The Kevin Sheridan Saga


Kevin Sheridan has been a longtime friend and mentor. He is a black belt and owner of Sheridan BJJ in New Jersey as well as the owner of Rollin’ in Costa and Rutgers Painting. Working with Kevin, both as one of his students and as one of his employees at Rutgers Painting, I learned a lot about leadership on and off the mats. I learned about how to run a successful business. And I learned the importance of building healthy cultures.

But when I met Kevin, I thought he was just some guy that I could crush.

It was 2008. For the outside world, this was the year when the housing crisis was in full swing and all of your favorite network television shows were on pause because of a writer strike in Hollywood.

For young Nelson, though, this was the year I had taken third at no-gi pans. I was a blue belt, and I felt invincible. My ego wasn’t the largest jiu-jitsu ego, but I had some, and I brought it with me on the mat when I trained.

At the time, I trained at an academy where the black belt didn’t roll very often, and I was one of the better blue belts, so when a new person came in to train I was hungry to test my skills.

Kevin dropped into a no-gi class. He was older, had a loose-fitting t-shirt, had those retro short-short style of shorts, a little bit of a belly, and was super pale. I saw fresh meat and looked forward to smashing him.

He beat the hell out of me.

We rolled for five minutes, and he leveled me. I didn’t feel like I could make anything work. When the buzzer went off, I asked him right away to roll again, trying to redeem myself. Those next five minutes were more of Kevin ripping my soul out of my blue belt body, his sweaty t-shirt in my face, his short little shorts flapping in the breeze of his guard passing with what little fabric there was to flap.

I collapsed against the wall and vented my frustration to one of my training partners.

“Yeah, dude. He just took third at brown belt Worlds.”

At that moment, my perspective on the potential depth of jiu-jitsu changed. I knew I had more to learn, but Kevin’s beating showed me that there were more layers and levels to the sport than I had realized. Blue belt Nelson had a long way to go.

When Kevin finally opened his new school—by this time I was a purple belt—I went as soon as I could. At the time, Kevin had this vision of his school being a non-profit, pay-what-you-can format. That’s because, as I would learn through my time with Kevin, Kevin’s outlook is wired toward setting and achieving goals. But it’s more than that. When Kevin aspires to go somewhere with his life or his work or his training, he tries to build a big enough boat to take as many people along with him as he can.

At his school, Kevin made goal-setting a part of his sign-up process, and it wasn’t just lip-service. He’d follow-up on it and help. In his businesses, where I was an employee for a time, he had the same philosophy for the business as a whole as well his employees. Know your values. Set goals. Work each day to move closer to your goals while living up to your values.

Kevin sets values, sets goals, and sticks with them.

I couldn’t see all of that in our first roll, of course, but I’ve been blessed to have his influence in my life. If you can find influences like that for your training and for your life, stick by them.

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