I have been running a turkey roll since my first teaching gig as a purple belt—all the way back in 2011. The original school I taught at was a whopping 3 blocks from my parents’ house. Talk about an easy commute, so sneaking in an extra training session before stuffing myself with turkey was a no brainer. And even though my life is dramatically different 4 years later, I am still thankful for it.
As I look back, I never thought this simple open mat would come to mean so much to me. I started a tradition at the school, and my friend Dave, who is now the head instructor, has continued it. While it’s true that we use most holidays as an excuse to get extra training in (because that’s just what jiu-jitsu people do), our Thanksgiving tradition has become very special to me.
As time went by and the school grew, a few of us have moved away for school or for jobs. Life has a way of pulling at the core of a jiu-jitsu team. A few years later you look around and realize that the team you train with now is much different from the team you had when you started. People come. People go.
However, Thanksgiving is the one holiday we find ourselves coming back into town, and we get to train together again. There is something unique about training with an old training partner after a long layoff. It’s like having a conversation without having one. You can tell what parts of his game he has been working on. You can estimate if he has been training as much as he used to, and you can see if you can stop that pass he used to get you with all the time back in the day.
No one tells you about BJJ camaraderie when you start training, but it is one of the aspects of BJJ that I have come to appreciate the most. My circle of friends is composed mostly from people I have spent years training with. Friendships forged on the mat are unlike friendships made elsewhere. You shared in the communal suffering of grueling practices and the weird obsession—that one you have with choking people that your other friends don’t understand—brings you back together day after day. It’s hard to articulate, but I am incredibly thankful for it. If you get a chance to have a Turkey Roll during this holiday do so. Continue the tradition, or start your own. Turkey tastes much better after a hard training session, and it might help you to pause and be thankful for your training partners. These are the people that help you be better, on and off the mat. They give you their time and their insights. They trust you with their health, and if your training partners are anything like mine, they go out of their way to let you into their lives and to build you up.
Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
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