Day 73. Guam, USA

Somewhere between Peru and Chile I decided to take a detour and visit my old home, Guam.  I lived on Guam for 3 years when I was in the Navy.  I look back on my time on Guam as my transformation into Adulthood.  It was the first time I really was away from home.  I lived by myself without room mates.  I paid rent, utilities, cleaned my home, cooked my food, and solved my life problems on my own.  There were many ups and downs that came with the experience which is why it feels like a home.

Guam is a small island in the Pacific Ocean.  It is a United States Territory, like Puerto Rico. Citizens on Guam cannot vote during federal elections but they do have a delegate in the House of Representatives.  The US military is the islands #1 employer.  The bases cover 27% of the islands land mass. Most of the income comes from tourists that visit from Asian countries like Japan, China, and South Korea. Here is a video by Wendover productions for an overview.

It is very expensive to fly to Guam from the United States. The average round trip ticket is around $1000 USD.  I was initially going to spend three weeks in South Korea.  My thought process was that I can take a cheaper flight to visit Guam now than when I return to the States. So I took a detour and made some arrangements with some friends that were still on the island.

 

Jordan, Emily and I in front of Naval Hospital Guam

My friend, Jordan, and his wife, Emily, were hosting me during my stay.  They live in Mangilao, Guam.  They gave me my own room and bathroom.  It was a luxury that I rarely had during my trip.  Both of them were working during my stay but we caught up at night.  Jordan even let me borrow his car while he was at work.  Jordan worked during the day and Emily at night but she comes home at 8 to 9ish. At that time we would eat dinner and have catch up on life.

 

I visited my duty station, Naval Hospital Guam.  I was a Hospital Corpsman at NH Guam for 3 years.  One of the most frustrating jobs of my entire life.  Though it helped shape the person I am today because of my experiences there.  I ran into some old peers that were still there.  It felt great to catch up but it didn’t feel good to listen to the consensus of low morale.  It was a good reminder of why I left the Navy to travel the world.  I know where their dissatisfaction comes from because I lived it.  I hope they find their peace with the Navy.  I compare the hospital visit felt like going back to your old high school, if your high school took care of sick and dying patients.

Hiro(Japanese Tourist), Jordan, me and Tyler. We went sailing on Lasers. It one of my favorite past times while on Guam.

My friend told me it would be a good morale boost to be on American soil and be around friends.  I didn’t realize until I left how true that statement was.  The ability to speak English freely without thinking if the other person understood me was comfortable.  I used to live on Guam, so when Jordan let me use his car, it felt like driving around my home town.  I revisited my favorite restaurants McKrauts, Gabriels, Cafe Tu’re, Asu Smokehouse, and Pikas Cafe.  I cooked risotto for Emily and Jordan as a kind of payment for hosting me.  I’m so thankful to have friends on the other side of the world.

 

Cooking risotto while drinking. 

I trained Jiu Jitsu twice.  I went to Vida once. It wasn’t too far from where I was staying. It had a good core of students.  Some are MMA fighters on Guam.  Every night was competition training for them.  It was a good push. They waived the mat fee too. Then I trained at Spike 22 at Steel Athletics.  I had to pay a $15 mat fee for that day.  Only two people showed up for lunch open mat.  Rohin was training for a MMA fight in July and Mike was there training with him.  It was good training with heavy weights that just used technique, especially Rohin.  Rohin could have crushed me, he looked over 250 lbs.  It was a chill rolling session.  Despite the $15 mat fee and the few people it was a good experience.

 

 

Vida BJJ in Mangilao, Guam.

I went to see Gabe Baker, my coach when I trained at Carlson Gracie Guam.  We had lunch at a Thai place next to the academy.  It was getting renovated, new mats, so I couldn’t train at my old gym. Getting a one on one with my old coach was what I needed. It felt at times that I was stumbling through the dark with what I needed to work on.  He gave me some guidance that was worth more than the two training sessions I had on the island.  He had an interesting philosophy on the belt system.  I’m grateful for the training I received on Guam and I thanked him for all that he taught me.  I will visit Guam and Carlson Gracie Guam again some day.

 

Gabe Baker in Carlson Gracie. Work in Progress.

“Purple belt is the longest belt, and is the belt most people quit at.  A brown belt is just waiting for his black belt. “

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Jiu Jitsu on Guam

 

I was stationed on Guam from March 2012 to July 2015.  I did not know much about Guam.  I knew it was an island in the Pacific but other than that I was completely ignorant about Guam.  I received orders from Guam a month after I failed out of dive school in Chicago.  I put so much energy and time into preparing for that school. When I failed out it became it a dark time in my life.  Imagine gambling 2 years worth of savings and losing it all in one hand of pitch and toss.  It was a sobering feeling that I felt for much of my time on that island.

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

Guam is a tropical island in the western Pacific Ocean.  It is 10 hours plus greenwich mean time, which means it is roughly a day ahead of American Stateside time.  It is an American territory and the official languages are English and Chamorro.  The island has a rich history of colonization and war.  It has beautiful beaches that can rival the any.  It has an average temperature of mid 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit with a mid 70s to low 80s humidity level.  Typhoons are a common occurrence that came at least twice a year.  It was an interesting place to spend my late 20s.

Well I arrived on Guam very depressed and disheartened because of the unforeseen detour in my career.  When you get to a new place it takes awhile to adjust.  The quicker you are at adjusting the better you are at handling time away from your family. You do so by creating routine, make new friends, learn new hobbies or continue old ones.  I joined Carlson Gracie Guam because it was recommended by a friend who grew up in Guam and his former instructor ran that school.  There were many Jiu Jitsu schools on Guam it was highlighted on an episode of Rolled Up, which I watched before I arrived there.

I was a blue belt at the time from my former school, Oceanside Jiu Jitsu.  I worked hard by training 4 times a week and competing as often as I could.  I took a break from Jiu jistu soon after I got my blue belt and I had to concentrate and preparing for dive school. Guam’s Jiu Jitsu rep preceded itself from the up and coming Jiu jitsu fighters born there like Mike Carbulido, John Meno and Mike Fowler visiting and teaching there for a stint.  I knew Jiu jitsu training would be hard, but I really didn’t know how hard.  In fact I was afraid of my blue belt actually being taken away. Which I have seen at my previous school when a black belt was given a purple belt. Being away from my family and starting a new job I started training jiu jitsu again as a way to combat my other feelings inside.

Jiu jitsu training on Guam is Monday through Thursday 6pm to roughly 730pm.  Normal warm ups consisted of shrimps, arm drags, wrestling shots, and assorted calisthenics.  Head coach, Gabe Baker, ran his gym like a military platoon preparing for war especially months before a tournament.  Specific guard passing drills would continue in numerous repetitions before ending warm up and a water break.  After warm up we would learn two or three moves, drill and practice them. At the end of class we would do specific position drills or continue with the moves we learned that day.  More often than not there was no time during class for free rolling.  If you wanted to free roll you had to do that after class.  There were several people that stayed after for one or two rolls.  Fairly normal when compared to most schools. I earned four stripes there. 1465123_10151928795717900_931260398_n

The leadership was one the main characteristic that made this experience so intense. Gabe Baker’s main job was running that Jiu Jitsu school.  He put his heart and soul into running it and making the best Jiu Jitsu fighters as he possibly could.  His students are an excellent product of his exceptional coaching.  Many other instructors on the island still did it as a hobby and they were pursuing different careers, who can blame them Jiu Jitsu is a difficult field to do professionally. Some schools instruction wasn’t as consistent than Carlson Gracie Guam.  Gabe also was an excellent coach that listened to your problems not just on the mat but off.  There were many times I confided in him with the issues going on in my life.  During my tenure he expanded the kid’s program and knocked down the walls and doubled the school size. As tough as he was on me I will never forget my time at Carlson Gracie Guam.

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Gabe Baker and I the last week on Guam.

My take away from the Jiu Jitsu experience. I’m now a Purple belt though I was not promoted by Gabe but I know he mentored me to get that level. Now  I’m not afraid of getting my belt taken from me anymore because I’ve gone through so much pain, suffering, injury and cauliflower.  I have this idea that if you took away your belt, muscle memory, and move inventory and all you have left is your white belt and experience from your jiu jitsu time.  It would only be a matter of time until you get back you original rank.  In fact I bet it would take a shorter time to reach the target belt rank.  Why do I believe this to be so?  I know what it took to get through those belt ranks.  I have the basic knowledge of the moves and system Jiu Jitsu uses.  My experience has shown me that it is possible and that I have attained it once before.  Therefore I can do it again.

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

The island was an incredible place to find yourself.  Although I am not an advocate of doing Jiu Jitsu all day everyday.  There were other things in my life that suffered when I did that.  I believe one needs balance but I know Jiu Jitsu will always be there.  Despite all the heartache and frustration I had in other areas in my life when I left Jiu Jitsu whenever I came back to the gym everyone was always very welcoming. I wish to return one day.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

There was a time on Guam when I memorized the poem If by Rudyard Kipling. To this day it still gives me hope.  That stoic hope one needs to get through tough times. It was this poem and my experience on Guam that gives me hope and strength for another day.