Very few people have what it takes to pack up and leave everything to follow their dreams. New Brunswick born Mitch Macdonald is a person who has worked minimum wage jobs and sacrificed his time away from friends, family and ultimately home just to travel while pursuing the best brazilian jiu jitsu instruction. From New Brunswick to Brazil to Montreal to California, back to New York.You get the hint. Mitch has been everywhere and has visited some of the top gyms for months at a time gaining more knowledge just as fast as his belt color changed.Mitch is a unique individual with a unique story.
Mitch was born in New Brunswick but moved to Montreal when he was 10 years old. Mitch began training at West Island Jiu Jitsu in Montreal when he was 17 and from there he quickly decided BJJ was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. From then Mitch decided to drop out of college after 6 months and started saving money to move to Brazil. The first time he went to Brazil, Mitch was 18 years old and a white belt when he spent 10 days in Sao Paulo training at Alliance HQ. Mitch decided he wanted to go back to Brazil, but didn’t really enjoy Alliance so he kept saving
up more money to move to Brazil. In February of 2010, Mitch moved to Brazil for 5 months and trained at Atos HQ in Rio Claro. It was a really good experience for Mitch because it was before any of the academies top guys had moved so everyday he shared the mats with the Mendes brothers, Durinho, Guto Campos, Ary Farias, Claudio Calasans, Bruno Frazatto, Yuri Simoes, Rodrigo Caporal, and so many other talented guys. Mitch describes training at atos as a “crazy experience” because he had just gotten his blue belt a few months before going and gained alot of knowledge from the experience.
When Mitch got back from Atos, Bruno Fernandes (former BJJ instructor at Tristar) had just opened Gracie Barra Montreal and one of his good friends and training partners told him he should go train at the gym. So he started training there every night and working every morning at Tim Hortons. Originally Mitch had planned on moving back to Brazil,but he got offered a job at Bruno’s academy which he gladly accepted. Mitch worked there for almost two years in which he ended up meeting Romulo Barral one year before the 2011 Worlds. Mitch went and trained with Romulo and his guys to help prepare for the 2011 Worlds. The next year Mitch ended up going to train at Romulo’s new academy and spending about 5 months there training with him and a bunch of other Gracie Barra guys for the worlds.
After that Mitch returned back to Canada where he spent a short amount of time in Ottawa working at Renzo Gracie Ottawa but decided he really needed to get back to Brazil. Mitch moved back to Montreal and worked construction for 8 months to save up and pay off his debts from California. During that 8 months in Montreal he met ultimate fighter Ryan Hall. Ryan invited Mitch down to train for a duration of time at Ryan’s notorious 50/50 academy in Virginia. Ryan and his wife suggested I go train at Cicero Costha’s in Brazil as it had a good reputation. They also put him in contact with BJJ competitor Murilo Santana. So after about 3 weeks in Virginia, Mitch packed up and went to Brazil where he trained at Cicero Costha’s gym for 7 months. Mitch mentioned “Cicero’s is an awesome place to train and Cicero is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet”.Not only did Mitch train at Ciceros but he also would go train at a gym that Murilo taught classes at too. Mitch left Brazil due to his visa had running out however was offered an opportunity to train at Ryan Hall’s academy in Virgina. Mitch ended staying at 50/50 for 4 months but hurt his back so training was minimal however the time spent at 50/50 made Mitch think differently about jiu jitsu.
Mitch’s family had moved back to New Brunswick to the city of Moncton. Due to the back injury suffered in virginia and accumulating debt,Mitch decided it was best to go back home and pay off some bills.When he got home Mitch ended up taking about 7 months off of jiu jitsu and lifeguarded to pay off his debts. Mitch was planning to go back to Cicero’s again and had even booked the tickets with a friend however due to complications they ended up cancelling their trip to Brazil. They say things happen for a reason and when one door closes another one opens because Mitch ended up getting an invite from Murilo Santana to go and spend some time at his new academy in the heart of manhattan, Unity Jiu Jitsu. Unity had opened up in January and was now the home gym of the Miyao brothers,Yago de Souza, Luiza Monteiro and Leandro Lo just to name a few.Without hesitation Mitch packed his bags and headed to NYC where he stayed for a little over 3 months. Then during the summer time he was given the opportunity to go on a trip to Brazil with some of the other students from unity. During his time there he recieved his brown belt from Cicero. Today Mitch is back in Moncton working on opening a gym which will be the first Cicero Costha affiliate in North America.
I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his journey in jiu jitsu, his new brown belt from Miyao Brothers mentor Cicero Costha, as well as his new gym that is opening up in New Brunswick which will be the first Cicero Costha affiliate in North America.
Let’s get right to it.
1) what is your name, belt rank and how long have you been training ?
Mitch MacDonald, Brown belt, 7.5 years
2) what made you start jiu jitsu and or what introduced you to the sport.
I wrestled one season in high school and loved it unfortunately at the beginning of the second season I broke my elbow in a match. At that time I was preparing to study music after high school and since I played drums I couldn’t afford to have any injuries taking away time from my drum playing and practicing. Also my Dad had trained a bit of bjj and had always been into martial arts so he was a big influence on me getting into bjj as well. Then I started watching youtube videos of gracie in action and decided I wanted to try a class I was hooked after my first class.
3) what changes have you made to your game at each belt level. Ie what did you emphasize on in each belt.
At white belt all I wanted to do was triangle I loved the triangle choke. At blue belt I started doing more reverse de la riva and de la riva which I had picked up at Atos. Later on at blue belt into purple I started doing more half guard and butterfly. I spent most of my time at purple belt though and my game evolved most at purple and I started to do a lot of omoplatas which I picked up training with Beneil Dariush at Romulo’s gym. Beneil inspired my game a lot and I started to do a lot of the positions he showed me. I have some changes I am looking to make going into brown belt and am super excited to start this new chapter of my jiu jitsu.
4 ) what role did your family and friends play in your jitsu? How did they ,/did not support you ?
My family have always been super supportive. It was a little hard at first when I decided to drop music and pursue BJJ. But, when they realized it was something I was passionate about they always respected my dreams and encouraged me with 100% support. I had a lot of people telling me it was a silly idea but my Dad always told me never let school get in the way of your education and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. So far it’s taken me to pretty cool places it does has it’s ups and downs but I love it and wouldn’t change my life at all.
5) how do you maintain the lifestyle and pay for your training ?
Haha credit cards, great opportunities, and saving up (though apparently I’m not good at it since I always end up running out of money). I’ve been lucky enough to have had great opportunities to travel and train at different gyms and been helped by many wonderful people. I definitely have not made a comfortable living by most peoples standards but I have been very happy. I am extremely blessed to have made so many friends in Jiu Jitsu and to have gotten to train where I have.
6) did you go to college /university and how were you in school?
I was a musician before starting bjj and had planned to be a professional musician until I started BJJ. So I got into the music college I had been planning on going to since grade 7 but dropped out after the first semester to pursue my dream of doing BJJ full time.
7) who are your idols and who do you look up to in jiu jitsu
Man there there are so many guys I look up to the list would go on and on but for sure at the top of the list would be Romulo Barral, Murilo Santana, and Cicero Costha. I look up to these three so much not just because they are really good at jiu jitsu and have great work ethic but they are also great people. Being good at Jiu Jitsu doesn’t make you somebody to look up to it’s an impressive accomplishment for sure but for me to look up to someone really has to do with their character, how they treat others, and carry themselves. The three men I have listed are amazing at Jiu Jitsu and some of the nicest, humblest, and most helpful people I have ever met.
8) how do you view the Canadian jiu jitsu scene in comparison to other areas where you have travelled ? How much is there a difference in levels of training throughout the different gyms. I.e how does the training and culture differ in Brazil, United States and canada ?
I think the Canadian Jiu Jitsu scene has a lot of good guys who train hard but I still think we have a small jiu jitsu scene and I would like to see less team rivalry we all love BJJ I think people should be more open to training together and just learning regardless of what team you’re on. The main differences would probably be that there is a lot more competition teams in Brazil and the US so there is a lot more full time guys. Also the training in Brazil at least at Cicero’s is much more intense and everyone goes as hard as they can every roll.
9) what are some of your daily routines, what do you do aside from jiu jitsu
I like to hangout with my girlfriend, cook, play board games, do yoga, and read. I usually try and do most of these things each day so that keeps me really happy.
10) how do you prepare for tournaments and what format do you prefer , ie points vs sub only
I like to train two to three times a day regularly then when a competition is coming up I keep training the same I just taper off a little closer to the tournament. I’ve never competed at a sub only tournament but I would love to do that one day so I guess prefer points but would love to try sub only one day.
11) what are some tips you can give to white belts and beginners to the sport
Stick with it and have fun. Don’t worry about how somebody else is doing or compare yourselves to others just go in everyday and have fun, ask questions, and make new friends. You’ll get better as long as you keep training and focus on learning the techniques.
12) what has been your biggest moment in jiu jitsu?
Probably when I got third at the Pan Am at blue belt I trained really hard for that tournament and I think I fought better then I ever have. It was a lot of fun and there were a lot of guys in my division.
13) how has sponsors played a role in your training and who are your sponsors ?
I’ve only really had one BJJ sponsor which is BJJ religion and they helped me out a lot and took care of all my gi needs which saved me a lot of money and they have great gis so it’s always awesome to get gis you like. Check out there website if you get the chance they are great gis. I also had family friends who were super helpful and sponsored a portion of my trip to California to train at Romulo’s. That was amazing and so helpful I am really happy to have had great people in my life to help me out.
14) what music do you listen too?
Surprisingly considering I used to be a music major I honestly don’t listen to music that much. I enjoy classical but I’m eclectic and my tastes change all the time… Though I do have a passion for finding terrible terrible hip hop and listening to it until I like it haha.
15) a major change is nutrition and dieting ? What does your diet consist of ?
My diet is pretty simple recently I’ve been completely cutting out refined sugars so I do not to eat anything with added sugar which basically cuts out all junk food and I end up eating lots of fruits, nuts, veggies, and meat.
16) tell us a little about your training regime throughout the week, how many days and how often do you train ?
Well right now I’m preparing to open a gym and haven’t really been training at all. But typically I like to train 2-3 times a day I like to drill, have one hard training session, and do one session of yoga or stretching and drill again or watch footage.
17) If you had spare time to develop your game , would you recommend drilling or rolling ?
I think they are both really important but I think specific training is also one of the best tools for developing your game and I feel a lot of people forget about it. You can make specific trainings for any position I think balancing specific, rolling, and drilling is the best method. They all have great benefits and I think each one deserves attention.
18) who has been your toughest opponent in competition ?
Joao Miyao we fought twice at blue belt pan ams (weight and absolute) he beat me both times but he is obviously super tough and I had a lot of fun. Also my fellow Canadian Arthur Zuka he is really tough and I always have a lot of fun when we’ve competed against each other.
19) most recently a lot of major names have stopped competing and have looked to other sources such as pro leagues and mma , do you see yourself getting to that point ?
No I don’t really like MMA that much to be honest I really just want to stick to BJJ. I might train some other disciplines one day but I have no interest in doing MMA. As for pro leagues I hope one day to get the opportunity to compete at some of the pro jiu jitsu events it will take a lot of work but it is my goal to compete at the highest levels so I’ll just keep training hard.
20) do you do anything outside of jiu jitsu to help your game such as weight training or yoga?
I have started doing weight training recently and I really like yoga I try to do a little yoga everyday.
21) why did you select the places and locations you did to train ? What did each place offer that you were seeking ? Ie why did you select unity ?
I just picked places where I thought I would like the guys and there would be hard training. A lot of times it just worked out for me I got many many great opportunities. As for Unity I already knew Murilo and he invited me down to stay in NYC and train for awhile so I went and I loved it Unity is one of the best gyms I’ve been too. The vibe there is awesome! If you’re ever in NYC go there you’ll love it!
22) leandro lo made recent news by announcing his departure from ciceros and creating his new team,what is your thoughts on gym loyalty and what cases a student to leave a gym?
I think everyone has a right to do what is best for them so if they feel that is changing things up that’s up to them. I think people get too into the whole gym loyalty thing when in reality we all want to do jiu jitsu so it shouldn’t really matter who you train with as long as you’re honest and respectful of others I think it’s fine.
23) what are some stereotypes that people have in foreign countries about Canadians and our jiu jitsu?
One of the stereo types is that we are very nice and polite but I’ve never heard anything specifically about the way Canadians do jiu jitsu.
Cicero Costha related questions
1) So we hear your just got your brown belt from Cicero costha, tell us about how you came into contact with Cicero and where did your relationship start ?
I had competed against Joao and of knew that the Miyaos trained there and that Leandro trained there as well. I kept hearing good things about it so I messaged Cicero about going there and he said sure so I just showed up and that’s basically how it started.
2) tell us about your project, what is it going to be called and where is the gym location?
The gym is going to be called North South Jiu Jitsu. It was a name a good friend and training partner of mine suggested. It is a position in jiu jitsu but it also represents my journey from the North (Canada) to the South (Brazil and the US) to learn jiu jitsu and train.
3) what is your gi policy going to be and what is your thoughts on schools having a gi policy?
My gi policy is that the gi must be either white, blue, or black. Aside from that as long as there is nothing offensive about it I don’t mind what brand it is. I don’t really like when schools have a specific uniform because gis fit differently so if your schools brand doesn’t fit you well or is poorquality you’re stuck with a gi you don’t really like. I also think it’s not the best for the BJJ industry it makes schools money but it takes away business from the gi companies. So in my opinion it is better if a school just has guidelines to what’s ok color wise and just has a patch to represent there team.
4) how are you going to develop your schedule and what curriculum are you going to follow
I’m going to design my basics program by taking many important bjj positions and techniques and focusing time on each one throughout the course of a few weeks. After reaching the end of the basics course it will start over that way anyone can join and they start learning an important aspect of bjj. If you’ve already been a student for awhile you’ll have an easier time picking the basics up as you’ll have a chance to see the techniques multiple times as the program repeats itself. As for the advanced classes I will probably pick a different subject each month to focus on and try to do classes only about that specific position for a month.
5) why new Brunswick when deciding to open a gym? What made you decide to chose the east coast for ciceros first affiliate?
I was born on the east coast and my family lives here. I love the maritimes and I think there is good jiu jitsu here but there isn’t a lot of schools yet. I just want to see bjj grow in Canada especially in the maritimes. This region is also very affordable so if anyone wants to move here to train (one of my goals is to eventually have a place for athletes to stay) it won’t be so hard to afford it.
6) who are going to be the instructors?
At first just me but my dad who is a blue belt will be helping and I am supposed to have two friends coming up as well to help me out.
7) what classes will you be offering and what will be your price format?
At First we will just be offering adult classes in the evenings we will have a beginners and advanced class. In September we will be adding a kids program and hopefully some more class times. So the price format will just be one monthly fee which is for unlimited classes
8) when it came time to chose an affiliate, why did you select Cicero costhas? What does his affiliation program offer one as an incentive to open up a gym under his banner?
I chose Cicero because I really liked the time I spent there and really enjoy the team and what they stand for. There was no particular incentive I just really really enjoy being part of the Cicero Costa team and want to represent them.
9) where do you see yourself in 5 years ?
I see myself with a successful academy with a great competition program. I just really love Jiu Jitsu and I want to get other people into it no matter what there goals are. I also see myself continuing to compete training to improve everyday and accomplishing the goals I set for myself.