Jiu-Jitsu: Turning Anger into Confidence

On September 4th, 2019, The First Guild (TFG) co-founder, Lana David interviewed a 30-year Jiu-Jitsu black belt and master instructor Gerson Sanginitto, owner of Gerson Sanginitto Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Culver City, CA.


Gerson Sanginitto Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Culver City - Black Belt Ceremony - Gerson is in the center of the group in blue uniform.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world. The benefits you can gain from BJJ are both physical and mental.

Lana is the one of the developers of Project: The First Guild (TFG), a large scale community project targeted to help young people with difficulty in the traditional educational system, to acquire the mental, emotional and entrepreneurial skills necessary to make a successful transition from youth to adulthood. 

Project: TFG aims to reach youth coping with a good deal of anger, frustration, confusion and anxiety – a range of behaviors that need to be addressed beyond just verbal communication.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a proven system that can help to detox and re-channel such energy constructively.

BJJ is a major educational component of Project: TFG and we are honored to have Gerson as our Community Partner.

Gerson Sanginitto Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Culver City

Lana: Our program candidates are foster youth coping with a good deal of anger, frustration, confusion and anxiety often caused by distressing life circumstances. How can Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu help them go beyond the trauma and succeed in life? Could you provide examples.

Gerson: Here is a good example. I am 5 feet 2 inches tall. I was always the smallest in my school. If you are small, if you are the skinny one, usually someone is going to bully you, that’s how it goes.

Nothing changed from my time. My daughter is now 11. She’s just going to middle school and I told her, hey, it’s the same when I was 11. She started to train in BJJ when she was four, I was lucky to start when I was seven years old.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was created not to make the strong, stronger, it was was created to  give the opportunity to the weak person fight a strong person.

Gerson Sanginitto Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Culver City - Gerson's Students

Lana: Project TFG is all about building a strong identity, which we believe is the foundation for success in life. How does BJJ relate to identity formation? 

Gerson: It translates completely to identity. People come here and they cannot look me in my eyes. And you can see that their self esteem is very low because life is put them down somehow.

I was just talking to one of my students who is a higher belt here. I remember him one year ago.  He changed completely. You see how he’s acting now – he stands up, he looks into your eyes, he talks to you like a man, he demands respect, he gives respect. He’s not like that guy that he was a year ago who could not look into my eyes and looked to the side when I ask him a question. 

Gerson Sanginitto Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Culver City - Gerson is in the center of the group in blue shorts.

Lana:  What is the advantage of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu over other forms of martial arts?

Gerson:  In my opinion, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the closest martial art to reality. I’m not talking less about other martial arts such as strike martial arts. To me this is one of the most important points of BJJ, it is the closest to reality than other martial arts. 

BJJ fighting is closest to the street situation.  It’s going to be completely the same if someone attacks you on the street. You are not going to feel overwhelmed.That’s what we do here every day. You defend yourself every day, fighting every single day.

There are situations with Jiu Jitsu  that you feel completely uncomfortable. You cannot breathe well and there is someone bigger is stronger than you on top, trying to suffocate you and make you tap** by a choke hold or joint lock and you still find the strength to survive and get out there.  That goes to each day of your life. It’s not just the physical aspect. Most important is the mental aspect, that makes you stronger. (** to “tap” is to demonstrate submission and terminate the sparring session).

Video taken on 4/28/18: Gerson Sanginitto Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Culver City – Tarjei Hass (in white uniform ) will assist Gerson in training students of “project: The First Guild”  Read our blog post: “Interview with Tarjei Hass: Why Jiu-Jitsu?”

Lana:  I read that BJJ discourages an athlete from attacking an unaware or unprepared person. What is the philosophy behind this?

Gerson:  If I tell you to go to that bag every single day and punch it 500 times as hard as you can – first day, first week, first month. you’re not going to punch 500 times. After a year you are going to punch that bag 500 times very strong. If something happens and you need to defend yourself, the first thing you’re going to do is to punch the person in the face. If I don’t teach you anything and you have the anger in you and someone comes and attacks you first, you’re gonna try to kick and punch the person.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu we teach you how to defend yourself without harm to the other person, stop that person, control that person. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches you being in control without anger. Fear makes you do a lot of bad things, but when you don’t have that fear inside of you, when you know that you can just defend yourself from someone, you’re not going to hurt a person…. unless you have to.

So when you don’t have that fear inside of you, when your confidence is up, the fear goes down… the complete opposite direction.

Gerson Sanginitto Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Culver City - Gerson's Students training

Lana: I read that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes are strictly discouraged from using techniques that aim at injuring the opponent. Athletes are responsible for the safety of their opponent. Could you comment on this.

Gerson: Exactly. Because we need each other.  We become a family and not just here. If you’re trained in Jiu Jitsu, you’re gonna be well received at any place on this planet.

Also there is the philosophy of the martial arts – we teach respect and good values in general. Respect each other, respect yourself. 

I keep joking with my students, but I’m serious: “Jiu Jitsu is like life. Some days you lose, some days you win. You have to know how to lose. You lose and win with grace. You know, everyone wants to win. What you have to do is to prepare to be the winner, that’s the thing.”  

And not just that. We teach dedication, we teach discipline, we teach hierarchy. We have the rank of 5 belts: white, blue, purple, brown, and black. You start with a white belt moving to blue. So why to move to everybody. Blue moves to purple, brown, and black. Purple moves to brown, and black. And that’s how you start to understand hierarchy and respect for a higher rank, somebody who’s been doing this for much longer than you.

I’ve been training my whole life since I was seven years old. Next month I’ll be 54 and I’m feeling like I’m 34 I’m not kidding. You see my fingers were all broken and I have a pride of this because that shows my work. I don’t just sell JJ to those guys. I sell a lifestyle. This is a lifestyle.

Gerson BJJ

Lana: Could you elaborate on what you mean by “Lifestyle” and give examples. Also how quickly can someone get results in Jiu-Jitsu?

Gerson: A young guy about 40 years old who is a CEO of a company just signed with me three weeks ago. This guy told me when he came: “look, I need something because I’m going crazy with work. I heard a lot about Jiu-Jitsu, I have friends who talk a lot about JJ with me. So finally I decided to try.”

I said: “We offer two free classes. Try and see if you’re like it.”

Last Monday, he came after the roll* to me and said: “man, thank you very much! It’s only been three weeks, but it’s already changed my life.” (* “roll” or “rolling” is a form of ‘sparring’, a way for students to test their skills and abilities against their teammates).

I said: “Yeah man, you are only 40. In 10 years or less, you’re going to be a black belt. And it is a journey that will never stop. This journey for me will stop when I die.”

And you know, it’s very powerful because it gives you power. And this why you don’t need to prove or show your power. It is the way you feel.

Here is another example: One day came here a big guy, maybe six-foot-two, about 230 pounds.  He was very drunk. He tried to get a fight with everybody. I had here guys bigger than him, brown belts that could kill the guy with one hand. But why are we going to do this. That guy needs help. Let’s help him. So I said: “Hey, Buddy, listen, sit down. That’s the wrong place to pick a fight”.  I talked to him for about 15 minutes and then he left.

Here is another example that just happened yesterday night. The guy came here about 22 years old, 220 pounds. Big kid. like six-foot, but not fat, just muscles.  And I have a girl here, Jackie, she’s a blue belt. She’s 130 pounds. And then I put six minutes on the clock and I told him: “Hey, go with Jackie.” He started very aggressive, macho mind, you know – you don’t want to lose to a girl.  She beat the sh… out of him.

He came to me after and said: “I never thought that girl could do that.”

I replied: “Dude, she knows how to fight. Here you will lose to a girl every time if you don’t train. So humble yourself and start to train.”

Jiu-Jitsu humbles you, it makes you humble every day.