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December 15, 2013

ROBERT STINES of Phelps Dunbar in Tampa (above in control) recently took first place in his division in two major Jiu Jitsu competitions in Florida, the Florida BJJ State Championship and the Miami International Open IBJJF Championship.

Attorney finds relief from work stress through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

By Megan E. Davis
Associate Editor

For Robert Stines, dealing with difficult clients and facing tough judges in the courtroom are easier than it used to be.

“I remember someone saying, ‘Once you walk into a ring with someone who wants to rip your head off, life becomes so much simpler,’” said Stines, a lawyer and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner. “I don’t know if that’s it, but it really has helped me maintain even stress levels. My mood is so much better and things that used to bother me don’t anymore.”

Stines, whose practice with Phelps Dunbar in Tampa focuses on commercial litigation, recently took first in his division in two major Jiu Jitsu competitions in Florida, the Florida BJJ State Championship and the Miami International Open IBJJF Championship.

Winning at the Miami International Open was especially meaningful after being eliminated in the first round of the same competition last year, he said.

“My goal last year was to come back and win this thing,” Stines said. “Before the competition, I got calm, controlled my breathing, and everything just worked. It was an amazing feeling.”

The sport first sparked his interest when the Ultimate Fighting Championship formed in 1993, Stines recalled.

“The people who put on the UFC said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a competition to see what the best fighting method is,’” Stines said. “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu always won. I used to do karate as a kid, thinking it was the most amazing thing ever. Watching these guys destroy karate, I thought, wow, that’s amazing.”

After growing up in Jamaica where Jiu Jitsu wasn’t practiced, Stines took up the sport when he moved to the United States to attend New York University.

After graduation, he joined the Army, which had just implemented Jiu Jitsu as its new fighting method. Stines’ knowledge allowed him to teach fellow soldiers.

“Then I attended law school and stopped,” he said. “Last year I started again because I was stressed out and wanted some kind of activity for exercise and weight loss. I started again and just got hooked.”

Like Judo or wrestling, Jiu Jitsu is a fighting system that involves grappling or fighting on the ground.

“It’s a style that says what happens when the fight hits the ground,” Stines said. “Because most street fights end up on the ground, they say whoever is most comfortable fighting on the ground will probably win.”

The system teaches its practitioners to win fights by choking or joint manipulation. In competitions and practice, opponents concede to each other by tapping their fingers, a signal known as “tapping out.”

“In competitions, you can also win by points for putting your opponent in different positions,” Stines said. “Winning by points is great, but when you actually have someone submit to you, it’s a better feeling. It means you’ve applied a technique that works.”

Similar to other martial arts, Jiu Jitsu practitioners work their way through colored belts, from white to blue, purple, brown, and black.

Because moving from one belt color to another is more difficult in Jiu Jitsu, it takes practitioners much longer to achieve a black belt than in other sports, usually about 10 years, Stines said.

He earned a purple belt after winning the Florida State Championship and Miami Open and will now fight in the purple belt featherweight masters division, which is for fighters who are over 30, have achieved a purple belt, and weigh less than 155 pounds.

Stines trains about three to five times a week in classes that include warm up, drills, and grappling or “rolling.”

“A full class burns about 1,000 calories,” he said. “It’s high intensity. Your heart is pumping hard and you’re moving muscles you didn’t know you had. It’s never boring, because there’s always something new to learn.”

Workouts leave his body “dead tired,” but his mind clear, Stines said.

“My wife tells me that since I’ve started back, I’ve been such a better person,” he said.

Stines said he’s seen the positive effects of Jiu Jitsu translate into most areas of his life.

“You have to change your lifestyle in a way,” he said. “I can’t expect to eat junk food all day, not drink water, or I’m going to go the gym and guys are going to end up stomping me. It changes everything.”

Stines also attributes the changes in his life to self-control and tolerance for trying circumstances that he’s learned through the sport.

“Jiu Jitsu teaches you how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” he said. “You’re trying to manipulate another person’s joints and that means sometimes someone’s body weight is on your face or someone is trying to put you in a weird position. What you learn is to try to accept the situation and go on to the next step.”

Moving forward, Stines has sights set on competing in the World Jiu Jitsu Championship in California.

Additionally, he recently learned the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federal ranked him 12th in the world in his division.

“That motivates me to do more,” Stines said. “How do I crack into the top 10? One good thing about being ranked is that you start getting looked at by sponsors. Very few people get paid to do this, but someone might pay for your airfare or equipment. Hopefully this opens doors and I can start doing international competitions.”

[Revised: 04-23-2014]