In 2008, I became hooked on martial arts. I do not mean the Bruce Lee, Kung Fu, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon craze from my youth. I have always loved these movies! However, my spare time spent hanging out with trained security guards on music tours opened up a world of self-defense techniques that I never could have imagined. These guys had endless cool, efficient ways to deflect and control aggressors and would generously show me basic concepts of “leverage & movement” vs. “size & strength.” I had a desire, at the very least, to scratch the surface of this painful new hobby.
The first couple of years were spent training in the arts of Kenpo, T’ai Chi, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Muay Thai. Later, I added a bit of Judo, Escrima, and Wing Chun. Each of these styles offered its own unique and valuable techniques for handling violent situations. Eventually though, my spare time was becoming increasingly limited. I had to narrow down my training and decided to focus primarily on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (which is known as a street self-defense and grappling submission art).
This brings me to the actual topic of this article. “Why would a drummer, whose career relies heavily on the healthy use of his arms, legs, and neck, choose a hobby where the main objective is to hyperextend arms, twist legs, and choke necks?” This is a valid question, and one that I get asked quite often.
I grew up in a quiet, suburban town in New Jersey, where we rarely, if ever, had to worry about everyday physical altercations. Yes, there were the occasional schoolyard punching matches, or the much-to-be-expected pushing and shoving battles amongst the bullies and rivals of the neighborhood. But rarely did I feel as though my life was on the line. Simply acting “tough” could get a kid out of most problems. As I got older though, I started to see the true value of being “calm under fire” in stressful situations. There were bar fights, car-jackings, muggings to consider. I was never so delusional to think that I could be a Jason Bourne-type figure against a group of armed thugs, but I did sense that it would be a practical skill to have confidence and to keep a level-head during “fight or flight” scenarios.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is exhausting. The constant jumping up, falling down, rolling, pushing, and pulling is a true total-body workout. I leave most classes feeling as though I have been through a war, or sometimes flattened by a Mac truck! But at the same time, I feel as though I am in the best shape of my life. Sore, but functional. Keep in mind, one must learn to train safely, which means knowing your own body and its limits, trusting your sparring partners, and always being on guard against accidental injuries.
3) Mental Chess
Jiu Jitsu is often referred to as “mental chess.” As you train, especially under the guidance of experienced black belt professors, you come to learn that there are virtually endless combinations of sequences depending on the “action/re-action” of your opponents. As you progress through your years of training, your mind buzzes with replays of everything that occurred during your recent class or match. If you happened to defeat your training partner, how? What worked well, and what could have worked better? If you lost to your partner, why? What did he do correctly, and what did you do incorrectly? If you spent 20 minutes sparring with a classmate and you both ended in a stalemate, what should you both do to improve?
4) Sense Of Brotherhood
Not only have I spent years training with my friends in my hometown of Los Angeles, but I have also graciously been allowed to visit dozens of esteemed Jiu Jitsu academies across the globe during my travels. I must admit that I was surprised by the incredible bond that exists between almost everyone who chooses to put time “on the mats” sweating and pursuing this particular martial art. Jiu Jitsu is a bizarre community where, one minute you’re trying to kill your classmate, and then immediately hugging and congratulating each other on doing such a great job. Somehow that strange cocktail of danger and positive energy creates a special camaraderie amongst the brothers and sisters of Jiu Jitsu.
5) Keeping The Ego In Check
A professor once told me, “It’s a true test of character for a grown adult to start from scratch and suck at something.” Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will constantly “hand your ass to you” at every belt level. From white, to blue, to purple, to brown, to black, there always seems to be someone who is light years ahead of you. At times, it can feel extremely discouraging, but this fact can also be turned into a great motivator. And, if you’re truly honest with yourself, life in general behaves in a similar system. If you can learn to focus on your own progression and your own pace, and not worry too much about the people younger than you, faster than you, stronger than you, more talented than you, more privileged than you, then you will be equipping yourself with valuable tools to handle life’s hurdles.
I still feel like a novice in this world of beasts, but I plan on sticking with Jiu Jitsu until I am one day too old to get out of bed.
I had a lot of hobbies growing up. I played sports, and I skateboarded a lot. I also played trumpet and piano in my middle school concert band. However, I remember always Iooking over my shoulder to watch the guys playing the snare and bass drums, and thinking that it looked way more fun than the trumpet.
So, when I was fourteen years old, and I moved from middle school to high school, I joined the concert band as a drummer. The band director put me in the back of the room with a pair of sticks, and I started learning the xylophone, timpani, and snare drums. I think it helped that I could already read music due to my trumpet studies, so I basically just started practicing my drum rolls and rudiments. I also joined the jazz band in high school, and started to take drum set lessons, which led me to purchasing a used drum set from a neighbor. That’s basically how I got started.
I was really into heavy metal and punk rock. I loved Van Halen, The Cure, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and I also liked a lot of the hardcore and speed metal bands from New York City and D.C. Then, when I went to the music conservatory, I did a 180-degree flip, and started getting into guys like Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams, and Max Roach. I also dug into a lot of the fusion guys like Steve Gadd, Vinnie Colaiuta, Dennis Chambers, and Dave Weckl.
Nowadays, the drummers I enjoy listening to are the behind-the-scenes type studio drummers. You know, the ones that other drummers really appreciate. Some of my current favorites are Shawn Pelton, Matt Chamberlain, Brian Blade, and Bill Stewart. They all have their own unique voice when it comes to the drums, and they seem to work quite a lot. I listen to certain drummers so much that I can pick out their playing before I even open up the album credits.
I’ve always enjoyed playing drums so much, and I kind of felt that this was what I wanted to do. I think that when you’re young and you join a band with your friends, you realise how much fun it all is. At a high school level, I started to excel and place well in various competitions. It felt gratifying to see how hard work and practice could pay off. After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of Miami to study music, where I quickly realized how much growth can be achieved if you practice seriously.
Back in high school, my drum teacher was Tommy Igoe. It was great having a teacher that toured prefessionally, did drum clinics, played in Broadway shows. It helped because I saw the everyday process of what it would be like to be a “working drummer”. I would often go with him to his gigs in New York City and help him load his gear. I got to see the inner workings of what it was like to ride on tour buses, stay in hotels, pack up your gear, soundcheck, implement electronics, etc. Tommy played a crucial part by showing me what being a “freelance musician” was all about, and I tried to take that experience and his work ethic with me when I went to the University.
Also, I never really gave myself many other options regarding my career. I didn’t have a back up plan, or a plan B just in case the drumming thing didn’t work out. My plan A and plan B were both one-in-the-same, and that was to play the drums.