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  • Johnn Ventimiglia

Summer vacation rules. Even if you have to work.

I was born on the first day in the summer, June 22nd. Not the first day of summer, the 21st. I say that proudly because I truly love summer and I think that has something to do with it. What’s not to love? Baseball, barbecues, getting into cars that feel like brick ovens meant to cook pizza. It’s a blast.

Along with summer fun comes summer vanity and dread. I’m not the chunkiest dude at the pool but they’re not calling me up for Marvel movies either.

I’ve always sat on the fringe of being in-shape but at the beginning of the summer I decided, since I was freshly vaccinated, to get beyond the at home TV workouts and clodding through the streets to record embarrassing mile times (find me on Strava for a good laugh). I joined a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym.

This was not my first foray. I wrestled some JV and one varsity match in high school before deciding I liked playing guitar and smoking cigarettes better. Pre-Covid I had joined a gym in Brooklyn and really enjoyed it. I was invited by a drinking buddy who was a purple belt. He also did some tattoos on me. After one night of particularly heavy drinking I capitulated.

The next day I stopped at a martial arts supply shop in Queens where a nice Korean man sold me a gi that was far too large for me. I then proceeded to get the snot kicked out of me by teenagers and UFC hopefuls. It was great. Each class was a further examination of my own ineptitude. How crappy can you be? Stick around and find out! About a month in and I started to build a foundation from which a foundation could be built. Then motherf*ckin Covid baby. Like everyone else the rug was pulled out from under me. No more happy times choking friends or twisting joints in the ways that the Almighty didn’t design. This new joy was not to be.

Flash forward to June of 2021. Now living back in New Jersey and out of the city I was itching for something to do. I was vaccinated and bored. Another buddy called me up and invited me to his gym. I dug my gi out of storage and went to go choke and be choked by strangers.

By the end of that class I was so gassed I thought I would die. I came close to hurling in the parking lot. But that’s all it took. I had the bug again.

As much as I liked that gym it was a thirty minute drive from my apartment. That would make training a chore and I abhor chores. Luckily for me I found a gym that was only a short six minute walk from my apartment. I emailed them and the owners were nice enough to invite me for a class.

More or less from June to August I went between 3 to 4 times a week. Each class has roughly the same formula. A warm-up, a stretch, a dynamic warm-up, technical instruction, application of said technique, technique applied in a live setting, live (rolling).

Each component leads to another and as the body gets warmed up so does the brain. By the time you reach the live component you are all nerves and sinew excited to try out what you've just learned as well as the other tricks and moves from previous classes.

If you would like to feel utterly humbled, and I recommend everyone should. Mighty I suggest Brazilian jiu jitsu. The days when you are full of piss and vinegar are the days you will realize you are not as fast or smooth or savvy as you thought. You will be humbled quickly. Nothing will work, you will forget all training and your game plan goes out the window.

Eventually you will feel like chewed bubble gum. Certainly that's how I felt. But those days I felt like I'd been run through a pasta machine I surprised myself. Some of my best moments where I executed textbook moves happened on days where I felt like a mosquito on the windshield of a semi doing 80mph through corn country.

Athleticism helps but it is not fool proof. Technique will beat athleticism most times. Technique with athleticism will always win. The rolling around and sweating and getting tweaked will help trim the waistline and give your muscles some pep too.

A full summer of jiu jitsu has given me a jammed finger, a very attractive black eye, bruises and bumps of every color and a new appreciation for breathing. I think I could only sweat more if I were in a sauna in the Kalahari. But a full summer of jiu jitsu has also given me a stripe on my white belt (a signal of promotion), new friends, fantastic cardio, renewed strength and routine. I think it has been a fair trade.

What I know about jiu jitsu is very little. When I do learn something the chasm of knowledge only grows. It is like throwing the football down the field only to have the goalposts move farther back when you reach them. But I do know some new things about myself. I've kept a journal of every class I’ve been to. In it are the instructors, the techniques, my follies and my minor victories. It helps. After reviewing those notes from the summer I can distill them into the following points:

Pay attention. If you don’t you will learn quickly and pain is a world class educator.

Try anyway. Even if you don’t think you can do it you won’t know unless you try. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish.

Show up. Half the battle is showing up and doing something. Even if you’re on half a tank or feel like you’ve got lead in your legs.

Quit temporarily. Rest is important. This also means tapping to allow yourself to reset the pieces and try again. Nobody likes a gassed out spaz.

WI was born on the first day have a patent on these concepts. No martial art or sport does. In fact these concepts are pretty ubiquitous. And while they may seem like good advice you've heard before (or terrible) sometimes the only way is to experience something for yourself. Consider them important things that can be applied to anything like knitting or binging a television show. I arrived at these concepts through my summer of jiu jitsu. What you will learn is up to you. Maybe it’s jiu jitsu, maybe it’s bocce, maybe it’s fishing for northern pike in Minnesota. Whatever it is do it well and make sure you try and enjoy yourself. As for me I will continue my jiu jitsu adventure beyond summer. Maybe I'll even learn Portuguese.W

  • Johnn Ventimiglia

"The Ballad of Dood & Juanita" is the latest record by country music singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson. A traditional sounding bluegrass infused record, it is also his last.

I used to be much better at finding out about when artists I liked records were coming out. I'm old enough to remember looking in a paper copy of Rolling Stone to find out when something was coming out. Then social changed all of that. Then I backed off of social a bunch because it's all encompassing black hole like qualities.

Now-a-days I find out when new records from artists I enjoy are coming out thanks to the benevolent algorithms of Spotify. I've been on Spotify since 2012, I think. That's quite a lot of time to learn my listening habits and honestly I'm grateful. The last record that the benevolent algorithms placed before me was "The Ballad of Dood & Juanita" by Sturgill Simpson.

I first heard Sturgill's "High Top Mountain" on my first and only trip to New Mexico. I was driving from Albuquerque to Santa Fe to eat blue corn enchiladas at Maria's New Mexican Kitchen. The record was perfect. There was snow on the ground. I was wearing a cowboy hat. Right off the bat it was excellent with the very awesome and poignant "Life Ain't Fair and the World Is Mean" by the time I got to "You Can Have the Crown" I was hooked. This set me on a course to then discover 2014's "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music" (a perfect record if ever one existed). I anxiously awaited "A Sailor's Guide to Earth". It's mix of strings and horns and wit provided the hit of serotonin I expected. Favorites include "Sea Stories" and the single, "Brace For Impact (Live a Little)".

Three years later, with much anticipation "SOUND & FURY" came out. It was better than I had hoped. "SOUND & FURY" was and will always be a rock n roll record. It just plain rocks. It rocks the way all the greats do and for the same reasons. But underneath the great guitar riffs, honest lyrics "keep tuggin' on the thread hoping it all might come unravelled...", and world class production was more. It was the sound of a person doing whatever it is they wanted to do and doing it well.

There are also two insert records from 2020, "Cuttin' Grass - Vol 1" and "Cuttin' Grass - Vol 2". Both are bluegrass arrangements of many of Sturgill's songs from his previous records. They are as good as any of his bluegrass contemporaries' offerings.

Listen to the records and you will see that "SOUND & FURY" is a furious departure from it's older siblings. And that's part of what makes it so great. "The Ballad of Dood & Juanita" is too. Thus, it is also great. In particular I would recommend the Statler Brothers flavored "Shamrock". "Juanita" is as good if not better than any Mexicanized white guy song that Willie or Waylon or Jimmy Buffet did. (In fact Willie collaborated with Sturgill on "Juanita".)

There are plenty of music critics who can opine about the songwriting, the production, the details - I am not one of those. Any attempt to be would be just a poor attempt. I'm just a guy who likes listening to music. Maybe I'm biased because I genuinely enjoy and seek out bluegrass music. This record is framed and steeped in it and that's probably why I think it slaps. I also just finished reading Allan W. Eckert's "The Frontiersmen", a book I picked up at the Green Parrot's little library in Key West, about the settling of Kentucky and Ohio by white people. I'd be lying to tell you that a banjo isn't one of my favorite instruments. But I'm also a guy who can relate to the need to do things the way you want to do them if for no other reason than that you can. It doesn't make me unique, it makes me normal, I think. It gives me solace because then it means I'm not out on an island - there are working artists doing exactly what it most of us do. Maybe we're one species after all. I think that everyone of us has a desire to stretch out and see where the limits of our creativity and comfort lie. The fuzzy edges of what makes you tick can only be made clear when you put them in focus.

Listen to Bluegrass.

  • Johnn Ventimiglia

A buddy of mine always uses the term "gettin' legged up" whenever he talks about getting things ready. This is predominately when referring to a fishing or hiking trip. I think he heard it on Steven Rinella's podcast or show once. (Thanks Steven, I think.) This is me gettin' legged up. I built the damn site. I'm gonna use it. Or at least try to.

Most of the stuff that I think I'm going to put on here is going to be generically about the things that interest me. If they interest you then bully. When it comes to interests I'm all over the map. I'm not quite a goldfish but whatever the link between a goldfish and a chimp is; that's me.

So I'm gettin' legged up. Like a lot of people, I think, one of the best parts about any endeavor is getting started. There's a lot of excitement in the getting ready. There's a lot of excitement in the possibility. It's a lot like the night before a field trip to a museum or historic village or factory that makes potato chips.

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