Reflections on Monday Nights Promotions

There is always so much more to say, but sometimes in the moment it’s hard to get the words out exactly.

Having led Heroes Martial Arts for the last 8 years, having been a black belt for 11 years, and having been on the mat for 21 years and counting I can honestly say that every promotion I give out in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu still is special to me. Still, by any measure what happened last Monday was a big night.

It started with one of the largest classes in recent memory as not only the regular Heroes Comp Class was present, but also representatives from our extended family at Samurai Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Campbell, Modern Tae Kwon Do in Los Gatos and the Hip Hop Chess Federation. The good news is these gatherings will be more frequent, and we’re exciting about the growth of all of our school and students learning from each other and training with each other. The team has grown exponentially over the years both in terms of size and depth and the future is looking very bright.


The mats were completely filled for an intense but friendly guard passing drill as well free rolling sessions. As is custom with little warning or fanfare, a few students received some well-earned promotions.

Bryce Constantino received his blue belt.

Chuck Walker and Chris Laroya received their purple belts.

Figuring out different ways to surprise students with their promotions is always fun. I think we got Jackie Vasquez pretty good when I pretended to be done handing out promotions, but had actually given the belt to Bobby to let him be the one to surprise her and tie the purple belt around her waist.

There were congratulations all around, but before long the mood got more formal and the class was asked to line up to one side of the academy, with the black belts present on the other side. This was going to be the big one. Four students were going to receive their black belts this night: “Eastside” Nick Borbon, Trevor Ireland, Sean Whitmore, and Kevin Kopecky. These four represent the new breed of talent within Jiu Jitsu, and just importantly, they are all already giving back to the art in significant ways.

Kevin Kopecky came to us from Indiana, and was already an established brown belt. Although he has only been around us for a short time, both his remarkable skill and character has been evident since he arrived. While I have always prided myself since my OTM days as a remarkable scout for talent, it was actually Richard Jackson that had the wisdom to bring Kevin into the fold and has taken responsibility for his continued development. It was only fitting to have Rich be the one to tie the black belt around Kevin’s waist then, and I can’t begin to tell you how fortunate we are to have both of them in our extended family.

Sean Whitmore actually has the distinction of being present for Gumby’s black belt promotion, (where he also received his blue belt at the tender age of 16), so now promoting Sean to black belt is coming full circle in a lot of ways. Sean is of course one of the nicest people you could ever meet (I only, semi jokingly refer to him as being a boy scout): multi-talented, artistic, sensitive, and an absolute killer on the mat. At the UFC Sunnyvale he plays a large role in the success of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu program and the entire gym overall. Sean has a huge future in pretty much whatever he decides to do.

Trevor Ireland trained at Heroes in the early days as well, travelled around a bit before settling back home with us. Trevor is an unreal talent on the mat (and trivia fact, he’s an unreal musician as well), as well as being the epitome of being a go too guy. He a large part of why the environment of Heroes Martial Arts is special, the top talent is always willing to help out here and Trevor is certainly in that upper echelon.

Eastside was one of the first students to sign up at Heroes Martial Arts, and being he was 17 at the time, his mother had to come in and sign the waiver. (She was naturally concerned with his safety; ask me to do my impression of a 17 year old Nick signing up sometime). It has been an absolute pleasure to watch him not only exceeds every expectation on the mat with tremendous talent and hard work, but to see the young man he has developed into. A story I relayed at the promotion but I will repeat here: The one time I got to meet Eastside’s father he shook my hand vigorously but did not let go, he looked me dead in the eye and said while he was proud of his son going out their and competing, the most important thing to him was that son grows up to be a good person. In fact it was really the only thing that mattered to him. I told him I understood and I promised I would do what I could for him. I feel I can say with confidence he would be extremely proud of the man his son has grown into.

At this point I have know promoted a dozen men to the rank of black belt. I am extremely proud of that fact; I think each man has unique talents and qualities and together we make up as a strong of team and a verifiable murder’s row. I also can’t help but be blown away about my own journey, when I walked into Ralph Gracie’s academy 21 years ago I never would have even imagined myself as a black belt, let alone tasked to guide anyone else to that goal.

From left to right: Trevor Ireland, Sean Whitmore, Konstantin Skachkov, Marcelino “Miggs” Miguel, (me), Bobby Vazquez, “Eastside” Nick Borbon, Richard Jackson, Kevin Kopecky. Not pictures David “Canada” Mcleod, Michael “Flexy” Huang, Michael “Hobbit” Strangis and Dar Aaelia.

The future is very bright at Heroes Martial Arts and for everyone in it, and every day just keeps getting better and better. Very proud and grateful for everyone who steps foot on our mats, and looking forward to growing with everyone here!


Full list of every promotion Gumby has made available here.

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