Recently the Mount Dora Citizen recognized Professor Brian Ruscio of Grappling Mastery and his team for their participation in the upcoming 2015 First Responder Games in Brevard County. First responders always receive the Hero Discount at Grappling Mastery.
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Brian Ruscio appears unassuming and quietly confident. A youthful-looking 36, he says he has been at his craft – Grappling – for over 30 years. He recently sat down with Mount Dora Citizen editor, Melissa DeMarco, to talk about his passion for teaching and competing.
Grappling Mastery: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA Academy is Brian Ruscio’s career, his passion, his hobby – and his life’s calling. Ruscio says that when he was only 5-years old, his mother encouraged him to take up wrestling. “When she first took me, she tried to warn me that it wasn’t TV wrestling, you know, like WWE? Well, I said I understood that, but I was still a little disappointed at first. Anyway, I started wrestling – and I fell in love with the sport.”
Ruscio says his first organized sporting activity as a young child was soccer. But somehow, he knew it just wasn’t quite the right fit for him. After he transitioned to wrestling, he never looked back. As a young adult, Ruscio went from wrestling, to coaching, and then refereeing wrestling matches. He realized he wanted to be involved in wresting and grappling in some way, but knew he could not make a living by working with wrestling clubs and organizations.
That’s when he discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ. Says Ruscio, “When I started BJJ, I was immediately interested in the sport. What first interested me the most, was that being pinned doesn’t end a match. When you’re pinned you find a way to work your way out of that situation…that opened up a whole new world to me. I fell in love with how creative you could be in the sport, the flexibility to try new moves, to work to find a new solution.”
The attainment of fitness is one aspect of BJJ to which participants aspire. But there is so much more, according to Ruscio. “If you’re stressed, having a bad day, overwhelmed with something – this sport can take you away from that. It gives people a place that’s a relief from school, and work and things like that. When you’re on a mat, when there’s a guy trying to get you in a choke hold – well, all that other stuff doesn’t matter any longer. You are thinking and reacting to those things happening on that mat, in that moment. You focus on the moment, on your next move and you let the other things in your life go for a little while.”
Grappling Mastery hosts students of BJJ from age 4 to 64. Ruscio says physical limitations in the sport are fewer than many people may believe. “There are many people who practice jiu jitsu with some kind of physical disadvantage,” he says. “That’s one of the amazing things about this sport – there is room to be creative, to adapt to circumstances and evolve.” He says he works with children who have autism and adults who have physical limitations. All of them, he says, gain from the experience.
“I can watch how a person first approaches grappling and see what kind of person they probably are out in their day-to-day activities,” he says. “How people roll here is how they generally do things in life. People who are aggressive here, always restless, on the move, going for a take-down, that’s how they live. People who are reserved, shy, don’t like to learn new things in here – well, that’s how they probably operate in the rest of their lives. But through BJJ, when my more aggressive students work with the more reserved ones, they all gain something. They all learn from each other.”
Ruscio is pleased to be working with a strong team who are considering participating in a 2015 First Responders Tournament in Cocoa Beach. Tony Tindell, Firefighter Lieutenant; Ryan Swinford, Army Captain; Alec Ritter, Florida State Trooper; Anthony Biasella, Groveland Police Captain; and Justin Blake, Orange County Corrections are training with an eye to compete in the tournament. First Responders Games are open to firefighters, military, paramedics, police, EMTs and federal agents only. Competition is tough. The areas of competition include running, cycling, paintball, grappling, hockey and much more. “These guys train hard and work hard in here and out there,” he says, motioning toward the door.
Most weeks Ruscio is in his facility all seven days. His classes and training styles vary depending upon the clientele at any given class. Within a day he may go from teaching basic skills to 4-year-olds, to working with mixed martial arts “No-Gi” competitors preparing for Pan-American NAGA (North American Grappling Association) tournaments. He teaches classes and has open mat sessions almost every day, except Sunday, when he gives private lessons at the academy.
Competitions are key to improving in the art of BJJ. Ruscio says attending, and participating in competitions are probably the best ways to stay abreast of changes in the sport and learning new moves. Small competitions may include 50-100 entrants, but the larger tournaments may have several hundred competitors vying for titles. Ruscio, who has a long list of competitive achievements (some of which are displayed at the academy) is modest about his many wins. One of the most impressive looking trophies he displays is the large belt he won in December as an Expert Champion in the NAGA Pan-American Championships.
But it’s not only Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that is practiced at Ruscio’s Grappling Mastery Academy. “We also combine BJJ with wrestling and Judo. In addition, we have a striking martial art called Muay Thai, or kickboxing that we offer here,” Ruscio explains. Although students work towards belts earning “belts” (there are different colored belts in BJJ that demarcate levels of proficiency), they are secondary achievements. “I try to keep the integrity, the guys who work here with me understand that. Of course, they still want the belt, they know what it means. But they’re not chasing the belt, they’re chasing the knowledge. The knowledge is so much more than the belt.”
Melissa DeMarco, Editor