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A Journey of Determination: Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Excellence in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

An Interview with Juan Herrera


Heart Of Hollywood Magazine (HOH): Thank you, Juan, for joining us for this interview. We're excited to hear about your recent participation in the IBJJF San Diego Summer International Open Championship 2023. Can you tell us more about this event and your journey in Brazilian jiu-jitsu?

Juan Herrera (JH): Hello, thank you for having me it’s truly an honor. The San Diego Open Summer International Open Championship is a submission grappling event that is held once a year by the International Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Federation. It attracts some of the highest-level competitors in the combat sport from around the nation and around the world and California being known for its concentration of world class jiujitsu in recent years it guaranteed the competition to be fierce. My journey in Brazilian jiujitsu started first started back my senior year of high school, tried it for a few months to supplement my wrestling and came to falling in love with it more. How ever joining those gyms and training was a lot more expensive than a regular gym membership so the Brazilian jiujitsu I did learn was often for free by a friend who knew, or I’d scrap up enough money to pay for a few months at best. After Highschool I trained for a few more months but eventually dropped the sport and transitioned away from it and later to military service but the itch was always still there. I practiced NO-GI jiujitsu, which basically just means without the traditional kimono looking uniform, during my time in the service whenever I had the chance and in 2018, I had the privilege to join the marine core mixed martial arts program as a guest and train once again. When I eventually left the military in 2020 I decided to pick that dream up once again after basically a 8 year hiatus, moved to California and enrolled in school full time to pursue my career interest in film while also turning myself into a full time student athlete. I joined Cobrinha’s Brazilian Jiujitsu & fitness and began training once again 5-6 times a week and over time once my body was adapted to the pressure adding in multiple sessions a day.

It felt like starting back over from zero, but not really because my experience and time on the mat in my teens helped me become a quick learner and an attitude of a student allowed me to integrate different techniques and styles into my own. I experienced a few tough injuries in the first two years including the development of cauliflower ear, also known as wrestler's ear or perichondria hematoma, is a deformity caused by blunt trauma to the auricle. It occurs as blood accumulates in the pinna that can disrupt the blood supply of the healthy cartilage. The resulting fibrosis leads to the development of a cauliflower ear. On Oct 2021 I entered my first tournament as a blue belt in the sport, the first colored belt after white. It was with a smaller organization called SJJIF, short for Sport Jiu Jitsu Int. Federation and it was their version of the world champion ships. I took silver medal in the Lightweight division and bronze in the Open weight class (same belt but no separation of weight classes). I went on to compete twice at the official World tournament held by IBJJF in December of 2021 and again in 2022 where I suffered a 2nd degree ACL sprain in my second fight. I took some time off to recover. Everything was going well until one day when I spent the night at my girlfriends’ home and woke up to find out my car had been stolen, so I had to fork over about 12 thousand dollars to purchase a new vehicle and cancel my gym membership to recoup the financial loses. Over time I recovered, moved locations to Burbank California and in early 2022 began instruction under Alberto Crane at Legacy Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Trained there for about 6 months and entered a few tournaments finishing 2022 with a bronze medal at the final tournament of the year held by another mid-size organization known as Jiu-jitsu World League.

 

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Shortly after on January 21st I suffered the worst injury to date, one doctors told me was basically career ending and would leave me unable to ever get back on the mats like I used to unless I got the surgery done. The MRI Results revealed a full ACL Tear, MCL Sprain, Several vertical tears of the meniscus and impact fractures to the osseous/ cartilaginous structures. Honestly the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, however I had certainty in my belief that my body would heal itself in time to keep the promise I made myself of winning my first Gold medal before being 30 years old way of expressing my gratitude to my mother who always supported and believed in me. Now I am currently training with Team Undefeated under the instruction of 2022 Black Belt World Champion Isaac Doederlein. It was under team Undefeated that I won Bronze on day 1 which was fought in the GI and I won Gold on day 2 in NO-GI on Aug 6th. Aug 9th I finally got to tell my mom on her birthday her boy was a champion and thanked her for all she ever did. HOH: Could you share a bit about the history and origins of Brazilian jiu-jitsu for those who might not be familiar with it? JH: Sure thing, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or BJJ is a martial art that is based on taking your opponent to the ground, establishing a dominant position of control and using leverage and weight distribution to submit your opponent by either joint locks or chokes. It actually has its origins in Japan. It was brought to Brazil by Mitsuyo Maeda in the early 1900’s and brothers from the Gracie family became students of Mitsuyo and learned jiujitsu/Judo, however it was the brother Helio Gracie who, do to his smaller frame, focused on the gentler & softer aspects of the martial art that dealt more with ground fighting and leverage rather than the throwing aspect of jitjitsu/judo. Thus developing Gracie Jiu-jitsu in brazil. Jū in Japanese is translated to ‘gentleness’ and jutsu translates to ‘art’ or ‘technique’. Which is why you may also sometimes hear BJJ referred to as ‘ The Gentle Art’. It Revolves around the concept that a smaller and weaker opponent can successfully defend themselves against a larger, stronger opponent by utilizing the techniques. Since then the martial art has developed into its own combat sport through innovation and practices by those who has adopted it and has become as essential skill for modern MMA.

HOH: It sounds like a demanding and technical sport. Could you tell us about your participation in the IBJJF San Diego Summer International Open Championship 2023? JH: I registered to compete at a middle weight (171 lbs to 181 lbs) however I weighed in at about 170 lbs so I was on the lighter side compared to the rest of my opponents. On day 1 In the first fight, I faced a rather larger man, however with speed and precise technique I was able to get him down to the ground and establish several dominant positions that scored me various points winning 10-3 and advancing to the semi finals. In the Semi Finals however I was defeated via arm bar by the #1 seed and I finished in 3rd place, I was too eager and made some embarrassing mistakes. I knew going into day 2 that I had to remain present and not get tunnel vision, the exact words my coach gave me so I focused on that. Day 2 was NO-GI and I was determined to give it everything I had, finding myself in the finals on day 2 I knew my goal was within reach. I measured my distance, set up my takedown and the fight began. After almost two and half minutes of ground fighting I was successful in trapping my opponent in what is known as a triangle lock where his head and one of his arms is trapped between my legs and from the position I got him to submit by transitioning to an arm lock creating breaking pressure at the elbow joint also known as an arm bar. HOH: It's inspiring to hear about your success, especially considering your recent injury. Could you elaborate on how you managed to achieve these medals just six months after a serious knee injury? JH: Well, I know it might seem a little ‘woo-woo’ to some people, but I strongly believe in the power of positive mental visualization, intention, spoken & written word. I can’t really tell you exactly how it happened and how it happened to fast it’s still a mystery I study to understand myself but I knew the moment I got hurt I had to guard the only thing that actually was within my power to protect and control and that was my mind. You see when life throws struggle your way, heartbreaks, failures, tragedies it’s so easy to let the negative voices completely drown out your own inner voice. The inner voice that tells you to believe, to dream, to love, to hope and you end up very sinical about life and generally give up on your dreams, but my dream isn’t really just for me it’s for all the people I love and who are around me that I wish to help and do more for. I believe that drive is what allowed the miracle to happen, with no surgery, no hard medicine or shots. When I stepped out on to that competition floor I thought about wanted to show those closest to me that you can overcome any limitations and still get your dream if you simply don’t give up, don’t give in and you really love this thing you are doing because its most often going to be painful and not fun but love has a funny way of giving you a little extra boost when the waters get rough. Life rewards people like that, I think. HOH: Your journey is truly inspiring and showcases the indomitable spirit of an athlete. What's next for you in the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu? JH: Whats next? Sept 2nd I will be competing at the IBJJF Masters World Tournament in Las Vegas. HOH: Thank you, Juan, for sharing your incredible journey with us. Your determination and success are truly commendable. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

HOH: Can you please share a message with our Heart Of Hollywood Magazine readers? JH: I would be honored to. I’ve come to understand one thing and its true of all of us. A person’s life is what their thoughts make of it. We all eventually become what we think about most, if your life is filled with positive thoughts your experiences and circumstances will often reflect that, if you sow negative thoughts then your life and circumstances will reflect that. And if you think about nothing, you become nothing. It’s one of the strangest secrets in the world and I never learned it in school, I learned it in life. Your mind is powerful garden where the seeds of happiness can take root and bear fruit but you have to water the seed continually, care for it, protect it. With Gratitude, Juan Herrera


 

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