Nathan Mendelsohn is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under Cláudio França, who is one of the very first black belts to bring Jiu Jitsu to California, Santa Cruz in particular, and a crucial contributor to the growth of this sport/martial art in North America. Nathan is one of the top American grapplers of his generation, but it’s not just his tremendous list of achievements that garnered him notoriety in the martial arts community – it’s also his open minded attitude towards training, often breaking strict team taboos to practice with the best in this martial art/sport.
Nathan was inspired by his childhood hero Rickson Gracie, a famed practitioner of Gracie jiu jitsu and the subject of the 1995 documentary, Choke. Nathan describes him as the embodiment of the modern-day samurai, and learning jiu jitsu was Nathan’s own way of chasing that childhood dream of being a real-life samurai.
Nathan was ranked as the #8 middleweight blackbelt in the world, positioned to move even higher up the rankings, before he hit a roadblock: a knee injury. Thanks to medical advances over the past 10 or 20 years, this wasn’t the career-ending injury it could have been, but it still lead to a number of frustrating moments during recovery and caused him to slide in the rankings.
But he tried not to let negativity own his life, telling us that “it’s really important to have a positive storyline happening in your head.” Instead of viewing the injury as an obstacle to his goal, he took it as an opportunity to take six months off, for the first time in his life. It was time he could use to not only let his body recover, but also hone his mindset.
Like a lot of what you learn when training in a martial art, I think this lesson is highly applicable to everyone’s life. In our conversation, Nathan shares a number of other lessons he’s learned over the years:
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