With getting back on schedule with our student interviews this week we decided to feature one of our very talented and hardworking students T.J. Sligar. T.J. is one of our adult jiu-jitsu students who has been with ASR for a little over a year but only been actively training, due to an unfortunate accident, for only five months. T.J.’s daughter, Leilani, has been featured in a few of our blogs. Leilani is currently an orange belt with us in our Kid’s Jiu-Jitsu class and had competed in NAGA in Orange Beach, Alabama just this past July in 2015. T.J. has been a vital part of ASR for quite some time. He provides a lot of the photos you see on Facebook and also on our new website. From time to time he has also used his other artistic talents by drawing original works for us and our students. He is very talented and a valuable member of our ASR family. We sat down and spoke with T.J. and he was kind enough to enlighten us on his personal journey.
T.J. and his daughter, Leilani
1) What first interested you in BJJ?
Like most teens in the 90s, Royce Gracie. But before that, I remember seeing Bruce Lee grapple in, “Enter the Dragon” and thinking, “I should learn to fight on the ground!”.
2 )How long have you been in BJJ?
I guess about five months overall. I signed up with ASR around last May, I got in a wreck in June, so I spent the summer watching the No-gi and BJJ classes five days a week. I came back just before Grandmaster Mansor arrived in September and have been going 2-3 days a week since
3) Have you ever studied any other martial arts?
Yes, but it was always as a hobby. I didn’t take it very seriously and I pretty much quit it all by the time I moved to Florida in 2000.
4) Have you had any personal challenges to overcome in BJJ?
Yes. I have arachnoid cysts in my brain, and in an unusually high number and size. They really mess with my short term memory and on really bad days, my speech. I have a couple that presses on nerves, so my arms and legs are more or less numb all the time. I have to pay attention in class, and it can be difficult to let go of grips or feel certain submissions. I try to remember how the movement feels and commit to muscle memory, at least, part of it when we drill. Coach Ruas and his team are very good about explaining exactly where I need to be positioned and always look out for my safety. I can’t express enough how grateful I am for them working with me on warm ups and drills so that I can participate with the team.
5) What have you found helps you overcome your challenges?
BJJ conditioning, even on weeks where I can only physically make it once or twice a week has slowed down a lot of the muscle loss I have to deal with. Having a team who doesn’t judge me by my performance, and having the various options to go to class helps tremendously. I do BJJ and resistance band training for my fitness now and am probably in much better health than I would be if I stayed home and gave up.
T.J. Rolling with Coach Johnson
T.J. and his daughter Leilani getting ready for class!
6) Who inspires you?
My daughter. She had to overcome self-confidence, weight and learning disabilities to be where she is today. Now she’s a leader in her own right with the other kids when she may not have gotten an opportunity to be one anywhere else.
7) What goals do you have or what goals have you met in BJJ? Short term goals?
I just want to be the best version of me on the mat that I can be, at the pace that I have to go in as I progress. All I want is to respect myself and be respected. Not worrying about belts or stripes. Long term? My daughter (Don’t be mad, Lani!) wants to eventually teach via private lessons in the future, and she wants to do it as a family. I like that idea, and someday I think I want to do that as well. ASR will get us there.
8) Who is your favorite martial artist?
Of course, Bruce Lee. But in BJJ, Rafael Lovato Jr is my favorite. He’s the greatest American BJJ player, and his philosophy of “position through submission” all while using our pressure makes sense to me. That man is amazing.
9 )What do you do for a profession?
I now work by doing commissioned art and by selling prints of personal pieces as I make them. I do most of it via digital painting programs since my hands don’t like to hold too many small pens and pencils. 2016 will be the first year where I do it as my only job.
10) Does any of your family members practice BJJ with you?
My daughter, Leilani, will have been training under Coach Ruas in the kids program for two years on her birthday in April. She recently earned her orange belt and is training to compete in NAGA in Orange Beach in July. Coach Ruas and Coach Johnson have worked very hard to help her get to where she is today with the challenges she has as well. It is a very big reason why I joined.
11) What has BJJ done for you personally?
It has calmed me down. It has extended my livelihood. It has introduced me to people I would never have met anywhere else. More importantly, it has taught me to be okay with failure, to keep trying, and that the smallest victories bring the biggest rewards. ASR BJJ is a second family, and I am glad that we are here.
We are very blessed to have someone as hardworking and talented as a student in our school and as a part of our ASR family. T.J. is the perfect example of the type of students we strive to have here at ASR. We will continue to train T.J. so that one day he will go farther than a white belt and be able to fulfill his dreams of teaching others. Stay tuned to our blog for more great student interviews and stories.