I guess it all really began at a pool hall in Linden, New Jersey. It is here that I met my future tattoo apprenticer Sean. From this relationship a career was forged that would continue to propel me through the ages, shaping the man I would become. My career began in Elizabeth New Jersey, and hovered in this area for about five years. Things were a lot different back in the day, appointments were really only for the elite artists. Today, myself and a few others will book anywhere from six to twelve weeks out with consultations to prep the appointment. There were a few supply companies that were good, today you could order a tattoo starter kit with your smart phone inside of fifteen minutes. Yeah you could say the only thing that is the same is the fact that we are still putting pictures on skin.
I am not originally from South Jersey, however for the past ten years I have been living in the eight five six. Following the tattoo highway, I am reminded again how much of a journey everything in life really is. Life was always exposing itself to me as delicate from a super young age, having lost my father at six. Some gripe over their losses where I would like to think I recover now a days, in a manner that flatters progress. I used to own a tattoo studio, and within that failure I was forced to find work elsewhere. There was a point in that ownership, that I got a second job working overnight stocking shelves. This could only last for so long and the place did need the money that bad, along with some other key necessities.
When it was time to abandon that place, I will be fair and say it was more a choice to leave a toxic environment over anything. What began as a pipe dream with some body modification friends, turned into what would drive a wedge between all of us forever. Everyone carried around resentment, entitlement, pride, and cockiness, myself included. As the short two and a half years passed, the other founding memebers had gone, and I was forced to make a decision. This choice right here ultimatly lost me everything. I was presented with an opportunity to bring in someone who could help save my studio. Instead, their plan was the one we would watch unfold which was to move in and kick out the previous occupants. Being driven out of my own place, it was a choice to leave, however not being given much of a choice certainly makes it easy to decide. Tattooing out of my apartment, kicked out of my Elizabeth studio, going broke. I had to get a job at a shop and all I could find was Twisted Visions in Clementon which later became Dead Sparrow.
At first I was just happy to work, but commuting down here from Roselle Park driving one hundred and forty miles a day for six months got old fast. However I was chasing my dream, and I would drive with intensity each day dreaming about this new life I was looking to create. Right around my decision to move came the realization that in that drive, meditation was taking place. I would often drive in silence, realizing that this was a time to create space in my mind for the day to come. I put in a few years tattooing the grief away without a care. All the time in the world to reflect by myself all of the events that led me to a quiet, low cost apartment in South Jersey. Over time, I had accumulated some baggage that really seemed to make me feel as if I were someone else. Living in a shell, not carrying out life the way I truly felt I needed to.
Throughout my journey in tattooing the galaxy had placed a bjj player in front of me by the name of Dennis Pressey Jr. He was a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu purple belt and personal trainer. I asked him if I could exchange tattoo time or money for personal training time. It was an instant connection student to teacher, and you could say I looked up to who I saw him to be. Very out of shape, which was the original goal to fix, I was excited that this wasn't a typical weight lifting kind of place, because no thank you! Three times a week, over a few months doing sprints, all manner of efforts put forth with kettle bells and medicine balls, it was here that I learned about dicipline.
Spending all this time at the fight camp, I had started noticing how I was accessing life differenly. We talked a lot about bjj but stuck with the circuit training, eventually gearing up to perform workouts typical of a jiu jitsu athlete. Finally mustering up the courage I sat in on a class. It was here my future head coach Master Dan Bocelli, had asked me why I wasn't training. I will never forget our dialogue,
" Dan: Hey, why aren't you training?
Me: Oh, well, I don't have what your wearing?
Dan: Oh this? This is a Gi, tell ya what. Go get one and come back
next week and we'll show you how to use it it's easy.
Me: I could give it a shot, but I don't know anything.
Dan: It's cool brother I'll see you next week? "
Insecurity soaked me, being welcomed in by the scariest looking dude on the mats. However, he was not kidding, and in no time the routine was to show up, drill, roll, get smashed and silently grow as a human being. Answering that primal question of what is my body capable of, and what are the limitations. Learning how my small frame could not only keep itself safe but was capable to delivering immobilizing and in some cases lethal force depending on the nature of your attacker. Viewing this from the persective of someone whose lost, walked away, been defeated, cast out, relocated, and had the courage to not quit I figured no reason not to. What a way to stay in shape.
With a new mentality festering, the smoke began to clear, and with the ideals taught to me here I learned I had more change to cause. It's like I performed bjj techniques to my life, identifying and executing proper response to what was threatening my happiness and safety. I broke off the toxic engagement I was in. Moved my work space which was also toxic, tainting the thing that got me here. The place I lived, the way I thought, and picked up a yoga practice which came from a suggestion from fellow tattoo artist Maygin Patrick. ( her names not really spelled like that but you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't know who I'm talking about and the proper spelling I just like to give her a hard time and I hope that one day she reads this and also see's that I add run on sentenses to my stories inside of parenthesis because I think inside this ( ) the rules dont apply )
Yoga was what my life sorely needed, the glue my soul required and the repair my body couldn't do without. I had doubts in the beginning that my first yoga instructor Jessica Gonzalez helped put to rest. The calm sound of her voice, the gentle practice that invited challenge through actual effort. Reality happens on these mats as well as the fight camps, you are shown capability and limitation. Over time limitation became improvement, and capability was more of an idea than anything. Through this yin to my yang I had finally gone full circle identifying all of what made life unpleasant and evolved myself into who you see today. I had no more question to stir my brain with.
We are all filled with so much doubt, filled with anxiety, as well as the means to accomplish anything. Everything that you are, you once were not. So it is safe to say that accomplishments are to be nothing more than inspirations that didn't end. Anything you want is available to you. A black belt is a white belt who never gave up on themself. For my career, I draw for the fences and create magnificent works of art on people's bodies that they walk with forever. I am humble, however for the first time I am able to accept myself. I train jiu jitsu, not because I want to, because I have to. Of course I want to, jiu jitsu houses the secrets to not only the human body and combat, but to determination, courage, strength, intelligence, problem solving, team work, and most of all confidence. This is still a small list to what the real fruits of the sport produce. I can not live without these constant reminders of both reality and truth, acknowledging how it helped me better my life. My yoga practice helps repair everything inside and out that could stutter my growth and impede on my happiness. It constantly proved to me, just like jiu jitsu that all I have to do is try. When I stopped questioning the galaxy and let the cards fall where they may I finally started to feel at home again. Opportunities present themselves, it is up to you to know which choices to make, which wolves to feed.