Why do we fight? Kervin Modeste. Gracie Barra Blue Belt.
Why do we fight? What is it that compels the Jiujiteiro to press on and continue to train, day-in and day-out, with little to no return? This year, I’ll be interviewing members of the GB Montreal family to try and get to know them better and gain insight into their jiujitsu journey. We are an eclectic bunch with diverse backgrounds. One thing binds us together on the mats though; we train, we persevere, we fight.
Dan Aponte: It’s been a little while since we last did a “Why We Fight” series, so I thank you Kervin for taking the time and being the first in this ‘re-ignition’ of the blog. On a side note, congratulations recently acquiring your Canadian Citizenship! As I understand it, this has been a long journey for you.
Kervin Modeste: Yes, it has been, thanks Dan.
DA: Since we’re on the topic of citizenship, tell me a little about your background, where are you from, and when you came to Canada.
KM: So originally, I come from Mauritius, and I’ve now been in Montreal for almost 4 years and a half. I came here for a friend, he was here for some time before and suggested I come to Canada. For those of us who decide to move to another country, it’s a big big change; you have to leave your home, your family, your friends, everything. But, I am someone who likes challenges. No matter what my age, when I was young, or now that I am a little older, I need to set goals and challenges to myself. So when he asked me, I said “Okay, let’s do this move”. It actually took me 4 years to come here, to do all the proper paper work and immigration procedures. When I first got here, I came straight as a permanent resident.
Also, my cousin had been here for about 10 years before me, and so he was able to show me around, help me get settled. Yeah, it was pretty fun, very exciting and scary at the beginning. Actually, before I came, he had told me about the Canadian winter, and I come from Mauritius, and so I could not even imagine what it would be like. *Laughs* My cousin told me: “Be prepared, sometimes it hits hard, and it’s like -40”
DA: Yup, that’s Montreal for you. I’m sure that was a shock the first winter, eh?
KM: Well, actually, as I told you before, I have been a cook for a few years now, and I actually worked on cruise ships for a few years. So I had already visited places like Alaska and Russia, but not when it was so cold, and not for very long. We would dock for a few hours, and then be off again. I didn’t have to “survive” in the cold for 6 months like here! So I knew it would be difficult, but I had also worked hard to get here; I had put in a lot of hours of work and interviews, I had spent some money for all the proper documentation, so I knew I wasn’t going to stop or let all that go. I knew I had to be mentally, and also physically strong.
DA: So tell me a little more about your chef background, and your experience living and working on different cruise ships. First, how did you decide to pursue chef training?
KM: Well, when I finished college, I needed to figure out what I would do. So, I said to myself, I have 3 choices. Number 1, I wanted to be a fireman; it seemed exciting, physical, with action. Number 2, I was thinking of becoming an accountant; it’s a good job, but I soon realized I am completely bad at maths. Number 3, I thought maybe I could become a chef.
I soon dropped the idea of becoming an accountant, and so I only had 2 choices left. By the age of 20, and after applying and trying to get into fireman, I wasn’t able to due to the specific criteria to be a fireman. I don’t remember them exactly, but I didn’t really make the height cut. *Laughs* So, really, my third option of becoming a chef was my only choice in the end. And so that was about 15 years ago now. It was a rough 2 years, a demanding apprenticeship, but I survived it, and I loved it.
DA: Awesome. So how long were you working on cruises for?
KM: So working on a cruise ship, the contracts are 6 months long, and then you have 2 months off. So I did a total of 3 contracts, plus the time off, so it was 2 full years. Working on a cruise ship, the hours are a little crazy; you work every day, sometimes 8 hours, sometimes 12 hours, and you work 7 days a week for the 6 months.
DA: What? That’s crazy, how did you manage working so much and for so long?
KM: Well, you don’t work 12 hours straight. You come in the morning, maybe work 2 or 3 hours, then you have 2 hours off. You come back for the lunch service and dinner prep, you work 5-6 hours, then you go back, rest a few hours, then you work a couple hours at the end of the day. It isn’t always like that, if you’re lucky, sometimes your senior will give you an evening off, or let you land with everyone and visit the city for 10 hours before the dinner service. You get used to it, so when you get 10 hours off, it’s a lot of time, and so you learn to take advantage of it when you have it!
It was a really amazing experience. I had my return tickets paid for each time, to and from the ship and back home, I didn’t really have any expenses, and every 2 or 3 days I was in a different port, or different country, or different continent. I loved it.
Another thing that was really great about this experience was how on the ships, we were a mixed crew of so many different nations. There were maybe 25 or 30 different countries represented in the crew. And you know, when you are working on a cruise ship for 6 months, you become like a family. Even though everyone might have a different culture, or speak a different language, you all come together. When you work in mixed groups, you all speak in English. Even if you are 5 Mauritians and 1 Italian, you speak in English; it is Universal. I was also first introduced to jiu-jitsu on a cruise ship by one of my friends
DA: You’ve covered quite a few things there, but that’s amazing. Now you’re in Montreal which is known to be multicultural and diverse.
KM: Yes, actually it was a friend of mine, he was a Polish guy called Kamil. I will always remember this story. My friend came to me, very excited, but speaking quietly, like it was a secret, and he said: “Kervin, come on guy, I need your help with something. I need to try something, but don’t let anybody know”. So I said okay, a little confused, and we went down to one of the gyms, locked the door, and he said: “Okay, get on your knees and I will put my legs around you. It is called guard”. I said to him: “Kamil, this is really weird, what are we doing here?” I knew he did martial arts and a little bit of MMA. He said: “I want to practice a move I saw, but it won’t hurt”. So he wrapped his legs around my upper body, did something I didn’t know or understand, and that was it. He then told me this was jiu-jitsu, that he had just performed an armbar, and that you can use it to break somebody’s arm. We did this a few more times, here and there during our time on the ship. We both finished our contracts, we kept in touch, but in Mauritius back in 2012, there wasn’t really any jiu-jitsu around. But then, in 2016, after being in Montreal for about a year, I saw an advertisement for Gracie Barra Montreal Ouest on Facebook. So Googled Gracie Barra, saw a few videos and decided to call. I got into contact with Frederick (Aouad), and he actually gave me my first intro class in St-Henri, because Montreal Ouest was still under construction! I have to say, Frederick really has been a big part of my jiu-jitsu journey; he was the one who gave me my first intro at GB, he taught most of the classes I attended right at the beginning, and really he helped mentor me in jiu-jitsu.
Actually, I have to say that there is something very similar in jiu-jitsu and in cooking. In cooking, you need to find someone who will be able to mentor you, somebody who is not afraid to teach you, to show you a culinary technique, or to allow you to grow. I have had both good culinary mentors and bad. Those who are afraid to teach you something because they fear losing you or investing into you. It is so important to find a mentor who push you and allow you to reach your potential, even if at some point, you may move on to a different restaurant, or open something on your own. I think I have found that with my coaches and partners here at Gracie Barra. Frederick has actually been that person for my growth in jiu-jitsu. This really is the key, finding someone who can help you to grow and teach you, with out fear of losing you.
DA: That’s very true, and what your saying kind of reminds me of the TED Talk Bruno gave a few years ago, where he explained his mentality as a jiu-jitsu teacher. He explained how in order to continuously get better at jiu-jitsu, you absolutely need your training partners to continuously get better. Rather than fearing your partner getting better and not being able to win the next time you train, you appreciate that your opponent’s increased skill will help you get better in the long run.
KM: Yes, exactly, and this is really how I feel when I train at Gracie Barra. After every round, we sit and chat and tell each other what we did well, we complement the other, and sometimes we ask our training partner to show us something after class. It is funny but that is how it is with everyone at the academy, not just the coaches. Just imagine if Carlos Gracie Jr. had a very closed mentality, and he did not want to teach and mentor people. Well, maybe he would not have mentored Bruno the way he did, for fear that Bruno would leave Brazil and open his own school. So maybe we would not have Gracie Barra here in Montreal. Instead, Bruno has taught countless people, he has now opened so many schools, and his students are now growing their own business. In the end, all of this reflects well on the entire organization.
DA: So Kervin, you bridged some of the similarities between your career and your passion and gave us a glimpse into how you started jiu-jitsu. Last week, I got to see you in your element at Restaurant Henri. You guys have a really awesome group there, but it is a fast paced and physically demanding job! What keeps you focused and driven to continue training; why do you fight?
KM: At this point, jiu-jitsu is actually a matter of faith. I go in, regardless of what I am doing, because I have faith that jiu-jitsu is helping me grow, it is helping me stay on track, and it is also teaching me a different way of looking at the world. At work, when there is a big rush during a dinner service, you might have a bunch of orders you need to take care of, and you have many different people trying to talk to you, trying to have you do something, you need to have the ability and the confidence to shut out the bullshit and focus on the task at hand. There is a proverb that says: “When there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do you no harm”. I really feel that jiu-jitsu is helping me tame the enemy within.
I would like to thank Kervin and his senior chef, Jerome, for allowing me to spend time in the kitchen, observing and photographing them. If you’d like to see where Kervin works, you can follow this link to their website: https://hotelbirksmontreal.com/eat-drink/ , rest assured you’ll be in good hands.
All content by Dan Aponte. Follow him on instagram @just.dan.thingz