I first joined the Jiu Jitsu life at a local school in Southwest Denver back in 2006. Unfortunately I was inconsistent with my training and only “talked” about what my goals were. My training consisted of the occasional two, maybe three days a week at most, to skipping two to three weeks at a time. I had a high school wrestling background that helped me feel somewhat comfortable rolling with my fellow teammates with the minimal knowledge of Jiu Jitsu I had at the time. My Jiu Jitsu training at this school continued this way for about two years. Shortly after receiving my Blue Belt, I felt the time I was putting into training and the commute versus the cost wasn’t quite worth it to me at this point in my life. It originally was supposed to be a short break till I could clear up my schedule or find a closer school to where I lived. This short break turned from weeks to months to years. It took me TWO years to realize that I was not happy
without Jiu-Jitsu in my life. I found myself “talking” about it,” talking” about what I should have, could have and wished I had done. But I finally got tired. I got tired of dreaming and wishing. It was time to make a change. I jumped on the Internet and searched the local area for the top Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools. After reading Zingano Brazilian Jiu Jitsu web page, I decided, now was the time to start my change.
I have to admit; my first couple months of training with my new Jiu Jitsu family were exhausting and a bit embarrassing. Just about everyday for those first couple months I met a new person to roll with that almost never seemed challenged against me no matter what Belt level they were. I still remember, the first time I rolled on the Zingano mats, I felt overwhelmed. It wasn’t just an “out of shape” feeling that came over me (heck, at 210 lbs, I couldn’t exert myself 2min straight without gassing out) but the sense of an incomparable skill level. My team members were receiving something I wanted. The type of training and knowledge Professor Zingano was passing on was and still is priceless. The path to success was finally found.
I found myself training Jiu Jitsu everyday I wasn’t at work. Determination to learn and to excel took over and I wasn’t going to let it get away. I had to prove I deserved to wear a Blue belt. Two a-day trainings were well in effect. Morning classes, evening classes, Jiu Jitsu mixed with Muay Thai, weight lifting and treadmill runs on the way to training. I was learning fast and losing weight just as quickly. In December 2010, 3 months after joining Zingano Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I was awarded my first stripe as a Blue belt. The pride and joy I was filled with was beyond words. Hard work and determination was beginning to show positive results toward the goals I was after.
My life has always been driven by adrenaline and taking risks. The only problem was, I’ve never been a confrontational person. I hadn’t even been in a schoolyard fight growing up. But there was something satisfying I felt doing Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai. There was something about getting hit and hitting back that gave me a rush. And watching the fighters who train with Professor Zingano still to this day leaves me at awe.
Professor Zingano gave me the thumbs up to take on my first MMA fight at 170lbs scheduled April 29, 2011. Knowing the reputation all his fighters have, I had my work cut out for me to get prepared. The best part about the training was the fact that I had the best training partners and coaches anyone could ask for. I had approximately 3-4 months to prepare and had all the right tools for the job. I mean think about it… I was training with the cream of the crop: amateur fighters, professional fighters, Blue belts up to Black belts and a Legendary Kick boxer. I mainly trained Monday through Friday. The hours I put into training averaged about 3-4 hours a day sometimes more on just the mat. I received several Private lessons from one of Thailand’s legendary Kickboxers, Coach Sakmongkol. There was never a day of training just Jiu Jitsu or just Muay Thai. Both were always combined back to back and never an easy session.
Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s were generally the hardest days of the week. Monday’s would be drills class where we rolled for an hour straight with a different partner every 5 minutes. Following that was the Advanced “Fighters only” Muay Thai class. There we did a lot of sparring and worked one on one with Coach Sakmongkol on technique and pads. Wednesday would be MMA class with Professional MMA Fighter Coach Matt Simms followed by the Advanced Jiu Jitsu class taught by Professor Mauricio Zingano. This class definitely left you feeling humbled and modest at the end. Fridays were the Invite only Pro Training days. This was a specific day for fighters to put it all together and show what they got in the cage. This day alone was a 3-hour training session that went non-stop till the end. And at the end, we finished off with high endurance conditioning. Tuesdays and Thursdays focused mainly on technique and working out of one position with Coaches Hans Thompson and Mike Mendel.
I knew very little about my future opponent. The only information given to me was that he had a strong wrestling background, boxing experience and like me it was his first MMA fight. But this was all the info I needed. In fact, talking to some of my coaches, this was more than enough information I needed. I was gaining stand-up knowledge from Coach Sakmongkol and I knew Zingano Jiu Jitsu. The Zingano team helped build mental strength as well. No task or exercise was unreachable. The team reminded me no one trains like we do. No one is as mentally prepared like we are. My game plan was to win with how I was trained. Fight my way, the Zingano way. I was well informed I couldn’t go into the cage with a set plan of what I would do. That’s why we trained so hard and mentally prepared so well. Someone told me a quote once; “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Fighting smart was the best game plan I could have. Training would set in and instincts of what I learned will take over.
The day of the fight I was a different person. My dad had flown into town to see the fight and could see the readiness in my eyes. I was a soldier ready for war. I was calm yet had a heighten level of awareness. All day I was visioning myself performing what I was taught, and getting my hand raised at the end. The emotion and excitement that was running through me is indescribable. While getting my hands wrapped, listening to Professor Zingano’s pep talk, it was as if everything was slowing down around me. I couldn’t see or hear anyone else in the warm up room even though they were right in front of me. My name was announced and I had tunnel vision straight to the cage and I never took my eyes off my target who was waiting for me in his corner. Hundreds of screaming spectators and I never heard one of them. It was as if the drums of a war song were playing in my head that drowned everything out.
The fight was underway and just as I was trained, the Zingano way took over. All the Muay Thai training became instinct and I was landing jab after jab, combo after combo. I could feel the solid impact of my leather glove smashing into his face. He attempted to counter with punches but they never found their target. As he kept driving forward, there was a split second that I remembered a specific exercise I was taught in training. I faked the jab and threw a devastating right cross. It landed perfectly on the left side of his jaw. The sound of the impact was like a baseball bat hitting a home run. As his limp body crumpled to the canvas, the Referee pulled me back before I could initiate any more strikes. It was over. The help and guidance of the Zingano team helped me to my first fight victory with a 28sec KO. This was the beginning of the path I was searching for.
I can’t say thank you enough to Professor Zingano and all the Zingano team.
- John Larson