Will Leesburg is my nemesis. As far as nemesises (nemesisi?) go he’s a pretty good one to have. It’s hard not to like the guy. His personality is as large as he is, and damn, that boy is big. Until he showed up I was the biggest guy in class, now I get to feel what the smaller guys feel when they roll with me...I should be ashamed of myself, but I'm not.
Will started training at Lionheart a few months after I did. He had absolutely no experience with jiu-jitsu, unlike myself who had had a few years of getting beaten up by more advanced guys who seemed to like to train with me as long as I didn’t actually know very much. In all fairness, they were all members of established schools and I was just glomming on to a club. They didn’t owe me any instruction, but it was from these guys that I learned the very first lesson of jiu-jitsu. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
I know, it doesn’t sound like a very pleasant lesson to learn. In truth, it’s not, especially when some 250 pound dude is sitting on your head. But I’ve found that’s the way with the most important ones. They suck to learn, but once learned they bring a lot of value.
Will is my nemesis because he brings that lesson, get comfortable being uncomfortable, to bear every time we roll. I mentioned that Will is big. He is. He’s a good two inches taller than me and anywhere from 80 to 100 pounds heavier. I give that range because as big guys our weight fluctuates a good bit depending on the time of year and where we are in our personal cycles of Geez, I gotta get this weight off/Screw it, I’m always gonna be big.
When he first joined the gym I generally had the upper hand. Will is big, but he's also very athletic. He played football in high school and college and even at 37 retains a lot of the explosive, quickness that made him so devastating on the offensive line. As I said, however, he was completely new to jiu-jitsu. The first time I caught him with a cross collar choke from the closed guard he looked at me wide eyed and said, “Wait, that’s a thing? You can do that?” “Yep.” I replied with more than a little pride.
I haven’t caught him with that cross collar since.
In the five plus years we’ve trained together I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve tapped each other, but if we’re judging based on points I’m way behind. Will is younger, bigger, faster, and in some areas even stronger, yet I will never pass on an opportunity to roll with him. It does not matter how tired I am or how much I really don’t want to spend the better part of three minutes underneath him. I will roll.
His jiu-jitsu has surpassed mine. He has a better understanding of the game. He out ranks me as he was promoted to purple belt last spring. All of these factors come together, like some weird Voltron of jiu-jitsu powers, into a great big pile of suck. And yet, I will never not roll with him.
Because he makes me better. I wonder sometimes if I’m enough of a challenge for him to keep things interesting, but I know he is for me. Every little victory means something. It means I’m getting better. The more comfortable I can get being uncomfortable the more I can free my mind to solve the problems Will presents. Problems like - Oh my God, he weighs a ton. How can I get him off of me? Oh wait, can I move that knee? Yeah, I think I can. Hold on, I think I can re-guard from here. Rolling with Will presents all kinds of challenges. Rising to meet those challenges makes me better. That’s what a training partner is for, to make you better. A nemesis even more so.