Jeffery Nelson


The experience of an older individual telling you that, back in their day, things were tougher, better, and all-around purer to a practice’s essence isn’t exclusive to jiu-jitsu. Everyone, as they age, remembers the norms of their youth with a greater fondness than the current societal circumstances. Part of this is just human nature; we gravitate toward the familiar. And there’s nothing more familiar to us than “how things used to be.” 

Jiu-jitsu has taken off in the past decade, causing those who have watched generations ascend from white to black belt throughout the years to reflect on how far the sport has come. Indeed, it’s hard to believe several of the original ambassadors that brought the art to America in the ‘90s had to rent space from karate schools. 

Greatness is often fleeting. In many instances, it can be a supernova that burns bright, only to vanish– leaving little trace that it was ever there in the first place. Such was the case for the Danaher Death Squad (DDS), a team of jiu-jitsu competitors that dominated several aspects of the sport for the better part of the previous decade. It looked like the 2020s would be theirs to claim as well, but then several Instagram posts came out announcing they went the way of the Beatles and broke up, leading me to ponder which member was Ringo? Because we all know Craig Jones is Yoko.

Ancient religious texts the world over speak of events that are so rare, so inexplicable and unearthly that only one term can be assigned to describe them– miracles. Indeed, such was the case when, last Wednesday, one of the longest-held stereotypes in jiu-jitsu was broken. Not just broken, but shattered like a shoulder held too long in a kimura. Yes, it was last Wednesday that Samuel Drake, a local purple belt, showed up for warm-ups. 

William Nickelson, a recent lightweight NAGA Blue Belt champion, was riding an all-time high Saturday night. It took several hard-fought matches to win that NAGA belt hanging over his shoulder, but the most exhausted muscles in his body were in his pinky and thumbs from throwing up the “shaka” hand sign all night. 

Jiu-jitsu is different from other sports in many ways; when you think of athletic events, the biggest, strongest competitors are often looked at most favorably. Look at the four major sports in America. They all feature a popularity bias toward the biggest and strongest of their athletes. I couldn’t make it a day without being bothered by my school’s athletic director to join the football team. Indeed, size matters in sports.