A few weeks ago, we posted a piece (A Regional Jiu-Jitsu Profile Part 1) discussing the regional scene of Northern Ohio and western PA. In it we featured different school owners/coaches/instructors from around the region discussing what it’s like to have a school in this region. This is the first piece closely looking at the perspectives and experiences of these instructors as they pertain to running teams, competing against other teams regionally and the mentality that has led them to success.
Deon Thompson is the owner of Toledo Brasa, one of the main hubs of the team run by Rodrigo Comprido Medeiros and Felipe Costa. Deon didn’t always fly the Brasa flag, when he first started it was under Xande and Saulo Ribeiro, who at the time started a school in Toledo. “I started teaching at karate schools in 2007; I got my purple in 2004 directly from the Ribeiro bros. I actually got my own gym 2 yrs ago, started out with about 5 consistent people (3 still train me) now I have close to 60.”
In 2006, Deon became one of Comprador’s first American affiliates and eventually earned his black belt being the third person to receive that rank from the 7 time world champion. Given that Deon began teaching at a time when there weren’t many BJJ schools in Ohio and given that he established his school in a town that had one school already established, his process of building a student base has been an interesting one.
“In the early years people still didn’t really know about jiu-jitsu (they were familiar with the Gracie name) but they didn’t really get it. There was an event here called the tough man where they had cage fights and some wrestlers heard I knew BJJ and I trained with them and did well so they asked would I help them for Mma (which I’m not a fan of) funny thing is in those early years I couldn’t give my techniques away. The struggle was just trying to get people to understand the importance of ground fighting. From there a couple of Karate school owners sought me out for private lessons I’m sure they saw it is a way to get more students but the issue with one of the owners was that he was trying to tell me how BJJ should be taught like Karate which l didn’t agree. The last guy was cool but he had my classes so late it was at that time I stepped out on my own I got a building. What helped was the fact that I met so many people in the process and the fact that I don’t look like a ‘fighter’ people know me around here for playing college basketball and being a basketball broadcast journalist. Word of mouth spread and people started coming and it’s never stopped!”
Given that there is another school in close proximity to Deon, and given that Deon started under that association, one might assume that there has been conflict between Deon’s Brasa School and his closest competition, Chris Blanke and his Ribeiro Association School, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The two academy leaders have worked together to build a thriving jiu jitsu community in Toledo.
“It’s funny because guys will visit Chris and he tells them there are only two BJJ schools and that’s his and mine and I say the exact same. It comes down to personality and where the prospective student will feel comfortable honestly the competition between schools has helped us both. Ironically at his tournament my guy won the absolute (money) and he got me back at ours; his guy won the absolute we joked about that. I have referred people to him and he has referred people to me I know it sounds weird but we honestly figured it out years ago we’d get a lot farther by helping each other as oppose to hating plus we are both older guys, too old for petty battles over students.”
Deon places great importance on his affiliation with Comprido and firmly believes that affiliation is key to a good Jiu Jitsu landscape.
“In BJJ your lineage is important now more so than ever as there are so many people popping up with BJJ schools without lineage or authority to promote it’s unfair to the people. What’s the first question you ask when you go into a school? Who did you get your black belt from? Fair question in my opinion, if there is a question they can contact your guy directly and I love that. When they prospective students come through your door and they ask who you train under you are a direct reflection of your instructor example if I am under Comprido you should be able to look at him and see no difference in our character or the way we promote our guys.”
Deon had a few shout outs in his interview “Comprido, Pablo Castro, Saulo, Xande, Chris Blanke and my most importantly my students who believe in me they are the reason I do this.”
In the next editions of the regional profile I’ll be talking to the other team leaders interviewed. We’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of competition between schools and what it’s like to establish a school in the climate of Northeastern Ohio/Western Pennsylvania.