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Jiu jitsu seminar at Buffalo Riverworks aims to help man with medical bills

Paul Moran used to be quite a pessimist.

And then, at 29, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer – which spread to his liver.

“I have a deeper appreciation for the present moment that just wasn’t there before,” he said, four years after his initial diagnosis. “I can honestly say I strive to live life now. It wasn’t until my life was almost taken away from me that I really began to love it.”

Moran credits two things for the shift in his outlook: daily meditation and jiu jitsu.

Meditation – sometimes just a few moments throughout the day, here and there, and sometimes 40 minutes at a time – has become part of his daily routine since he was diagnosed.

Jiu jitsu has been shaping him for about a decade.

On Saturday, one of the friends Moran first made in jiu jitsu, Matt Godden, organized a fundraiser to help with medical bills for Moran, who is now too sick to work. More than 60 people – from as far away as Rochester and Pittsburgh – donated at least $30 apiece to participate in a jiu jitsu workshop at Buffalo RiverWorks, where they learned new moves from several local black belts.

“What Matt put together, I’ve been moved to tears by it many times,” Moran said.

After Moran blew out his knee playing lacrosse for Williamsville South High School, he was largely unable to run. Eventually, he discovered Brazilian jiu jitsu, a martial art with many parallels to wrestling. It would become so central to his life that he launched a jiu jitsu podcast, Open Mat Radio, that would eventually exceed 3 million downloads.

Moran got hooked on jiu jitsu while he was still living in Western New York, then continued to pursue that passion when he moved to Las Vegas to find work as a school psychologist.

When Moran’s coach, Sergio Penha, was training in jiu jitsu, Penha’s coach would send in one fierce opponent after another, regardless of size or age or ability.

“Sergio’s saying was, ‘It’s just another lion to kill,’” said Moran, who has earned a brown belt. “Just be mindful of now. Assess your resources and apply them as best you can.”

That lesson has whispered strength and courage into his ear countless times in recent years, as he faced surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, liver abscesses, a collapsed lung – and what was expected to be an $8,000 hospital bill, but ended up soaring into six digits.