The journey from white belt to blue can be quite easy, depending on the commitment and dedication of the student. Some people have no problem reaching that critical goal, but many can get lost along the way. That’s what happened to Gracie Barra San Clemente’s Assistant Coach Frankie Diaz. Frankie was headed in the right direction on his Jiu-Jitsu path. He’d started something he loved, but lost his focus, as his life began to change directions. His dream of reaching his blue belt, not to mention his black belt, began to die.
Frankie’s start in Jiu-Jitsu was rocky. He’d just moved to California from North Carolina. Like any new student, he was eager to learn and excited to go to class, so, in the beginning, he trained every day. As time passed, though, he was seen less and less. He was living with his mom and stepdad, Paul, who also trains in Jiu-Jitsu. He’d lost some of his independence in the move, became homesick, and subsequently, lost his focus. “I kept thinking how weird it was to live with my parents,” Frankie says. “I wanted to do my own thing, plus, I missed my friends back home.”
So, Frankie moved back to North Carolina to recapture his old life, but as the saying goes, “You can never go back home.” In Frankie’s case, that old adage was true. He left behind his new life, only to discover that his old life wasn’t the same anymore. He had changed, and Jiu-Jitsu was a big reason why. “I missed it,” he said. “The BJJ philosophy changed me. I was living a healthy lifestyle in California. When I went back to North Carolina, I wasn’t living that way anymore. I felt less focused in my life.” Frankie says he never wanted to quit Jiu-Jitsu. The move back home was just something he needed to do to put his past to rest.
For those of you addicted to the gentle art, you may have experienced a similar situation. Frankie had reached his limit in life, and he considered letting Jiu-Jitsu go, but it somehow drew him closer to it. It’s what people call, “the BJJ Lifestyle.” It’s not just about the sport, but also the people you meet, the family you create, and the feelings of peace in your soul you get from doing it. Once you’re hooked, the dedication and commitment to the sport are elementary. Jiu-Jitsu becomes who you are and you naturally embrace the lifestyle.
Jiu-Jitsu was like a magnet and pulled Frankie back to California to reconnect with it. One of his coaches remembers him coming back. “He came in and watched his stepdad Paul train,” says Charles Gomes, “He looked like a little kid in a candy shop – wanting it so badly, but not being able to buy it. He marveled at every technique taught in class. You could tell he wanted to get back on the mats and spar with the other students.”
But Frankie hesitated to get back on the mats. He says Paul kept telling him to go train. “Professor Flavio would say, ‘Where’s your gi?’” Frankie says, “And the coaches would tell me not to quit. They encouraged me to continue and told me I was doing good here.”
Frankie wondered, though, if Gracie Barra would accept him back. “Paul said they’d accept me anytime, anywhere,” he said, “They’re very accepting people and it was true. When I came back, it was like nothing had changed. I hit the ground running with no hurdles.”
Frankie’s fears of being blocked in his return to Jiu-Jitsu were unfounded. He picked up right where he left off. “I felt better because I was committed this time,” he said, “This is who I am now. They made it easy for me. I didn’t have to fight myself or anyone else to come back.”
Frankie says he likes Jiu-Jitsu because it’s “kind of like a safe haven for me.” When he goes to train, he says he feels like life outside the mats doesn’t exist. “It erases any stress I may have and just keeps me calm and focused,” he says, “My mind goes blank and opens up for learning. I also like it because it keeps me active and in shape. I’m approaching the best shape of my life! Need I say more?”
Frankie became a part of the GBSC Staff where he’s the assistant instructor for the kids program. “He’s a very valuable member of our staff,” Coach Charles says, “He works with the students to make them better and he carries himself in a way the kids really respect. Frankie attends all the kid’s classes and helps them patiently and respectfully.”
Frankie recently accomplished that elusive goal he wanted so much. He received his blue belt from Coach Felipe Guedes and he was completely surprised by the honor. “He looked around to see if there was another Frankie in class,” Coach Charles jokes, “Nope, just him. Then he walked up and received his blue belt.”
Coach Charles says he had the honor of being Frankie’s last training partner for the day. “When someone gets their blue belt, I make it a little harder for them than I normally do,” he says, “We had a great roll for six minutes and I pushed the pace, but this time I felt a little more pressure from him.”
When they were done sparring, Coach Felipe, who was watching the roll and evaluating their progress, said ”Guys, I want you to train like that everyday. It’s time for you to push each other because that’s what’s going to make us all better.”
Frankie says the thing he likes the most about Jiu-Jitsu is how it brings everyone together like a family. “Everyone’s on the mats to learn with each other and from each other. Everyone’s also willing to open their minds to new ideas on the mats. If you have a question about a technique or even a situation at home, your GB family/friends will be there. The camaraderie that Jiu-Jitsu brings is second to none.”
Frankie takes a moment to reflect on his journey from white belt to blue. “It’s my life now,” he says, “The whole journey was a discovery to realize that jiu jitsu is who I am.”