Remarkable and forever ingrained! That is how I would describe my training experience with Mario Roberto. I lead a team of sofware engineers at IBM and own a small business. I can honestly say that a lot of what is to follow in this testimonial is why I am where I am today!
I moved to Rochester seven years ago, and have always been involved in some sort of martial art. I searched for a quality style in Rochester and didn’t find anything impressive or real. I tried a few classes here and there, but eventually just started pursuing other interests. However, some of us have an attraction to martial arts that doesn’t just go away. There is something that drives certain individuals to it: be it a personal dream to be a fighter, the pursuit of a hobby, a great exercise for mind and body, or something deeper trying to get out.
I remember walking into Mario’s gym and feeling a sense of “smallness” inside me, together with a low level fear, as if I didn’t belong in that kind of place. Thankfully, I at least had what it took to ignore that feeling and give the class a try. I’m a small guy by most standards; I’m 5’5″ and weigh about 150 pounds. Having to battle guys that outweigh me by 50-80 lbs was not a fun thought for me to entertain.
Mario listened to some of my concerns. I explained that I had back problems, and something I didn’t need to verbalize… Mario noticed immediately that my self-confidence was low. He simply said “Bert, we are a beginner-friendly gym, and I will look out for you”. He told me to take it easy on the beginning, but that I would start to notice changes both physically and mentally pretty soon. He didn’t tell me what they were, but he knew I would find out for myself. So I started training two times per week.
The training, on a purely physical level, was always new and challenging. So many different exercises, new moves to learn, new ways of moving the body – it was incredible. The warm-ups were a full workout in and of themselves. Mentally, I had to battle exhaustion, complicated moves, guys bigger and better than me, and my own lack of confidence.
As time went by, things started to change. I became physically stronger. My back pain began not to bother me as much. I can’t say that the pain was gone, but it was different. It was loosing its grip on me. I would see Mario and others training with injuries, pushing themselves, and this mentality started to take a hold in my psyche. I was developing mental strength on a much more noticeable scale than I had ever had. Mario has a remarkable ability to make a person want to push themselves, but not for him – for you. When you watch him train, you can’t help but want to do the same. He is constantly testing and pushing his limits, and he wants his students to test theirs as well.
From that point on my life outside the gym started to change. As I continued to train, I realized that even at 5’5″ I could prevent bigger guys from throwing me around and submitting me. This does wonders for self-confidence! It is not easy to go against a bigger guy and even harder to endure some of the positions and moves. I remember countless times feeling a panic-like sensation because my mind thought I was out of air or out of energy. In the beginning I found myself giving into this feeling. I would tap out. As time went on, Mario taught me to control my breathing and to expend only enough energy to get the job done.
With these skills and my new mental strength I found myself tapping out less and less whenever caught in those “panicky” situations. One of the best experiences is realizing that one has the ability to calm themselves under extreme stress. One has the ability to dig deep, and utterly refuse to give up. That, right there, changed how I approach life’s situations forever!
It is not all about the training though; Mario also became a good friend. I shared some of my self-confidence problems with Mario and asked him some questions. For example: are people born fighters, are people born with the ability to push themselves? Can one train toughness? Mario answered honestly that fighters are pretty much born to be fighters… but that you can train to be a better fighter; you can train to be tougher. And most importantly (for me), that you can train mental strength and the ability to push yourself beyond one’s perceived limits.
Deep down I have always known I would never be a professional fighter. However, that didn’t stop me from learning what the Academy’s classes had to offer. My goal was always to develop my self-confidence, and to see fear for what it is… a phantom!
As I became more comfortable asking questions, I would pick Mario’s brain for insights into his training methods. I asked things like: How do you push yourself when you just want to quit? Why do you track your training schedules and times so diligently? At any given time, Mario can tell you how many minutes he has trained in the last week, how many days he has been at the gym in the last 3 months, and how many reps of a certain exercise he was able to do - when most people would have forgotten that they even trained at all. He shared some “secrets” that I took to heart outside of the gym.
For example, one should have a power word, he explained. A word that you associate with power, with something that can’t be stopped. When you get in a pinch, when you want to give up, when you want to just throw it all away – you say your power word, over and over. In time, your personal power word gets associated in your mind with not stopping, with pushing and breaking barriers, with finishing what you started. Goal setting is another insight… he explained that setting goals, lots of little ones and big ones, is how a person succeeds in life. Goals are markers that keep your compass on track. The more careful and precise you make them, the more likely you are to reach them and your long term dreams. One goal at a time… with time and training, you can look back and find yourself closer and closer, having met other goals along the way.
The last “secret” I will mention is training with the mind. I never took this seriously until I started training at the gym, and learned that to reach levels beyond one’s limits you have to train the mind to “see” it. The mind gets there first, and then the body will follow. The other way around might work for a while, but eventually it will let you down. Visualization is key – I can’t explain it any clearer than that.
I started to understand these pieces of the puzzle and set out to add them to my being. I started to use them in my training and in my life outside of the gym. And as I said in my opening remark, my experience with Mario’s Jiu-Jitsu has been remarkable and forever ingrained!
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