Whether you're a brand new Brazilian jiu-jitsu white belt or a longtime blackbelt, I think you will agree with me that this martial art makes our communities better. The problem with this is that some communities are unaware of BJJ and do not have instructors in their area. In this article, you are going to learn how Frank Ungaro found a solution to this problem by opening a gym in his area and became a head instructor at Passador BJJ in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. He shares a vast wealth of knowledge and interesting perspectives on the benefits of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Visit the bottom of the page for audio transcription of this interview.
"Do something different. Meet people. Make friends. Wake up your life. Test yourself."
Full Name: Frank Ungaro
Belt Colour: third-degree black belt
Professor: Mario Esfiha Quieroga
Short Term Goals: Grow. Both intellectually on the mat and physically. We just moved to a new space in November 2019 and are already planning an expansion to be completed by April 2020.
How long have you been doing jiu-jitsu for?
Where do you train out of?
Do you prefer gi or no-gi?
Have your instructors helped you in other aspects of life other than jiu-jitsu?
For the most, jiu-jitsu itself helps me in other aspects of life. I thank all of my instructors for bringing jiu-jitsu into my life.
Just a phenomenal and genuine person every time I see him. Consummate Jiu-Jitsu example setter.
What are some lessons you learned from jiu-jitsu that applies to everyday life?
In terms of lessons, it's understanding that life, like jiu-jitsu, is full of peaks and valleys. You have to ride the peaks and valleys...you have to anticipate them and keep them in perspective.
How often do you train?
4-5 times a week
What made you want to start training?
I watched UFC 2. The next day I called the Gracie Academy in Torrance California. The next week I was on a plane. That marked the start of decades spent training in California over 40 or so trips.
My main Academy was Gracie Torrance when it was run by Rorion. When Royce left that academy to go on his own, I followed him and continued to learn under his black belts. Guys like Mark Baumeister and Jon Burke.
I also spent time visiting other Southern California academies taking private lessons and attending classes/open mats.
Do you plan on training your whole life?
What’s it about jiu-jitsu that makes it so addicting?
That it always challenges you. You cannot be "finished" learning jiu-jitsu. It is always new and exciting.
Frank Ungaro and Ffion Davies
What has jiu-jitsu done for your physical health?
I'm 45 years old and in perfect health. Physically it has given me lean muscle mass that has helped me to stay in shape into middle age. I don't see many people my age who are (drug-free) in the condition that I and my students of similar age are in.
Has jiu-jitsu benefited your mental health?
When you are serious about learning (and teaching) jiu-jitsu, you have to keep sequences and combinations in mind at all times. Then you have to work on timing. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that you have to do this while under pressure. This keeps the practitioner sharp mentally.
If you could restart your jiu-jitsu journey, would you do anything differently?
What’s your advice for someone that’s never tried jiu-jitsu before but is interested in trying it?
Everyone feels lost for the first few months. Give it an honest 6 months and push through. The reward both mentally, physically, and socially is immense. When you get home from work, if you're tired, these are the times you have to just go to class. When you start saying "I'm tired, I'm not going to class", then you have already quit.
Do you have any aspirations in jiu-jitsu?
Stay healthy and grow my Academy
What’s your favourite move?
If you didn’t discover jiu-jitsu, where do you think you’d be now?
It is depressing to imagine. I've been doing this for more years in my life than years I have not. It is unimaginable.
"Jiu-jitsu has played a huge benefit to my mental health. I was headed down the same path as my bio mother, And when I was 17 I tried to end my life... luckily for me, I was unsuccessful. Jiu-jitsu has made me value life, gotten me out of the house, away from partying and drugs, and has shown me how at home you feel in the gym. I no longer have depression due to Jiu-jitsu." - Adam Kastner
Would you like to see the sport become more mainstream?
No. We have enough Youtube instructors in our community. We need to preserve the integrity of the art and ensure that instructors are acquiring real knowledge, not parroting what they see on youtube. Instructors need to train a lot and train a lot with their instructor(s). You cannot teach jiu-jitsu with online "guidance".
Without real knowledge, you will never be able to assist your students with challenges that arise. Each student has a different body type and a different mentality. If you do not understand the essence of what you are teaching, then you will not be able to give the answers that your students ask for. You do not get that watching videos or following a prescription that your affiliation sends you every month.
Thank you to Shihan Tommie Little for spending time with us today. No amount of YouTube videos or books can substitute the raw wisdom that the old masters can impart. When you make a connection to the origins, there is so much opportunity to learn. WALK. THROUGH. EVERY. DOOR.
Have any of your training partners pushed you to reach your full potential?
Every single one.
When you were first starting, what was the most difficult concept of jiu-jitsu that you had trouble getting?
How to breathe properly
If you could roll with any practitioner, dead or alive, who would it be?
What makes you want to inspire and motivate others?
Jiu-jitsu is a gift. It makes us better people and by virtue of that, it makes our communities better.
Largest Jiu-Jitsu seminar in history. Again. Thank you, Rickson Gracie.
What's it about teaching that you enjoy?
When a new student tells me with excitement in their eyes, that something they learned at our Academy worked for them when they needed it to. I was lucky enough to be uke to Rickson Gracie for part of what was the largest BJJ seminar in history (Albany, NY). That was a very enjoyable moment for me.
If you could describe jiu-jitsu in under 10 words to someone that has never heard of it before, what would those 10 words be?
Physical and mental chess.
What makes a good student?
Has any of your students taught you anything about yourself? If so, what did they teach you?
Mostly the dire importance of leading by example. I have to think about everything I do and say, especially online because I have to be an example both on and off the mat. Our Academy helps one another. We have had students get other students jobs, careers, advice, mentoring etc etc.
BJJ isn't just about the art itself and how it is applied. I am constantly counselling my students on life, finances and investing, school choices etc etc. We have a truly special environment.
Where do you teach out of? And why should practitioners and beginners come to learn from you?
Passador BJJ/Team Brasa Niagara. People should train here because we have good people who help new students and care greatly about their development, not people who just want to show everyone how tough they are.
In addition, I am a true student of the art. I had my education travelling all over Southern California in the 1990s and early 2000s. I went in and out of any school that would allow me in. I had to learn and know every detail. Back then there was no youtube, no internet. We had to learn every detail and drill and drill it.
I pride myself on being a true student of jiu-jitsu and a true Professor. Not someone who watches videos memorizes the moves, but cannot answer any question that deviates from the content on the video. I am obligated to give my students the real tools and knowledge to keep themselves and their families safe.
Have you ever experienced a difficult moment in your life and jiu-jitsu helped you get through it? If so, please explain.
What would you like to say to a parent/guardian who has a child that’s been a victim of bullying and doesn’t know what to do?
They need to be in a program like ours. Real-Life Skills take real work, real study. This is as real a martial art as there is on the planet, so in this regard, commitment is required. The upside is that the child will 100% get the tools that he or she needs to cope with the challenges of social life.
Has having a child changed your outlook on life? If so, in what way?
It changes everything. In the Academy, I am grooming my teenage girls to one day be my daughter's instructor. Nothing at all could be more important.
What is your Bully Busters program about? And what can students expect from this class?
Students can expect a change. Our program transforms meek and shy kids into confident and outgoing kids. Kids and parents alike can expect to gain verbal and physical skills to avoid/deescalate/control a conflict situation.
For someone that has experienced bullying and is feeling upset about the situation, what would you like to say to them?
Understand that bullies are often themselves insecure, they are projecting insecurities onto who they perceive to be weaker. The remedy is to boost your own self-confidence. Being direct with bullies is the best way to deal with them.
Understand the importance of things like readiness, fighting ranges, eye contact, verbal and physical posturing...There is a remedy to your situation.
We can help you at 100%.
Why do you feel so passionate about empowering women through Jiu-Jitsu?
What would you like to say to everyone that has supported you on your journey?
When the journey is over, how would you like to be remembered?
As a role model and someone who helped others to improve their lives
It's amazing to see Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners such as Frank Ungaro doing great things for the BJJ community. From empowering women to train and learn how to defend themselves to teaching children how to stand up to bullies, Frank's story is an outstanding reminder of the amazing benefits BJJ has for its practitioners.
After reading this article, I think it would be a great idea to check out Mirella Atallah's story and how jiu-jitsu saved her life and learn how she's now empowering other women to give it a try. You can also learn more about how this Gracie jiu-jitsu instructor went from being bullied to being an inspiration.