Many thanks to Zevon Lee (Zee) Durham for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Zee is the Vice President of Advanced Security Services Evaluation & Training (A.S.S.E.T.) which is focused specifically on organizational security and training. He has developed and run the “Instructor Zee” wing of ASSET to provide quality training in an open enrollment format targeted at making “Capable Citizens”. They provide 2 free slots per class for Active Duty Military and first responders.
Do you Serve or have you Served in the Military Law enforcement or as a First Responder? If so when and where?
I served 18 years and medically retired from the US Army. My first 6 years were in the infantry at Ft Campbell (3 deployments) and the remainder of my career was spent in Special Forces as a GB at 5th SFG
How Did You Begin Your Jiu Jitsu Journey? Where are you now on your Journey? Where do you train now?
I learned early on in my infantry time that being tough wasn’t good enough when grappling (“pitting” we called it) against guys that were skilled in Jiu Jitsu.
In the SF qual course I met Tim Kennedy and some other great martial artists and that sparked a fire in me to begin training in Muay Thai, Boxing, and grappling to include JJ.
When I returned to FTCKY after the Q-course, I immediately connected with an MMA gym and got into fighting.
I broke my knuckle in my 6th fight and my TM SGT forbade me from private competition after that understandably. That’s about the time I really dove into MACP and had to learn the ways of the uniform or Gi.
I kept training as I could and eventually earned my Black belt.
I teach a few times a week at a local Renzo Gracie school now.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
I bought a sweater for something less than 100. It’s a cardigan type and is very comfy. Just a brand from target, no big deal. I feel it gives me a slight complex/intellectual appearance no matter if I put it on with a t-shirt and random pants. I think it softens my gorilla like features.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
My favorite failure (feels weird to call it that) is when I didn’t finish my military career the way I planned and had to face all of the onslaught of disappointment and depression that came along with a huge life change. I was also trying to make up for 38 years of emotional immaturity originating from internal issue avoidance. All this had impacted my family hard because I used unhealthy coping mechanisms to basically stay sane and alive.
All that in a nutshell was my greatest failure yet my most defining season of my life. I’m better for it even though I still have penance to pay for my poor decisions made that effected my loved ones.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
The biggest and most important investment I’ve ever made was my time spent to face my own vulnerabilities through therapy and the excruciatingly painful process of taking responsibility for my actions while still loving myself. Through all this I gained humility yet more love for myself which, increased my ability to love others.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
I LOVE ice cream. Not just any kind. It must have bits and nuts etc in it. I crave the texture of the cream with the various crunches all about.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
The belief that has truly changed my life just in the past year or so is something that is probably not too profound to most. We hear phrases like “things happen for a reason” and “heat and pressure make diamonds” plus all the other seemingly cliché shit. Well, I finally came to a point in my life when my experiences and heart condition came together so that I could truly appreciate the Latin saying “amor Fati” or “love fate”. I see how all the shit I’ve been through has led me here and there was no short cut for that.
Fredrick Douglas said, “Without struggle, there is no progress.” I TRULY BELIEVE THAT IN MY HEART OR HEARTS NOW. I am new to the practice of being grateful even in the face of adversity but I get to practice it regularly. It’s becoming easier. I embrace life and the pain or joy. I am so thankful now and it’s becoming more of a habit for me daily.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven student new to Jiu Jitsu. What advice should they ignore?”
I would tell a new JJ student to forget about winning right now. Focus on the principles of balance, posture, angles, and grips and use those as the lenses for how you see all the techniques you are exposed to.
Remember, that you can be proud and thankful to even step on the mats since the majority of people don’t have the courage or don’t have the ability.
Ignore those that would tell you that winning at competition is everything. It’s a natural result of the work you put in and definitely doesn’t define you as a JJ practitioner and much less as a person. You are benefiting from JJ win or lose.
“What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?”
I somewhat occupy 2 genres of martial arts with the grappling and the firearms world. I hear people in the firearms world use their possession and limited training to do with guns as their excuse to not train in empty hand Combatives/martial arts. I feel the fighting is fighting no matter the tools used. Martial arts like JJ let’s you simulate fighting to a degree that’s very hard to duplicate in other mediums.
Exposure leads to composure. Fighting helps me fight better in any sense of the word.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)”
I remind myself first and foremost that I love those in my life (because acting out when overwhelmed etc can cause negative impact on others). I then remind myself that struggle is necessary and I’ve benefited so much from going through the fire before.
I tell myself to “love fate” and remember that I will be better for going through this. “I will suffer, I will toil, I will feel pain, and I will appreciate the moments of joy so much more because I am reminded of the struggles of life. I am thankful for the struggle!”