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Andrew Z.

Andrew Z.

I was the farmer who dreamed of the ocean. Inspired by tales of noble sailors, I hoped that I, too, could one day set sail and conquer the vast and magnificent. Yet, I could not leave the fields behind. Fear of the unknown and fear of failure held me back until finally, suffocating on fields too small to confine naive dreams, I ran to the cliffside. Immense. The feeling was immense. The ocean was laid bare before me. As the salty wind itself became my breath and blew me away, I knew there was nothing left to do but embark. The jiu-jitsu ocean was calling for me; returning to the farm once again would be a fate worse than death. 

Before I started jiu-jitsu, I was very bitter and frustrated with my life. Bullies called me faggot when I walked up to receive my middle school graduation certificate and continued to make every day miserable in high school. My grades were never satisfactory with my parents and I was told that that I had grown up a failure when I had not been accepted into colleges of their preference. Joining the long distance running team taught me the value of hard work, but nonetheless left me crushed. It was the first time in my life I had experienced improving from hard work and the first time in my life I had ever wanted to be the best at something. I would give up hanging out with friends, eating junk food, and going on recreational trips to focus on conditioning. In the end, I never managed to run as fast as some of my other teammates and ended up in the shadows of others my entire career. I refused to give up, but drowned in despair. Every day was another opportunity to affirm that I was doomed to a fate of failure. I began to blame my lack of talent and my circumstances because I did not want to accept that my hard work would fail. Why couldn’t I break the mold? What could I possibly do to break this vicious cycle of defeat? 

My answers would come from jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu taught me that I could challenge destiny and win. During my time in high school, I became obsessed with martial arts because it seemed like a means to change my fate. Every day I would look for material to read regarding martial arts. Stories of champions from humble beginnings gave me hope. I wanted to prove to everyone in the world, especially myself, that I could do more than fail; that even someone like myself could be the best like those champions. When I finally joined my local mixed martial arts gym, jiu-jitsu rapidly caught my interest. Its heart and intensity appealed to me greatly, but what really captured me was the idea that a smaller fighter could defeat a larger fighter with technique. As if going against the very laws of nature, jiu-jitsu technique was so marvelous and ridiculous that being the biggest no longer meant being the strongest. The very concept that the circumstances of birth could be overcome by effort and thought alone shook me to my core. I could only concede that lack of talent and circumstances did not actually matter. Anyone, regardless of size or talent or genetics, could defeat anyone else by virtue of refined technique. This was what I was looking for. This was what I needed. 

When life had frustrated me earlier, I had only blamed the problems around me. But with jiu-jitsu, I realized that pointing fingers and pinning the blame on others did nothing to improve myself or my technique. Regardless of my circumstances, I had to take responsibility for my own life and my own mistakes. I realized that if I wanted to go where I wanted to go and be who I wanted to be, I had to stop being a coward and accept my own failures. To make excuses would be to admit that I could do no better and that my best was not good enough; none of which could be true. I understood that if I wanted to do something, I would have to find a way. I understood that if I lost, I would have to just study why I lost and keep losing until I succeed. The idea of challenges changed in my mind. What were once indicators of misfortune and failure became opportunities and blessings. Failure was the cost to succeed and grow. Recognizing this, I became aware that all of the obstacles I had before were treasures and fortunes that could help me learn, not problems that set me back. I had worked hard before, but now I could work smart. Now I had the tools to succeed. 

When I was headed for college, I had no means to continue doing jiu-jitsu. However, I would not be stopped. Never before in my life had I wanted something so badly. I made a deal with my parents. If I could ace my Biopsychology pre-med degree as they desired and graduate at the top of my class, they would help pay for my jiu-jitsu tuition in the meantime. Unfortunately, they only agreed to do so after I had shown them I could maintain a high standard of performance my first two years, but I would take any chance I could get. I did not disappoint. If it meant biking out in rain or hail from my dormitory a mile off campus to go to the library and study, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. When there were blackouts, I would sleep on the benches on campus until the computer labs reopened so I could finish my assignments, no matter the time. Even if other people would give up on difficult assignments or upcoming tests, I would run to every professor regarding the subject I could find to ask questions until I had my answers. I didn’t ever set a time to finish studying; I would not quit and go home because it was late, I would finish and go home because I knew my work was complete and done to the best of my ability. By sheer force of will, I graduated in the top 1% of the students in my class with a GPA of 3.97. Soon after, I refused to go to medical school as my family had planned and instead forged my own path for jiu-jitsu. I work now as an assistant instructor on the Mauricio Alonso BJJ team, teaching the children’s jiu-jitsu program while training full time for competition. 

I love jiu-jitsu because it has given me the opportunity to grow. I love jiu-jitsu because it allows someone to defeat anyone regardless of the circumstances of their birth. I love jiu-jitsu because it has given me the hope and strength to pave my own path and fight for my own future. Because of jiu-jitsu, I’m no longer a slave of chance or destiny; instead, I’m a fighter that can grab the future by the collar and force it to submit to my will. Because of jiu-jitsu, I can be the best of myself and give the best of myself to those around me. It’s what I need to be the champion I want to be and what pushes me to greater heights. It’s who I am. 

The Break Point and CK Fight Life scholarship could help me financially sustain my jiu-jitsu pursuit. Although I work for my jiu-jitsu team by helping out the kids, I make barely enough to pay for membership, travel, competition, and living expenses. With the scholarship, I would be able to afford to enter more IBJJF and local tournaments to represent my team, Break Point, and CK Fight Life on the mats. I deserve the scholarship not only because I would put it to good use pouring my life and soul into training, but also because of my competition performance. Below, I have listed my most recent placings in high profile tournaments since starting jiu-jitsu full time in the last 7 months. 

My cumulative time training (excluding the two year period in college when I was unable to pay for membership) in jiu-jitsu will be almost 3 years exactly as of May 2017. 

IBJJF San Jose International Open 2017 
No-Gi Middleweight Division: 1st Place 
No-Gi Open Weight/Absolute: 3rd Place 

BJJ Tour 10th American Cup 2017 
Gi Middleweight Division: 3rd Place 
Gi Open Weight/Absolute: 3rd Place 

Bay Area BJJ Championships 2016 
Gi Middleweight Division: 1st Place 
Gi Open Weight/Absolute: 1st Place

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