Holiday Closure: All Easton Schools Closed Dec.14 & morning classes cancelled Dec.15

Easton Training Logo Badge

June 11, 2024

Easton Black Belt and Publisher Jeff Suskin: Sink the Finish + Give Back

Tatyana Grechina

Easton Black Belt and Publisher Jeff Suskin: Sink the Finish + Give Back

It’s 2019, and 10 couples are getting ready to walk down the aisle – on the same day, in the same place. Masterminded by publisher Jeff Suskin of DiningOut Magazine and his wife, Shalisa Pouw, the day symbolized a way to honor love without the stressors and expectations of a traditional wedding.

Jeff and Shalisa

The event, developed in partnership with Denver’s DiningOut Events and Ben Higgins of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” called The Wedding Party, brought 2,000 guests in for a collaborative ceremony and massive reception featuring food from 25 of Denver’s top local restaurants, cocktails mixed by the city’s best bartenders and more.

Publisher, event producer, and Amal Easton’s 6th Black Belt, Jeff Suskin, who married his wife that day, could’ve never imagined the scale of success that the company he co-founded with a fellow Black Belt would one day reach – yet there gathered an entire community to celebrate.

Jeff credits his resilience, tenacity and determination to stay the course in the publishing world largely to his nearly simultaneous journey in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Jeff started BJJ in the summer of 1999, shortly after Easton’s 1998 opening.

Jeff and fellow a Easton Black Belt, Pat Perrin, earn their black belts!

Around that same time, he and now-fellow Black Belt Josh Dinar launched local publication DiningOut Magazine, which debuted in 1998, with insights, reviews and articles about restaurants, food trends and culinary experiences across Colorado.

Jeff had always been enamored by the magazine world. In the early 90s, he and a friend from college, Jeff Smith, moved to Boulder from Massachusetts to start their own DIY college publication. Connecting campuses across Colorado, the irreverent, local rag wrote about things like movie openings, music, and pop culture for students before the internet.

At the time, the two were living in a house with 12 other people up Boulder Canyon. Jeff, grinding at a career in the pre-internet magazine world, was making barely enough money to eat while his friends in hospitality were rolling in dough as bartenders and servers.

The publication miraculously survived its first season, and as they launched the second, its popularity skyrocketed. Revenue more than tripled overnight, going from just under $5K for $15K. With more resilience than actual plan, they learned about publishing, advertising and distribution as they went.

No sooner had they established themselves in the industry than a few factors brought them to a gradual decline, followed by a halt. The rise of the internet was pulling the rug out from under the print media world, and paired with The Onion moving (literally) next door, Jeff found himself struggling with the motivation to push on.

The team, which included Josh Dinar by then, had initiated a loan for $30K to completely revamp the magazine – which would become DiningOut – and upscale it. Faced with the mounting pressure and ready to give up, Jeff, however, had decided against signing the loan documents and planned to quit instead.

The same time, in Jiu Jitsu, Amal was teaching a technique that had Jeff trapped and ready to tap to his opponent’s pressure. Little did he know, tapping was just the easy – and not entirely necessary – way out. Right before he did, Amal saw and rushed over.

“No, no, no,” said Amal, who’d never taken much notice of Jeff before. “Just turn your body. Take his arm.” As he guided Jeff out of the masapone and to an armbar on his opponent, Jeff completed his first submission in Jiu Jitsu!

“Jesus,” said Amal to him, “you just give up, huh?”

Right at that moment, Eliot Marshall, who was 19, walked over and cracked a wise comment that one day he’d beat Amal.

“Maybe,” Amal replied to Eliot, “but I’m in here everyday training my ass off, so if you’re going to beat me, you’re going to have to be training really hard. And you’re going to have to kill me because I’m not just gonna give up like him.” He pointed at Jeff.

Jeff went home and signed the loan documents the next day.

In 2014, the business would expand to add DiningOut Events, producing some of the biggest culinary events in Colorado and Texas, along with an agency that handles experiential activations for a variety of spirit brands. Moral of the story: never give up.

[Jiu Jitsu’s American Roots: The Evolution and Growth of the Art, ft. Amal Easton]

Rebranding a post-graduate identity

Up until Jiu Jitsu, Jeff’s athletic experience had oriented largely around team sports, starting lacrosse in 4th grade and playing in college at UMass on a Division 1 team. He wrestled in junior high and high school to bolster his resume for college, but grappling didn’t hook him at the time like Jiu Jitsu later would.

“In a weird way,” says Jeff, “maybe the time frame, but I put a lot of worth on my identity as an athlete. At points I probably put too much emphasis on it.”

Like many post-graduate athletes, Jeff had to learn to separate himself from his sport. Those who don’t go on to professional sports industries often undergo a significant shift to develop a post-sport identity, going from spending 20-30 hours a week in a given activity to no structure to stand on.

Jeff tried mountain biking, rock climbing and golf, but none of those really resonated with him the way lacrosse had. Then he found Easton from an ad in The Onion.

“I went to the first BJJ practice with Amal,” says Jeff, “and it was so different – it was like, martial arts meets the beach. Traditional martial arts had all these strange traditions and hierarchy, and BJJ didn’t have any of that.”

From that first day at Easton, he was addicted. He had found an outlet that fit his needs and didn’t require him to spend an entire day looking for a route to go climb or wrangle others. Jiu Jitsu became both a rock and a mirror which reflected the most honest depths of himself, forcing him to look at everything in his life with the same clear eye of discernment.

“Jiu Jitsu is very honest,” says Jeff. “You get found out really quickly. If there’s somebody working harder than me and better than me, it makes sense. Wanting something doesn’t do anything – either you put in the time and effort or you don’t. There’s never any surprises.”

The benefits of Jiu Jitsu reach much farther than the accolades earned on the mat. It’s not a replacement identity, either; it’s a roadmap for how to navigate life. Just as the mats don’t lie, this same principle applies to everything: if you do everything, you win; if you don’t, you don’t.

The accountability and integrity from the mats began to show up in every aspect of Jeff’s life. Jeff recalls even going back to return a pen he accidentally took from the bank when he first started training.

What we gain from a martial arts practice beyond athletic success (or even self-defense skills) encompasses a way of life – a means to a happier, healthier, more honest life, a thriving community and a bigger support system than you could have ever imagined.

[How I Came to Martial Arts: Tale of a Disgruntled Athlete]

Finding drive beyond ego

Knowing our “why” is extremely important for keeping our egos in check. At the end of the day, any sport, including Jiu Jitsu, is a kids’ game. Nobody cares other than us if we win or lose.

If our only reason for doing something rests in the physical accomplishments, we’re in for a rough decline. Those physical attributes will fade, some new studs will take the lead with ten, fifteen or twenty years on us, and we’ll be stuck reliving the glory days.

Not the ideal way to experience Jiu Jitsu – or anything. It also doesn’t have to be.

Jeff with Dentinho and Junior.

If you have a good coach who sets you on the right path for self-development, or you develop in a way that involves being a part of the community, Jeff observes, then there’s a lot to gain from sports and from activities.

On the converse, Jeff tells us that he had some really terrible coaches growing up in the 80s, the era of posted cuts and make-or-break favoritism. He finally got a coach sophomore year of high school who cared and began to excel, but prior to that it was either you were good enough to be a starter and given attention, or you weren’t.

[CrossFit Coach and BJJ Purple Belt Jason Ackerman: Aligning with Growth]

Kids now typically receive a more nurturing approach from their coaches and teachers aimed at bolstering their confidence rather than breaking it down. An effective coach knows not only how to create a winning strategy but also how to play to the strengths of each player.

For this reason, Jeff has made it a priority to involve himself in mentorship through Colorado Youth At Risk, and nurtures his children in the same way. He’s there to help them grow in whichever direction they want, but he also wants them to figure it out for themselves.

Jeff and his wife have a three-and-a-half-year-old and a baby, born this March. No matter how packed his schedule or production demands get, he makes it a priority to invest as much time and attention into them as he can.

Having a full career, family, social life and training in a sport, you have to prioritize and stay realistic about your expectations. Even if you won’t become a competitive Jiu Jitsu person, you can still get good, train well and stay fit.

By maintaining a balance between work, family, friends and his Jiu Jitsu practice, Jeff avoids the anxiety that comes along with neglecting any aspect of his life.

“I’m not a college kid training nonstop and watching YouTube 24 hours a day,” Jeff says, “but I can still really enjoy Jiu Jitsu. Even then – If I’m being a bad husband, what does being good at Jiu Jitsu mean?”

[Improve at Any Age with Better Sleep, Diet and Stretching]

Finding meaning in the collective

At 54, Jeff had a massive heart attack in March – the week before his son was born. An artery ruptured and he got really sick. During the time he was sick, his entire Easton community took care of him.

“They literally were cooking dinners,” Jeff says, “dropping off diapers; everybody was visiting in the hospital, dropping off food each night for the family to eat. It was a procession of food and diapers! I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t know it was happening.”

It’s these moments that remind us what truly matters: each relationship, exchange and resonant connection, as we give and receive in ways that may not even register until later, when we see that support returned tenfold.

What are we adding to the collective? What can we contribute to make it a better place? For years, Jeff tells us that he just taught Sunday classes, taught yoga and helped people out. Then, when he went down this Spring, there they were.

“If you pour yourself into your community,” Jeff says, “it gives back.”

[The People You Train With Become the People You Show Up For]


Sign up for a free class

Sign up below