Mike Zook is a jiu-jitsu white belt at Easton Training Center – Arvada.
So why Jiu–Jitsu? Why not karate or taekwondo or kali or any other number of martial arts? Why did you decide Jiu-Jitsu?
I think personally for me, having a wrestling background and wrestling my whole life, it made sense as a sister sport to wrestling. I love to grapple, and there isn’t much grappling in karate or taekwondo. I think Jiu-Jitsu can actually be used in every day self defense situations, as can wrestling. It felt like a natural transition and like I would have the base to be good at it.
Did you wrestle in high school or college?
Yeah, I did some program wrestling in college, and I wrestled all through middle school and high school. I loved it. And then that competitive aspect of Jiu-Jitsu interested me, too. Being that competitions are starting back up, it gives me that opportunity to feel what it felt like to be at wrestling meets and competitions.
How did you find out about Jiu-Jitsu? It’s such a niche thing.
I always knew about it because of watching UFC all the time. But I was at Buffalo Wild Wings, my girlfriend was a waitress there, and I met Jeremey…
Oh Jeremey, from here at Arvada?
Yeah, from here, and then his brother!
Yes, the twins! And he said, you should come do it, and I said yeah! And then I got addicted to it, just like I do everything.
So there’s a ton of other BJJ gyms in the valley. Why did you decide to stay here at Easton after you started classes here? You could have gone anywhere else after this.
I’ve told a lot of people this. I think that a lot of people, when they start something something new, they get nervous and scared because they look around and they see a lot of people who are really, really good. And you being the newbie, you feel like you’re just going to get smashed. But when I came in here, I was instantly treated no differently than anybody else.
Everybody was extremely kind. You can really tell that you guys are growing together and not growing better than one another. And the patience, and the time… you know, Coach JT would stay after class with me and roll around. I would come in on Saturdays for that competition class. People dedicating their time to me is important. It just shows me who they really are. And I think there’s a lot of people here that do that. And it’s almost like a second family and its great, and it’s fun to be around people like this.
Yeah, I noticed that a lot of other gyms, when I was trying gyms out, had a more competitive atmosphere with their own teammates. And when I came here, I was treated like a family member. People wanted to share techniques with me instead of hoarding them all to themselves.
So what has been the hardest part of your white belt journey so far?
Well, I don’t compare myself to other people. I compare myself to myself. And the hardest part is not being too hard on myself. Knowing that you’re not going to get everything over night. Pacing myself. And just not getting frustrated at certain things. Like, for instance, when I roll with Carson, he’s 6 foot however tall, 200 something pounds –
10 stories tall haha.
Yep, and Professor Chris is like, Mike, go out the back door! And create space! And in my head I’m like, I’m trying! He is huge! And then he does it. Granted, he is a lot bigger than me, but still, I know that I’m capable of doing it but not executing it properly. So just, you know, trying to just figure that stuff out and not being hard on myself. That’s the hardest part of my journey so far. Just taking everything with a grain of salt. And focusing. But, to be honest, now that I’ve reached my goal of the 3 stripe –
Haha yes to be able to compete.
I don’t care about any other belt!
Yeah for sure, now it’s just the journey. I noticed that too, because, you know, I’m smaller and I know that it’s possible for me to take these bigger people on with technique. That’s what Jiu Jitsu is about. I know that I can create space, I know that I can do these things Professor tells me to do, but it’s just – I don’t have the exact technique down. But I have to be patient with myself. And then I find myself being able to do some of those things later down the road and I would think to myself, “There was no reason to be that hard on myself about that.” That’s like a toddler being hard on themselves because they can’t speak full sentences yet.
Yeah, exactly, it’s tough. And I think a lot of it just has to do with my competitive mindset. I’m always going to be hard on myself. Everything that I do, I want to be the best at it in the position that I’m in. So, you know, if I’m a white belt in Jiu Jitsu, I want to be the best white belt there is. If I’m a blue belt, etc. Because I’m putting so much time and effort into it, I want to be the best at it. But the biggest thing is, I don’t compare myself to other people because everyone comes from different paths.
Totally, and everyone is a moving yard stick so you can’t really fully compare yourself to the people around you because they aren’t staying stagnant in their skill level.
So, conversely, what has been your biggest high or success so far in Jiu-Jitsu?
Man that is tough!
Could be two things, haha!
There’s so many great things! I think the biggest high would probably be being able to open up and go to the all levels class and do a Randori. That was an extreme high. Because I was getting frustrated with myself in the fundamentals. I could feel myself outgrowing it, because I wasn’t sweating as much, my cardio was getting better, so I would walk out of fundamentals without a sweat. And that first time in all levels, I went all out in the live rolling part and I couldn’t even get past 2 rounds without feeling like I was going to throw up. That was an extreme high. It was like, holy cow that was awesome!
And I think the other one is, you know, everyone’s probably going to say it – getting your first submission.
Yeah for sure, your first legit submission.
And you try to be humble about it. You don’t want to be like, “YEAH!!!!” So you keep that in your head and you try to be externally chill about it. “Cool yeah…” Haha. But it was definitely a very memorable moment. And then getting my first complex submission, which was a mounted triangle, was on another level. Because I was getting my submissions in ways like front collar chokes, but when I started getting the arm bars and the triangles – that was a highlight.
This complicated weird stuff works!
You start to see the work and the sweat that you put into it pays off. I love it.
It’s super cool. So how has Jiu-Jitsu affected your life outside the gym. Especially during Covid, because you started during Covid.
It’s all I think about. It effects my routine. It has become such a big part of my life that, even in my relationship, it’s hard for me to share the love I have in regards to Jiu Jitsu with someone else if they don’t do it. I’ll hear, “Well, why do you HAVE to go do it?” Well, I don’t have to go do it. I just really, really, really want to go. I understand you want to spend time with me. And I say I have to do it, because genuinely, maybe I do have to do it. I owe it to myself to keep pushing myself. So it effects the amount of time I spend with a lot of my friends and family, but at the end of the day, I am doing something I love.
Yeah, and how rare of a thing is it to have something in your life that you want to do so much? How many people have that? Most people have pretty monotone existences. But to have something you’re so passionate about… It really is almost like you have to!
Yes, I do! I really, really do! Like, when I took two weeks off, two whole weeks, and it should have been more, but it was absolute torture. I came in and watched class once and I said, “I can’t do this.”
What were you saying to Coach earlier? It’s like someone holding up a honey bun to you?
Yeah, haha, that is my guilty pleasure, a honey bun with a big tall glass of milk, and it was like someone was teasing me with it! That’s kinda like what that was.
And this is way better than honey buns, man haha!
I totally agree. And a lot healthier for you, I suppose!
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