Jiu-Jitsu enters people’s lives in many different ways and for many different reasons. Some people start jiu-jitsu because they need to lose weight; others are born into it – like the Gracies. Some transfer over to jiu-jitsu from other activities or hobbies like muay thai, surfing, yoga, capoeira or soccer. For Manny Diaz, a competitor from the Caio Terra Association, it was golf – a sport we would almost never correlate with BJJ.
“My dad threw me into golf, as he had taken it up himself at the time and got super addicted. He was playing every day and kept buying new sets of clubs – he went off the deep end. When I got better at playing myself, he started taking me out more often and I got the bug too. I think that first year I played something like 300 rounds – almost a round a day.”
Although Manny practiced often, it was a real challenge to turn professional.
“I tried a few qualifying tournaments to make it on the tour, but I was never able to make it into the events. The level of competition was greater than anything I’d ever seen. There were guys who played their whole lives. I was decent, but as a scratch golfer. I just wasn’t up to their standards. Eventually I changed jobs and had to relocate to California. I had started working for a produce company and had the opportunity to make a little more money, as there isn’t much in golf unless you’re on the tour. I just needed something to occupy my time after work and my friend invited me to a jiu-jitsu class – that’s how I started.”
Manny’s new job working at a nationwide produce distributor gave him easy access to fresh foods like romaine hearts, spinach and baby leaf lettuce.
He was able to train jiu-jitsu consistently for three years until he stumbled upon Caio Terra’s school. It was his search for a more competitive academy that led him there.
“I was introduced to Caio at a tournament. I was asked by someone where the rest of my team was that day and I told them ‘you’re looking at the team right here’. After I checked out Caio’s academy, I knew I wanted to join his team. Travelling with a team to tournaments was important to me. So changing gyms was one of the best things that I ever did. I was able to get a sponsorship with Gameness right before I competed at Copa Podio, and it really all worked out for the best.”
After Leandro Lo had trained at the Caio Terra Association, which he often does, he was impressed with Manny and had recommended him to Copa Podio as a replacement for Keenan Cornelius in the Grand Prix.
“It was a great honor for me to have been invited. To be in the same tournament as those guys, those legends who are still competing in the sport, was amazing. I couldn’t have been more grateful. I think it’s a pretty prestigious event in Brazil. They bring out the best guys to compete. Apart from perhaps the World Championships, I don’t see anything else happening like this.”
With his new life in California, Manny had to learn how to balance his vigorous training with his new work that kept the bills paid – a challenge that many hard core jiu-jitsu athletes face daily.
“My day starts with work at six-thirty, then lunch at noon. I do a workout session during that lunch break, like a run. I finish work at four o’clock and if I have time, I stop by my home to grab something to eat and do some laundry. Then I drive about an hour to the academy to train and I’m there until about nine o’clock. Finally I get home at ten. For me, this schedule has been normal for the last five years, and sacrificing time during the day to get the right conditioning training is really important. I’m sure the guys that train full-time see this as a drawback but for me it’s normal.”
On top of such a packed schedule, Manny also manages his juggling act to fit in meaningful family time.
“I have a son but he is not with me full-time. I see him on holidays. In fact, I am expecting a baby boy in June. I have been married for just over a year, and we are having our first baby together. So I’m sure things will change for me.”
Manny says that it’s always time that is the biggest sacrifice he makes with such a packed schedule, but he feels that he is fortunate enough that the loved ones in his life are very understanding of the situation. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for many athletes, and they have to find ways to compensate with the less understanding people in their circles.
“People didn’t really understand what I was trying to achieve until they came with me to the academy and saw what I did. I took them to tournaments and showed them the beauty of the art and the lifestyle. Then they started to understand. It’s hard for people to get
it if they don’t actually train or see what goes on. So I suggest trying to get those important people in your life as exposed to the sport as possible, and they will start to appreciate it too. As far as my wife goes, I met her on the mats, so she understood right away.”
But of course, sometimes the pressure from all directions can be a bit daunting.
“At times, my body will crash depending on how much I’m putting out. It also depends on the amount of sleep I get. The days I get less sleep, I can feel it and I don’t feel like training or going hard, but you have to push yourself through those moments and in the end you’ll be glad you did.”