What's Your Excuse?
Recently, BJJ black belt and academy owner Tom DeBlass took to social media to call the world's attention to one of his students, Mark Aguirre. Mark is still a few weeks shy of his 16th birthday and is a green belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training under DeBlass and his team at Ocean County Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Forked River, New Jersey. What makes Mark different from other teen students at the academy is that he was born without a left hand.
In the image, shared by DeBlass from photographer and fellow student Mark Ward (Garden State Photography), Mark can be seen with a cast on his right arm after breaking it accidentally during class.
"He was born with one arm. The one arm he did have he broke, he was still in the gi on the mats smiling finding something to do. So tell me, what is your excuse?"--Tom DeBlass
Rather than sit home with his arm broken and sulking, instead, he showed up the next day and requested of DeBlass that he be allowed to lead the warm up for that evening's class. The post has garnered just under 4500 likes on Instagram and almost 600 on Facebook with 95 additional shares. BJJ Fanatics was eager to catch up with Mark to get to know a little more of his inspirational story.
We learned that Mark's been training BJJ for almost two years, starting when he was 14 years old. At that time, Mark described himself as a very angry kid. He was overweight and faced constant bullying in school, both because of his arm and because of his weight. During these years before jiu jitsu, he often found himself suspended from school 4-5 times a year.
He and his father were very interested in martial arts and because they lived close to Ocean County BJJ, they decided to come in and check it out. From the very outset, Mark began to see results. When he started BJJ, he was a 235 lb Freshman and now about to start his sophomore year, he is walking around at 175 lbs. The changes to his demeanor were much more immediate. Almost overnight, he found himself to be less angry. He found himself much more able to easily dismiss the comments he would get in school about his arm. It was very much to how the protagonist in the book and film Fight Club described his life after becoming involved in Fight Club.
"After a night in fight club, everything in the real world gets the volume turned down. Nothing can piss you off. Your word is law, and if other people break that law or question you, even that doesn't piss you off." --Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Training BJJ gave Mark the outlet for his anger and frustration that he needed. It also gave him the positive activity and new circle of teammates who helped him understand that bullies were simply weak themselves, scared and forced to prey on the weaknesses of others to make themselves feel better. Mark was no longer being suspended from school at all because of his inability to deal with his anger and frustration. Now he says it's easy to ignore these bullies, because "I know I could take care of them if I needed to."
When asked if the fact that he didn't have a left hand held him back in jiu jitsu training in any way, Mark laughed and said, "I can't do a seatbelt grip, that's about it. I was able to figure out a version of the rear naked choke and I really don't feel any limitation at all. My teammates at OCBJJ have always treated me like anyone else. We are equal."
BJJ Fanatics asked Mark if there were any specific lessons or pieces of advice that he had taken directly from Professor Tom DeBlass. Mark was adamant that his long term BJJ goal is to be a Tom DeBlass black belt and to also be an ADCC champion. He said that Professor Tom's belief in him is all that matters. Nothing anyone can ever say means anything because of this belief. DeBlass' voice is the only one he listens to. When friends and family tell him he should stop the martial art, namely after he had broken his hand, he never gave it another thought and went back to class and led the warm ups with his arm in a sling.
Aguirre also said that Professor DeBlass taught him some lessons about not being scared of your opponents or challenges. "Professor DeBlass will tell us that you're gonna get tired, that there will be voices in your mind that tell you to quit, to tell you your tired or thirsty, but if you can learn to silence those voices, you will find that it is only the weakness of your mind holding you back."
We asked Mark what advice would he have for someone with a perceived limitation like he has with his arm and also what he would say to someone who is just being lazy and it was no surprise that the advice was the exact same.
"No matter what, get up and get to the mats. Keep going no matter how you feel. Give yourself a year and you will see a big ass difference. Take a picture and you will see. Go sign up today and get started."--Mark Aguirre
Mark Aguirre is about to start his sophomore year of high school. He fully expects people to still try to make fun of him because of his arm, but it doesn't bother him. Like the voice in our heads that tell us to be afraid, or encourage us to be weak, he is able to turn down the volume on these taunts and get through his school year successfully, without the suspensions from his past. In the evening, you will find him training BJJ with his team at OCBJJ. He is a green belt competitor with ADCC dreams and just another student at Tom DeBlass' academy and that's just how he likes it.
For more from Mark's teacher and mentor, Tom DeBlass, check out High Tech BJJ in the Gi from BJJ Fanatics! This is Tom DeBlass' first instructional focused on his favorite gi jiu jitsu techniques. You can get it here!