“Chronically Positive” is a collection of essays for dealing with everyday issues. Whether those issues are as big as chronic kidney disease or as minuscule as a nagging honey do list. Marlon Ransom and his son Tyler take turns in a tete-a-tete discussion of different strategies for managing the challenges life can throw at you.
Marlon is a single father of two living in Los Angeles California. Tyler, his son, is a high school student who is dealing with chronic illness: kidney disease. The two document their struggles, their successes and their strategies. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu plays a large part in both their lives. Tyler has been training eleven years and is a blue belt. His dad is a purple belt. Over the eleven year period Tyler has trained at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, with Eddie Bravo downtown LA and Henry Akins in West LA. Both train under Cobrinha at his Wilshire Boulevard location.
The book is short with 75 pages, eight chapters and 29 pictures. Sprinkled throughout are pictures documenting their years training Jiu-Jitsu. It includes some simple tools like being your own medical advocate and more difficult ones like setting a deadline on nagging projects. Both authors use language that's light and easy to understand making the book a fast read.
Marlon and son Tyler come across to the reader as warm, honest and forthright. They don't squirm from the ugly parts and they don't embellish on the happier successes. The reader receives the benefit of two points of view, 25 years apart in age and experience.
This book is more about using a solid set of tools to deal with life than it is about kidney disease. I would recommend this book for young and old; sick and healthy. Who can’t use a few more tools to deal with life?
BJJ is the one sport one regularly sees people of vast age ranges on the mats actively engaged with one another. Many other competitive sports have an unwritten rule around age; when it's best to start the sport and when it's best for someone to walk away. In BJJ the rules are not so definite.
All photos courtesy of Skylar Ransom
Case in point: If one attends the Monday/Wednesday 8 pm advanced class at Cobrinha BJJ and Fitness, one will witness the unlikely pairing of a 14 year old and a 62 year old. The two BJJ players mentioned are Tyler Ransom (14) and Levon Alexanian (62). They have been training partners going on two years.
The lessons they have learned despite the age difference, or probably as a result of, have opened a pathway to a deeper understanding and value for what they individually bring to the table.
What were your thoughts when you found out one another's age?
Tyler: I was use to seeing a lot younger people on the mats, so it took me by surprise. He is very open and friendly with everyone, and he acts like he’s much younger, not sure if that makes sense.
Levon: He looks so tall I actually thought he was like 16 or older. When I found out I thought it was cool that someone so young could be training with adults.
What did you think when it was time to drill?
Tyler: The first thing I thought was I’m gonna have to go slow, because I figured he would not have good cardio. I also thought I would have to be careful, because I did not want to injure him.
Levon: My main focus was to not discourage him, or intimidate him. I wanted to let him get good positions, encourage him, give him praise and make him excited to train.
After your first time sparring what did you think of the other’s skills?
Tyler: It was live positional training, we were doing the spider guard and I started on the bottom. Right away I noticed how strong his grips were on my gi pants, then he threw my legs to the side and moved to knee on belly in one motion before I had time to react. It was at that point I realized he was fast, strong, and he was technical.
Levon: I have to admit he caught me with a sweep that was unexpected, that being said he had good technique and he understands the game of BJJ very well. What he lacks is physical maturity, which will come when he gets older and then he will be able to combine strength with his technique.
What are some positive things you gain from being partners?
Tyler: When we are doing drills he is really nit picky, he pays attention to every detail. If I miss any step he points it out and has me start over. He also gives me like a backstory on each move. He’ll tell me how someone used it on him, or he tried the move and someone was able to get out, and how you have to be aware of the steps, so he is like a teacher and a partner.
Levon: There are a lot of benefits to being partners with Tyler. One thing is I am able to try different things with him, I discover ways to refine my moves, make them more efficient. He is tall, but he is thin, with long limbs, so I have to alter my moves and positions, which is good.
What have you learned about age differences?
Tyler: That many times, age may not really matter. I don’t view Levon as an older person, I have serious nervous energy every time before sparing, because I know how good he is.
Levon: Well you have to understand that I feel like I am 25 years old when I get on the mat, so I never really take any age differences into consideration. That said, of course there are differences, but I don’t really think it has to do with age, it has to do with the amount of experience.
Do you two have anything in common in addition to BJJ?
Tyler: Yes, we both love jazz, and we both play instruments, he plays the alto saxophone and I play the alto, tenor and baritone saxophone along with the guitar. We spend time talking about old school jazz musicians and music in general a lot of the time.
Levon: What we have in common was a shock to me I mean how many kids his age like jazz? We both enjoy, no, I’d say love jazz, and the fact that he plays all the different saxophones is very impressive. I know you said in addition to BJJ, but it is very important that people know we share the BJJ lifestyle, which means we use the principles we learn on the mat in life to improve our health, gain patience and be humble.
What would you say to those who question whether to train with someone older or younger?
Tyler: Well to me older means wiser, so I see it as an opportunity to gain even more knowledge and get twice as good. I also have to say that I felt bad about how I judged him at first, because I have been judged for many years when people see me, a kid in the adult class or when they find out about my kidney illness. I’m just glad that I got over the judgment after that initial class and realized that he has more to offer than a lot of the others on the mat.
Levon: it doesn’t matter age wise or size wise, its like a dancer who has different dance partners, so he has to adapt to that person’s strengths and weaknesses. I benefits from training with Tyler, because I learn when I am showing him moves. It also helps me to get his perspective on moves and techniques, a fresh pair of eyes.
Side bar: Levon: My goal is to get my black belt by the time I am 75, this BJJ is age proof, I am extending my life and I’m maintaining the full capacity of being a man.
Levon Combat Sports Bio: Boxed for a 8 years, Taekwondo 2 years, at 45 started grappling mixed with combat sambo for 14 years, started with a gi at Cobrinha’s when it opened to present day.
Tyler: I have been doing BJJ for a little over 8 years, and whenever I have stress from my illness, school or anything, I use what I’ve learned on the mats. I cannot imagine not having it as a part of my life. Please go and check out my site www.healingtyler.com thanks.
Tyler’s Combat Sports Bio: Karate for 3 years, Muay Thai for 1 year, BJJ for 8 years to present day.
12 year old, orange belt, Tyler Ransom talks about Jiu-Jitsu and how it has helped him with acceptance, discipline, humility and grace in dealing with chronic disease.
“When I do Jiu-Jitsu it’s like I’m on another planet, I don’t worry or think about anything else,” says Tyler Ransom. This 12 year-old Jiu Jitsu player has been battling a kidney illness called nephrotic syndrome since he was two years old. Specifically, Tyler’s kidneys filtering system malfunctions and causes protein to leak into his urine. Fluid accumulates in his eyes, stomach and legs, and prolonged leakage can cause kidney failure.
His goal, which started in 2010, has been to raise awareness and needed funds for clinical research and help in finding a cure through his love for BJJ. He has rolled with some of the top Jiu Jitsu players in the world and makes appearances at Jiu Jitsu & MMA facilities nationwide.
When it comes to actual training he has trained with a virtual who’s who of the sport, from Ryron Gracie of the Gracie Academy, Eddie Bravo of 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu and Rubens Cobrinha Charles of Cobrinha BJJ. He credits each of them with not only teaching him on the mat, but also off it, specifically in his battle against chronic illness.