8 Black Belts For 8 Causes

8 Black Belts For 8 Causes
I had the opportunity this last weekend to participate in an event like no other I have been a part of. I was asked by a good friend of mine and fellow Relson Gracie Black Belt, Mark Stefonic, to join himself and six other black belts from Ohio in a charity seminar. I have taught and attended many seminars in the past and most of the time the focus is simple. You go to a seminar put on by so and so world champion or otherwise highly sought after instructor to learn some new tricks and skill sets to better your jiu-jitsu. This was completely different. The concept of the instruction was the same but the feeling that everyone came out of that seminar with was something so powerful I am struggling to write the words that describe it. You really had to be there and I hope that when it happens again, you are. The concept was to get the 8 of us together, most all representing different teams to allow the attendees to learn from 8 different instructors instead of one. We would all be donating the proceeds to the charity of our choice. I was excited and honored to be asked to do it but I had reservations. How can someone do 8 hours of instruction and actually absorb anything useful? Their minds will turn to mush after 3! How can I teach for 8 hours? That’s crazy! I’ll be exhausted! Anyone who teaches knows how tiring it can be to keep the appropriate level of enthusiasm up for that long and still be effective. As it turns out none of my concerns mattered that day.
The seminar began with introduction of the instructors. We started with Pablo Castro who graciously opened his academy for this event. Pablo explained in detail about his cause, Alzheimer’s disease, and how it had effected his family and why he was so passionate about supporting the cause. His mother had been diagnosed at younger age than most people are aware is even possible. It was heart breaking to hear his story. We moved down the line and each instructor poured their hearts out about how their particular cause had effected their lives. Kristopher McLeod described his father’s battle with cancer and how it had effected him losing his father to only find out after that he was also diagnosed with cancer and is still battling it today. The last to go was Mark Stefonic. Mark’s cause was breast cancer. He described the struggle his mother had gone through and how heart breaking it was to watch someone so close to him battle and eventually lose her life to this devastating disease only to find out only months after laying his mother to rest that his beloved wife had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of the same disease. Mark’s wife passed away January 6th, 2014. Only 5 days before the event. No one could believe how he could be there let alone hold himself together for an 8 hour seminar. But like I said, this was different. I admired Mark as a man a great deal before the event. I am now in awe of him. His strength of heart and resolve encouraged everyone who attended.
What brought us together was our love for jiu-jitsu. What bonded us together was our love for people. What we experienced transcended the team mentality. We were one team that day. I hope this turns in to something big and I hope to see you all at the next event.
-Robin Gieseler