James “300” Foster became a Masters World Champion last weekend. After seeing an image of one of his most emotional moments with a caption that didn’t capture the agony and the joy of the moment, he was inspired to share his thoughts from those moments. Having recently lost a number of dear relatives, friends and students and working through the injury and illnesses of several others, the competition itself served as a counterpoint to life’s comedies and tragedies.
Foster recently published a poignant statement about his inspiration and motivation to represent all of these people who have touched his life. He has graciously allowed Jiu Jitsu Times to share it with our readers, along with images from the event. Sometimes when you see the wonderful photographs captured by the amazing BJJ photographers out there you may wonder what was going on in the mind and heart of the competitor. This is what was in the heart of James Foster and it’s a message we can all learn from and if we are very lucky, find our reason to roll.
It was just a week ago today that I stepped onto the mats entering competition at the 2015 IBJJF Worlds Master Championship inside the Cashman Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. As I reflect on the events of this past weekend I’m still overcome by the surreal feeling that hasn’t passed since I won my fourth and final match and became a Black Belt World Champion. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and there are some wonderful images captured from my matches, however I don’t think they are capable of describing all that I was carrying inside me and what I was feeling at the time. My passion is and always will be sharing my Jiu-Jitsu with others and using it as a vessel to positively impact lives, both on and off of the mats. Competition isn’t the fuel that drives me, however I’d be lying if I said the thought of being recognized as a champion didn’t have it’s appeal, I just needed the right purpose.
The events leading up to this moment span the past couple of years and have been filled with many tragedies, including the untimely loss of Jeremy Montes Jr., a young man who deeply inspired me from the moment I learned of his brave fight with leukemia, the deaths of my wife’s grandpa and my grandma, and the loss of my dear friend and student Karl Walters Jr. to cancer. Along with the battle of Luis “The Bear” Morales, who’s fighting a rare genetic disorder which causes him to have multiple auto immune diseases at once. All followed by the horrible news that my young student Zachary Baltierra was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and topped off with my close friend and assistant kid’s coach Tony Welker being severely injured at work, suffering a broken neck and becoming paralyzed from the chest down.
Leading up to the event I was feeling broken inside after a seemingly non stop string of horrible incidents but I tried to remain vigilant, drawing strength from their bravery, and championing their causes to bring awareness wherever and however I could through seminars, social media, etc. After Tony’s accident a few months ago I saw the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community come together like never before with fundraising seminars, raffles, auctions, and more to help raise funds for his recovery fund. In all we were able to raise over $20,000 for him, an incredible feat for any cause. I drew so much inspiration from the amazing people in our sport. Around that time I made a conscious decision that I needed to win this event to represent all of the aforementioned amazing individuals who have brought so much betterment to my life just through knowing them.
I’ve competed at the IBJJF Worlds Master Championship each year for the experience, to pinpoint holes in my game, and to shine a spotlight on areas which were taking away from the overall completeness of my Jiu-Jitsu. In 2013 I was the runner up, taking the Silver medal after losing a close match against Marcio Corleta in the final. At the 2014 event I lost my very first match, making a simple mistake and getting down a point after being ahead earlier in the match. Each and every time I took something valuable away from the experience and improved my game, however a World title was never the driving force. From the beginning something about this year felt different. This would be my first competition of the entire year after teaching a string of seminars, one to two every month since March.
I carried Karl’s bandana mat side with me for each match, holding it to my heart, raising it up and kissing it before the start of each fight. I also represented a “Rolling for Jer” patch on both of my competition uniforms, and wore wristbands honoring Zach and Tony’s fights leading up to each battle. Whenever a match would become difficult I drew strength from visualizing who I was competing for. In the semi final I was losing with just 20 seconds left, my opponent’s coaches were telling him to run and stall the clock out, just before scoring the match winning takedown with 5 seconds left on the clock all that was repeating in my mind was “for Karl, Jer, Tony, Zach, Luis….”.
Every Time I felt anxious or weak I would think of them, how brave they were and are, how they never complained, how they are the true World Champions and that I had to represent them as such. I was most nervous about the opponent I was facing in the final. He is the #1 ranked individual in my division, a 4th degree Black Belt in BJJ, and a decorated Black Belt in Judo. I remembered watching him dominate our division last year with ease. As I stepped onto the mat to face him an incredible feeling of peace washed over me, I could feel everyone I was fighting for in my heart and mind. Surprisingly it ended up being one of my easier matches of the two day event. At the moment of realization that I had accomplished our mission I let out a roar and held my hands up high, looking up and remembering everyone that had carried me there, overjoyed to represent them with honor. I then bowed my head into my hands on the mat and smiled, although I’m sure it appeared I was crying I was overcome with joy.
A few moments later as I was waiting by the podium my good friend Shawn Ambrosino came up to me with his phone in hand, he said “look at this” and turned the screen towards me. There shown a picture of Luis “The Bear” Morales standing on top of a podium wearing two gold medals. Luis had not even been able to train for several months due to being incredibly fatigued from his illness, but after seeing my post from the night before that I had moved on to the semifinals he awoke and told his father “I want to compete today”. He then went on to win double gold at a local tournament as seen in the picture I was viewing, that moment solidified what I knew, I was fighting for something greater than myself, and I broke down sobbing tears of joy on my friend’s shoulder.
In closing, thank you to all those from whom I drew inspiration, to my wife, coaches, students, and mentors alike. Thank you to my sponsors, Shoyoroll, Tape Armor, BJJ Library, Kristens Photo, Flat Chiropractic, Doctors of Physical Therapy, and Sports Medicine Northwest for their unconditional support. I could not have accomplished any of this without you!
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