Michael Stratton: Jiu-Jitsu heals the soul

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When GMA member school Gracie Barra Rohnert Park’s Michael Stratton was really young, his parents split up and had shared custody of him and his sister. During one of his father’s custodial periods, he took Michael and his sister and moved them to Idaho from California without his mother’s consent or knowledge. For some reason, Michael’s mom couldn’t get them back. “There was no court order allowing her to take us back,” Michael says, “So, he kept us. He was extremely physically and verbally abusive. A big time drinker. I lived with him until I was 5 years old.”

When Michael was 5, his mom talked his dad into letting her visit for Christmas…and she “kidnapped” the kids back to California. Michaels says it saved his life, but unfortunately, by then the damage was already done. “It threw more trauma into the bucket,” Michael says, “I didn’t understand, I didn’t want to go. The relationship between an abuser and a victim is weird.” Michael says he began to lash out at those around him.

“I love my mom,” Michael says, “She was a single mom with three kids. She did a great job, but by that time I had been through so much, I rebelled for the next 12 years until I was 18. I started partying and got in trouble with the law. I was a smart kid, so I got away with a lot. Thankfully, I don’t have much of a record, but unfortunately, it encouraged me to keep doing it.”

Michael got heavy into drinking and smoking and became a thief to support his lifestyle. “When I was in high school, wrestling was the only thing that kept me sane,” he says, “I was really good at it. I got a lot of offers from college, but my grades were crap, so I couldn’t get in. I got a 2.0 G.P.A. during wrestling season, and a 0.0 G.P.A. the rest of the time.”

Michael left high school and moved to Hawaii when he was 18 years old. He lived there for five years. “I hated the part of me that was a criminal,” he says, choking up, “I figured I could leave that part of me behind by moving away. I wanted a fresh start. I wanted a new image.” Michael says he hated being the guy who couldn’t be trusted. It wore on his soul. So he quit burglarizing, but he still partied too much.

When he was 23 years old, his grandmother, whom he calls his “rock,” called him and asked him to move back to California to finish school. She told him she’d pay for his education in return that he stop partying. Michael agreed and moved back to Santa Rosa to start school.

After two years, Michael found Jiu-Jitsu. “I got into Jiu-Jitsu late in life,” he says, “I was motivated to try it from watching UFC. I watched Jiu-Jitsu guys submitting wrestlers, which I considered my sport, and I wanted to learn it.” Michael began training diligently. He was addicted to the sport, but then, with a 27-2 Jiu-Jitsu record, he abruptly stopped.

“Fear of success has been the theme of my whole life,” Michael says sadly, “I’ve always been afraid of accomplishing too much, because then the expectations are too high, and I think I might not be able to meet them.” Michael got derailed. He won the Pan as a white belt in 2006, and received his blue belt on the podium that day. At the next tournament, he got a bronze. “I felt pressure and let it get to me,” he says, “I started thinking anything less than a gold medal was a disappointment.”

So, with the pain of his past bubbling up and overflowing into his present, Michael quit Jiu-Jitsu. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life,” he says. For 11 months, Michael tried to find his way, all the while missing Jiu-Jitsu with a fervor he didn’t know existed. “I thought about moving away again,” he says, “Then one day it hit me. I was watching a Youtube video of the Worlds in 2009 and the kid who won…I thought I could have beaten him. It killed me watching this kid win my division. So I had to start up again. I didn’t appreciate Jiu-Jitsu until I stopped doing it. I didn’t realize it was keeping me together.”

So 11 months later Michael says he went back to GB Rohnert Park, “with my tail between my legs.” He didn’t know if he’d be accepted back. I felt like I’d let my professor down,” he says, “But he welcomed me back with open arms.” Michael’s professor is Gracie Barra 3rd degree black belt Aparecido “Bill” Faria.

Michael likes professor Bill’s style and his attitude. “He is a great teacher and an even greater man,” Michael says, “He’s very relaxed, calm and patient. He understood that life throws curveballs. He didn’t make me feel bad, so I started training again. I blew the dust off my techniques and they came back quickly. It was getting my body back in shape that was hard.”

Jiu-Jitsu has given Michael back his sense of self and his confidence. “I’ve always lacked focus,” Michael says, “Maybe it was a self-sabotaging thing. But since doing Jiu-Jitsu, I’ve switched my focus and now I want to open my own GB school. I started taking online business related courses and I just completed ‘Foundation of a Successful Business Plan.’ Now I’m starting a Marketing class.” Michael has decided to get a degree in Business to better be able to run his GB academy one day.

This is the first time in Michael’s life he’s had a goal for himself. “I’ve never had that before,” he says, “I have a life plan now and I’m very confident about this plan. This is what I’m supposed to do – have my own GB academy. It’s a good feeling to have. I feel like Jiu-Jitsu’s given me my value in life.”

Michael applied and received his professional fighting license so he can fight MMA. His record is currently 2-0 and he has upcoming fights in August and September. “My stand up is decent,” he says, “But I never had a game plan to keep it on my feet. I want to put it on the ground and take the submission.” Michael trains in Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, MMA, kickboxing, and boxing.

Michael has also started his own family. “I have a son now who just turned five months old,” he says, “Joshua Michael Stratton. It’s effortless doing things differently than my dad did because there’s no other way to do them. It’s easy to be honest now. I’m a common sense kind of guy. I don’t make things any more difficult than they have to be. I love being a dad. I look forward all day to coming home to see him. I already bought him a gi and sewed on all the GB patches.”

Another good change Michael’s experienced is finding forgiveness towards his father. “I forgave my dad a long time ago,” he says, “He’s a completely changed man. He’s been sober for 15 years. He made amends with me, so I honestly don’t hold a grudge. If I’d made a list of all the things he would have to do in order for me to forgive him, he’s already done them all.”

Michael feels blessed in his life in so many ways, he doesn’t know where to start. “I see my GB teammates achieving their goals, day in and day out,” he says, “I see them receiving promotions like stripes or climbing up the belt ladder, and it brings joy to all of us. Bill has a great thing going here in Northern California, and we’re all very blessed to have him here.”

Michael tries to give back by spreading the gentle art whenever he can. “I’ve had the pleasure of going with professor Bill to a local high school and we did a demonstration for the students during an assembly,” he says, “The students loved it, and I enjoyed representing the Jiu-Jitsu flag.”

When Michael’s not training, he spends every moment he can with his wife-to-be, Rosie, and his son. “Starting a family has changed my life,” he says, “I never knew I could love two people as much as I love them. I’m very excited for my family’s future.”

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