When I think about my martial arts journey and the many training sessions that brought me to where I am today, I always think back to where it all started; my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class at a small dojo in a rented apartment space in the city of Amman, Jordan.
It is also where I met my instructor and coach, Zaid Mirza. It was a fall day in September of 2003, and my parents had been pushing me for some time now to take interest in some form of martial art, mostly because they were scared this skinny little kid would get
beat up in the streets if he didn’t know how to defend himself, but also because they wanted for me and my brothers to have a healthy hobby in our lives while the majority of Jordanian youth partook in the bad habits, i.e., smoking, drinking, partying.
I had tried Taekwondo and Karate before, and quit after just a few sessions. It just didn’t feel right, and I didn’t enjoy my time there, like it was an obligation rather than a desire to get to the mats. After my first BJJ class however, I was hooked! I didn’t want to get off
the mats, and I would count the minutes until next practice! I didn’t know at the time what was it that I gravitated towards in this amazing art, I was just thoroughly enjoying my time there, listening to my coach’s teachings, bonding with my new training partners, and ofcourse the sparring at the end. Back then my coach told my parents that I was “a natural”, that he hadn’t seen someone fit in the way I did in a long time, like I was meant to be there.
Throughout my childhood I had always been pretty athletic and into sports, I played soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, and horseback riding. I enjoyed any activity that was dynamic and that challenged me. All those were hobbies, Jiu-Jitsu, as I would later discover; was to become a lifestyle. All through high school I went to every practice session I could. The only times I missed were when I was injured and/or sick, and that was to prevent further injury to myself and so I don’t get my teammates sick. Then came the end of my high school years and my choice to further continue my studies abroad. Fate would have it that I did my freshman year of college in engineering at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. There I managed to find a small group of people that trained BJJ at a pace acceptable to me.
Over there I had the opportunity to compete in a local semi-pro MMA tournament, where I won first place in my weight class after four fights. I 2008 I was applying to transfer to a school in the west, and in late 2008, I got the acceptance letter to attend Purdue University in the USA; one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the world. That was a huge change for me, geographically and culturally. I was adapting to the ways of the US and the extreme weather conditions that the Midwest offered. While at Purdue, I had the privilege of having my friend and teammate from Jordan, Zaid Alami, with me at Purdue, and like myself, he was actively looking for a place to train and/or a sparring partner. So me and Zaid proceeded to the wrestling mats at the Co-rec (Purdue gym) every so often to train together. At that time I was a purple belt and Zaid was a blue belt. Soon afterwards, I discovered a group of people that get together and grapple in the same place Zaid and me did! They were not part of an official organization, but they were a group of about 10 people that were willing and anxious to learn.
I showed up one day for practice after contacting the person in charge of setting up the meeting times (Constantine Hatzis, who soon became one of my very good friends and training partners), and after class, Constantine asked me if I would be willing to teach class. Of course I accepted without hesitation. Soon after, we decided to turn this random group of people into an official Jiu-Jitsu sports club. We did all the paperwork necessary and had the main positions of a cabinet filled, and the Purdue Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club was born! The club kept on attracting newcomers until my graduation and departure from the leadership position since I was no longer a Purdue student. Less than a year into my time with the Purdue club, one of our students (Nawid Moshref), told me about another facility in town where a purple belt teaches BJJ, and he offered to take me with him one time since I didn’t have a car. That place he was talking about was Impact Zone Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
From that day that I met and trained with Carlos Soto (owner and head instructor), I knew that this would be where people who were serious about learning and training would go. During my remaining years as a student, I would teach at the Purdue club three nights a week, and go to Impact Zone for another three. I would also use my vacation time back home to train at the dojo where it all started. During one of my trips (December 2010), my instructor promoted me to brown belt before I went back to the states so that I could compete in the next level.
After graduation, it was full time at the Impact Zone. That is, until my fate took me far out west to the state of California for my Master’s degree in International Business at Hult International Business School in San Francisco. Of course I needed a place to train, so while I was apartment hunting and settling in, I stumbled into this place that I found on google that was called “Ralph Gracie San Francisco”. I’m thinking to myself, “a Gracie school has to be a decent place to train”.. Little did I know that I would be walking into Kurt Osiander’s dojo, one of the most respected teachers and competitors of our time, and very famous for his Youtube teaching videos called “move of the week”. During my first practice session the boys over there humbled me as much as they could! That was a day of reckoning for me, as I knew I had to step-it-up if I was to compete at the higher level with people who train for a living. Thus started my days of hardcore training at one of the best schools in the world, and what amazing training sessions I had, awesome instruction, great drilling partners, and people who want to tear your head off during rolls, it was bliss.
No doubt that my time at RGSF did me good. When I went home that Christmas my instructor surprised me by giving me my black belt on December 26th, 2012 and I went back to SF with a big smile on my face, ready to train hard and take it up a couple of notches. I graduated with my Masters’ degree in August of 2013, and stayed in SF for 2 months before going back to Impact Zone in Lafayette, IN where I now train and teach full time, and look for competitions wherever I can find them!
2014 was a big year for me; I was able to compete extensively in several local and national tournaments. I got my 1st Gold as a black belt and placed in several others. Late summer, I travelled back home to visit my family, and had the opportunity to train at Team Nogueira Dubai for a period of 6 months that included the regular classes, and the seasonal competition training that was held during off hours and is invitation only. I got to train with some of the top BJJ names in the world like Igor Silva, Ricardo Evangelista, Paulo Pinto, Bruno Frazzatto, and Davi Ramos.in addition to the seminars held at the facility hosting athletes such as Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, Lucas Leite, and Braulio Estima!
I now train and compete under team ATOS and professor Andre Galvao. This year I competed in 7 tournaments, to name a few:
IBJJF Pan American
IBJJF Boca Raton
AGC Black Belt invite
IBJJF No Gi World’s
It has been a great year, lots of competition experience and lots of growth. I had the privilege of training in the shark tank that is the competition class at Team ATOS HQ before No Gi World’s, cross training with some of the best grapplers in the Midwest, and teaching seminars in different schools spreading the love of Jiu Jitsu. Looking forward to the glorious times ahead!