Meet the Pandas – ‘Be A Sponge, Not A Rock’ - Kyvann ‘Guapinho’ Jimenez

The Panda Nation has many awesome citizens, like black belt Frederico Silva, who we introduced in the previous installment of Meet the Pandas. Today, we like to show what drives Kyvann ‘Guapinho’ Jimenez: purple belt competition monster, former bone breaking skateboarder, and videographer extraordinary.

Purple belt Kyvann Jimenez (26) was dragged into jiu-jitsu kicking and screaming by his dad. After years of skateboarding and Muay Thai, that ground-fighting stuff just seemed silly. But once ‘Guapinho’ (a nickname for ‘little handsome guy’) finally got obsessed with the art after an unexpected tournament win, he went on a dominant winning spree, while at the same time working a fulltime job and graduating from college.

So, you didn’t think jiu-jitsu would work?

Kyvann Jimenez: I just thought it was silly and weird. My dad got into it way before me. He started training when I was around nineteen years old. And at that point I was really deep into Muay Thai. I trained in that art for about six years. My dad got hooked on jiu-jitsu and wanted me to try it out, and he kept nagging. I’d done three years of wrestling in high school but I was pretty mediocre, so I didn’t want to start in a new grappling art. I think my 19-year old ego just couldn’t handle it. I’d figure that I’d be able to punch anyone in the face who would try that stuff on me. Finally, my dad wore me down. It took him about three months to get me on the mat. On my first day, I rolled with Dave Phimsipasom, who’s an unassuming little guy, probably a blue belt at the time. Well, Dave beat the ever-living crap out of me. I fell in love right away. When you experience a small guy kicking your ass you REALLY realize that BJJ works.

Did you become a mat-rat right away?

KJ: Not really. I can’t say I was a dedicated student right off the bat, but the main thing that fascinated me, was that I realized I could train with 100% intensity without going home with a concussion. So that was great. For the first year and a half, I trained maybe once or twice a week because I was still doing Muay Thai, but one night I had a rude awakening. After an especially grueling session my dad picked me up, and I was so concussed that I didn’t remember anything about the 45-minute ride home. Pretty scary. That’s when I realized I was done with getting hit in the head.

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Where did you start?

KJ: It was a just a small club in a small room here in New Jersey with a handful of guys. Me, my dad, my first instructor Kevin Sheridan, Dave Phimsipasom, and this dude Evan. They merged with North Plainfield Fight Club, and that’s where I first met Nelson Puentes. That place eventually became Maximum Athletics. It’s still my home base. I got all my belts from Kevin Sheridan, and now I do a lot of training at Marcelo Garcia’s in New York. It’s a room full of killers, man. Every roll is a dogfight. I crave that feeling of being totally drained, leaving everything on the mat.

When did you decide to dedicate yourself to jiu-jitsu?

KJ: I got serious after I won the Boston Open at blue belt. Before, I didn’t think I was good enough, and I’d lost tons of tournaments back-to-back. I competed every month, and I just kept losing. After finally winning that tournament, I went on a nine-competition winning streak. That was a great confidence boost. When you first start out, you just can’t see how you reach a black belt level. But by training at Marcelo’s I met a lot of people who actually live the BJJ lifestyle, and who can manage to keep up with a super intense training schedule, while still working a fulltime job. It showed me that it was possible with the right amount of sacrifice. 

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What are some of your other memorable wins?

KJ: It’s been a struggle, but I got second at the No-Gi Pan Ams. And that’s probably one of my best performances ever. I ran through four opponents and submitted three of them. I lost in the finals to an advantage to a really decent opponent. So I’d say that’s probably the second biggest one. And again at blue belt I did pretty well at the Worlds, although I didn’t win. I did the same thing last year at purple. I beat four opponents before I lost to Cobrinha’s son, Kennedy Maciel. I met him in the semis, and he just destroyed me. I think I let him in my head because Cobrinha was on the sidelines yelling at us. And he’s one of my all-time idols.

Can you describe your routine?

KJ: I wake up at around 6:00am every day. For the first hour, I’ll do hot yoga. After that I’ll do about an hour of drilling, wherever I can. I’m a jiu-jitsu gypsy, so I head out to any gym that has drilling practice at that time—Like my friends the Main Brothers, two black belts under Renzo Gracie. I’ve been visiting their school pretty often. Then I go to work at the Apple Store. After I get home, I train again, every night for sure. On Monday, Wednesday and Thursday I do morning classes too. 

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That’s insane. How are you not a broken man?

KJ: Actually, I’ve been lucky. I haven’t been seriously injured in jiu-jitsu. But in skateboarding I broke close to 23 bones. Just from the top of my head I tore my ACL, broke both ankles, all my fingers, I jacked up my elbow, my collar bone, my clavicle, and my shin. But I rehabbed everything. Thank God I’m doing pretty well now.

How did you get into filmmaking?

KJ: So, on top of everything I actually went to school and got a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications and Media Arts (with a focus on film) from Montclair State University. In my skateboarding years, I was always making highlight reels. It was a cool way to make myself look a lot better than I was. Four years ago, I got this job at Apple, and I started to dive deep into Final Cut Pro. I spent hours on end working on that program to figure out all the little configurations that most people don’t know about. Now I can make anything I conceptualize. So far, I‘ve done a couple of really cool projects for Inverted Gear.

You did the cinematography for Reilly Bodycomb’s new instructional, right?

KJ: Yeah, that was a blast. His mindset of blending passes with leg attacks really sparked my fascination for leg attacks. It was a game changer. Everyone’s been talking about the Danaher guys with their heel hooks, but Reilly emphasized that you don’t just have to go for that submission in isolation. A lot of things, like guard passes, present themselves once you go for the legs – and vice versa. I’ve never been so inspired by a seminar.

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Who are your idols in the art?

KJ: Marcelo Garcia is number one when it comes to mentality. When I started to refine my game, I fell in love with the berimbolo, and in that area Gianni Grippo became a big inspiration to me. And as far as the physical game goes, I study Guilherme Mendes closely because we have a similar body type. And finally when it comes to work ethics, drills, and execution, or my training regimen I look up to Cobrinha a lot. I really admire his no-excuses-just-drill-mentality. The man is relentless, and just won the adult division at the Pan-Ams. That’s crazy.

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Somehow, you also found time to start a clothing company.

KJ: Yeah. Bolo Brand is my attempt at giving something back to the BJJ community. It was directly inspired by Nelson, who changed my whole perspective on jiu-jitsu as a vehicle to help others. When he started Inverted Gear he was working out of his mom’s basement, and I was there helping out. At first I assumed it was about making money, but his main idea was just to make something cool that people would enjoy. Something that wasn’t this big-boy-macho-skull-and-flame nonsense. After that he contributed to Tap Cancer Out and gave sponsorships to people that really deserved them. Eventually I’d like to do a similar fundraiser or project for a good cause with Bolo Brand. I’m less interested in selling a specific product, but I’d like Bolo Brand to be more of a media-hub. A cool brand for content production.

How have you applied jiu-jitsu to your life?

KJ: I’ve always loved problem solving. But in my day-to-day life, I was unable to do that. My first instructor Kevin Sheridan changed my outlook. As soon as I started training jiu-jitsu and understanding what it took to improve in the art, I found some direction. I went to school and got a better job, and it blossomed me into the person I wanted to be. The biggest thing he used to say was: “Don’t knock the door down. Pick the lock.” See, I never thought of sh#t like that before. It’s a simple little mantra that I repeat to myself daily, and it’s really helped me out in everything that comes my way. Before I used to say: “Oh well I didn’t get that job, so I won’t work for it. I’m just not qualified.” As opposed to saying: “There’s definitely a way for me to get in there, if they see what kind of person I am.” It’s a little shift in mindset that changed everything.

Also the destruction of my ego helped me a lot, because I used to be super arrogant in everything I did – and being totally unaware of it. I used to say: “Well, I already know that detail, so I don’t have to listen” in every part of my life. Jiu-jitsu makes you realize that you might already know a certain technique, but there might be one little thing that another person does differently, that might be extremely helpful. Jiu-jitsu just opens you up. It makes you like a sponge instead of a dried-out rock.

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 What did you struggle with the most?

 KJ: Letting go of my ego. I would always roll super hard and use my A-game. But I would never adapt or explore other positions. I would only stick to the stuff I knew would beat the others in class. Developing the weak aspects of my game would mean that I’d ‘lose’ – and I couldn’t handle that mentally. It was Nelson who had to beat that out of me, by wrecking me every day he made sure that my ego was broken. But in a good way, in the best way.

You made a hilarious video of your mom making fun of your cauliflower ears. Does the whole family give you grief?

KJ: Yep. The entire family joins in. Whenever we eat empanadas, everyone likes to point out how much they look like my ears. My dad’s a purple belt too, but he’s barely got any cauliflower. I got mine mostly from Muay Thai. The inner ear blew up from me catching hits and clinching. Jiu-jitsu just exploded them. It’s all good though.

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What are you focusing on now?

KJ: I’m training super hard for the Worlds. I even took some time off work. I’m debating whether or not I should cut weight so I can face Kennedy again, because I really want to fight him. Perhaps I’ll stay at my natural weight, which is Feather. It’s strange. I’ve never ever had the urge for a revenge match, but I’m itching for this one. The first time we fought I didn’t perform to my level. Just want to prove to myself that I can do better. At the very least I want to be there mentally and put on a good show.

Why do sacrifice so much for this art?

KJ: There’s nothing in my life that allows me to bond with other individuals as much as jiu-jitsu. On the mat you encounter people from all walks of life. Truthfully, what keeps me coming back is the people and the good vibes. I’ve yet to come across ‘that’ bulldog douchebag jiu-jitsu guy. We just beat each other up, and we learn and grow together. That’s priceless.

Follow Kyvann Jimenez on Instagram @kyvannjj and @bolobrand.

Daniël Bertina is a journalist, writer and BJJ black belt based in the Netherlands. Follow him on Twitter & Instagram at @joyofirony.