On this episode of The Hard To Kill Podcast, host Dave Morrow discusses the importance of gaining trust and embracing discomfort during jiu jitsu training with guest, TJ Kreutzer. Tj is a board member of the “We Defy Foundation”
that seeks to help disabled veterans overcome their challenges through jiu jitsu.
The foundation has created a successful model, attracting more interest from gyms and veterans alike. Additionally, the episode includes a discussion on transitioning veterans to civilian life, the positive relationship between law enforcement and veterans, and the benefits of setting personal goals. Listeners can also learn about the three-month ‘Beast’ program helping veterans get fitter and healthier, and how Jiu Jitsu provides a sense of purpose and touch often missing in the veteran community.
Listen to our conversation on The Hard To Kill Podcast
Why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
As veterans transition from military to civilian life, they often face unique challenges. The camaraderie, structure, and sense of purpose they previously had can be difficult to find in their new civilian community. This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. However, there are programs and activities that can help ease this transition and provide important support systems for veterans. One of these is Jiu Jitsu.
The Benefits of Jiu Jitsu For Veterans
Jiu Jitsu is a martial art that emphasizes ground fighting techniques and grappling. It requires discipline and focus, and offers a sense of purpose and community to those who participate. For veterans, Jiu Jitsu can be particularly helpful.First, the physical exertion and intensity of Jiu Jitsu can help veterans release stress and anxiety. It provides a healthy outlet for intense emotions, which can be important as they acclimate to a new civilian lifestyle.In addition, Jiu Jitsu provides a sense of community and camaraderie similar to the military. It allows participants to develop relationships with others who share a common interest. This can be important in combatting feelings of isolation and depression.
A Successful Model For Transition
One organization that has effectively used Jiu Jitsu to help with veterans’ transitions is the We Defy Foundation. The foundation provides scholarships for Jiu Jitsu training, so veterans can learn and participate in the martial art cost-free. They also provide mentorship and support to help veterans achieve their personal fitness goals.
The We Defy Foundation uses a specific approach to support veterans. They establish a network of gyms across the United States that are affiliated with the foundation. Veterans can apply for a scholarship directly with the foundation, and if approved, receive one year of Jiu Jitsu training and two uniforms.
The scholarship is paid directly to the participating gym.The foundation’s program has been successful in helping veterans transition to civilian life. By providing a specific focus and purpose, participants can develop physical and mental strength and improve overall confidence. The mentorship and support provided by the foundation also helps veterans develop a sense of belonging and accountability.
“Sometimes that means, just like in Jitsu, you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable for a little while sometimes. But then you get on the other side of it and you know you can handle it. And that’s when you see the gains, that’s when you see the improvements.” – TJ
Listen to a previous episode with Dr. Gino Collura about the science that backs up what TJ is saying
So we go out and vet different gyms around the country that want to be a part of our network. And once we approve a gym, then we also have veterans that are applying to get our scholarship. We provide one year of Jitsu tuition directly to the school for their training and two uniforms. And it’s that simple of a concept.
It welcome to the Hard to Kill podcast with me, your host, Dave Morrow. The goal of this podcast is to be a catalyst for change in the health and wellness of our military community and make each of you harder to kill. My mission is to help 100,000 veterans lose 2 million pounds by listening to the amazing wisdom and knowledge shared by my guests. Sit back and enjoy.
Here we go. Hey, folks, sitting down with TJ.
TJ Humble going to pronounce your last name, right?
We didn’t go over this.
Damn, it those German last names, but nobody.
So I’m sitting down with let’s just go with TJ. TJ, sure.
TJ popped up on my radar because.
Previous episode with Dr. Gino, he was talking with TJ on another podcast from.
The Jiu Jitsu Times.
And the roundtable they had was A, hilarious, but B, really informative because not only is TJ fly boy so he’s.
One of those fancy guys that used.
To fly jets, right?
He used to fly jets.
And not only that, he’s very well practiced Jitsu practitioner.
And obviously they’re on the Jujitsu Times podcast. He started a foundation called We Defy.
And we’re going to get into that today. So, TJ, thanks so much for hopping.
On the podcast, and I’ll just do.
A brief introduction for you. So he started the We Defy Foundation in 2015 in McKinney, Texas.
It was founded by army veterans Alan.
Shabaro and Joey Bozick, and its mission.
Is to provide Jiu Jitsu scholarships to disabled combat veterans as a therapy for.
Their service connected disability.
So welcome, AJ.
Thanks for having me.
Yeah, right on, man, right on.
I guess let’s start like all good.
Podcasts with your backstory.
So I mentioned that you were a fly boy.
What got you into the Air Force.
And what got you into the forces in general.
When I was a kid.
I still remember during the Gulf War.
Right when it kicked off, I was driving home with my mom in the car from somewhere, and as I were.
Listening on the radio to the coverage.
Of it, I said to her, I.
Think someday that’s something I want to.
Do, maybe, is go and protect people. And.
That was kind of a thought that I had. I didn’t know if it was going to be a serious thought.
I was in like, I don’t know.
8Th grade or 7th grade at the time. And then back about 10th grade, my.
Mom sat me down and she kind.
Of reminded me of that conversation. And she also said, what do you.
Think about all these airplanes and all.
These models that you’re making? Because I’d gotten into this video game called Red Baron, which was a World War I flight SIM. Do you remember that? Launched me off into this just fascination with airplanes, but never thought about it as something I could actually go do?
And I asked her, what are you talking about?
You think I could go be a pilot?
And she’s like, well, I mean, possibly.
I want to know if that’s something you’re interested in. What’s, like being an NFL player? We don’t know anyone that does that. So in the course of that conversation.
Though, she kind of helped me understand.
That, yes, this is a possibility. Your dad and I think your grades are good enough that you should go to college. College was not necessarily something that I was going to have to go do. My parents didn’t graduate from college. We were middle class.
Rust Belt, Ohio. Cleveland, Ohio. But she said, we think you have.
The potential for college, but there’s no money for you. So if you’re going to go to.
College, we need to find a way to fund it.
And she said, The Air Force Academy, ROTC, scholarships, those are all ways, and if this flying thing is something you’re interested in, maybe it’s something we should consider. And I never thought about all that stuff. She put it all together and threw.
It at me, and I was like, yeah, that’s what I want to do. That’s what I’m going to go try to do.
Is that really possible?
And then we figured it out, and sure enough, it worked out.
I got into the Air Force Academy.
I left after the day after I.
Turned 18 and never looked back.
Yeah. So then I went to the academy.
Graduated roughly in the middle of the class.
Actually, I was middle academically, but top third overall.
When they take in all your class.
Rank, like your military and your athletics.
And everything, and then they rank you against everybody.
And I got just high enough to.
Get a slot to what’s called Euronato joint jet pilot training. And at the time, it was a fighter pilot training program where if you.
Go to pilot training, the Air Force.
In the US, you can either get heavies or fighters.
But this was a US based NATO.
Program, and if you got selected for that, you got a fighter. And that’s what I wanted. So I threw all my eggs in that basket.
In talking to some people that were smart on the process and learning about it, over time, we learned that that’s the way to do it.
Go to the academy, become a sail.
Plane instructor there, so you have enough aviation on you to be competitive for.
This kind of slot.
I mean, everything from 10th grade on.
Was, what’s the next thing to build up my resume? To have a shot at maybe becoming a fighter pilot, and we followed that path, and it all came together.
So when I graduated from pilot training.
I got Net 16, went to train.
At Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix.
Arizona, and then met my wife there.
Who we’d get married a lot later.
But we met there and dated long.
Distance when I went to Korea, and.
Then I went to Salt Lake City at Hill Air Force Base.
And then that’s when we got married.
And she came up. Then I went to Texas and taught.
In the T 38 for a couple of years, and then I left the.
Active duty, got into the Air Force.
Reserves, and got hired by an airline.
At the same time. So then we moved up to Minneapolis, and I started flying for the airline.
And flying for the Air Force reserves.
And as a pilot, especially as a.
Reservist, and then as an airline pilot.
You have a nontraditional schedule.
It’s kind of all over the place. You have a lot of flexibility, and.
Most guys end up having some time.
On their hands, so they need hobbies.
So I found that first it was MMA conditioning, which was mostly pad work.
And a little bit of ground fighting, but it’s mostly stand up, and that.
Was a lot of fun, and I.
Wanted to get more serious about it.
But my doctor that’s associated with the.
FAA, who was actually on the state fight commission at the time in Minnesota.
Said, I don’t think you should get too serious about the sparring part because the concussion risk for you is too high.
And as a pilot, the FA does not dig that.
So kind of wrote that possibility off.
And I thought, Well, I’ll just keep.
Training, because we weren’t sparring.
We were just doing pad work.
And then the guys were like, you know what? If you want to get competitive about something, maybe you should just try just the Grappling.
Just do jitsu, because you can compete in that. And I was like, oh, I don’t want to do that.
I like the hitting part. I like hitting stuff.
I don’t think that Grappling doesn’t look fun.
Sound like an infantry guy.
No, I know.
It’s weird. No, you should try the Grappling. You should check it out. And I’m like, man, but look at those guys.
Those guys are huge, and they’re scary looking, and they’re just crushing each other in there.
I don’t want to do that. But eventually I started, and I was like, oh, this is actually totally awesome.
And I got hooked.
And now a whole bunch of my life revolves around this hobby, including the.
Nonprofit work that I got involved in.
And I’m a volunteer. I’m the vice president of the foundation. I found out about it about three.
Years after it was created at a seminar. When I saw it, I had already.
Kind of been thinking I wanted to be involved in something.
I met a veteran in Chicago at a class at Redzevic downtown Loop, just.
Dropping in on a class and we talked like an hour and a half afterwards. And I have a background in psychology and an interest in trauma therapy and.
Trauma management and he was just gotten.
Back from Iraq and was going through.
A lot at home and trying to.
Redefine his life based on being out of the military. And at the end of the conversation, he said, some of the things we talked about and some of the things.
You said haven’t been posed to me.
In that way before. And I think it was really helpful. And I think maybe you should consider.
Trying to find a way to talk.
About this kind of stuff with people.
And the stuff we were talking about was just trauma and recovery and moral.
Injury and how the value systems we.
Have in place during normal life don’t.
Always fit a traumatic or a crisis management moment.
And we prioritize differently, but then we.
Have to reconcile that afterwards. So we talked about all these kinds.
Of things and that put a bug in me.
So when I saw we defy foundation.
I said that’s the thing I want.
To be involved in. So a couple of weeks later I actually went down to the headquarters gym in Texas and I just basically walked in and my plan was not to leave until they told me I was going to be able to help, hopefully help them out somehow or be involved.
And just by chance they were putting.
Together a volunteer team, which was new for them because the foundation at that point had pretty much been run by five to seven people at varying times.
And that was it.
And it was starting to get a.
National footprint and they were finding, well.
We need more people, we need people that we can rely on to take care of these tasks because it’s just growing and growing.
And I found out that the person.
Putting together the team was up here.
In Minnesota just by chance. So that was fortunate.
She is a black belt up here. She was on the board at the time and that’s kind of how I got my foot in the door at.
The organization and then I just with.
My flexibility had the opportunity to keep taking on more and more responsibility until.
I kind of took over mostly operational.
Parts of the program.
I don’t deal really with too much marketing.
I mean I’m on the board so we have marketing discussions and branding discussions.
But I don’t have too much to.
Do with the execution of that. I’m all operations.
So the scholarships that we provide, the.
Ambassador team that we have, the volunteers and then working with all the gyms pretty much has fallen under the umbrella.
That I have been running with for the last couple of years. Wow, okay, so there’s your short answer.
Spoken like a true air Force officer.
I love it.
So I want to cover all of.
That, and I want to get into the depths of the foundation. However, you were an F 16 pilot. I want to talk about that. Although yeah, okay.
That’s Maverick’s aircraft, wasn’t it?
Or was he flying?
Maverick was F 18 in the new one.
I don’t care about the new one.
The original is F 14. The new one’s the best line.
Okay, I should have said that. I think I just insulted half my audience. Like, what are you talking about? I’m an 80s upper best picture. This podcast is bullshit. Yeah, well, I’m an 80 kid.
I don’t know what it is.
Do you do jiu jitsu?
Okay, just to finish my thought.
So clearly I’m an idiot when it.
Comes to identifying American fast air. I’m like, that’s a plane that’s fast.
That’S about as far as I go.
I’m an infantry guy, so I’m like, that’s fair bombs. That’s okay, so he’s flying F 14s.
Okay, you’re flying F. Have a buddy that’s a pilot. I don’t quite understand.
To do it, because for me, because it seems so bloody freaking fast, how.
Do you get to a point where.
You’Re flying something that’s going faster than the speed of sound? When you’re starting at 18 years old, you don’t really know what you want to do.
Be like, oh, I see the red bear.
And who’s flying like, prop planes. No, what you call them is the.
Two winged ones there from over one, right?
But yeah, prop propeller planes.
Yeah, biplanes, which is like the first iteration of warplanes, more or less.
And now you’re flying the most high speed freaking piece of machinery humanity has ever created, and you’re going like, what mach two? How do you get to a point.
Where it’s just like, yeah, just fine. It’s just my job. It fascinates me.
Well, how experienced are you in jiu jitsu?
I almost spied out my scotch. I’m six months in. Six months in, okay. I’m still working on how to figure out how to, like, Armbar Kamura and, like, my day one sequence. I go in, they’re like, all right, start day one.
I’m like, we got to start from the top, boys.
I don’t remember that’s, how far along I am.
I won’t use that example then. Good.
A lot of it is the training. You have academic classes, you fly the airplanes, you study your books. But for me, it’s really the way my brain works. It was doing it over and over and over.
You’re doing the same. When you learn how to fly, you.
Start off and you play active takeoff and landing, different kinds of approaches over and over and over.
And once you get that, then you.
Start doing a little more advanced instrumentation flying.
And after you get that, that’s with.
How do you get from the ground up into the air? Well, there are certain pathways through the.
Sky that are set up by the FAA or whoever, and you fly the.
Airplane along those lines. And as you practice that over and over, it’s not that different from a.
Pathway from, like, say, standing up to.
A single leg takedown into top side control. You do that over and over and over.
And after enough practice, I think it.
Kind of feels at first you’re like.
You’Re trying to figure out the moves.
And you’re fumbling through it. But after a while, you kind of get a framework of how they’re supposed.
To be done, and then you start doing them.
Then you can start to do them with some level of consistency. And then once you get better and better, now you’re thinking ahead.
Well, I’m not just thinking about the.
Takedown or however I’m setting it up.
I’m actually thinking about getting him on.
The ground or the actual takedown part of it while I’m still securing the.
Leg, because the mechanics of my body.
Go at a certain speed, but the brain may go at another speed. You’re thinking ahead.
You’re planning ahead. And that’s, to me, when you got.
Really experienced with flying and you had that kind of speed, that’s what you had to do. You had to think ahead of where the airplane was.
But since you’ve practiced that skill and you’ve built that skill, it’s doable, but you can’t do it day one.
It’s just a way of processing information that your brain you just build it.
Into your neural pathways that you have.
These thought patterns that get faster and faster and faster. You know where to look at in the instrument panel. You know where to pull different pieces of information from. You get better and better at that.
It shortens all your reaction time until.
The point where you can start predicting things, and you start to know the information you’re going to want before you.
Actually have access to it.
It just becomes this process. Jitsu has kind of the same pathways to it, too. The mental gymnastics of it are the same. We’re just talking about a different environment.
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If that makes sense.
Yeah, no, totally.
That totally makes sense. So I guess my next logical question is, are Air Force pilots better than army guys? Is that the logical conclusion to this?
In jiu jitsu.
We’Re all on the same team.
I’ll be honest, and I know I’m a white belt. If my arm is out here, I have no idea. All I’m doing is, like, don’t get armed barred. Just don’t get armed barred. And then somebody’s a blue belt or anything that’s further advanced than I am is already working on three moves ahead.
Of me, and I’m lost.
Okay, this is what I’m focused on.
But then everything else is open, and.
I’m not protecting myself.
And it’s just curious the way that you’re explaining flying a plane, it’s just.
You start setting up the scaffold to.
Go one step further, build that neural pathway, then you can go to the next step, and then it becomes automatic.
And that’s really cool.
And that’s why I want to ask that question, to see if there’s somewhat.
Of a connection, like, professionally, from what.
You did at very high speeds to rolling on the mats.
And that’s cool to see.
So now that you’ve left the Air.
Force, now that you’re involved in the.
Foundation, you’re volunteering, obviously, you’ve been doing.
Jitsu for a while.
What is it about jitsu that you find so compelling that makes you want to take something on, like be part of operations in a foundation that brings.
The activity itself lends itself to, I think, a really effective trauma management type of system. We know when we talk about anxiety.
Depression, things like that, there’s a physiological.
Process going on that we have to cope with, and it’s built on the fight or flight system. So your body is constantly producing, when.
You have something like PTSD or anxiety.
Constantly producing chemicals that are meant to.
Be used in a certain fashion but can’t be used in real life. Most of the time. They were built for us to deal.
With the saber tooth tiger, but we’re.
Not getting to do that in an office setting. We’re not getting to do that with.
Things going on at home.
We are built to take advantage of.
Those things in a physical confrontation. So I think jitsu is neat because.
It pairs using the fight or flight.
System with things that we know are.
Good for us, like working out and being active.
And all those things that we know.
With depression, anxiety, support healthy chemicals in our bodies. You know what I mean? But now you’re not just creating good.
Endorphins, you’re also expunging the ones that.
Are not necessarily good for you unless you’re in the middle of a fight like cortisol. And if it sits there, it’s really bad over a long period of time. Well, now you’re using it the way it was intended to be used in.
This fight with some opponent who’s simulated.
Trying to kill you. And of course we’re taking care of.
Each other and we’re being safe, but.
The mind doesn’t always know that. I shouldn’t even say the mind.
It’s the physiology of the body. Because when you’re threatened, you have processes that kick in and you take this.
A step further into cognition.
And you know what a rumination loop is?
You ever heard that phrase?
Okay, so when we’re talking about psychology and depression, anxiety, ruminating is a thought.
Process that we go through, that it’s a problem solving process.
And we never find the solution to.
The problem that creates stress, that creates all these bad hormones in us that.
Can kick off the fight or flight system, things like that.
So an example would be you go.
To bed at night, you’ve been worried about something. You go to bed, you finally fall asleep. You wake up in the morning, you actually feel kind of better and a.
Little bit refreshed until a minute or 2 minutes into the day when that problem pops back in your head that you still haven’t solved and you’ve been going over.
And when I say problem that you haven’t solved, it can be a million things. It can be family, it could be money, it could be all sorts of stuff. But it’s those stressors that are creating a situation. It’s these thoughts that are creating depression.
And anxiety within us. And a rumination loop is the process itself. It feeds itself, and it doesn’t stop jitsu.
When you’re fighting somebody, your body.
This is my interpretation of it. Your body stops your amygdala, and all that stuff starts to focus from those thoughts to the fight. It resets that loop.
So you’re physiologically getting a break from the bad stuff, the good stuff’s going on in your body. Your brain is also getting the same kind of break where you’re resetting that loop over and over.
And if you do it a couple.
Of times a week, you start to.
Reset this rumination loop and it becomes.
A therapeutic process because you’re repeating it. You’re doing something healthy to break up the bad stuff that your body’s physiologically doing. So it helps with symptomology.
And a lot of times when we think about again, my perception of what.
We do with pharmaceuticals is we try.
To dumb down or numb out some.
Of those feelings and those processes that are going on.
Sometimes that’s used really well with talk.
Therapy because it takes the edge off when those symptoms are too strong. It makes the talk therapy less effective sometimes. Or maybe it makes it harder to.
Have progress in therapy. Jitsu or certain physical activities can actually, I think, take the place of some.
Of those drugs in terms of what it’s doing physiologically to the body and.
Making you ready to have a therapy.
Type activity and reset those processes over and over. I think human touch is really important. I think that’s unique to Jiu Jitsu, too, because we’re built for human touch. And I think about, like, when I.
Touch my son’s face, the way that.
What that means to me and how we’re bonding emotionally. But in Western culture, you can’t touch people. Most of the time it’s just like not okay. Even like hugs.
But if you watch Jujitsu people, yeah.
There’S some cultures where it’s okay. America is really bad about it, though.
You think about Jiu Jitsu people, though, and the hugs and stuff, they’re not quick and their closeness.
That’S a positive thing for the body. And I think that helps with those.
Same chemicals and processes.
The community aspect of it is really important, too, because you’re taking veterans out of isolation. Maybe that felt like they lost their.
Sense of purpose, and now you’re putting them into a community that will support them.
I don’t know which side lost it.
That’s where we are.
Okay. So, yeah, I think human touch does the same kind of thing, or it’s.
Related to the positive endorphins we get from working out, from physical activity when.
We touch your kid’s face, the way you’re bonding with them, you know, that.
We’Re built for that.
We’re built to have intimacy with other people.
And combat sports are just another kind. And it’s important for us to get.
To, I think, take advantage of that.
And that’s a unique thing about Jiu.
Jitsu that bonds us to other people in the gym that CrossFit doesn’t have or pick up basketball has less of.
I think that’s an incredibly important and overlooked part of what makes Jiu Jitsu very special and why I think it’s.
A great therapeutic process or a great therapeutic option when we’re looking for things, if we’re looking holistically like, what are.
The different things I can do to.
Improve myself, my life, my wellness?
Physical activity is one. How much are we drinking? How much are we sleep?
And that kind of stuff. I think that touch piece is really important. Yeah.
That’s why I think jitsu hits a lot of components. It’s not any one thing. Jitsu does a bunch of things that support wellness. The community, the social we’re social animals, the community. Part of it is really important. And it provides that especially for veterans.
Who have lost their sense of purpose or their camaraderie.
It’s gone to have a gym, to have a team. Where you’re going in there?
And you’re finding out that you can.
Share this struggle with lawyers and soccer moms and whoever else or people that you think you have nothing in common with. And you start to find these common threads of human struggle together from people that haven’t been in combat. And a lot of the folks we.
Sponsor have said that the camaraderie that.
They’Re feeling on this team is very similar to what they felt in the military. And it’s familiar, and the structure is familiar.
There’s rank, there’s achievement, there’s a process.
These are all things that we’re used to for military training or military goals. We start setting our own goals. Like, I want to get my blue belt. I want to get my black belt. I want to go compete and win a gold medal. It brings a sense of purpose and a sense of control back into an individual’s life.
When you transition out of the military. For anyone doing that, there is a.
High likelihood that they’re going to be.
Experiencing uncertainty, loss of control and different kinds of challenges. And Jitsu as a hobby and as an activity.
Gives us a bunch of pieces of.
Those back all the time. So at least you know, hey, my life could be a complete mess.
Every Tuesday at 530, I go do Jujitsu. And I really like it.
It makes me feel good. And that just supports.
I want to say a recovery process, but necessary.
But it just supports wellness, both physically and mentally.
Yeah, Absolutely. That’s what Gino brought up too, right? It’s just like you can’t discount how important touch is on a regular basis with your community, because a lot of us have families.
Like a lot of us have kids.
I have kids.
I have a wife.
But it seems weird to say out loud.
Like, it’s not.
It’s it’s a good thing to get.
Like, sweaty and intimate with, like, grown.
Ass men trying to strangle you, being something positive for your physiology.
So it’s cool that you say the same thing, too, because, like.
I I mean, I don’t know the.
Research nearly as well as somebody like.
Gino does, but I definitely know that when I leave and that touches on.
The concept of you’re pushing out all.
Those remaining cortisol molecules that have been lingering and you’ve been ruminating. And now when I leave, I know.
I’m not ruminating, I feel great and.
It lasts pretty much all day because I have just gone through something that.
My body perceives as really stressful.
But like the Greeks call it, right?
The you stress.
It’s like training.
There’s an element of safety, there’s trust. So when I leave my body, oh.
My God, you survived that. And what happens? At least when I got back from patrol or when I got back from.
Afghanistan, I had this elation, right?
I felt great.
I’m like, hey, we survived another one.
Fuck yeah. There’s this joy that comes with it, this endorphin rush. And the endorphin rush from Jiu. Jitsu is much better than any run I’ve been on because there’s much more struggle. And the touch is an interesting aspect of it that I think obviously I’m not trained in any kind of clinical psychology, but that’s something that we’re missing as a community, the veteran community, because.
We’Re very focused, at least here in.
Canada, on psychological health, mental health.
We have hotlines, we have all the resources available. You just need to pick up the phone.
We have dedicated people at the VA that just do this one thing, but it’s still not reducing the amount of self harm and suicides. And I think it’s because we only got one half of the equation. Yes, I think it’s important. You need to work with the psychologist.
But you said it too.
Just working on and I’m paraphrasing here, but you need to have a better session. There needs to be some kind of contact.
Like you need to be able to.
Get rid of that stress that you’ve.
Been holding on to that rumination in.
Order to have the session with your Psych to be a lot more effective. So I love that.
It’s a great message.
I realized I was shit in the.
Bed on just taking my health seriously. And what really shifted everything for me.
Was just taking my physical health a.
Lot more seriously and developing goals and.
Developing a sense of purpose, which my.
Ego was just getting in the way.
Before because I was used to being the fit sergeant, the PT guy.
And then I wasn’t because I was.
Out, I was injured, I had a family.
And so I made all the excuses like, well, I’m just going to have to add, god, I don’t need to do this.
Who do I need to prove anything to?
Was like, running through my head.
Like, I’ve done my time. I was only in my was just.
Getting started and it was a defeated attitude.
And it’s until I started training with a purpose that I realized, oh, and now recently, I’ve adopted Jitsu as part.
Of my training practice.
I try to go as best I.
Can twice a week to just stay.
As current and fresh and not forget.
Everything because there’s so much information coming in at one time.
And I like being in, quote unquote.
A white belt situation in at least one thing every year. That’s kind of like a goal I’ve.
Set up for myself over the last few years, is to just be a rookie, a noob at something new every.
Year, to humble myself and then potentially.
Learn something that I might never have tried and absolutely love. So it’s scary, it’s chaotic, but there’s a high upside to it. So from here, I want to dive.
Right into the foundation. So the We Defy Foundation and selfishly.
I want to know as much as possible because I want to bring you.
We can start one, and then I.
Can get some free jujitsu.
That’s like my main effort.
And if some other veterans can get.
Some help, that’s.
Kind of joking.
So let’s get into how it kind of got started. But what does it essentially do?
What are the nuts and bolts behind.
The foundation, and how is it helping veterans?
So we go out and vet different.
Gyms around the country that want to be a part of our network. And once we approve a gym, then we also have veterans that are applying to get our scholarship.
We provide one year of Jitsu tuition.
Directly to the school for their training and two uniforms.
And it’s that simple of a concept.
Where we just try to do the best we can to make sure it’s a quality school, try to partner with them so they can help us raise awareness and raise funds for these scholarships. And then we provide the tuition to these veterans.
And then we also have a volunteer corps.
Many of them are previous sponsored athletes.
Scholarship recipients from us, and we bring.
Them on, like I said, as volunteers to help us run the foundation. It’s almost all volunteer. We’ve got a couple of contractors, but over 150 people that volunteer like myself.
To run all this stuff and make it happen.
Everything from the people who design our merchandise and gear all the way through, the people that are running booths that fight to win or ADCC or whatever local tournaments. Almost everyone is a volunteer. Almost everybody has a military background, and almost everybody does jiu jitsu.
But we have people that don’t do.
Jiu jitsu and never were in the military. Just the idea inspires them to be.
A part of something that’s I mean.
At the end of the day, if I can help be a part of.
Something that’s improving somebody else’s quality of life, I want to be a part of that.
To me, that’s my individual motivation. And I bet that’s pretty close to what a lot of the other people.
Feel too on some component.
It’s really rewarding. The foundation also provides a volunteer mentor to these new athletes too, which is a pretty cool thing. We didn’t always do that, but now we’ve got the staffing to do it. So just somebody that helps keep track of their training, make sure that they’re going to the gym, checks in with them. If they’re struggling, they can be there.
To help them just have a little.
Bit of a pep talk or having trouble with problems with this in jitsu. This is hard. I’m transitioning. We get a lot of fitness questions like, what if I’m not in shape yet?
All the kind of stuff that a white belt worries about. But now you have somebody who’s been.
Doing jiu jitsu for a little while.
That is probably a veteran too, that can be in your corner just enough.
To give you that little nudge once in a while. But I think that’s really helpful, and especially for those scholarship recipients that have had a difficult time making connections outside.
The military, I think it’s really helpful to have someone there that you can.
Text or call and say, hey, I’m.
Struggling with this thing right now. When we started that team, it was because of COVID and gyms were opening.
And closing all over the place, and it was really hard to keep track.
Of all the scholarships. So we had volunteers come in to just help keep track of a couple.
Of athletes here, a couple of athletes.
Here, make it easy for us. But what we found out is that.
Those individuals, those athletes and the volunteers.
Were building really important relationships together, so.
We kind of doubled down on it. And mentoring is a volunteer position we have in the foundation, and I think.
It’S a really important part of the scholarship support that we have.
That’s wicked. Okay, so tell me if I get this.
You have the organization that is national. It covers the entire US. And you go and a veteran applies, says, hey, I like to apply for a year tuition. I live in, let’s say, Memphis. You go, okay, let’s see what gyms are in Memphis.
And maybe you already have some, if you want to call them affiliates that.
Are already part of your realm. But if not, you go and you.
Say, okay, which gym do you want to go to?
And you go vet the gym or vet a series of gyms and be like, hey, why don’t you go to this gym?
This is the gym that we vetted.
And this is where you can use your tuition.
Is that kind of how the system works?
So you don’t need to specifically have pretty much key gyms that are already, okay, buddy, you’re in this town. All right, cool.
We’ll find a gym for you. And then you guys go and physically.
Go and make sure that the gym.
Is legit, because I know gyms in general.
I know there could be some sketchy.
Owners and is the goal to just.
Ensure that they have the best possible.
Training for the veteran so that you.
Provide a tuition that’s actually going to.
Get value from it.
Yeah, I mean, we want to make.
Sure that the program is going to.
Support the veterans that we place there.
So we have over 500 gyms in the US. Right now, and when someone applies and they’re approved, we got quite a few.
And we ask the veteran to pick.
Something on the list if it’s within a 25 minutes drive.
And if it’s not, then we’ll go.
Out and try to find a gym.
That meets that criteria that 25 minutes drive.
Or if they have a suggestion for a gym they’d like to check out, we’ll look at it too, and then occasionally we get an actual physical site visit.
But we do ask our evaluators, if.
Possible to try to do it via Zoom so they can get a look at the place, things like that.
We do the best we can in.
The virtual world to get whatever background we can ask questions of other gym owners, things we can figure out to just make sure that it’s a good program, it’s going to be a good place for our scholarship recipients.
By and large, most places are actually.
Pretty solid and most gym communities are actually pretty good. And if it doesn’t work, then we handle it.
And that’s part of it too.
But it’s not a very significant number of programs that there’s an issue with. Usually most of the time when they.
Hear about it, it’s like, oh, that sounds really cool, I’d like to help. And gyms have raised tens of thousands.
Of dollars for us too. That makes a lot of sense because yeah, we ask them right on the business side of things because I had.
A Jitsu Gym, I had a hard.
Time saying that Jitsu Gym, I’d be.
Asking, hey, can I be one of your vetted gyms? Because this is an awesome opportunity to connect with maybe a population or a community that you didn’t know even existed. The individual gets the tuition paid and then on top of that, you can.
End up bringing in a few friends and then like you just mentioned, you can raise funds for a fundraiser to.
Have even more individuals come in through supporting your foundation because you already had some veterans come through and it was an awesome experience. So that in and of itself is a pretty wicked model. I imagine there’s probably going to be a lot more gyms that probably want to get involved.
Yeah, no, we were constantly getting increased and then I said we have a team of people that goes and their volunteer duty is to evaluate the gym. And.
We do ask that the gyms participate with us on our big pushes, which we have Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
Every year we ask our entire network.
To hold open mats and different events.
And for Veterans Day, I think our.
Official numbers were $107,000 raised over Veterans.
Day weekend this year.
And Memorial Day sorry, last year, Memorial Day last year was like 96,000, and every year we just keep it’s gone up. The more gyms that play, the more.
Money it gets raised, the more veterans.
We can put on the maps.
One of the things we do see, too, is a lot of the gyms.
That are really interested have either a.
Veteran presence in them or even the people on the instructor staff are veterans.
Too that’s very common. So for our scholarship recipients, they’re usually walking into an environment where there are.
Already veterans too which can for a lot of them be a comforting thing. The idea is for them to be comfortable outside the veteran community.
So it’s not like, I’m trying to.
Think of an example, but maybe like taking veterans and throwing them into college classes where there are no other veterans or into a business environment. Yeah, it’s different, right. Law enforcement and veterans tend to really get along really well too. You have a lot of that service piece of it.
There’s common values between those two types.
Of organizations or those two types of profiles, individual profiles.
So it is kind of a stepping.
Stone process, too within the gym community, there’s usually people that are going to have a familiar value set. Then you’re going to figure out that.
More people in the gym you can.
Relate to that you didn’t even think you could because of the common struggle part we already talked about.
So it just sucks you in as.
A veteran and it pulls you in.
And it makes sense to you in.
A way that a lot of the.
Rest of the civilian world doesn’t necessarily. And we’ve had guys say that learning to tap and trusting your training partner.
To honor that tap, especially if you’ve.
Had trauma in your life through either.
Maybe combat experiences or even like military.
Sexual trauma, there’s a whole other slew of things you’ve got to deal with. If you’re in a physical confrontation with a human being and you are a victim of a sexual trauma, all of these activities can be a stepping stone to relating to other people when you’ve had some reason not to, or the.
Group of people you were relating to before, you perceive as totally different from normal society. And it’s not just about veterans. That’s what jitsu is. It just happens to work really well for veterans.
But the bottom line is if you’re.
A human being jiu, jitsu is probably.
Going to be really good for you.
So that’s why we can use it so well with veterans.
Too yeah, I love that whole trust.
Aspect, right, when we go overseas, too. A lot of times if you in.
Iraq, Afghanistan, the erosion of trust I.
Think is something that we don’t really talk about that much, but after an eight month, one year deployment, when you spent eight months one year, yeah, you trust your platoon, you trust your section, but everybody else that is a local, there is zero. Everybody is looked at with suspicion. That sinks in because you’re doing it under high stress environments in a wartime experience.
So that becomes part of almost your DNA.
And imagine you do that for numerous tours.
Your level of suspicion of everybody that’s not part of your tribe is going.
To be hyper aware.
You’re going to be very aware of.
The individual that you don’t know.
Like the puke city.
Right. And part of what I’ve been trying to do with just my Facebook group is just for veterans.
It’s for members of the EMS community.
But I encourage civilians to be in because I don’t want it to just.
Be that silo again, because we get siloed so easily.
Veterans want to only hang out with veterans.
I get it.
We have a sense of humor that.
Probably doesn’t jive with a lot of people.
But then again, if you don’t just.
Get out there with the regular civilian.
Population and reintegrate like you’re a civilian again, as a veteran, that’s a priority. That’s a mission that you need to do.
And I love the fact that you’re bringing up yeah. Jitsu is just that common ground because.
You don’t know the guy you’re rolling.
With unless you get to know him personally.
Is he a doctor? And it’s completely irrelevant because you’re in.
The moment, you’re rolling around, you’re trying.
To figure things out.
You’re trying to figure out where his body position is.
You’re trying not to get choked. And then at the end of the day, you pound fists, you shake hands.
You bow, and like you said, that tap.
Yeah, I can’t imagine. Well, yeah, I mean, I don’t have.
Enough experience, but the tap is is.
Like the is like the sacred part of it, right? It’s like, okay, dude.
Yeah, it is.
I mean, it really is.
I wouldn’t say it’s like religion, but there you go.
It’s a code, right?
It’s an honor code. The reason why we have this is.
So that we understand that these are the rules of the game. The game is I do this or maybe I can’t.
I go tap.
Okay, you go. Okay, cool. Neither are you.
And to not respect that tap would.
Be extremely unwelcome within the gym community. And if there’s a problem with someone.
Who isn’t respecting it or who that’s pushing it too far, the community generally.
Handles that because it’s part of this.
Value that we have decided is a core part of what we do, and that builds trust.
Well, that is like any it doesn’t.
Matter what person’s politics are.
It doesn’t matter if you’re angry.
There’s that common value system. We talk a lot in diversity and.
Things like that, and how so many.
Companies and different organizations, they want to have diversity.
But I think there’s a lot of.
Great value in diversity, but you have to have certain set of values to tie it all together, because if you don’t, you’re not going to benefit as.
Much from the diversity.
And diversity can be a challenge to manage. Sometimes to really take advantage of diversity, you have to find the common values.
That tie it all together. And for Jitsu, that’s one of them is the tap.
Yeah, it’s that piece of I will respect your limit no matter what it.
Is, and you will respect mine, and the rest of our backgrounds don’t matter, period.
That’s important. I love that part. Yeah, it’s extremely important. Diversity, I mean, that’s a whole other conversation, but in an organization it is.
I don’t want to get too far down into that, but I think that the important point of that is the values, right? Where do we have common values? How do we find the common values? No matter how all of us are.
Different, what pieces do we cling to?
Because that’s how when we relate to each other with those values in a positive way, that’s how we get to benefit from each other’s experiences. If we can’t relate to each other.
We’Re going to really struggle with that.
And I think Jitsu gives us a.
Couple of core concepts that within that tribe or that gym, allow us to.
Benefit from each other’s life experiences. And that’s why it’s great to integrate.
Newly separated veterans into civilian life.
I love it. So moving forward, how does somebody this.
Will be specific to the American listeners.
You’re a veteran and this interests you.
And it doesn’t matter, right? Whether you’re starting out or you’re a brown belt, you can apply, am I right?
You have to be a white belt or new to Jitsu.
Okay, that’s the first part.
The intent is for someone who has.
Not made Jiu Jitsu a normal practice for them or have not been introduced to it yet. We want to offer them an opportunity to become involved in it.
So that’s where the line is. A white belt or someone who’s new.
Or a white belt to Jiu Jitsu.
80% disability rating from the VA. And then combat time.
And then we do have a waiver.
For certain very specific situations. One of them is for military sexual trauma. We evaluate a case and then decide, does this person fit the vision that.
We have for the program if they don’t meet that criteria, and then if.
That’S the case, then we can offer.
A waiver for the program too.
So there’s a couple of times where.
We have that, but generally speaking, it’s combat time. 80% honorable discharge and a white belt. So those are the four pieces.
Okay, great. So those criteria are met by an.
Individual where do they go now to.
Sign themselves up.
On our website? We defyfoundation.org. They go on there, they can apply there. And then we have a coordinator that.
Handles all the paperwork and requirements for.
That, evaluates them, and then lets them.
Know if they’ve been accepted or not.
And if they meet the criteria they generally are.
I mean, it’s rare that we don’t.
Approve someone that meets the eligibility. And then after that, then they are told to select a gym.
And once they select a gym, or we get the gym they’ve wanted us to check into, then our coordinator sets them up with a start date. And then we pay for a year. We pay monthly, no contracts.
We don’t do contracts.
And we pay the gym every month for the first year.
That’s really cool.
So it sounds like a pretty seamless process.
It’s pretty fun.
Seamless process for the veterans that wants to get involved. Yeah.
The hardest part is if there’s not a gym, then that can take time.
But if there’s a gym down the street that’s already approved, it’s pretty fast.
Okay, I love that.
And somebody who wants to get more information from you follow you.
What are your handles?
Blitz at Weedify on Instagram is the.
One I use for that.
And then you can email the info with the Fi Foundation or just any of the emails in there. Pretty much they all come to me or somebody that’s going to be able to help you. So if you just go to the website, if you’re interested in volunteering, you’re.
Interested as a gym, or if you’re.
A veteran that’s curious about it. Again, this is mostly for us.
The gyms all have to be either in a state, a US.
State, or US territory. The veterans have to be in those same areas. The volunteers will take whoever wants thinks that they want to help because it’s.
A virtual world we live in.
And then we do have a sister.
Organization in the UK called Reorg.
And another one that’s a newer, younger one in Australia that’s called Veterans Grappling Foundation. And then there’s another foundation in the US called Ronan Foundation. I wouldn’t say we’re as associated with.
Them as the two overseas ones because.
Those are also more veterans.
But Ronan services active duty personnel in the US.
They’re newer. I don’t think they’re not quite as large as we’ve gotten.
But they’re another option out there too.
For people that are interested in learning.
About how they might be able to.
Get involved in a jiu jitsu program like this.
So you have gone international.
All right, cool.
UK, Australia, we have friends that are international.
There you go. There you go. Okay.
They’re friends of ours, so put it that way.
I’m going to put out the feelers because we’ve got the Anglo sphere covered off minus Canada. So I think this is just a natural.
I think we’ll have to be in touch later.
And I think I got some people in mind.
Yeah, we can definitely talk about.
Like I said, I can get you in touch with some folks that have.
Kind of done a little advising for.
Those other organizations too, on how they.
Might want to start up to see.
What might be possible up there up north. Awesome.
And if anybody is listening from Canadia.
My fellow Canadian hosers reach out to me.
This is something that this is a project that you’d be interested in standing.
Up and put you in touch with TJ.
So, TJ, thanks so much for sitting down, having a chat with me on.
The podcast about the We Defy Foundation.
And everything that you’re doing over there.
Any last words before we sign off?
For the veterans out there that are having challenges, are struggling, just don’t give up because there are a lot of answers out there. None of them are easy. They will take work. But I think the only way if you’re having a challenge for things to.
Get better is by choosing to do.
The work to get better. And sometimes that means, just like in Jitsu, you have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable for a little while sometimes. But then you get on the other side of it and you know you can handle it. And that’s when you see the gains, that’s when you see the improvements. So don’t be afraid of taking some appropriate risks and for accepting a little bit of discomfort because there is going.
To be an answer if you keep at that.
I think personally, it’s not always easy, but agreed.
Agreed. Great rewards of advice for TJ, for sure. So for all you folks that are listening, thank you. All you folks that are listening, don’t forget, there’s plenty of resources out there. I’m going to drop a bunch of links here in the description that TJ.
Mentioned and then some.
And folks, don’t forget, train hard, fight easy. See you on the next one. Bye.
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Dave is a retired infantry officer and Afghanistan war veteran. He’s the creator of the HRD2KILL training programs that were built on the principles that got him from not being able to get out of bed to competing in the Crossfit Open, Spartan Races and the Ironman. You can find more mobility based exercises in his new book, “The Nimble Warrior”, now available on Amazon or tune into his new HRD2KILL Podcast