Hello, students of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. My name is Zack, and this is my site.

Zack, the creater of studentofbjj.com shows off his fine fighting form

My vision for studentofbjj.com was to be a site that empowered people to try Jiu-Jitsu and to be a companion for them as they travel on their jiu-journey.  I didn’t want this to be a site all about me personally, but I realized that it is impossible for me to separate the technical aspects of BJJ from the almost spiritual aspects that are a result of the human condition. To try would be for me to be insincere, and so I basically split my site into two pieces–a technical guide and a personal blog.

Through creating this site, I realized that the humanity within the sport is often overshadowed by the flashy grappling moves you see on the highlight reels. I felt that needed changing for a couple of reasons. For one, it glazed over one of the most powerful aspects of the sport–the amazing global community. For another, it makes the sport seem so much more intimidating than it actually is. This site needed to dig deeper and discuss more than just techniques in order to empower people to try BJJ.

Teaching the proper technique for the Armbar will not inspire somebody to overcome fear and open the front doors to their local BJJ gym for the first time.

I’m not trying to become famous with this blog, but I am trying to reach out to people to share my passion. I believe that in order to reach people, you have to leave yourself vulnerable to them. You can’t really do that without talking about yourself. You’ll notice a I make a lot of corny jokes and include a lot of goofy pictures. That’s who I am, and I hope you find it welcoming and not overly distracting.

While I would have preferred to stay anonymous and let Jiu-Jitsu speak for itself, I ultimately felt like I owed it to my fellow students to talk about who I am and how I got here. Everybody is on their own journey, but it would make me unbelievably happy to find out that my journey has inspired somebody else to take a detour through Jiu-Jitsuland. Without further ado, here is my story.

Who I am:

I’m a 30-something young professional who lives in beautiful Northwest Arkansas. For my big-boy job, I work in the furniture industry as a product development engineer. When I get off work, I come home to my beautiful wife (Stephanie), my son (Felix), and my furry Head of Security (Tavi, the Austrailian Shepherd).

Stephanie giving Zack a kiss on the forehead
Zack and Stephanie
Zack and Felix posing for picture outside.
Zack and Felix
The Australian Shepherd named Tavi is laying down on the job
Tavi – Head of Security

Somewhere in there, I try to make time for a number of hobbies including photography, writing, woodworking, building furniture, playing soccer, exploring nature, playing guitar, nerding out on science projects, and of course Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’m currently a 3-stripe blue purple belt. I began training in no-gi jiu-jitsu around 2010, and transitioned to gi classes in 2012. I’ve focused on this aspect ever since.

How I got here:

I have always had a fascination with martial arts, though I didn’t start my jiu-journey until I was closer to 25 years old. My mother told me that I tried a Tae-kwon-do (TKD) class when I was really young but decided it wasn’t for me. Apparently, there was too much yelling in class.

I guess I was searching for my zen even as far back as kindergarten.

Fast-forward to 2009. I moved by myself to a small town in southwest Arkansas for my first post-college job. I didn’t know a soul. I was several hours away from my closest friends and family. In fact, I was almost an hour away from the closest interstate. I felt isolated and I needed something to get my out of my apartment. I began searching for ways to connect with people.

There were only 11,000 people in that town, so the population wouldn’t support a lot of my existing hobbies. Plus, I was in the mood to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. I needed something I could do with just one or two other people, and I needed to be able to do it several times a week for my own sanity.

I passed a small martial arts gym on the way to my favorite restaurant in town and decided I should drop in and see if my taste for TKD had changed in my later years.  The classes that I took were enjoyable, but I had this persistent itch in the back of my mind that something wasn’t clicking. One day I realized what it was–a nine-year-old student.

It wasn’t the fact that the class had children. It was the fact that the child was almost a black belt and honestly wasn’t very impressive even within his own age bracket.

I began to wonder why I was working so hard to climb belt ranks when I could already easily handle a high-ranking member of the sport. Would I even value a black belt knowing that any kid off the street could get one if they just paid the money and attended the classes? For me, the answer was no.

I’m not bashing the sport of TKD by any means, I just realized that this type of rank mentality wasn’t what I was looking for in a sport. I wanted my rank to be an indicator of my sacrifices and my skill level relative to everybody else, not an indicator of how many times I had attended testing with my brain full of memorized movements. I didn’t want my belt to feel like a participation trophy to me.

As my doubts for the sport began to grow, I noticed that a group of 2 or 3 tough looking guys kept showing up towards the end of my class. They would wait patiently for the mats to clear off so they could have their own class afterwards. These guys had tattoos, mma gloves, and mostly kept to themselves. I was fascinated and terrified of them; and I left the gym every evening wondering what they were doing and if I was tough enough to handle whatever it was that they were doing.

It was probably three or four weeks before I built up enough courage to approach them and ask if I could try out their class. It only took a few classes before I completely quit TKD so that I could put all of my energy into learning BJJ. The rest is history, and you can read about it in my blog post here.

A very young Zack at the start of his Jiu-Journey
A very young Zack at the start of his Jiu-Journey

As an aside, those guys didn’t just look tough, they were in fact extremely tough. But, they were never intentionally intimidating. They freely accepted me into the group and worked with me every single class to help me improve. As long as you check your ego at the door and come ready to learn, you’ll not find a more supportive community. I have never been to a gym that didn’t welcome students of all levels, ages, races, genders, sizes, and backgrounds with open arms.

If you have an interesting story, I’d love to hear it! Contact me or leave a comment below to share!

Comment here!