So….obviously my name is Andrew Babeu. I’m a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) student and competitor for Team Dave Trader Jiu Jitsu in Manassas, Virginia. Before I started training Jiu-Jitsu, I was a fat, sloppy, 15 year-old, 265 lb “wannabe gangster” and the only place I was headed was into more trouble.
When I was younger, I had always been a pretty good student and steered clear of trouble. Things changed quite a bit after my father died following a long battle with leukemia. Without my dad’s influence, I developed into somewhat of a trouble maker. I’m not trying to make any excuses for myself. I made the bad decisions. I just want you to have an idea of where I was coming from and where I am headed. My situation at school deteriorated in my freshman year. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Don’t get the wrong impression – it wasn’t really where I fit in. But I wanted to be in with what I thought was the “cool” crowd, and I paid the price for it.
My mom, a researcher for the Army, hoped she could straighten me out with some old fashioned military discipline and enrolled me in military school over the summer. She thought it would be great – I hated it. After that summer semester, my mom wanted to send me back to military school for the next school year, but when I told her she would have to physically force me to go back, she enrolled me at Emmanuel Christian School in Manassas, VA instead. Needless to say, “wannabe gangsters” don’t really fit in at Emmanuel Christian. Although I have to admit I was still somewhat of a troublemaker, I saw a great deal of hypocrisy on display during my time there.
Miserable and outcast at school, I wasn’t doing much to stay active. Although I have been overweight for most of my life, things got really bad after I got expelled from school. My mom punished me for getting expelled and acting out by taking away most of the freedom I had. Being hard-headed, I just adapted to her rules by staying home and eating, sometimes out of boredom and other times because I really didn’t have much of anything else that I enjoyed anymore. My mom started to notice and pointed out how much weight I had put on. She signed me up for a gym; she sent me to the doctor and to nutritionists; I tried every diet out there; and despite playing sports for nearly every season of my life, nothing seemed to work. I finally just accepted that I would be fat for the rest of my life.
I’m sure everyone reading this can look back on time when they were young and did something that now, in hindsight, they realize made them look at little foolish. Some of you might also remember a time when you rolled around and wrestled with your friends in their basements and thought what you all were doing was something like jiu-jitsu or MMA. I can remember both…..vividly.
Some of my friends had started watching The Ultimate Fighter and soon there after started a basement fight “team”. As you probably gathered from my last blog post, I was always the fattest, least flexible, and slowest member of this group of wannabe UFC fighters. During any given match between me and a “teammate”, I was typically getting choked and arm-barred (and I use those terms very loosely) about every 5 seconds or so. But, convinced we were destined to be future UFC champions, we practiced our poor imitations of the latest techniques we saw used on The Ultimate Fighter and spent a great deal of time beating on each other. Our drilling consisted of jumping onto an unchained heavybag and “moving” from side control to side mount to cross mount to cross body (at this point I actually thought those were names for different positions….so embarrassing). Our conditioning was non-existent. Well…..except for that one kid that tried running on a treadmill while breathing thru a snorkel. And I know what you are thinking, but I swear to you that this wasn’t me.
At some point I guess I finally decided I was tired of being the guy that always got beat up. If I had ever learned anything from Joe Rogan, it was that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was what you needed if you wanted to be able to submit your opponents. So, I googled “BJJ in Manassas”. A few sites came up and I clicked through them trying to figure out which one to choose. One of the sites offered a free trial period. Since I had no intention of actually signing up, I figured, at worst, I could go there and learn a few techniques which I could surprise my training partners with. So, I asked my mom if I could try it out. I’m sure she figured that my obsession with learning MMA was just another in a long line of passing interests and that I would abandon it a few weeks later. So, playing along, and despite knowing very little about the sport (other than it was something like Pro-Wrestling), she took me to the gym that Friday to start my free trial period.
I can still remember the first time I attended a class at Dave Trader Jiu-Jitsu. When I walked into the gym , I was greeted by this goofy kid that worked the front desk. He started by telling me how great he was in both Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. He even “taught” me how to throw a Muay Thai kick. After that day, I saw him in maybe 2 classes. Not surprisingly, he no longer works at the gym.
So anyway, the goofy guy sends me back to the area where they hold most of the classes. I thought I was pretty familiar with the gym – I had done some boxing there before the new owners took over and renamed it. I was astounded. There, right in the middle of the gym, was a huge cage! I walked over to the cage, took my shoes off, and walked in.
The first jiu-jitsu guy I talked to was this tall, skinny guy. He didn’t look like he had too much muscle on him; but one thing that struck me was the veins bulging out of his forearms. He asked me if I had trained before, of course I replied with the standard “Oh yeah….I train in my basement with some of my friends.” I went on to further make an ass of myself; I told him that I planned to be in the UFC by the time I was 18. I’m pretty sure I told anybody who would listen that, “since I used to box – my hands are good – all I need to do is work on some ground game for the next two years and I’m sure I’ll make it.”
Class finally started, but not until after I had successfully made a fool of myself to everyone attending it. We started with a basic warm-up – breakfalls, shrimps, army crawls, etc. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do a single exercise properly and still barely made it through the warm-up. Things didn’t get much better when we moved on to the technique portion of the class. That first day the class was working a butterfly guard pass. The one where you reach under and pinch both legs together, drive your shoulder into them, and then come around to side control. Looking back, my attempts at the technique were terrible. I would barely pinch my partners knees together, put almost zero weight on him, and then kinda just flop into side control. Still confident I was destined for UFC greatness, I was blissfully unaware of any of this.
Next came time for sparring. Dave, the blackbelt instructor, told me I didn’t have to spar, but if I wanted to I should watch a few rounds and could jump in when I felt ready. I wanted to tell Dave, “Future UFC champs don’t need to watch a few rounds,” but I humored him and waited a few minutes before jumping into line. Although I don’t remember much of the actual sparring, I know it was a guard rotation and I now realize the few times I managed to spend any significant time on the mat were when the upper belts took pity on me and let me work a little.
After class I talked to the goofy kid at the front desk about the prices. After he finished (and I finished secretly laughing), I told him that I would be back for my second free class.
The next time I trained, the class was taught by one of the schools purple belts, Big Jay Corbitt. As you might have guessed by the name, Big Jay is a big guy and (whether it was his intention or not) the thing I learned in this class was mainly how to use my size to my advantage in Jiu-Jitsu.
For some reason, this turned out to be the day my mom decided to show up early to pick me up. Ever the salesman (and probably because he knew the goofy kid up front wouldn’t ask) Big Jay asked my mom if she was ready to sign me up. I’ll give my mom credit. She quickly came up will all of the reasons why she shouldn’t, but she wasn’t prepared when Jay turned the tables on her and said that the instructors there would make sure my grades stayed high and that he could already tell that I would definitely stick with it.
I could see that what Jay said had comforted my mom, yet she still didn’t really say anything that led me to think that she would actually sign me up. On our way home, still with no intention of actually following through, but wanting to see if my mom would humor me; I asked if she would sign me up. She told me that it was way too much money, and that I would just quit in a few months in like I had done with so many other activities. I didn’t feel like arguing so I let it go, I was so tired from class that I didn’t have the energy to talk much.
My mom and I didn’t talk much about Jiu-Jitsu until it was time for my next class. I remember she wasn’t terribly happy about giving me a ride to the gym, but I convinced her take me. The class went much of the same way this time around, the technique this time was the hand stand pass in butterfly guard (I remember this primarily because I am one of those people who are apparently incapable of doing a hand stand).
That night, after class, I had asked her once again, but got the same answer as before – it was too expensive and I would just quit. But this time I tried to reason with her explaining that I wouldn’t quit, and how it would help me lose weight. She still said it was too pricey, she wouldn’t pay for it unless my grades were high and she thought that I would stick with it. This type of conversation went on for the next two days, she never broke.
As luck would have it, the last day of my trial was also my birthday. I came to the gym that day with 100 dollars in birthday money in my wallet. After class I was talking to Dave about how my mom wouldn’t sign me up. He seemed sympathetic and he assured me that we would figure something out. I kinda figured he was just humoring me. Iwas sure he had heard this same story before. Every high school kid that comes through the gym door wants to be an MMA fighter, none of them have the money to pay for class, and very few can convince their parents to pay for it.
In a last ditch effort to get my mom to sign me up, I waited inside so she would have to come in and get me. When she came in, I immediately started to bombard her prices. She actually seemed to be ready to sign up until the sales guy told her about the 6 month commitment. She said she wouldn’t do it because I would never train consistently. I tried to assure her that I would, but she didn’t believe me at all. After a long awkward silence, Dave Trader, the head instructor, threw out an idea.
Dave suggested that in order to show that I was serious and would really stick with it, I should pay for the first month. Then if I paid for the first month and trained consistently for that month, my mom could sign me up for my first six months afterwards. My mom liked this idea and nodded her head in agreement. The problem was that I only had 100 dollars and the fee was $140. I told Dave about this but he said it was fine, if I was willing to put up the money myself he was willing take the chance with me. It was hard to hand over all of my birthday money, but it was worth it.
I was so excited, thinking that in only a year that I would be in the UFC kicking butt. A few months down the road I started to realize otherwise. By this time things weren’t going so well for me; my grades were in the drain (as usual) so my mom would only let me train twice a week. I also hadn’t lost any weight since I started, I felt a little bit better but it didn’t show on the scale. Everyone kept telling me I was getting so much better than when I started, I still didn’t see it. After 4 months I still haven’t passed a guard and I still haven’t caught a submission. Guys were coming in for their free week trial and totally dominating me. Then one Thursday night it finally happened, I passed the guard, settled in side control, and got the americana. Even though the person I got it on had been training a month and was about 100 pounds lighter than me, it felt good. That night after bragging to Facebook and everyone else I could tell, I couldn’t even sleep. I couldn’t be more excited to train the next day. The next time I trained we had a guard rotation and I actually passed a guard! It seemed like things were looking up for me. After class I decided to ask Dave when I could start competing. He said I should start training for the spring copy nova because it was local and a good place for beginners. With my grades still in the toilet it was hard to train more than 2 days a week. So I started to actually put forth some effort in my classes, within two months my grades were good enough to do jiu jitsu whenever I wanted. The problem was I could only train 4 days a week because my mom would only give me a ride on those days. The gym was ten miles away so there was no way I could walk or ride my bike. At the time I was only 16 so I didn’t have a licence or a car. So I just dealt with that for the time being. It seemed like I was really enjoying jiu jitsu and things were starting to come together more and more. I knew I liked jiu jitsu, but little did I know how much I would give up for it.