One of the abilities Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) gives to its practitioners is the ability to control their opponent during a fight. But can BJJ also help you control your diabetes? The answer is Yes!
Throughout my career as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Instructor, I’ve seen many cases where BJJ has helped my students with their diabetes.
Recently, I was observing a student of mine that has one of the severest cases of diabetes I’ve ever seen. His name is Steve.
Steve joined my martial arts school about seven years ago, and since then, I’ve seen, for the first time, how hard diabetes can be on a person’s health.
I didn’t know then, but when he joined my BJJ school here in San Clemente, he was in really bad shape.
I’ve seen him throwing up, shivering, and almost fainting after some of the classes, but his determination to continue was amazing.
Lately, I noticed that he doesn’t react the same way. He looks much healthier and confident, then, I decided to interview him. I wanted him to share his story with the world so people can benefit from it like he did.
So here is the interview…
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu student, Steve Habecker
Hi. I’m here with Steve and we’re going to talk about his story before and after he joined my school – Steve is diabetic, but since he has joined BJJ, his condition has improved a lot. So we’re going to talk a little bit about that. OK?
So first of all, Steve, let’s talk about before you started martial arts, how was your life– and what type of diabetes you have?
Steve: Hello everyone, I’m Type 1.
So, what were you doing before starting jiu-jitsu and how was your health back then?
Steve: Pretty much nothing. I used to ride my bike and stuff, lift weights, things like that. But before jiu-jitsu, my diabetes was terrible. I had blood tests from my doctor telling me that certain numbers of things were too high. I was having system failures like in my organs. I had nerve damage. I was constantly hospitalized. I wouldn’t even remember going to the hospital. It was about as bad as you could be.
Wow! Do you remember some of the numbers?
Steve: Oh yeah.
So tell us a little bit about them.
Steve: Well, you check your blood with a meter and it keeps tracks of all your blood sugars. My 2-week and month-long averages were well into the 400s and, sometimes, even 500s, which is 5 to 6 times what your normal blood sugar should be. So, you’re not running well. It’s almost like you’re dehydrated. You got thick ketchup going through your veins instead of liquid blood.
Super painful. You’re nauseous all the time. I was bedridden 18 hours a day for about a 5-year period of my life. A couple of years before, I actually first joined the academy and I just… I had to deal with those complications.
I remember when you started. So first, what brought you into martial arts?
Steve: Well, that was my father. When I was young, he always had a punching bag. We did karate and Kung Fu. I was on the demonstration team, competition team. And that was my youth. And I regard that as real good time in my life because I was real healthy before I got diabetes. I got diabetes about 13.
And I just saw O.C. Dojo where you had classes there and I wanted to just try it out because it was a mix of things and I really took to the jiu-jitsu. I got the Purple Belt instructor there at the time who taught a lot of the classes and I got along and then ended up at your academy and just loved the environment and I found like-minded people and I felt really supported immediately.
I remember it wasn’t easy for you at first. You had a lot of episodes, right?
Steve: Oh Yeah.
So back then, how was your routine? And talk a little bit about your first experiences because it wasn’t like an easy experience I believe.
Steve: I threw up. I threw up a lot in those early classes because I was going from having no routine. My routine was like I lift weights sometimes. But I wasn’t health-minded. It’s here (Guillobel’s School) where I learned to actually throw a good food in to get a good result because I was seeing what I was seeing. I would come into class, and I’d have these episodes.
If I ate something junky before, my blood would be high and I’d be really dizzy, nauseous. I’d have to finish the classes with my head in the sink, pouring water on me, going out. You’ve seen it a few times.
And then on days where I’m not getting the proper nutrition, I’m going to have a little blood sugar during class and then you’ve seen have to drink drinks and eat food and stuff, cut off the mat early just to do that.
And those moments are about as hectic as my whole life was, just constant ups and downs. No control. Feeling like I would never get control of the diabetes until I started getting control of myself, like having a self-discipline, coming in all the time because I love coming here. Figuring out what to eat because I need to keep coming here. I can’t miss days because I’m sick.
And my sugars – there’s a test called an A1C where they can see what your average glucose is over a long period of time. It’s a blood drawn test. And I went from just horrific numbers where my doctors were always worried about me, and like begging me to fix myself back when I was not caring about myself anymore, to actually I’m at a normal range. I’m in a good range within that normal range and my organs are healthier than 20-year-old non-diabetics.
That’s awesome, man! The reason I decided to interview you was because I noticed that you’re not having the same reactions you used to have back in the days. You are now, most of the times, doing all the classes and training. We’re not worried about you like we used to be.
So tell us a couple of the things you’ve been doing that is helping you to reduce the numbers and put you in a healthier state?
Steve: Well, number one, absolutely it’s the jiu-jitsu. You know as well as anyone it’s a different type of workout. Your metabolism is working for a lot longer after the workout than say weights or normal cardio. You’re burning all that energy and that’s all that sugar that’s normally sitting in my blood and being stagnant and making me feel bad. So that’s the main number one thing.
And I suppose the jiu-jitsu lifestyle that comes along with it, wanting to eat healthy, take care of myself. I even take care of my skin. You want to avoid any disease. So I wash with special soaps. I drink probiotics like the tip you gave me, drink it before bed. I just started doing that this week.
I mean those have to be the main things that have really driven my success in becoming who I am now. I am probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m definitely the healthiest. And I’m not afraid to die like every day because there are times I wake up from a sleep drenched in sweat. My whole bed is wet with sweat and I have to deal with these medical emergencies.
And instead of them being every single day multiple times a day, now just within this last year and a half, two years especially, I maybe have one episode a week or every two weeks. And I just couldn’t be happier about that.
So, How are your numbers now? If you go to the doctor… like… how is it working there? What’s like the sugar level in your blood and all that stuff?
Steve: Well, my main blood sugar, the A1C, that’s under normal range. It was up like 12.8. Now it’s down to like I think 6.2 at my last one. And that’s what a normal person should be around. And then my 2-week and month-long average if you look at my testing meter, I think the last one I saw was like 178 and 180 something for my month.
So I’m constantly below 200, which is reasonable especially for an active lifestyle. You want it a little bit higher especially when you’re training like multiple times a day. But I’m usually a really good number. I don’t have to make any corrective doses. I just take insulin with my meals now.
OK. So if you have to tell people two or three things they should do that you did that could help lower and put them in that healthier level of being a diabetic, what would be those two or three things?
Steve: I guess the first thing would be instead of having the lifestyle of being like a catch-up style diabetic, like you mess up and then you try to fix it with more insulin or after the fact, you want to be a preventative. And like diet and exercise is preventative, living a healthy lifestyle.
So the next piece of advice would be to find something like jiu-jitsu. Find something you’re extremely passionate about, something you could do every day and get in that community of like-minded people who are going to support you in being healthy whether they are diabetic or not.
Everybody at this gym is like – has their own like input for things that have helped them out. They motivate you. I’ve made so many close friends here at the gym where they keep me on track. They ask me how my diabetes is doing. In the middle of the class, they are checking on me because they care and I have that same care for them. I look out for them and we’re like a support network. And when you have people who care about you, anything in life is that much easier.
I think those would be like the main …
Nice. All right, man. So it was nice listening to your story. I hope other people can benefit from it. There are a lot of people out there that at this point are like you were a couple of years ago, having all those problems. And your testimony can give them a little bit of hope.
Once again, nice talking to you.
Steve: Thank you, Sensei .
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