I seldom write about individuals, but tonight I feel compelled to enter one person into my official journey records: Jack Walton. As I rock my daughter to sleep, I also nurse a fairly serious shoulder strain. I have been off the mats for eight days, but who is counting? It is the third serious injury that I have enjoyed during my 158 classes…and all have been connected to rolling with Jack. Yep. Adductor, ACL/MCL and shoulder. I should be angry and might have even said that I would never, ever roll with him again. But Jack is special; Jack is the canary in my coal mine. He is the scorpion on my back as we cross the river. He doesn’t hurt me; I just happen to get hurt. Such things happen when one opponent is faster, younger and taller; sweat and spandex do not help either. I will eventually recover from this injury or I will find a way to continue training despite the injury (perhaps I will develop a Chameleon Guard). Frankly, some of my most significant progress has come when my injuries limited my options.
We are different men. Our lives have been in different realms. If I were afraid of the dark, then Jack might be who I would expect to find there. A trickster with wonderful humour, he also has a deeply resonating soul that I appreciate. But I am not friends with Jack in the traditional sense, rather I know him through the roll. When you fight with a man repeatedly, then you should understand him, and I feel like I have come to appreciate him in the way one might a fellow military soldier. Again, he is the man you hope is fighting with you and not against you, which is a good thing. He is always, always my hardest roll. He is the combatant I am reluctant to face because he is unique in his style, he never surrenders, he eventually injures me, and I am willing to let that happen because I know he is the real thing. If I can stand up after Jack, then I can compete with the universe.
He has footlocks and heelhooks. Mostly, that is his entire game, but he is a hunter who simply plays that specific game of his strengths. It is devastating to repeatedly attempt to beat his defenses only to find yourself about to have your leg ripped off. I know this. I dread his game, as I have no way answer for it because it is not my game. I hate this game because footlocks beget footlocks which eventually begets injury for me. Still…I respect his singularly-focused game. He may never receive a blue belt, but he can fight and is dangerous, and revels in the play. He is fun to battle.
I passed his guard for the first time during the last 14 seconds of our last roll and it was a milestone, even if my shoulder was too damaged to attack or hope to submit. I just used pressure and waited out the round. Small victories matter some nights. Our very first roll was in the kimono. He had been off for a while and this was his first class back. He was my class partner and we basically bruised each other’s shin bones blue. In our roll afterwards, we both grabbed collar chokes and I recall him asserting: “I guess we do this until one of us passes out! Cool.” Neither if us did after five minutes of holding tight and jostling for the tiniest advantage that never came.
Jack is also an entrepreneur. He founded a company, Fight Bites, that produces energy balls made from nuts and a variety of ingredients. They taste damn good, and when you are getting ready to spar, they can fill your need for food without making you slow or bloated. I loved the package that I accepted so that I could try some product photography for him. I did two shots, then ate them all while rolling in Bermuda. Pretty cool idea and a superb product.
In my last competition, I ended up being in the same division as Jack. My opponent bailed due to weather so I dropped down an age division. It was a problem for me because I knew Jack and I might fight. I accepted that I would have to choose between either fighting until I got broken or just tapping early to save my limbs. Funny thing though…during that competition we were the only representatives from our team. We had a few wonderful conversations that I will never forget. He shared his attack plans and offered me one outlandish attack to damage my opponent’s wrapped foot. He enjoyed some time with my baby daughter. He even paid for my wife’s entry as I had no cash. Jack was the guy you hoped would be in your corner.
Jack also ended up being the only person from my gym who went to an Eddie Bravo seminar in Peterborough. As my partner we worked through all kinds of pieces that I will eventually incorporate into my game. The calf-slicer from The Truck is perfect for me once I reach that stage in my skills. It was a hilarious three hours working in a tiny space as Bravo yelled at me for not doing anything correct. Being in a room full of men wearing spandex and listening to flat earth theories can be awkward at the best of times, but Jack kept it real and we were able to focus on one technique that we repeated until parts of it were permanent in our memories.
At the end of the day, I wish everyone had a Jack in their lives. His wit, pragmatism, flaws and resilience make him a man that I truly feel privileged to have known. He is an example of a person that I would never have met were it not for the sport of jiu-jitsu, and he is an example of a man who has worked incredibly hard to improve his ways of coping with our crazy world. I know that no-gi competition is extremely nerve-wracking for me, but once Jack arrived on the mats at the venue my fears would subside. The moral of my narrative is that we should all take a chance and talk all of the people we meet. One never knows which ones will become those who populate our best memories; you just never know when your Jack will come along.