Choose Your Own Adventure


Choose Your Own Adventure1911989_784362061592121_1451592124_n

by Dane Barlow as collaborated by Angela Sauermann and Edited by GP King When you no longer have self confidence, when your very self perception is shadowed in despair, where do you turn to create that change?  Where does that internal confidence come from to do something about it, to be better when all you want to be is gone, or done with life itself?

In 2008 I was crying in the shower.  Why there? Because I had moved my family into the attic above my sisters garage. We were essentially homeless.  To properly set the scene you would have to first know that I was a successful home builder right into 2007…great income, played hide and go seek with the kids while most dads were at work.  I had been driven and I enjoyed hard work and success.

I had felt the change in 2007 and had begun to frantically sell out all my positions in real estate and the markets.  I went an entire year maintaining my lifestyle without an income.  By the end of summer of 2008 I had exactly $3,000 left.  We moved out of our home and stayed with some friends who owed me a great deal of money.  They never would be able to pay back that money.  And would later also lose their home.  We were homeless.

This is when I chose my sister’s garage.  When I knew I didn’t have anywhere to go, I called my sister and informed her that I would be transforming the attic of her garage into a studio.  I cut a hole in the ceiling from below, built some stairs and transformed attic into studio.  250 sq feet, four walls of comfort.  Enough room for two beds, a small built in shower and toilet area.  Mind you, no doors just curtains.  And a month later I would have just enough money to build in the kitchenette so we would not have to do dishes in the tub anymore, something my wife wishes I would never admit to the public.

When all has gone wrong and your only feelings are those of inability to care properly for the basic needs of your family…that is when a man cries in the shower so no one sees his tears.  At this time, I felt my family was better off without me.  I had many flaws, so how could I ever help them traverse this life? Sometimes, I would wake up in the middle of the night and just stare at my gun, crying. I would go sit by myself in the garage.  I knew I was sick. This was not what a healthy mind does.  But I was too sick to understand.  I just knew it was selfish and since my real dad died in a plane crash when I was 8, I wouldn’t leave my family without a father as well.

I would get dressed and go down to my truck and drive away as if to head to work.  Their wasn’t always work, but I had to pretend I was normal. I didn’t have money to waste gas, so I didn’t go far.  I would skip meals and somedays just grab whatever I didn’t think the kids would eat.  Typically, this was a two year old can of garbanzo beans and a few cans of kidney beans.  I would come home late so I didn’t smell dinner.  I needed to be sure there was enough food for the kids.  I survived a few days on Triskets and bologna.  I would find work that lasted a day at a time buy gas and food for a week, then go back to the worry.  The constant feeling of dread, I never knew when it would end.  I would get some help as I finally realized we had to be using food stamps.

I would gain weight now eating everyday and not being active enough.  This winter would be cold.  I would remain in a shadow without any confidence, it was getting hard to look people in the eye anymore.

When I was 8 my dad took me to my first karate class.  Now my son was 8 and asked me about karate.  I wrestled in high school.  I remembered that wrestling taught me more about body awareness in a fight than karate had.  So, I decided to look for classes in Brazilian Jiu jitsu to take what I knew; what he wanted; and combine it into what I felt was real world preparedness for my kids.

394468_255717281162741_597266950_nThat’s when I found a local black belt, Mitch Coats.  Who received his black belt from Alexandre ‘Gigi’ Genovesi Paiva, one of the founders of Alliance.  Gigi trains his black belts from Rio de Jainero, Brazil.  That is where Mitch met him and lived while training to eventually become a black belt.

Mitch’s product is people, making better people.  I was looking for a place for my son and felt at home in his academy.  I signed up that night and trained the next day.  I loved it and began to attend more and more.  I quickly became passionate about this journey.  My son loved it as well, and then the whole family began to train.  Even now my son and daughters still train.  Mitch helped me be a better person.

After six months I competed locally.  I learned so much about my flaws that competing, taking privates, watching videos, and striving to improve and understand this game became a major goal in my life.  I was gaining confidence.  I was becoming better and was able to chase darkness and hopelessness out of my life.  I was seeing change; learning; and improvement in my life from adding so much discipline and being Driven.

Then I told myself something that would change my life in ways I had not thought possible.  I had always remembered my mom telling me about my dad, who died when I was eight.  He owned several businesses in several northwest states.  When he got out of the military he told my mom that with 10,000.00 dollars and a dream he could make it.  And that day I told myself in the mirror that I would save 10,000.00 dollars and change my life. I was making about 1400.00 dollars a month.  Where was I going to come up with 10,000 extra.

Everyday I reminded myself of what I was grateful for in my life.  Of course my family and Jiu jitsu made that list.  I would also read the goals I was going to achieve and the person I decided to become.  I told people around me that I was going to save 10,000 dollars and change my life.  I also lost weight,  I would tell people I was going to be somebody.  I would be a champion at Jiu jitsu and run a successful business after I reinvented myself.

I started making serious introspective observations about my life.  I was trying to invent my own wheel.  This time I would let others show me the way.  I also looked back and had a Schindler like moment when I looked down at my hands and realized that I had not helped as many people as I could have while I had graced abundance financially. I had not changed anyone’s life.  I wanted to change lives.  Leave a mark and know that I did have a place in the world.


That year I saved that ten thousand dollars and began experimenting or failing forward in my new directions.  I didn’t know what I was going to do yet but I was actively looking and trying things out.

My wife would ask me to quit saving money and move her into a home, which I did. I would take her to Brazil that year as well and compete in the International Masters Seniors Jiu Jitsu championship.  I place second.

Things started to look good again in my small remodel and drainage company and I realized I was settling back into my old life.  I knew that if I kept it up in six years I would be ok.  But I wouldn’t be happy.  Because I never wanted to be that person.  I wanted to change lives.  I thought about going to school and becoming a dentist.  And when the thought settled in and I went to tell my wife she had an idea of her own.  She introduced to me that night the idea that she wanted to give back to the world and feel like she had a place.  She told me she was planning to become a teacher, and give back to children.  I told her I was excited for her and did not argue to let me go instead.  I needed to make money while she went to school, and I had a working money making business.

My dreams were on hold until the very universe itself intervened. I had remodeled the house of my neighbor a few years earlier, Brad Jones, a successful dental ceramist, and I ask him for a job.  Now mind you I knew this would take sacrifice and that was if he even wanted to hire me.  I couldn’t live on a small wage.  I couldn’t move my family back into an attic either.  I went home only to pace back and forth and my ever studious wife stopped me.  She told me I was pacing and needed to share what was wrong.  So I explained I was supposed to stop being self employed, and go work for Brad.

Growing up I had always wanted to be a self employed like my dad.  There was a part of me that was preoccupied with giving up my dream.  I also told her I was afraid of being able to provide while she went to school and I started over in a new career.  She simply told me we would make it work out.  Even if we had to move back in to the attic.  I had all the support in the world and then in the midst of her complete support I called brad jones and asked him to breakfast.

1469777_10152192824280962_1785842739_nAt breakfast that day I knew I had to impress brad and I drew back all my experience learning brazillian Jiu Jitsu.  From beginner that everyone beat to Second in Brazil.  I described to Brad what it took from me to attain such a difficult goal.  To know nothing about a sport, forget all my wrestling and be coachable. The goals I set and the amount of work I was willing to put into being great. I then asked him to teach me what he knows and offered to work for free.  He wouldn’t allow it but decided he would give it a try and gave me a beginners wage and a spot doing reception work, plaster work and janitorial services.

I was the first one to work everyday and the last to leave.  I would prepare brads tools each day as if he was going to perform an operation.  Every weekend brad worked I made sure to come in and help or watch and take notes.  Things were going more seamless for brad at work and he had me fitting all his cases each day.  Then he sat me down on his left, as he is left handed, and gave me a case to work on beside him.  He said he would talk me through everything he was doing and I was to practice all day long doing what he does.  They were long days but I was having more fun than ever.  I Would deliver cases to doctors and watch them be bonded into their mouths.  I saw several women tear up while looking at their smiles and I became addicted.  They felt as I did.  They felt hope and a lack of fear.  No longer does a person have to wonder in the back of their head how bad their smile looks.  Even I penniless realized if your desire to change something in your life is sufficiently important you will create a path to that conclusion.

Anyone can change their smile if it is what they want.  Anyone can sell more, anyone can win large contracts.  Anyone can win a championship, but you have to put in the work, and have the discipline. You can choose to win at life.  If you can choose to do these things then after the hard work you can have the reward.  I am not a phenom, I am a hardworking driven individual.  These are characteristics anyone can have by choice, hard-work, and discipline.

Here is what I did.  The first two months of Jiu jitsu were hell.  I must have been crazy.  Every day I came in and the smallest weakest white belts were tapping me out every two to three minutes.  Wrestling didn’t work I was frustrated and miserable. And after two months I sat up at night trying to decide if I would be able to forgive myself for quitting.  I tried to understand if I was letting anyone down.  In the end I said I don’t quit.  I faced some great tragedies in life, financial, marital, religious, self perception.  I survived depression.  I could survive this I would learn something.

I set a goal.  Goals are just words, if there isn’t a system.  Write your goals down and remind yourself daily.  I did this morning and night.  Your goals must be balanced.  Don’t make them all about Jiu jitsu.  Good decisions about diet, business, work, parenting, and Jiu jitsu.  Be well balanced in life and have a good base.  Write down a dream goal, something currently unattainable.  For me that was winning an ibjjf event.  After one year before I actually competed in an ibjjf event I actually chose Pans as a new dream goal.  What changed? My belief I began competing locally and in the northwest and concluded I could medal or win a regional ibjjf event, but not Pans.

Set a dream goal then set intermediary goals that you would achieve with time that would directly benefit your belief in attaining the next level goal.  Then set goals for this month, week, and day.

Daily, I meditated and read my goals, read from a book that would help me improve myself in business and thinking. I held myself to a good clean diet, worked out either on my own or at the academy.  It takes discipline everyday without fail and after a month I was finally being disciplined on a daily basis.   The cool thing about discipline is it starts traversing into other parts of your life.  You become someone who does the things he says he’s going to do.

225033_376103415790793_2015845808_nThen I had weekly goals.  This week I will go one session without getting submitted.  I will not move like a wrestler.  I will submit my first opponent.  The first one I attained was not getting submitted, finally!  The next week I submitted someone for the first time ever.  I grinned sheepishly.  I had done it.  Then I set attendance goals.  Make three classes.  Then later on I would eventually do something Jiu jitsu related 6 days a week. But it took months to get there.  Rearranging my schedule.  Not watching tv. I set goals like having a one on one date night with each person in my small family.  This was dedicated time.  Spent with purpose and focus on just that one person and we did what they wanted to do.  I was not to be the focus of our time in any way.  I also made it a goal to have the entire family training.  We attained that goal for a while as well.  And Saturdays we all trained and I would help with the kids and intro/beginners classes.

My life was never all about Jiu jitsu.  I had to balance a career that turned into a takeover after one year.  Another challenge of epic proportions as I went out and found private investors to provide enough cash to buy the company.  And I paid back all my investors in one year.  Which many said was impossible.  I was disciplined and also set business and career goals. I have a career and a family.  I have people who depend on me and my responsibilities in life include them all.  I don’t get the option of only training Jiu jitsu and winning outrageous tournaments.

My goals would progress to submitting someone everyday.  And then stop giving up my arms, then my back, then sweeps. These goals were only about white belts, then only blue and then purple belts.

I would find a problem with my game and do a private every month and just discuss and work on a few things each month.  I would watch videos of myself and techniques taught by my coach.  I did not search the internet for videos and answers.  I asked my coach and I made a concerted effort to be coachable.  To gave up my pride and just did it his way.  My training sessions had specific purpose in attaining proficiency in one or two things at a time.  I didn’t cloud my mind with lots of techniques.  I knew I needed to do each technique many times.  So I slowed down my learning.  Slowed down my pride in order to speed it up.  I did not get upset with losing.  My months became theme’s.  Give everyone my back and escape it this month.  Use turtle as a transition not a stopping point month.  Do not hold on to a losing situation so long that I can no longer transition to something safer month.

Then the goals became offensive.  Kimura month, arm bar month, chokes month.  These led to ‘compete’, as a goal.  Perhaps something I was most afraid of.  I wanted to challenge myself to leave the safe cocoon of my academy.  The thought of doing so made my stomach churn.  I would get light headed and my heart would race just thinking of it.  Sometimes I thought I would just throw up.

I knew competing I would be handicapped by fear and stamina and my heart beating so fast my brain would forget Jiu jitsu.  It would reduce efficiency of movements and let’s face it, prove I knew nothing about Jiu jitsu.  I actually set the goal of just being a great white belt.  I didn’t set a goal of getting a blue belt.  I was being the best me I could.  So naturally that meant proving my coaches system against other people.  I would put myself in a situation I had no control over.  In the gym I could avoid someone better than me.  But to compete I must use those better than me to learn what I fault.  And then compete to expose even more about what I actually remember when under the heat of the purifying flames of someone else’s desire to choke me out or brake me either physically or mentally.

To be great at Jiu jitsu I surrounded myself with those who were better than me.   Your learning will stop progressing if you only train with people you feel comfortable with.  You must submit to fight against impossible odds with simple goals.  And one at a time these simple goals, with achievement,  gather together to increase your greatness.

I set up a schedule of competitions and chose small venues, and as my belief in myself grew I chose bigger venues.  Then chose the competitions I felt I didn’t belong.  I went to competitions I was afraid of losing.  Notice I was not afraid of losing at Pans.  Or worlds.  Because that was to be expected.  I couldn’t go unless I had something to lose.  I had to choose something each time slightly more prestigious with slightly more competitors.  I would pick tournaments with adult and masters divisions and fight both in the same day sometimes back to back.  I would finish one match then run over to the other mat where they had been running the clock before disqualification to do that match, getting 7 or 8 fights in.  Then I would do the American cup and  Rio international masters.  Ibjjf Las Vegas.  And lose at PanAm.

The first time I fought Pans I had trained to win knowing it was an uphill battle but confident I had worked harder than anyone else.  Then a week and a half before, my step father killed himself.  In fear my mom would try and clean the mess I went in the middle of the night and cleaned up the mess. And three days later I finished remodeling her house.  This was so tragic to me I thought I would never be able to smile again.  I trained the next day in order to find peace.  I cried while rolling the whole time and my brothers didn’t say a thing.  They didn’t know what was wrong but didn’t ask. They just rolled slow as I cried and tried to do Jiu jitsu.  I fought a weight class up at Pans so I wouldn’t have to watch my weight as I was dealing with the funeral.  I would go out in the third round to advantage points.

Last year brad had decided it was time for him to pull away from day to day operations of the lab.  He had decided it was time to sell the studio.  I was heart broken.  He offered to broker a deal that kept me there as an employee.  I loved what I did but really who would want a ceramist who only had 1 year combined in the industry.  I knew how it looked even though I felt my body of work spoke for itself.  I asked brad to lunch.  There I made another astonishing prediction.  I asked brad to give me thirty days to put enough investors together to purchase the lab.  I told him I didn’t know how I was supposed to do it but that I just felt I could gather the money.  It actually took me 60 days but we signed the contract.


At home I called the family together.  If I was going to do this I needed support from the little souls that kept me in line.  I presented all the documents to my wife and children.  I showed them how it was possible with the numbers the company was producing to make this purchase.  I showed and explained in simple math how it could be done.  I also had to show them our budget.  I was going to ask them to help me reduce the family budget.  They gave up their allowances, they were willing to give up satellite and Internet.  They were willing to allow me to work 16 hour days for the first quarter if needed.  They would give up weekends with dad.  When it was all done pros and cons I asked for a vote.  I did not vote till last.  I did not want them to choose what I wanted.  One by one they raised their hands in support of buying the lab from brad.  I raised my hand last, we were all in favor.

My first goal was to pay back my investors in one year. I set Jiu jitsu goals as well, win nationals, pans, masters worlds.

I reached most those goals, at masters worlds I lost in the third round to a zero zero referee decision fighting from on top.   And then as that year ended and the new one began I was out of debt, and I finally won a gold medal at Pans.

1897995_840795385935795_542307263_n The culture of Jiu Jitsu is filled with my kind of people.  People who change lives through the concepts they teach,  the competitors we face, and the people we roll and train with on a daily basis.  I set out on a mission to change my life, and be a change agent in the lives of others. My desire is to create, inspire, and lead by example; to choose to be a better person than I am.  This is the forefront of my daily ritual.  I am grateful for my training partners, many of them never aspire to ever compete beyond the local.  I am honored to be amongst everyone in my academy.  To walk shoulder to shoulder with so many great people who are working on their own tragedies, trials, and Jiu jitsu flaws as well as character or aspirational flaws.  We all change lives by just suiting up, showing up and never quitting, by just trying to stop getting beat by the same damn challenge everyday.  We just want to be better tomorrow than we were today.  And those individual changes benefit the lives of many.  We train together, lift each other’s burdens sometimes even carrying the loads.  The effects span well beyond ourselves as our disciplines and greatness traverse into all aspects of our lives.

This story is not even about me. If you read it to the end you should know that already.  Deception is a part of jiu jitsu.  I am not jiu jitsu royalty, I have not been training as long as most, this story is about you.  We have all failed, we have done horrible things,  we have created our own roadblocks in life, and most important none of us are victims.  We are responsible for everything that happens in our lives good and bad.

You can’t change the past, but you can command your destiny and change your stars, by the choices you make today.  Why not?  Nothing but choice stands in our way.   Choose to be great.


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