Taekwondo Black Belt rounding out game with BJJ
By Brett Hart
A lifelong athlete, Jim Fiore, age 40, of Biloxi Mississippi, has done everything from backpacking to marathons to rock climbing and martial arts. A former university researcher and personal trainer, he is a World Taekwondo Federation blackbelt, but found his calling in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Intrigued by that notion, Fiore visited the school to see what it was all about.
”My understanding 10 years ago of the martial arts was – if you’re a black belt, you should be able to handle yourself, regardless. You’re a black belt. … I remember going in there, and I got my butt handed to me by a young man anywhere from 16 to 18. I was like ‘What the heck just happened to me. Here I am almost a black belt in taekwondo and I don’t know anything about the martial arts.’ My pride got the best of me.”
With failure not being an option, Fiore finished his journey to black belt in Taekwondo under Master Antulio Garza, and started pursuing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu without question.
”More and more I just realized the false sense of security I had,” he said. ”It just got to a point where I was training more and more and more in jiu jitsu and just kind of fell in love with it. Eight years later, here I am running a school and a brown belt (in Judo and Jiu Jitsu). … I just love the grappling arts. I love judo. I’ve been fortunate to practice taekwondo and learn how to strike fairly well. … Plus, it’s just really cool to fight somebody and not get in trouble for it.”
As the manager for American Martial Art Academy for three years, Fiore focuses his school on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu while incorporating concepts of judo, sambo and wrestling, under the Soul Fighters BJJ Association umbrella.
He draws upon his training from Soul Fighter BJJ Black Belts Erick Raposo, Marcus Antelante, Bruno Mendes, and Rafael Formiga Barbosa.
”My wife’s in the military, so I’ve kind of had to adapt to where we live,” Fiore said. ”I actually have a masters in microbiology and biotechnology and so I was a researcher several years at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine… Once we moved to San Antonio, down to Lackland Air Force Base, then I switched over to personal training. I’ve always kind of had this battle between brain and brawn. My brawn finally kind of won.”
Tapping into his entrepreneurial spark and new-found passion for jiu jitsu, Fiore had earned a high enough rank and enough capital that he felt comfortable opening his own school by the time he and his wife had moved to Mississippi three years ago.
”I met our head professor here, Erick Raposo, out at IBJJF World Masters,” Fiore said. ”He and I hit it off. I brought him up here from Brazil, got him his green card. Now he’s our head professor here. That was one of the best business decisions that I’ve made. … There’s something just genuine when you have a black belt teaching all of your classes.”
That decision also gave Fiore more opportunities to focus on competition and coaching.
”When I go to compete… it gives me that drive to keep going. It inspires me to bring back that resilience to my students,” he said. ”I definitely want to try to win IBJJF world master at some point.”
Competing in the American Grappling Federation
Fiore and his team recently competed in a pair of Greatmats-sponsored American Grappling Federation tournaments in Jackson, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana. In fact, he won his absolute division and his school brought home the trophy from Jackson.
”Being here for 2 solid plus years and winning a major regional tournament is huge for my school,” he said, noting that the tournament also improved his competitive skills.
After winning his division in New Orleans, Fiore received a compliment from AGF co-founder Brandon Quick he’ll never forget.
”Today, you demonstrated why you are a brown belt,” Quick said.
”To hear another black belt that I respect say that to me, that was one of my proudest moments,” Fiore recalled.
”I will send my guys to an AGF tournament all the time,” Fiore added. ”I don’t have any reservations about the safety, my guys having fun at that tournament, the efficiency of the tournament or finishing on time…. They’re always bettering the competition not only for the competitors but also the coaches and the spectators. They’re truly listening to everybody. .. They understand sometimes the financial restrictions of families. … A white belt has more opportunity to become a better fighter in AGF.”
”When I was fighting AGF, it was actually setting me up very nicely to fight IBJJF as a brown belt,” he added. ”I’m a lot more comfortable now going to IBJJF or other tournaments.”
”Without jujitsu, my life would really probably be pretty crummy,” he added. ”It tells you the type of person you are. … The overall camaraderie, the support, the brotherhood is infectious. No matter how good you are, that mat will just humble you every single day. … The amount of heart and perseverance that you need to have to come in here and have your butt handed to you every single day, man that makes life outside so much easier. It just centers my life.”
That’s something much needed as he and his wife are expecting a daughter in September.
”I’m looking forward to having her on the mat with us in a couple years,” Fiore said.
When that happens, three generations of Fiore’s will don the jiu jitsu gi, as Jim’s father is currently a two-stripe white belt at the age of 67.
”He and I have done a lot of things together throughout our lives,” Jim said. ”It’s increased our bond together. It’s really fun to have your dad or your son or your daughter on the mat with you.”
To learn more about Greatmats-sponsored American Grappling Federation Tournaments and athletes visit Greatmats’ AGF Tournament Resource Page.