As you might have guessed, I’m Russian. Some kids get into martial arts because their parents want them to train for various reasons—being bullied, improving focus, and gaining discipline to name a few. That was not the case with me. My older cousin and my dad were my inspiration.
My father was my role model during my childhood. He wrestled, boxed and did power promotion things such as ripping chains, bending coins, and wrapping nails around his fingers. In the southern resort towns, there were several of kiosks where passers could test their strength. I remember one particular grip strength indicator. My dad always squeezed it hard enough to cause the arrow to go beyond the highest number. I wanted to be just like him.
During the last three years of high school, I enrolled in four additional subjects that were offered for in-depth study: Russian language, world history, world literature, and English. That course of study determined my college choice as well. My major was journalism and my work got published while I was still living in Russia.
Luckily, SAMBO 70, the most prestigious SAMBO school in the world, was located around the corner from where I lived in Moscow. When my cousin told me about it, I jumped at the chance to check it out. I did, and I started training in the third grade. I attended elementary school and trained every day throughout my third and fourth-grade year.
My fifth-grade year marked a new beginning for me. I became a full-time student at SAMBO 70 with several other children. Training was rigorous, but we adjusted to it. The training program was professional, and the instructors made it clear that we weren’t training for recreation. It was serious business.
Under the guidance of Sergei Vorotyagin, a national and world champion, I won and placed in two All-Soviet competitions, as well as countless regional and promotional tournaments.
In 1996, I immigrated to the United States. Upon arrival to the U.S., I couldn’t find a SAMBO gym. I started to go to a grappling club in the area where I was exposed to Jiu Jitsu. I fell in love immediately. It made sense to me and wasn’t a much of a departure from SAMBO. They are both grappling arts, after all.
Both SAMBO and Jiu Jitsu have their strengths. And both have plenty of restrictions. There are fewer restrictions in no-gi sub grappling, and I’ve always preferred it.
My SAMBO background has enhanced my Jiu Jitsu performance. I have learned to implement and adapt my SAMBO skills to the Jiu Jitsu rules. Just like in chemistry, you get a reaction if you mix two agents. It took some time to get rid of “bad” habits from SAMBO such as turtling once in a danger of being pinned. Also, it took some time to be comfortable to be on my back. I would willingly play off my back in practice but would try my hardest not to end up facing the ceiling in competition.
Here in the United States, I placed three times in the USA Open and represented team USA in combat SAMBO in the World Championship in 2008. I also placed and won multiple NAGA and Grapplers Quest tournaments and was awarded the most technical fighter in the very first Grapplers Quest competition winning all my matches by submissions.
I am fluent in Russian and English. I enjoy reading, music, and philosophy.