In this crazy world of submission grappling, many of us focus on the sport aspect of the martial art because, let’s face it, it is entertaining. But, other aspects of the art are more fundamentally fulfilling—most of all, the benefits it has on your mental health.
I won’t get scientific because I am not a psychologist, but I have struggled with mental health all my life, and jiu-jitsu has help me to face my demons. But always remember it is important to go to a professional for proper treatment. Essential oils and BJJ can’t cure everything.
I was born in Idar-Oberstein, Germany because my father was in the military. I was surrounded by three languages until the age of three when we moved to Fort Drum in upstate New York. As a result, I still couldn’t speak by the age of four because I was confused trying to learn Spanish (my parents are from Puerto Rico), German, and English all at once.
My parents made it a priority for me to learn the English language and hired a specialist to tutor me before I started school. It was a struggle at first hearing English out in the world and then Spanish at home, but I slowly learned English through speech therapy and watching cartoons.
When I turned six, we moved to a military base in Georgia. I was getting along with my childhood friends, and I started to feel like I belonged somewhere. At the time, I never cared to learn Spanish because I didn’t think it was necessary, but in the summer of 2004, I was getting ready to visit Puerto Rico for summer vacation. Then, the day before we were flying out, my mother told me, “We are not going on vacation. We are moving there.”
I was in shock, but I tried to be hopeful. So we flew out the next day and moved into my uncle’s house in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
I got signed up at a private school, which was fine, but nobody likes being the new kid and it was a culture-shocked for me. I struggled with identity issues because I was too “American” to be considered Puerto Rican but not “white enough” to be American. So I was bullied a lot and had this anger within me and could never understand why. So, my parents signed me up for Kung-Fu classes taught by two of my teachers who both practiced the art, and they introduced me to the world that I eventually fell in love with.
I got into the sport of mixed martial arts when I was practicing Kung-Fu, and then a few years later, I started training MMA but wanted to focus more on grappling. It was the only time where my mind was silent. It was like all the suicidal thoughts just disappeared at that very moment when I was focusing on surviving during a tough session on the mats. Finally, n 2014, I finally found a legit jiu-jitsu school that felt like home, just 30 minutes away from where i lived.
I started training in the gi with Professor Sean Locke, a black belt under Fabio Holanda from Brazilian Top Team Canada, and finally found peace with myself. I was the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. I taught the kid’s class and trained right after during the day, and then I worked as bartending at night.
It was paradise until 2017 when my car broke down, and I didn’t have the money to fix it, so I decided to move to Colorado because I wanted more opportunities in the United States. I gained 40 pounds and a pretty bad drinking habit during the two years that I couldn’t train trying to be financially stable to live in Denver. Then the same dark thoughts that I had before I started jiu-jitsu came back, so I got into stand-up comedy to see if it could fill that void.
In 2019, my girlfriend wanted to move to New Mexico to pursue acting, and at first, I didn’t want to move, but I remember the fight culture that exists there. Legends like Jon Jones, Carlos Condit, and Donald Cerrone train in the “Land Of Enchantment,” and I wanted to give New Mexico a try.
As soon as I moved there, I got a call from a friend who was booking for the “World Series Of Fighting” promotion and asked if I could announce. I took that offer without thinking twice.
I still wasn’t training at the time, and my mental health was not at its best—sleepless nights, binge eating, and drinking to avoid my thoughts. But I was excited to be able to be around the world of martial arts and witness these high-level artists compete with one another.
I met 10th Planet Black Belt Ruben Rivera at the show, and he recommended that I join 10th Planet Albuquerque, and I quickly reached out to the moon head (10th planets name for a head coach), Nate Harris. I was insecure about my weight, and I didn’t believe in myself, but I started two days after the event and puked during the warm-ups.
I weighed 196 pounds, standing only 5’4 ft, but even though I wasn’t at my physical best, I started to feel present again. The harder I worked in the gym, the harder I worked on myself outside the gym.
I realized that there are athletes in the art, and there are martial artists, and I was now an obsessed with trying to be the best me possible outside the gym as well. Surrounding myself with a great group of people inside and outside the gym made a vast difference in my life.
In 2021, I feel more focused on what I want in life, and I wanted to share my mental health journey with the Jiu-Jitsu world. Mental health is not something that can be cured, but it can be treated, and BJJ def helps.
It is Mental Health Awareness month, so if you need help or someone you know is in need of help, please call 1-800-273-8255 OR Text GO to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Counselor through Crisis Text Line, a global not-for-profit organization. Free, 24/7, confidential.
Gian Carlo is a 10th Planet Blue Belt and a comedian from Puerto Rico. He currently resides in Albuquerque where he trains under “Nasty” Nate Harris, and hosts 2 podcasts (Unemployed Commentators & The Shoot)