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In the animal kingdom, many of our undomesticated four-legged friends live and operate in a pack based society. It is basically a tiered hierarchy of power and dominance that delegates the weaker, smaller, and for the most part, younger members of the pack further down the proverbial totem-pole. For anyone who has a younger sibling of the same gender, you get this concept. You understand that without that preordained system the world would just crumble into anarchy. Without the younger sibling willfully accepting his role as the second, chaos would reign. Markets would crash, society as we now know it would be irrevocably altered and a new dark age would be ushered in where up is down, right is wrong and the nuclear family falls apart. Dogs and cats… living together… MASSHYSTERIA!

Sorry (*clears throat, smooth’s out ruffles on shirt and collects himself). As I was saying, as young children, my brother Dean and I had a clearly established relationship. I was the big brother. Period. There you go. Goodnight everybody.

What did that mean you ask? Well, it meant that I, for the most part, got my way. I dictated what we did, who went first, where we sat, the video-games we played (I was ALWAYS player #1… AL-WAYS), the music we listened to and the television shows we watched. Early on in our lives this dynamic was based on physical realities. I am four years older than Dean. At six and ten, or eight and twelve I had a distinct size advantage on the poor kid, and I exploited every ounce of power that afforded me. A foot taller and fifty-pounds heavier goes a long way to winning a “his hand is on my side of the backseat during a long car-ride” or a “he touched me first” argument.

As we grew and the size differential began to equalize, I developed and maintained a Herculean strength advantage which I coupled with a Machiavellian game of psychological warfare that would’ve cracked the most hardened of detainees at Guantanamo. I was the Alpha of our little pack.

(Another aside: I was horrible to him growing up. I could blame a plethora of contributing factors from my childhood, but that doesn’t change the fact that I broke his hand, gave him seven stiches over his left eye and made him cry buckets of salty adolescent tears. Just know that I’ve since apologized, and taken to explaining my motives and such, bit-by-bit. Love you Dean, smooches and hugs, your big-bro, Nick)

Then a strange thing happened. We grew up. I blinked and we had both graduated from college, We both had careers, student loans, and our first gray hairs. Dean and I were close. Much of the tit-for-tat bickering had simply faded away with time and we were left with a friendship.

One day when I was about twenty-eight Dean tells me that he and a few of his friends had started training Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) at this gym up in Irvine and that he loved it. I shrugged and kind of dismissively acknowledged what he’d said.

“Cool,” I think was my heart-felt reply. “It’s kind of like the thing where you roll around on the floor with other guys while you wear pajamas?” I said with a small smirk.

I was met with a flat disapproving stare. Apparently my particular brand of humor was lost on him, “No.”

He proceeded, with limited success, to try to explain to me the finer points of BJJ.

“What if I punch you in the face?” I asked. He was silent for a moment as he pondered my quandary. At the time he was a White Belt with a few stripes. He knew A LOT more than the average person but was relatively speaking, still in his Jiu-Jitsu infancy.

“You wouldn’t be able to,” came his reply.

“Why not?”

“You may get a shot in, but then I would kill you,” he answered.

“Kill me?”

“Yah, I’d choke you out or break your arm.”

Well this… I had to see. He was so smug. So confident. Had he forgotten where he was on the totem pole? Why was he smiling?

ABORT! ABORT! IT’S A TRAP! But alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well. (I had a bet with myself that I could work Shakespeare into this. And… done!)

So, in our childhood bedroom at our parents’ house, the room that we used to share with the bunk-beds (of course I had the top bunk) wayyyy back when I was the Alpha, my baby brother and I got into an impromptu submission wrestling match. Suffice it to say, it did not follow the same script that it used to when we were kids.

My bravado instantly dissolved when my pulling and pushing resulted in next to no movement from my “much too calm for the present situation in my opinion” brother. Dean had somehow transformed himself into an Easter Island Statue and had been instantly superglued to the floor. We traded headlocks and I rolled onto my back. Then the fun began. All of my adrenaline fueled power was simply negated by whatever Black-Magic-Brazilian-Voodoo my little brother was now into. He felt like he weighed a metric ton and no matter what I tried I could not get him off of me.

I played college football darn-it! Back in Junior College I blocked Marcus Steele so well that he actually tried to fight me, and then took himself out of the game and switched the side he rushed from because he couldn’t get to my quarterback (That’s my football claim to fame. For those of you who don’t know, he went on to be a standout linebacker at USC and then played in the NFL for a bit).

I am a little claustrophobic. Being smothered and slowly choked to death is kind of low on my list of daily to-do’s. Panic flooded my brain. I’ve never felt so helpless before. I was completely at the mercy of my baby brother, whom I had so ruthlessly tormented for, oh… I don’t know, most of his life. I tapped. Then tapped again. Then, yup you guessed it, a third time when my elbow felt like it was going to pop out of joint.

I called it quits. We quietly sat there looking at each other, sweat dripping from our brows in thin streams. Something deep and profound had just happened. We both felt it. The student had become the teacher, the Omega was now the Alpha, the kernel was now the pop-corn (I don’t think that last analogy worked).

“Pretty cool stuff huh?” Dean asked with a smile.

Morpheus had just told me that I had been living in the Matrix and if I wanted to, I could choose to learn about a whole new world. The world of BJJ. Well I was hooked.

My first class was a brutal awakening into a world I’ve truly grown to love.

Nick Gerasimou is currently a BJJ Brown-Belt under Juliano Prado, at Total MMA Studios / BTT OC in Tustin CA.