Sharing Self-Defense And Forming Friendships

If we walk the path together, we are more than simply travel companions. We are friends. We are family.

Relson Gracie black belt Patrick Gaul with Kogen Dojo co-founder Dwayne Bowie. Photo by Mike Oswald.

A few days before Ike Haertel, head instructor at Kogen Dojo, was going to test for his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) with Relson Gracie, several of us attended a seminar with Relson at our local affiliate headquarters in Columbia, MD. After the seminar, I bumped into a gentleman that I knew through Facebook, a student of Relson himself, Patrick Gaul, and Patrick and I began chatting. Patrick had just successfully tested for his black belt with Relson a few days prior, so he was quite familiar with the test in its latest iteration. I called Ike over and introduced the two.

Ike and Patrick hit it off and began discussing the test, which is a rigorous, highly detail-focused demonstration of self-defense techniques, including defenses against empty handed-attacks such as grabs and strikes and defenses against close-quarters weapons-based attacks, as passed down from Helio Gracie to Relson, Helio’s second oldest son. We asked Patrick if he would be willing to come out to Kogen to help Ike fine-tune his techniques and offered to pay him for his time. Patrick graciously and enthusiastically agreed, and he drove from Virginia to Severna Park on the weekend to work with Ike for a few hours.

It was obvious to Patrick that Ike was ready to test and that Ike had spent a lot of time learning, practicing, and refining the techniques with the help of the Stewart brothers, Mike and Jordan, and Relson Gracie black belt Toney Waldecker. Patrick showed Ike some changes that Relson had recently made and touched up a few details. After training was over, Ike and I thanked Patrick for driving such a long way and being so generous with his time, and I prepared to pay him. Patrick, however, was reluctant to accept payment, explaining, “You guys are under Relson. You are family. I’m happy to help my family,” and, in that moment, a lifelong connection was formed.

“As in life, so too in budo. As in budo, so too in life.”

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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