding how to move your body appropriately, because we have to move it in ways that are just not normal for day-to-day operation and really being in tune with how to move. I'm certainly not the most flexible person on the planet so mobility is something that hinders me a little bit. I've seen progression over the last eight months. Watching me do granby rolls or shoulder rolls six months ago was like watching a toddler flop around. Regarding the balance of life, I'm required to be here, training, minimum twice a week and that's a lot. I mean, with life it's a lot. It's good enough to keep me progressing and keep me into it, but I'd like to do more because it pushes you along faster. I can tell when I train three or four days a week. I can feel some of the lessons and some of the techniques sinking in a lot more than when it's twice in a week. When it’s only twice a week it feels like I'm rusty when I come back for the second day of training. So balancing it certainly is a challenge but I'm getting it done.

Ben Van Doren: I find three days a week to be the sweet spot between trying to find balance in your life, but still progress at a rate that's satisfying. It's hard if you get two days a week in. You can still progress, but it's definitely slower and that's a big difference. It doesn't sound like a lot, but that's a huge amount of mat time over the long run.

You mentioned that you are moving in Jiu Jitsu in ways that aren’t normal. This is something my old Judo coach said to me that stood out, you know, we grew up with Western sports. You play baseball, basketball, football. Then you you come to a grappling art and you're moving in ways that even if you are athletic you may struggle with just because it's not the type of movement you did as an athlete prior. For you, was there anything you did to try to help overcome that, or just rolling on the mat over time you've gotten more comfortable?

Evan Stuart: I'd say the majority of it is just mat time. Just getting in there, not trying to rush through warm-ups, working techniques and trying to do things right instead of doing things quickly. My workouts have changed a little bit to be a little more functional versus static movements. I'm spending a lot more time, some of this is just because I'm getting older, stretching and trying to loosen those muscles and stretch those muscles out, making it a little easier to move around.

Ben Van Doren: That's a common thing that I hear from people, is that they start to change the way they work out outside of the gym, really more as a complement to help them in the gym. They start to realize that they have to, I think the word functional is great. You can go bench press 300 pounds. That's great. But if you can't move around, then what's the point? So you have to be able to adjust.

You talk about moving, and you're trying to slow down on the technique. There are challenges with cardio, and some beating you take on your body. From the context of skill acquisition, what do you feel like you're having trouble with? For example, when you're just trying to learn the technique, how do you learn this move, or how do you learn this transition or the sweep?

Evan Stuart: I think sometimes it's kind of like drinking through a fire hose. The techniques that can be broken down into three to four steps are obviously easier to digest, grasp, and drill correctly. Whereas some of the classes I go to it's not designed for basics. It's colored belts in there and so it's trying to keep up with the six, seven eight steps, making sure I hit those. You know, time after time during drilling, it seems like more often than not, once it goes to a little more of a live drill I'll forget steps three and four or five and six. You know, I understand that when the technique doesn't work that it's obviously something I missed, but being able to diagnose which step I'm really missing. Unless I've got somebody there coaching me as I'm doing it, or one of my partners has been here long enough, and understands the technique enough, that they can kind of correct me and say Hey, your head placement was off or you forgot to pin the knee, whatever it may be. So yeah, it's when there are more steps to them, I see myself struggling the most.

Ben Van Doren: It's hard, especially for new students. I say this to some of my more advanced students too, that when you're in a roll and something doesn't work, it's possible you didn't execute the technique effectively, but sometimes it's not that you didn't execute the technique effectively. Sometimes it's that you executed the wrong technique. You should have grabbed a different tool for the job, or maybe you noticed the moment that was right for that technique, but by the time you started executing it your timing was off. So once actually started it's no longer the right tool for the job. That's more conceptual, advanced on a conceptual level, not just a technical level. Really the only way to overcome that is through experience and getting more tools in your toolbox. But it's it's tough to assess. You have a lot of experienced people at Carlson so that helps because they can help guide you with that stuff, you have a deep room there.

Evan Stuart: Yeah, we're very blessed here.

Ben Van Doren: It’s a good group of people.

What are your goals going forward with Jiu Jitsu. I know you have an aspect to this that's tied to your career. Is that driving force going forward to try to develop yourself within your career? Do you have other aspirations?

Evan Stuart: That's probably a big part of it. I don't know if it's the biggest part of it. I mean like I said I'm seeing all the lessons that I learn on a day-to-day basis in here, and how they do impact positively in my family life, and my life outside of work. It's good for me. It makes me a better dad, it makes me a better husband. It's a way of getting therapy without sitting inside in front of somebody with a notebook. You know, it helps clear my head, and so that way when I'm home, I can be home. I can be present. I want to keep progressing so I'm more credible at work. We're trying to grow the number of people at my department who are training off duty, and the numbers are picking up which is awesome to see. We're trying to implement monthly training in our department. Because right now, it's three to four times a year they get some sort of defensive tactics, but we're trying to sell right now a way to get everybody to train once a month, and I'd be part of that training cadre. So, again, I want to be well versed and credible with my skill set. I really just enjoy doing it. I find myself thinking about Jiu Jitsu a lot when I'm when I've got time to daydream and scrolling through Social Media now like 90% of everything that pops up, is some sort of Jiu Jitsu based video or BJJ cops. I'm watching techniques, getting bits and pieces, through YouTube and different channels.

Ben Van Doren: It's funny how quickly Jiu Jitsiu can take over your conscious

So you said two things I think are big conversations. So I want to ask you about them, and as time goes on we can touch on these more, but as far as life lessons you talked about clearing your head before you go home to your family, is there any other thing that you can specifically spell out that you think is valuable off the mats that you've learned from Jiu Jitsu?

Evan Stuart: I think the biggest takeaway that I get on a regular basis is learning to be calm. When things are chaotic, when things are stressful, just because you feel like you're in a bad position, or things are tough for you right now, how you can benefit from just taking a few deep breaths, clearing your head and thinking through problems. Even amongst the chaos. I think that translates to everything. You know, kids are screaming and are upset or had a bad day at school, or there's drama in the middle school that you got to hear about or they need to be in 18 different places at once. Just when things seem chaotic, understanding that it's not the end of the world. You can work through this. Take a deep breath, problem solve, one thing at a time. I think that I use that pretty much on a daily basis.

Ben Van Doren: Now we're talking about taking Jiu Jitsu and thinking about how to apply it, apply it to life, you know at some point it kind of starts to go both ways. You take life and apply it to Jiu Jitsu and go back and forth to the point where there really is no gap. It's just the metaphor, that's sort of an infinite loop of metaphors between the two. Within my own gym and communication I talk about Jiu Jitsu as more of a process for life. It's a way of thinking. It's not just a martial art physically, but it's a martial art mentally. It teaches you a way to think about things in a way that translates to everything. But again, that's conceptual. So when people first start how do you get that across, or when you're trying to convince people to come to the mats? How do you get that across? It's just a matter of trying to get those things into words.

You also mentioned that Jiu Jitsu is therapy. It's another common thing that I hear from new students experience. Did you expect that when you started?

Evan Stuart: No, I don't think it was really on my radar as far as the benefits of getting back in a gym and training regularly. It’s just kind of an added bonus.

Ben Van Doren: Do you find it to be the same as, you mentioned working out and stuff, being in the gym? Or do you find it to be a different type of experience?

Evan Stuart: I think it's a much different experience. In the gym, I'm in my headphones. I’m by myself. I'm doing what I need to do. But in Iiu Jitsu, it's the relationships with people. It's being on the mat. More often than not I'm the lowest ranked person there, with the least amount of experience, but having the relationships with the people that I do, how much I get back from them. Seeing how selfless they'll be to work with me and help me improve. It's rejuvenating, and then when I have the opportunity in the basics class, when we get the new people in there I've had that opportunity to pay it forward and kind of give back. I try real hard not to be somebody who tries to critique and instruct. I'm not at that level, that's not my place, but I can help by making them feel welcome. When a new guy comes in, it's not the time to go 100 miles an hour and just beat him up. It's the time to give them a positive experience so they want to keep coming back and I see them next class, the next class, and for me that makes me feel good. It's being part of an environment that is welcoming and is building relationships with people.

Ben Van Doren: I'm really glad you use the term, pay it forward, because when I was in your spot, when I was a new white belt getting started I felt the same way. To be honest, some of my experiences as a white belt I didn't enjoy. Like, people were just beating me up. I didn't feel like I was progressing, some of the guys in the gym were just using me as a punching bag, but there were definitely other guys in the gym who were dedicating themselves to being there for me. And that was really my driving mission from then till now, it's just been about paying it forward, trying to progress, trying to be a coach, trying to open a gym. Paying it forward is expanding the martial arts. That's what it's about. I know what I've gotten out of it, I'm hearing what you're getting out of it, and I think everyone should have access to that.

Evan Stuart: I agree.

Ben Van Doren: If you keep that in mind in the back of your head, that's the driving force that should never go away.


We'll check back in with Evan in 3-4 months to discuss his progress. Stay tuned.

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