In the 2005 movie Batman Begins, Alfred says to Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” No one I’ve met embodies this ideal more than Nicolas Bontempo, a young man who has experienced multiple tragic losses in his life and is now making it his mission to not only learn jiu-jitsu, but experience its local impact to the fullest. He’s made it his mission to attend every open mat in his home state of Wisconsin to spread the love of the sport and honor a late teammate, and he shared his story and mission with the Jiu-Jitsu Times.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: How long have you been training jiu-jitsu? How old are you? Why did you start training jiu-jitsu? Any significant accomplishments?
Nicolas Bontempo: I’ve been training jiu-jitsu for four and half years; it will be five years in December. I’m sixteen years old; I’m turning 17 in November. I started training jiu-jitsu because when I was eleven years old, my mom committed suicide, so I was going down a dark road and my dad’s coworker, who at the time was a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, told my dad to bring me into Neutral Ground. When my dad did, I sat there with my arms crossed and said, how is this going to help me? After a few rolls, my dad’s coworker told me to come out on the mats and pin him, and I said “How?” and he responded with, “Exactly.” I got my butt kicked by everyone, but everyone supported me and guided me to where I am now.
I am the first green belt that made it to four stripes in Neutral Ground history and I’m also the first green belt to make the transition to a blue belt in Neutral Ground, and I’m the youngest blue belt in the Milwaukee area. I also teach the kids class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I’m working on hopefully teaching some adults one day! I’m also an MMA Fighter and I’m 1-0.
JJT: Why are you trying to get to every open mat in Wisconsin?
Bontempo: I’m trying to get to every open mat in Wisconsin because I love to roll, get more experience, I love to spread my knowledge about the sport. Also I am trying to honor my fallen jiu-jitsu brother, mentor, and best friend, Big Mike. He would go to a bunch of open mats and everyone would feel the love and kindness that he spread to everyone, I want to able to do that.
JJT: How many have you been to so far, and how many do you have left? Do you have a time frame you’re trying to do this in?
Bontempo: I have been to two open mats so far, no clue how many I have left, I’m really just going with the flow and keeping track of how many I have been to. I have no time frame in when I want this to be over, I believe truly that if someone or something is worthwhile than you need to take your time and truly enjoy the journey!
JJT: How has the loss of your teammate affected the way you approach training? What have you learned from this new approach?
Bontempo: The loss of my training partner has impacted my approach to training in the sense that I need to keep rolling often and I need to enjoy who’s around me sharing the mats with me. I need to spread as much love and kindness as I can. I’ve learned that the journey in jiu-jitsu and MMA is much more enjoyable when you are spreading joy and happiness to others. The weight cuts are easier because of it, the fight and competitions are easier, everything is easier because of it for sure, that’s how people should be, I’m a martial artist first and a fighter second!
If we can learn one thing from Bontempo, it’s that you’re not defined by what happens to you in life, but rather how you react to it. If you’re in Wisconsin, reach out to him so he can come visit your open mat!