I lost 75 lbs in less than a year | Gracie Bradenton

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KC Clipp

Took my son tonight. He's hooked. He loved it and is already talking about how many days he can go next week.

Joe Lombardo reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

I was asked why I travel 30 minutes to Gracie Bradenton when there are closer locations to me? There are a few reasons.
I spent some time doing research on different schools. For starters Sonny Parlin. Outside of the fact he is the real deal and has great lineage. He took the time to reach out and invite me to try out his training. On my first time walking in Sonny and his instructors were welcoming and very knowledgeable. The students that attend are also very much a family and help you when you have any questions. This is a long investment of time and commitment so I wanted a place that I would feel at home. I found that at Gracie Bradenton.

Jeff Blair

My son Ben has been training at Gracie Bradenton for almost 4 years and it has been an amazing experience for him. Great instructors lead high energy, but disciplined and safe classes and Kyle Koziel has been a great coach for my son's freshman high school wrestling season.

Natalia Biasca-Shepler reviewed Gracie Bradenton
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For being a woman 115 lbs , all the guys train with me and have amazing rounds , thank you so much for a great friendly place make my day awesome

Maria Beatriz Zamora-Levesque reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

Great facility ran by one of the coolest dudes around. Sonny is always down to help everyone with not just technique but also with strategy (and the occasional joke). Make sure to follow their social media, as they bring some of the biggest names in the BJJ world to teach seminars in this location. If you are passionate about BJJ and would like to further your knowledge, you must check them out.

Paul Gaetano reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

Just had a private lesson with Sonny. Been training on East Coast of Fl. for the last 6 months.
Here for 2 weeks and I wanted to get some BJJ time in so took a lessons from Sonny. Was a little aprehensive walking into a new place. After a brief meet and greet Sonny made me feel at home. All I can say is I learned so much in 1 hour that I was amazed! Im only a beginner, so just learning a few things to add to my game makes me feel more comfortable and confident. Small improvements in my BJJ means a lot to me! If your not comfortable you will loose interest. Every time you can add just one thing to your game you will be wanting to come back for more. If your a 60 year old beginner like me or just a beginner, don't hesitate to go to Sonny's Gracie BJJ!! BJJ will change your life! He's AWESOME!

Greg Besaw reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

Awesome experience! I trained at the gym while on vacation. Sonny and his students where all great. Very inviting, didn't feel like an outsider at all. Had a great time rolling with very skilled grapplers. Looking forward to visiting again.

Thomas Scully reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

Sonny is very knowledgeable and makes learning BJJ fun and easy with his great attitude. His concerns are solely on your improvement and safety. I highly recommend him to anyone interested in BJJ.

Joe Mcbride reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

great place to train, excellent mat space. the instructor, Sonny Parlin is a wealth of knowledge and a high level active competitor. the student base is amazing, great guys, girls and teens to roll with. Sonny also brings in black belts from the area and out of town to teach specialty classes as well as seminars. would highly recommend anyone to check out Gracie Bradenton.

Brett Ducharme reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

Awesome place to train! Great structure and attitude from staff and students. I moved here a few months ago and am lucky to have found this gym. High level. Porra.

Stephen Holland reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

This school has some really great things going for it:
- A welcoming environment.
- A large diverse group of students so that you have good training partners whether you are the new guy or an advanced student.
- Lots of mat space so you aren't constantly worried about getting elbowed or kicked in the head by others when rolling.
- Both daytime and nighttime classes to meet your schedule.
- They also offer wrestling classes which is huge for putting you in a dominate position in a competition or a real fight.
- They offer seminars where they bring in some of the best competitors in the country.
- Most importantly, the instructors still compete and love what they do. They are invested in their students and don't just complacently stand around waiting for the time to pass.

If you are looking for a place to train then Gracie Bradenton is a great place to be

Aaron Sprague reviewed Gracie Bradenton
via Facebook

I stopped by to train here while on vacation in Florida and was welcomed by Sonny and his students. Sonny is a great instructor and even took time after class to troubleshoot techniques with me. I also appreciate a school that trains every submission (neck cranks, heel hooks, etc) as you have to know these techniques, and defenses, in the current Jiu Jistu landscape. Everyone I rolled with trained hard but safe. I will definitely be back to train at this academy!

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I lost 75 lbs in less than a year

Me and my son, Jake

I am in the best shape of my life, which is saying a lot considering that I’ve been morbidly obese for the last 15-20 years. I’ve been asked by more than a few people how I made such a transformation. Well, here it is.


Before 2014, I was in a bad place, certainly in terms of my health, but also in terms of my career, goals and personal relationships to the people closest to me.

In early 2013, I started having pretty consistent thoughts of suicide. Which is odd considering that I was on medication to prevent this very thing from happening. But it’s only odd until you learn that depression can be a side effect of SSRI meds. So I decided to take control of my life and I made a bold move. I quit my SSRI meds cold turkey.

This single decision changed everything.

After I quit my SSRI meds, a few days went by with no noticeable difference and then on day 5, depression came out of left field and knocked me straight on my ass. It was so sudden and so harsh it was literally like getting punched in the face by Mike Tyson. Which is why some people get up from it and unfortunately, some don’t. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life of 42 years.

Me with Black belt, Joe “Bamboo” Wissmann

Depression is a nasty liar. It deceives you into believing things that are wholly untrue. I had convinced myself that my wife and son would be better off without me. I was sure of it. I was sure that my mental health problems were unfair to my family and if I were gone, they would heal and be able to live happier lives. Thankfully, I was able to find a therapist to get me through the rough times and it was with my therapist that I learned why my closely guarded beliefs were in fact little deceptions that I had built up into tremendous lies.

But let me try and lighten the mood. Along with depression, anger and anxiety, which are problems that I continue to face, also came pure joy, happiness, drive, determination and motivation that I hadn’t felt in years. One of the first things I noticed after waking up out of my coma was that I was fat. I was really fat. I was 270lbs. I went into emergency weight-loss mode and stopped eating. I basically went from always having food in my hands to eating 1200 calories a day and I started exercising every single day.

Doing it wrong

I now know that this was a mistake. I lost a bunch of muscle along with fat because my body went into starvation mode. I wasn’t eating enough calories for all the exercising I was doing and my body needed fuel, so it got that fuel from all the fat and muscle in my body. After 2 months of this I became incredibly weak.

Royce Gracie, myself, Rob Kahn

I went from being 270lbs to 240lbs in 2 months and was getting my ass handed to me left and right in Jiu Jitsu class. I was now smaller and had no strength and I quickly realized that I had gotten away with so much because I was big. I had to re-learn Jiu Jitsu. I was forced to accept that what I was doing didn’t work and I had to adapt or get left behind. Lucky for me I have an amazing jiu jitsu coach, Rob Kahn. Rob was the first to receive a black belt from Royce Gracie in a group with four others. Rob continues to produce top level UFC fighters and ADCC competitors. So it’s pretty simple, whatever Rob tells me to do when it comes to my training, I do it.

Accepting my training deficiencies, I went back to the drawing board with my jiu jitsu and with Rob’s teaching along with so much brilliant advice and coaching that I’ve gotten from Rob’s black and brown belts (Robby Donofrio, Bamboo, Matthew Arroyo, Gabe Maldonado – all amazing friends, people and athletes), I was able to quickly adapt. I also owe so much to my training partners, and that goes double for Roberto “Angel” Cespedes and honestly, I could fill up this page with the names of people who have helped me, the list really does go on and on. The Gracie Tampa family has taken me in and made me a better athlete and person.

The Gracie Tampa Family

Fixing my diet

Along with tweaking my jiu jitsu, I also had to tweak my diet and actually learn something about nutrition because starving myself is not a practical long term solution. So I learned how to eat all over again. I started eating a lot of grilled chicken, steak, salmon, vegetables, salads and I started snacking on healthier things like yogurt with frozen blueberries & granola, apples, and protein bars. I upped my caloric intake to about 2500 calories a day. I don’t really count now because after spending months counting, I have a pretty good idea of how to “eyeball it” throughout the day. But if you want to count your calories, I recommend using the My Fitness Pal app. It works for both iPhone and Android.

Being over 40 and trying to train like an athlete has its challenges. Especially if you’ve spent much of your adult life sedentary with a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in your hand. So when I decided to start strength training along with my BJJ training, I ran into a wall called “You’re not young anymore.” I would train BJJ in the morning, lift weights at lunch and train BJJ at night. This would be fine for a day or two, but then I would have to curl up in the fetal position for 3 to 4 days to recover. Again, not a long-term solution.

Training the right way

Training with Bamboo

I had to find a way to train smarter and get the same results without wearing myself ragged every couple of days. Most of my training consists of practicing jiu jitsu (rolling) for roughly 30 to 60 minutes every day. That doesn’t include class time or learning techniques, that’s minimum 30 minutes of rolling. I find that if I go too far over an hour, it ends up becoming counter-productive because it increases my risk of injury. At 42 years old, that means that the herniated disk in my back gets inflamed and I have severe back pain for 3 to 5 days. So in order to keep my back healthy, I limit my hard sparring to about an hour per session. This gives me a great cardio workout and helps me improve my game. Sometimes I train multiple sessions a day, but I always listen to my body and try not to over train.

I’ve had surgery on both knees for meniscus tears, so keeping my knees healthy is also very important to me. This means I tap early to heel hooks and I’ve neglected doing a lot of wrestling, although, now that I’m lighter I’ve started working on my wrestling for the first time. So far, so good.

As far as weight training is concerned, “training smarter, not harder” means lighter weight, more reps. I tried to increase my bench weight too fast, too soon and I ended up hurting my rotator cuff. So for me, lighter weight, more reps is the answer for chest presses. I’ve also switched to using dumbbells for my chest instead of bench pressing because it’s safer for my shoulder. This was something that I had to learn the hard way. I could write more about specific weight training exercises, but I think that goes beyond the scope of this post.

So now it’s been about 8 months since starting this journey and I’m down to 195lbs. I just won my first advanced division at a grappling tournament and I feel good. Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. I wouldn’t change the mistakes I made because I had to make those mistakes in order to learn from them.

First place at Copa America Grappling, November, 2014