The Greatest Jiu-Jiteiros You’ve Never Heard Of
Jiu-jitsu is like most sports in that that the star competitors—the incredible athletes pushing the boundaries of technique and performance—receive the spotlight. I believe that these charismatic competitors are an important part of jiu-jitsu’s evolution and growth, but I would argue that the people having the greatest impact are mostly invisible.
They work behind the scenes to push the sport forward. You might not know who they are or what they do, but you have likely benefited from their passion and generosity.
I am going to attempt to give credit to some of these folks whom I know, but this list will be woefully incomplete. The people I mention here are but a fraction of the jiu-jiteiros plying their trade diligently beyond the spotlight, and they just happen to have entered my orbit for me to meet and get to know them.
If someone is missing from this list, please, add them in the comments!
Here are some of the unsung heroes in our sport:
Charles Pearson of Lockflow
Known as CombatChaz to forum goers, Pearson’s Lockflow was one of the original technique database and forum sites on the web. Pre-YouTube, Lockflow sought out step by step pictures of techniques and organized everything from grappling events to for-fun MMA betting leagues. Lockflow is sadly no more, but Pearson continues to teach and promote MMA out of Washington. For my part, I wouldn’t have a writing career if it weren’t for Pearson, and he also gave many other grapplers a platform to share their perspective. A certain leglock artist named Reilly Bodycomb, for example, got a nice early boost from the Lockflow community.
Stephan Kesting of Grapple Arts
Kesting is one of the original gangsters of internet jiu-jitsu, and thankfully he is still diligently producing content and marketing his products. His consistency means that you have probably heard of him, but I would still argue that he doesn’t get enough credit for his contributions to the art. Kesting has given a wealth of knowledge away for free, and he is also quick to support other movers and shakers in the sport even if there is little to no benefit in it for him.
Paul Moran of Open Mat Radio
In addition to his podcast, Moran tirelessly works to connect jiu-jitsu leaders and facilitate collaborations. Based in Las Vegas, Moran has unique access to local and visiting grapplers and is quick to suggest project ideas or to spend the better part of his week making an opportunity open up for you—for no pay or any visible benefit to him beyond his liking to help. Even during a long battle with cancer, which Moran has been candid about, he continues to help and contribute.
Mike Calimbas of Mike Calimbas Photography
Calimbas flies more miles than a Canadian goose. Behind the camera lens, Calimbas chronicles a wide range of jiu-jitsu events and their participants. His incredibly prolific jiu-jitsu photography means that the jiu-jitsu community gets to see a lot of activity in the sport that might otherwise have never been photographed. Even with the massive volume of work Calimbas puts into photography, he uses the jiu-jitsu network he’s built to help other people in the sport launch, promote, or grow jiu-jitsu businesses by making introductions and offering his own insights.
Val Worthington of Groundswell Grappling Concepts
Though she has competitive accolades, the bulk of Worthington’s role in the sport has been in private settings, either in seminars or in one-on-one conversations. Worthington, alongside her business partners at Groundswell, has helped to spark and drive important but difficult conversations about how jiu-jiteiros interact with each other. What started as an outlet for jiu-jitsu women—women’s only camps and events—has grown into an all-encompassing push for our sport to think more critically about culture and the parts we as individuals play in it.
Tomas “Papo” Sone of Jiu Jitsu de la Costa
I met Papo in Hilo, Hawaii, and I include him in this list because he represents what hundreds of jiu-jitsu instructors are doing around the world this very moment. Papo runs a school in the Dominican Republic, and many of his students come from incredibly poor backgrounds. Papo sees jiu-jitsu as his way to give back and to help his community come together. When students can’t pay for training with money, they often trade, giving him food they’ve grown or offering to help around the gym in exchange for training. This selflessness, this ability to accept a less extravagant lifestyle for his own family because it means helping others to have better lives, is a powerful example of what plays out in communities across the globe.
Mike Velez of Jiu-Jitsu Magazine
Jiu-jitsu journalism in terms of volume is at an all-time high. We have ready access to blogs and news sites, but the print side of journalism—the side that takes considerable planning and expense to execute month after month—has been in decline. As other publications close-up shop, however, Jiu-Jitsu Magazine is still finding relevance and serving jiu-jitsu readers. When he’s not at the helm as Editor-in-Chief, Velez is doing what many people in this list do: Sharing the knowledge he has with others in the sport to help and support creative projects so that the sport can continue to grow and improve.
Kevin Howell of the Jiu-Jitsu League
If you’re thinking to yourself that this name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you have at least one of Howell’s books on your shelves. Saulo Ribeiro’s Jiu-Jitsu University is the most recommended jiu-jitsu instructional ever because of its depth, quality, and accessibility. Ribeiro’s influence is an important piece of the puzzle, but many readers underestimate just how big of a contribution an author like Howell can make to a book even if his name isn’t the largest on the cover. Howell would probably never make this claim himself, but for my part, I can say confidently that one of the most influential instructionals in our sport would never have helped so many students if it wasn’t for Howell.
Again, I fully recognize this list is incomplete. And someone’s lack of inclusion is in no way a suggestion that their contributions to the sport are less important than anyone I have mentioned here. Instead, I hope that this makes you think more about the people you know who are doing wonderful things for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so that you can bring more attention to them and their contributions.
And feel free to share those names here!