Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Luciano - Advancing Others

Advancing Others

Last month’s BQB blog theme was “Advancing Others”. Unintentionally, I waited until the end of the month to get my thoughts out of my head and on to paper. Perhaps that is because I was, both consciously and unconsciously, gathering data up until this point. May was a series of events that have shaped attitudes and aspects of the world. May was about recognizing something that is actual and true;

“It is in forgetting ourselves that we are found.”  St. Francis of Assisi

Luciano had a dream; get out of Japeri, go to America, and compete in the IBJJF World Championships. To this point Luciano’s happiness was rooted in family, friends and jiu-jitsu.  He lived a simple, humble life. Selling fruits and vegetables at the neighborhood market helped his family get by, but the resources necessary to make his dream come true were not likely to ever be within reach.

Luciano lived with acceptance and aspiration. He accepted long ago that life was not going to make things easy for him, yet he lived with aspiration. He lived with an inner-peacefulness that comes with accepting that “this is the way things are, whether I like it or not.” That attitude, combined with some outer effort, made his journey itself, the reward. He continued to work diligently, keeping his dream in mind without getting hung up on the result. He was able to stretch and grow and not worry about looking bad, or different.  He stayed centered in aspiration.

“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” Native American saying

Now his dream is a reality. Luciano is out of Japeri and in America. Thursday May 29th he competed in the IBJJF World Championships as a blue belt in the rooster weight division.  He hadn’t even stepped on the on the mat and his life had been changed – and he in turn, changed the lives of others.

Luciano has seen things and had experiences he’d only seen on TV. I was amazed at his ability to shout out the make and model of a multitude of cars as we drove down the freeway. His family does not own a car. Most of the people in his barrio do not own a car. “Estas casas são como em um filme.”  “These are houses like in a movie,” he said as we drove through suburban Kent.  He told me how different the produce [in Trader Joe’s] looked compared to the produce he sold in Japeri. “Muito diferente.”  Despite the language barrier, being a part of a family is universal. Luciano fit right in. He made my husband and sons feel comfortable with his smile, greetings and willingness to learn and try new things. He played “mini-hoop” with Carson, walked Elmo, and had Eason help him download American music to his tablet.

In helping to advance Luciano, he unknowingly advanced many more people. In Irvine he trained and shared stories of growing up in the favelas with Giva Santana. Giva told me what a joy it was to help someone in ways that others had helped him when he first came to the United States.  Luciano advanced the attitudes of strangers; first at Foster Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu where he didn’t hesitate to introduce himself to every person in the gym, joined right into the training and showed people that they should not be uncomfortable that he has limitations because we are all the same on the mat; and he advanced people he didn’t even know, comrades of BJJ, people who came up to him telling him that he was inspirational and that his efforts motivated them. After viewing some training pictures and video people posted, “Tell me again why you say you CAN’T do something”;  “You make me proud to be a member of this community,”  and “Thank you for showing me that my excuses of being too tired or busy to train don’t mean anything.”

Sure, I helped advance Luciano, but I learned that it is in advancing others that we advance ourselves. He has touched many lives since coming to the United States and I know that his influence will continue to make a difference.



Monday, May 26, 2014

THANKS to you for helping!

Luciano is on his way to Santa Ana airport in preparation for his competition on Thursday. He will train and be hosted by Giva Santana and his wife Erica for a couple of days and then by Kerstin Pakter and Team Hyperfly. Making this experience possible is the culmination of support and positive energy from a great many people. I would like to acknowledge them here:

·        For Carly’s generous spirit that inspires me every day to be a better person, and my family who has endured several months of couch-surfers, piles of gis, giving rides, not enough snacks – ever, and has kept smiles on their faces the entire time … at least when I’m around. Love you

·         Jean Carlos Freitas: It was his idea to try and bring Luciano here

·         The Challenged Athlete Foundation: For making funding available for such endeavors

·         The CarlyStowellFoundation and JamminBJJ

·         Kerstin Pakter and Hyperfly: for providing Luciano’s first gi, his new gi and gear, and for a loving place to stay

·         Rick Geist, Mike Baltierra, Kris Shaw and BJJ Legends, Maple Valley Reporter, Gracie Mag and BQB Publishing, for the publicity, social media updates and website changes

·         James Foster and Team Foster: For the never-ending encouragement and sharing of goodwill;  for being role models of the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle and always having my back

·         Giva and Erica Santana: for hosting Luciano before the tournament and providing training

·         Debbie Foster and Sam Geist: for tailoring and patch-putting-on-ing on Luciano’s new gi

·         Javier and Revolver MMA for designing Luciano’s commemorative t-shirt

·         Devin Bauman for the shirts and printing

·         All of you who have purchased a shirt to help the cause!

·         Cashquinha Guimaraes, Paulo Marcio and Top Brother in Brazil

·         Ian Wood for communication resources

·         Hellem for giving me confidence with my Portuguese

And THANK YOU to all of you out there whose names I might not know, but who I know are supporting this quest. It is a life changing experience for an inspiring young man. We can all learn something from him. If you see us at Worlds, be sure to come up and say hi. Don’t be surprised if he wants a picture with you J
Check out an album of pictures from his trip so far on the JamminBJJ FaceBook page.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Luciano is here!

Luciano arrived Thursday at SeaTac airport after his first-ever plane flight. In my effort to be helpful I told the agents at Delta that he might need some assistance because he didn’t speak English and was a double-arm amputee. I was concerned mostly that his plane-change in Atlanta and the walk through customs go smoothly. I met him at the exit area of the gate – he was being escorted in a wheelchair … apparently most people requesting “special assistance” receive this courtesy. I think he was embarrassed. I later learned that someone on the plane tried to feed him, thinking he couldn’t do that himself. I’m glad he had a good laugh over it and didn’t start his trip off thinking Americans are helpful, but presumptuous and maybe a little dumb. (Wait a minute… we are all of those things…)

After spending three days with him, let me tell you, he needs very little “special assistance”. My teenage sons can learn a lesson from him. His bed is made every morning without a wrinkle anywhere. His things are tidy, he buses his dishes and offers to wash them each time. (”Thanks, but I got it. In America we are lazy – I just put them in the dishwasher – you have about 20 plates to choose from each day.” UGH, overabundance is another American trait.)  Before his arrival the question I was most asked was, “How does he eat?” I didn’t know. I had only trained jiu-jitsu with him in Brazil. Well, he eats with a fork; not exactly like you and I, but neatly and efficiently. His left arm is able to bend a little at the elbow and that afforded angle is the key to most things. He uses a toothbrush, carries all of his own things and takes pictures with his new tablet (courtesy of Professor Foster). He holds the tablet with is arms and pushes the button with his chin. His shoulders are also incredibly flexible. He can write and is a maniac for a computer keyboard. Most of his downtime is spent on “Faceebookee” where he keeps his family and friends up to date on his trip. He’s amazing and I feel blessed to be learning from him.

We trained the first day he arrived. He proudly wore his new Hyperfly gi. Debbie Foster – seamstress extraordinaire – had altered the sleeves for him and put on patches. (I was off a little on one sleeve length, which by IBJJF rules must be a “finished seam” and no less than 5 cm from the [wrist]. More sewing gratitude to Sam Geist for shortening the sleeve and adding his team patches.) After I introduced him to Coach Foster, Luciano bowed onto the mat and introduced himself to every team member there. He joined right in; A fine example that BJJ is for everyone and we are all one on the mat. He needs someone to tie his belt for him, but other than that, his game is incredible and he trains “duro” (hard) – preparing himself for Worlds. *Side note – today I told him he could train for five hours if he wanted to and his grin went from ear to ear.

Yesterday we did not train, but we got a lot of exercise walking the hills and stairs of the Seattle Waterfront. We went on the new Big Wheel. It was a gorgeous day and we could see the Olympic peninsula, Space Needle, ferries, barges and sailboats. At one time I thought I lost him when I was waiting in line for the Big Wheel tickets and I told him to go look around. I’d gotten the tickets and he still hadn’t returned. I wandered a bit looking for him, but then used the good Scout rule of staying put when you (or someone else in your party) is lost. Eventually he returned with photos of himself with a variety of Seattleites; people in Mariners shirts and SeaHawks jerseys, himself by the carousel and with street performers. Good job Seattle!! Way to welcome a visitor. I was proud of my city. That morning he and I met my Portuguese tutor so that he could speak freely and I’d learned that one thing he was shocked by was how everyone just left their stuff around, doors unlocked and women put their purses on the ground. We were in a Starbucks and a gentleman near us got up and left his laptop on his chair to go outside and make a phone call; both Hellem and I plopped our purses on the floor when we sat down. I was scolded many times in Rio for my naiveté. But, we were in suburban Maple Valley. I know downtown Seattle is not Maple Valley, but neither is Rio de Janeiro.

Thank you to all who helped make his trip possible. I did not do this alone. A “thank you” list will be up soon. Tomorrow he will fly to Irvine to stay with Master Giva Santana and his wife Erica. He will train and prepare for the tournament. I arrive Wednesday and he competes on Thursday. I will keep you posted.

Obrigada e vai com Deus.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"And they're off..." Luciano gets his visa

“And they’re off…”

Who said “bad news comes in threes?“  I’m here to argue that “good news comes in threes.”

I’ll be honest that last week I was getting a little discouraged about Luciano’s trip. It was Friday and he still didn’t have his visa. I had written to a couple of newspapers and Jiu-Jitsu magazines and heard nothing back. The artist I was trying to get to design a t-shirt for Luciano said he was too busy with other projects at this time. There were a multitude of loose ends I couldn’t pull together without more time, information and help.  And on Saturday I got the disturbing news that Luciano had been robbed at gunpoint and the new tablet-camera he bought for his trip was stolen. Maybe this endeavor wasn’t nearly as cool and inspiring as I seemed to think it was. No. I knew that it was. Sometime during my journey through grief I began to recognize the flame in Carly’s spirit that glowed with “do good, and good will come back to you.”  I believed that to be true.

Maybe the part I didn’t recognize was the underpinning “you have to be patient” part. I’m learning that part now. Monday good news came in a threesome.  First I got a message from Jean telling me that Luciano got his visa. (Hear my big sigh of relief?)  Then I opened an email from Caroline Gracie telling me that Gracie Mag wanted to cover Luciano’s story and his participation at Worlds. What? I got goosebumps. (For the uninitiated, Gracie Mag is like the biggest name in Jiu-Jitsu publications; international, half is written in Portuguese.) They posted this story online already: http://www.graciemag.com/2014/05/disabilities-are-no-match-for-jiu-jitsu-how-one-blue-belt-has-gone-beyond-his-limitations/

And for a threesie: I made a connection with an artist to design the t-shirt. When I was getting the feeling that the other prospect wasn’t going to work out, I sent a message to Albert. I call Albert my “fighter-friend.” Not to diminish calling him just a “friend-friend”, because he is definitely that too, but Albert was one of my students who later came to train at FosterBJJ and now fights MMA. He made his professional debut last month and won. http://www.sherdog.com/fighter/Albert-Tadevosyan-84326  I could write a story about him, I’m very proud, but later. The artist is the same guy who designed Albert’s banner and walk-out shirt, Javier.

So about the tee.  Javier and I connected via messenger and I described my idea. He was very interested in being a part of the project and was very upbeat; As much as you can be upbeat typing in messenger – a splash of emoticons helps. When we got to talk by phone (I know, how antiquated) it become obvious this was meant to be. Javier had designed a graphic a while ago with a Brazilian vibe, but one he never did much with. At the same moment he opened the file to look at it, I messaged him. Throughout my description of what I thought I wanted, he knew his graphic belonged on this t-shirt. I don’t want to be a spoiler and show everyone the design now, but very soon. It commemorates Luciano’s heritage, his courage and his motto, “Difficult does not mean impossible.”

You will love it and I expect you all to pick one up. Proceeds from the sale of this shirt will help fund the remainder of his stay in the US and Give the Gift of a Gi. Luciano steps on terra firma USA next week, May 22nd. He will be in the states until July 3rd. My first task will be to keep him from getting overwhelmed. I’m glad that I have been studying Portuguese, but have the feeling that my “it’s fun to learn new things” attitude will be tested. I will have to use my Portuguese to REALLY communicate. The next 40 days will, no doubt, serve as two years of tutorial. O que você vai fazer?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Inland Empire Latino Book and Family Festival

On Saturday I had the privilege of attending the Inland Empire Latino Book and Family Festival in San Bernardino, CA.  LBFF is an annual event, but this was the first time it was held at the University in San Bernardino. It was also the first time I ever attended or participated in a Latino book festival.  I was told the event had been growing each year and needed a larger space.  At one point I heard that 6,000 people attended.

Upon arrival I checked in to get my author’s badge and was shown the space I could use to display my book. It was a space shared by other “Award Winner Authors” of the International Latino Book Awards, part of Latino Literacy Now.  I was at this book festival because the Portuguese version of Flowing with the Go, Indo com o Fluxo, won an award in the Non-fiction Books in Portuguese category. It was a small category in comparison to the number of non-Portuguese books. Most of the books were written in Spanish, were translated into or from Spanish to English, were written by authors of Latino heritage or were about topics related to Latino culture.

The event was held on May 3rd; close enough to May 5th to be publicized as having a Cinco de Mayo flair.  Billed also as a family festival there were booths for kids – face painting, crafts and balloons. The center stage, surrounded by the author booths and booths of Latino art, was active all day with cultural dancers and musicians as well as children receiving awards for art, poetry and story entries they had written.  One of the reasons I chose to attend the LBFF was that I had the opportunity to sit on a panel. I joined two other women speaking on The Writing Process.  It wasn’t standing room only by any means, but it was a nice addition to being at the festival. My two favorite moments were first when the moderator asked each of us to share how our Latina heritage played a role in the creation of our books – I’m not a Latina, and I can’t speak Spanish OR Portuguese, so I played that one off with humor, and secondly when the moderator and an audience member got in a disagreement about “labeling”. The audience member did not like the term Latino, or Hispanic, but preferred Chicano.  He quite confidently explained why despite eye-rolling from the moderator who himself had an impressive resume and his own opinion on the topic.  (The audience member went so far as to declare that the event should be called the Chicano Book and Family Festival.)  Not having any label to defend, I found the confrontation entertaining and educational.

I actually had a third favorite moment and that was having two of my best southern California girlfriends at the event to support and heckle me. They had never been to a book festival before, but that didn’t stop them from posing as my entourage so they could get the free food in the author’s lounge.  I’m not sure the day was enough to have them become book festival groupies, but I loved that they were there and that we could post-function in Temecula (which is wine country in case you don’t know the place).


Still Waiting for His Visa

I dislike that I have to make a correction already, but my enthusiasm misled me.  Luciano does not yet have his visa. The paperwork I saw last week was the receipt for the visa application. Luciano still needs to go to the embassy for an interview to get the visa.  This is so different than the visa process I use here in the United States where I just get a money order and mail it to Travisa in San Francisco and they do it all for me.  Still, I remain happy and optimistic that I will get word of his visa finalization any day now. Once we have the visa we can decide when Luciano will arrive.

Luciano will have more than the issue of competing at Worlds to deal with. At least I think these are issues of concern:

(1)    Culture shock.  This trip will present a multitude of “firsts” for Luciano. First plane ride, first time in America where everything is bigger, faster, and in greater abundance. Different food (and more food available than he has ever known) and the language barrier. I am reminded of my first trip to Brazil where the language barrier was a big shock. I plan to have someone more fluent in Portuguese than myself available to make him more comfortable.  In Brazil having less food available and food that was fresh and unprocessed was a huge bonus for me!

(2)    Jet lag.  I want him on the west coast, at minimum, a few days before the tournament.  

My issues – come on, they are of no-less importance than his, right?

(1)    Fly into Seattle or Southern California? Flying Luciano into Seattle makes things a lot easier on me.  I can pick him up, he can train at my gym  (FosterBJJ), and then we go to Worlds later in the week. As a blue belt he won’t compete until Thursday or Friday according to the schedule.  AND if I fly him back to Brazil from Seattle then I can send a couple of bags of donated gis with him. [It is always my intention to send donated gis with people I know traveling to Brazil. In fact I may time my trip to Brazil so that I depart with him so I can also bring gis and get a car to bring him home and deliver gis.]

(2)    I am still working when Worlds rolls around. This will really cramp my style. Our school year does not finish until June 18. However, I have already told myself that this is a meaningful occasion and certainly worthy of missing work for. Right?

I already have many people to thank as these preparations continue; Jean, for handling all of the details in Brazil. I could not do this without him;  Kerstin Pakter and Hyperfly (www.doordie.com) who has not hesitated to be of assistance. Hyperfly will donate a new gi to Luciano to wear in competition as well as Hyperfly gear to look swag in.  Hyperfly will also pay his registration fee; Kris Shaw and BJJ Legends magazine who is helping promote this endeavor and is a great sounding board for me; Giva Santana who has offered to coach Luciano at the tournament and offered training space at Lotus Club Irvine; Team Foster who eagerly awaits Luciano’s arrival and the opportunity to introduce him to some Pacific Northwest BJJ.  

Keepa you fingas crossed about da visa!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Cuppla Steps Closer to His Dream

A Chance to Compete

Luciano, the young Jiu-Jitsu fighter from Japeri, Rio de Janeiro will get to fulfill a life’s dream: to come to the United States and compete.  JamminBJJ is thrilled to be a part of this endeavor, although it has been a bit of a bumpy ride.  Let me tell you how all of this started.

You met Luciano in a previous blog where I introduced him as an inspiration and symbol of resiliency. He is twenty-seven, a blue belt, a tenacious competitor (I rolled with him) and a double-arm amputee. Those are the characteristics you see. What you may not know is that Luciano is soft-spoken, kind, determined and generous. He is comfortable being a role model for the children at the Japeri gym whose lives may not be as physically challenging as his, but are no less challenged with the hardships of poverty.

My friend Jean, who has been reaching out to assist Luciano for quite some time, suggested that I try to find a way to help Luciano come to the United States. I mulled it over and eventually did what I always do when I need answers, I went web surfing. I felt confident that at the right time I would find a combination of key words that would take me where I needed to go. Sure enough, I found The Challenged Athlete Foundation (CAF).  
The mission of CAF is to provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities to pursue an active lifestyle through physical fitness and competitive athletics. The CAF believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life. (www.challengedathletes.org/

CAF makes grants available in three categories one of which is competition and travel.  I wrote to CAF to ask if I could write a grant on Luciano’s behalf.  For obvious reasons, he is not capable of writing it himself.  Add, limited internet and phone access and does not speak English and you can see why they agreed that this was a unique circumstance and allowed me to write the grant.

The writing process involved gathering information from Luciano about various aspects of his life; details of sport participation, financial situation, proof of disability (a picture was not enough, this required a doctor’s note), volunteer work, coach’s letter and his goals and dreams. I have to acknowledge the assistance of Jean here. Without his tireless efforts to find and communicate with Luciano – which included translating all the questions I needed answered, hounding Luciano to gather the necessary paperwork, scan the paperwork and send it to me - the grant would never have gotten completed. Jean also insisted that Luciano get a passport, just in case – good idea.

Last week I found out that Luciano received a grant of $1,500 to travel to the United States and compete at the BJJ World Championships.  (Celebrate here) The tournament starts May 28th. Let the scrambling begin! The grant awards were to be announced in early April. I tried to not think about it, but as the middle of April arrived I was wondering why I hadn’t heard anything and thought that perhaps he would not receive a grant. As it turned out, the recipient letter and the check were mailed to Brazil. ** I must interject here that mailing anything to Brazil bears a 50% chance that it will (a) never arrive or (b) arrive months after it was sent.  That these papers made into a favela in Japeri can only mean that Carly is again guiding these efforts. (Thanks, babe.)
Thrilled that Luciano got the grant, I was now pressed to figure out how someone without a bank account was going to deposit a check and then buy an airline ticket without a bank card. After a few complex ideas were tossed back and forth with Brazil, I wrote CAF and asked if they would be able to cancel the check and then make it out to me. The people at CAF completely understood and agreed that the idea made sense. The drawback? Cancelling and reissuing a check involves the finance department, two signatures and two weeks to arrive. Yikes. Fortunately I had some funds from a JamminBJJ fundraiser (Thank you, FosterBJJ) to cover the costs until the check arrives.

Today I found out that Luciano got his visa so I am breathing easier. Next major step is deciding when to have him arrive and purchasing a ticket. Minor steps?  …. Stay tuned for the next blog

Monday, April 14, 2014

New Belt, New Beginning

A New Belt, A New Beginning

On April 9, 2014 I was awarded my purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). There are five belts, or ranks, in Jiu-Jitsu. You begin with white, then blue, purple, brown and finally black. How long you stay at any one rank depends entirely on subjective assessment from your instructor. Generally speaking, the purple belt is the level where a student begins to refine their technique and takes on more responsibility for assisting students of lower rank.

The date of my promotion was just three days before the anniversary of my daughter’s death. I had been having a rough week. I almost didn’t go in to train that night. I was caught between those feelings of, “I want to be alone”, and “I want to be with friends.”  The gym has served as my sanctuary many times and my teammates always have my back, so in the end I chose to go and train.  Sure enough, the emotional turmoil of anticipating a day I wanted to forget subsided after rolling myself in a sweaty glow.

About six years ago, a year and a half after I lost my daughter, BJJ found me; a broken-down, out-of-shape, grieving mother who had given up hope of ever being happy again. I had previously never participated in a martial art. Little did I know, but the tenets of this martial art, my coaches and my teammates would help me navigate the debilitating and unmapped road of my despair.  BJJ was a new beginning, my beginning to heal. I reflected upon this when I returned home that night to do two things; (1) show off my brand-new belt to my family, and (2) place my blue belt above my daughter’s picture. My blue belt sits beside my white belt, two symbols of separate yet convergent journeys.

In my book, Flowing with the Go: A Jiu-Jitsu Journey of the Soul, my memoir ends with these words, “My promotion to blue belt was not my goal, but when Coach tied that belt around my waist, I knew that my journey was a worthy one. And when he took my white belt and tied it in a knot so that it could not be worn again, I finally had a measure of my journey. My most difficult days and my struggles to simply survive were behind me, and I could not go back there again.”

Surviving grief has taught me that every ending is a new beginning waiting to be noticed.