Leaders Who Lead from the Front
20 years ago, I met Amal in a mall. -Eliot Marshall
This is the way that our paragon and vocal leader likes to begin the story of his humble beginnings with Professor Easton. Of course, Amal had a history that went back even further: all the way to the home of Helio Gracie-one of the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu-in Rio where our namesake spent time in his 20s. He sold all of his extreme individual sporting gear: bikes and kayaks and skis and his other personal belongings, too. He did it so that he could travel to a purportedly perilous place where he would be unwelcome and endangered at every turn according to those that knew of his plans. It seemed important, though. So off he went, to battle with some of the toughest fighters on earth at the time-to learn about a martial art the existence of which the world had only just learned.
And he brought it back to us.
The combination of Professor Amal Easton and Professor Eliot Marshall (along with some other very key figures added along the way)-a combination that occurred initially in a Boulder, CO shopping center all the way back in the late 1900s planted a seed that would change countless lives for the better.
Professor Marshall told the story of how he started at what was then called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Boulder by mopping mats. So many of us have done it, for the absolute love of the sport, the comradery, the feeling we get when we push ourselves and see how much suffering we can endure before we submit. We work weekend tent events, we teach brand new students how to count in Portuguese, we help with kids’ classes, we write articles. We do whatever we have to do to earn the privilege of stepping on that mat and seeing what we’re made of. It’s superlatively gratifying to learn that the guy who stands in front of us and teaches us how survive that suffering went through those same steps of earning his way onto the mat.
Most of us won’t fight in the UFC. We won’t win championships at the highest levels at each and every belt. But we will achieve whatever it is that we achieve-in part-because of guy who can ultimately relate to each and everyone of us.
“Family” Can Mean Many Things
So here we all were 20 years later, the collective tree that sprouted and grew from that seed, gathered at City Park in Westminster, CO. Like a huge family re-union where you get to see cousins of the 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd variety, we congregated. Members from all of the academies-familiar faces all in the same t-shirts ate Arvada Fundamentals Instructor Kevin Baughman’s delicious tacos-350 plates in all. They drank wine and beer. They listened to music, played games, caught up, and laughed. Kids blew bubbles, watched enrapt as Professor Junior juggled hunks of dry ice, and bounced off of one another in the inflated castle (shockingly few tears, too). Grown men and women donned 25 lb sumo wrestler suits and tossed one another around gleefully in the intermittently blazing and clouded mid-day sun (again, surprisingly few tears).
We were regaled with words of gratitude from Professor Easton, Professor Marshall, and Easton CEO Professor Mike Tousignant.
With sponsorships, contests and silent auction items, organized by Van Tran, Sachi Ainge, Sarah Rochniak, et al., the Easton Academies were able to, once again, raise a sizable donation for Children’s Hospital. Over 450 members attended the event and $13,451 was generated!
Community is what makes human beings special. Our ability to gather in an organized manner, to cooperate in groups so large is what separates us from the other great apes. We need it. We crave it. It is literally written into our DNA. Yet, it is painfully absent from many modern lives. We need it like food, like water, like air; we need hugs; we need contact. It is heartbreaking to realize that there are people out there who do not feel the kind of belonging-any kind.
Building Something Special Together
So, you can say that Amal Easton brought real, authentic, from-the-source Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to Colorado and to all of us. And he did.
You could say that Eliot Marshall represents the best of the system that we are all blessed to be learning and that he inspires and instructs us as to how to live an authentic life by being a good example to us. And he does.
You could say that Mike Tousignant is taking the Easton brand, message and experience to the next level and to more people than ever before. And he is.
What else they are doing, though, is they are giving my kids and a lot of yours a large group of humans with whom they can safely interact-among whom they can get lost (without my constant gaze) and be free to be themselves They are giving some of the more socially-akward among us a place and a group to whom they can finally say those things that were filling their heads without an outlet-with whom they can share their lives. They have provided a setting that can fulfill that evolutionary need for the love and acceptance of a group that is neither romantic love or necessarily familial love.
Like I always say to my classes: yeah…we’re trying to make better martial artists, but more importantly, we’re trying to build better humans.
Turns out: 20th Anniversary Celebretion BBQs are a good place to be reminded of all of that.