Why we Started DownToRoll.com

September 19, 2020

It actually started back when I first started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Casa Grande, AZ. My instructor, Roger Mejia (a Black Belt under Gustavo Dantas if anyone is concerned with lineage) had really just started opening his school and building up a group of students. He started extending classes and asking who was “down to roll” late or doing an open mat on the weekends. Eventually it became “who’s DTR?”  and I even got a patch on my first competition gi with “D.T.R” on it.  

A few years later I was working my own schedule and driving around, probably pissed off about something trivial and not worth being pissed off about, and I was like “I just want to roll right now”. Probably a Tuesday at 2:00 or something. And I was like, “I’m just down to roll”. And I thought “I wish there was a way I could just go to a school and roll for like 45 minutes like people can go to the Y and play basketball or racquetball.”

I then thought there’s a way to do that, and make an app, but I have no idea how. I thought I should just buy the domain “downtoroll.com” and then I’ll learn how to write apps. I ended up parking the domain at a teespring site, thinking I’ll come up with a t-shirt design long before I learn how to make apps.

Fast forward about 18 months, February 3rd 2020, and I get an email offer to buy the domain for $150.00. I thought about it, but then got so busy with my job due to the insanity of COVID-19 just starting to get serious.

Sidebar – I’m a computer engineer by education, and the past 15 years have been involved in engineering, design, supply chain, and deployment of some of the largest cloud infrastructures on the planet. When COVID-19 hit, our customers who typically purchase very predictably every 8-10 weeks increased their forecasts and accelerated their deployments to cover 12 months of capacity need in 2. There was a run on IT supply chain, and I knew things were about to get real, really real. These organizations have very tight financial models around capacity needs and investments, and for them to react this way and swiftly, sent shivers down my spine.

Meanwhile I’m still traveling from coast to coast for work and training BJJ as much as I can including in the various cities I get to visit. I forget about the offer to buy the domain, and just get busy.

In March the whole world changed. My job shut down all travel, our customer demand went through the roof, and Arizona (where I live) along with most of the country shut down for “3-4” weeks. BJJ shut down. Everything shut down. We. couldn’t. buy. toilet. paper.

We all thought, “cool, we’ll shut down for a few weeks, I heal some injuries, work on some other modalities like yoga and all that dust collecting Onnit Academy gear I never use, and then we’ll go back to normal”. 3 weeks. 4 weeks. 5 weeks. My enthusiasm for solo drills, steel mace work, and hamster wheels seemed to ebb and flow as the scale went up and down.

My mind went crazy. COVID and the whole world went nuts. We had protests, and riots, and chaos oh my! I was yelling at everyone on FaceBook and Twitter about how stupid they were, how they were killing people, and we all just need to come together and get this over with. I was not in good places.

Then GD academy was going to open up!! What, I can’t wait?!? But oh, crap, this virus thing is no bueno. I’m the only one making money for my family. My wife has medical issues and her elderly mother lives with us. I can’t risk getting them sick. G (Gustavo) makes a post about the school opening and that we’re going to have very strict social distancing, the same partner for the month, limited class sizes, etc. My family and I were very comfortable at the time to this approach. However, many other schools in Arizona were already open, and more were opening, with limited to no restrictions. This put many other schools who were trying to be cautious in a very bad spot, and the class restrictions became almost non-existent.

I made arrangements to still train exclusively with one partner, and give it a shot. I went two times. The other students didn’t really take COVID seriously, and just like I wanted partners to respect my safety on the mats, I’d hoped they would respect it off the mats as well (like ring worm, and staph). The calculation on the risk to me, my family and my community, was just too much. I figured, I’ll wait a few more weeks and see what shakes out and go back to doing berimbolo drills and kettlebell swings while I hate my life and everyone else.

And then the next week they shut everything down again, because “i f’n told you so you stupid f’n f’s!”. Then one of my coaches, Josh Rodriguez, and another GD black belt, Issa Able, were like “howie you gotta chill man!”. I think Issa’s exact reply was just “too angry brah”.

Josh messaged me and said I should reach out to “JB”. One of our other purple belts. He was in a similar circumstance and just couldn’t take any risks for his livelihood or his family. I reached out to him and we were going to just train one-on-one at his place with his mats. His wife asked for me to get tested and I was more than happy to oblige, because that’s what good people do, and went and got my test.

Arizona’s COVID infections started to go through the roof (at this time they pretty much still are) and testing was delayed. It took a little over a week but I came back negative for both antibodies and active diagnostics. I messaged JB, but he didn’t get back to me. I gave it a couple days and then hit him up again. He got back apologetically, and said his work had pulled him in unexpectedly which required him and his family to hop in their RV and head to Chicago.

I was a bit defeated. That nasal swab hurt like a son of a bitch.

no BJJ.

sad face

A couple days later I decided to message a former training partner from GD, Wes Reed. We’d be chatting a bit on Instagram back in May. Wes is a DPT that specializes in BJJ injury prevention and athletic performance. His content had grabbed my attention, and with the lockdown happening I had some questions for him about kettlebells and other things I could work on waiting to go back to train. I also was recognizing that I started to really miss the day-to-day friendships of BJJ. Something about that connection and comradery was missing too. We stayed in touch and after the JB thing I asked Wes if he wanted to grab a virtual cup of coffee over Zoom. He was down and I had July 3rd off so we decided that would work.

We hung out that morning and just bs’d and caught up on all kinds of things. I could tell we were very like minded and both were commiserating about the COVID situation. I’d told him the JB story and the frustration of the situation, all the uncertainty, and lack of control. He felt much the same and when I started talking about needing to find someone new to train with but not sure how, and he mentioned he was about to buy mats and go looking for some new partners as well. Wes’s practice had been mainly telehealth for several months prior to COVID and he recently relocated from Arizona to Colorado so he wasn’t even sure how he would get started.

I had a flash of inspiration, kind of my “Neo in the Matrix” moment and realized I knew exactly what we needed to do. I’ll build a website and the projects I had been working on the past two years pretty much taught me everything I needed to know. In about 10 minutes we had a working prototype of the signup form ready to go. We got kind of excited about the idea and I asked if he wanted to get together again the following week to see if we can turn it into anything. I mentioned I could look into a domain and some web hosting in the meantime and we’d discuss on our next call.

A few minutes after we ended the meeting I remembered downtoroll.com. I just was like Fry from Futurama, squinty eyed, forehead scrunched, all “wait a minute… I think I own a domain for just this occasion!” I logged into my godaddy account and sure enough, there it was in pristine condition just waiting to come to life. I also had recently signed up for a Microsoft Azure developer account and had a free year of cloud services with a $200 credit to start. So I commenced to figure out if I could duct tape and bubble gum this together, and not have to spend any money, given that we really didn’t know what would be doing and where it could go.

The next morning, 4th of the July, was a Saturday. I got up early and went right to work. I got my Azure instance up and running, found a template to deploy WordPress without really much of any hassle at all. And then did all the things like routing my domain, and putting the site together.

The next week was really the turning point when Wes and I got to brainstorming about what we could do with the platform and really why it would even need to exist. In no particular order:

  • COVID-19
    • It’s a deadly and highly contagious disease that is new and not well understood.
    • Many people were a lot like us and can’t risk exposing close family members to COVID
    • Many people were a lot like us and didn’t want to catch it themselves, not knowing what both the short-term and long-term effects would be.
    • Many people were a lot like us and simply didn’t want to risk the greater community as a whole
    • Communities all over the world will continue to open and close various businesses, and it’s not really clear when it will be safe.
    • BJJ is typically close quarters with exponential risk based on the number of students per class, classes per week, and total number of students.
    • Until a vaccine is proven effective, the supply chain is built out, and it can be distributed to a critical mass of the population, COVID risks will continue to remain high.
  • Cons of Not Training BJJ
    • Physical fitness – BJJ is often the only physical activity BJJers really like.
    • Discipline – BJJ often leads to needed to have a good routine and schedule and discipline around things like diet and sleep.
    • Lack of goals – With regular training it’s easy to set goals. eg. learn a new technique, drop xyz lbs. not get tapped by that guy.
    • No progress – Again with regular training it’s easy to see incremental progress, whether tied to a goal or not.
    • Missing friends – Our “Third Place” now being gone, we just don’t see those same faces multiple times a week, and for many of us with full time jobs and families it was a nice and convenient way to have these additional bonds.
    • Mental release – Nothing makes you focus, live in the moment, and forget about the problems of the day like defending chokes or playing quick draw with heel-hooks.
  • Benefits of Small Group Training during COVID
    • Reduce risk of exposure
    • Limit community risk being able to quarantine a small group with no other groups being affected
    • Can agree on level of risk, COVID Testing, etc.
  • Benefits of Small Group Training in General
    • No Gym Politics
    • No Creonte’
    • Focus on the techniques and training regimen specific to your pod, not a one-size fits all at a traditional school.
    • Flexible Scheduling
    • Flexible Location
  • Examples in BJJ of Outstanding Performance Training in Small Groups
    • Craig and Lachlan
    • Miyao Brothers
    • Mendes Brothers
    • Espen and Tommy
  • Develop an OnLine Platform to help with
    • Goal Setting
    • Curriculum
    • Journal and Progress Tracking
    • Content
    • Group and Private Instruction
    • Coaching
  • Benefits to Instructors
    • Avoid cost of opening and or maintaining an academy
    • Supplement income with students all over the world
    • Help students with medical concerns maintain and progress
    • Develop new paradigms in delivering quality instruction and content

This is not to take anything away from traditional academies by the way. In fact I can’t wait until it’s safe for me to return. I really look forward to going to many open mats. Traveling for business and meeting new friends. Hopefully I get to meet many of the people who signed up for downtoroll and have the good fortune to train with them in person.

For the time being though, we really think there’s an acute need for DownToRoll.com to help the BJJ community, and long term the idea should give everyone more options for how and when they train, who they train with, and innovative technology to enhance their practice and performance.

If you are interested in getting back to training safely and effectively please sign up and join our community. If DTR isn’t for you but you’d still like to help, please sign up for our email list and share about us on social media, with friends, and academies.

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day!