Josh Simon began his exposure to the grappling arts in eighth grade when he joined his high school’s wrestling team. It was during Josh’s junior year that one of his wrestling teammates gave him a VHS tape of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) that had happened the week prior on Pay Per View. Josh, like many children who grew up in the eighties had been raised on movies, TV shows and video games that all revolved around different martial artists claiming their particular style was the best, the most effective, the most efficient or the most deadly. Josh was immediately fascinated with the notion of a real life, no holds barred tournament in a cage to definitively prove just that.
He watched the first tournament and was amazed that none of the flashy kicks, elaborate blocks or acrobatic maneuvers he was told would devastate any attacker instantly were proven completely useless in a real-world fight. Instead of the outcome Josh would have predicted, the smallest and weakest man in the tournament, from a country people did not associate with martial arts, defeated opponent after opponent in a single night with a style no one had ever heard of. The fights looked like nothing anyone had seen before, with the skinny Brazilian dragging his opponents to ground where moments later they would surrender to the bewilderment of the spectators. The outcome was very confusing to Josh, the live audience and even the professional commentators. People just did not understand what was happening.
Josh was not aware of it at the time, but what he was watching was about to change the martial arts world, the entertainment industry and alter the trajectory of his life. As Josh completed his high school years, he eagerly watched the next events live, UFC’s 2 through 5. The skinny Brazilian, Royce Gracie, who had won the first UFC tournament participated over and over again, sometimes fighting four times in a single night. He never lost and even though more people were becoming familiar with his family's style of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu; fighting on the ground and submission holds continued to be a very mysterious practice. This was a time before YouTube, Google, instructional videos or BJJ academies in every city. Josh would gather with his wrestling teammates during or after the fights and attempt to duplicate what they were seeing in an effort to understand why the techniques were so effective. Try as they might, they failed to unlock the mysteries of the techniques. In 1995, Josh finished his high school wrestling career as a team captain, four-time varsity letter winner and county championship placeholder.
Josh then moved to Philadelphia for college. At that time, the Gracies and other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners were mainly located in Brazil. A handful of instructors had academies in warmer climates, such as California, Hawaii and Texas. Assuming that he would not be able to learn the Gracie style of Jiu-Jitsu, Josh desired to learn what he thought would be a close approximation, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. In looking through the phone book for academies, Josh came across an advertisement for Maxercise: Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Training Association. As luck would have it, Philadelphia at that time, would have one of the only Gracie Jiu-Jitsu schools in the eastern United States. Its instructor, Steve Maxwell, would go on to be the first American certified to teach Jiu-Jitsu by the Gracie family and would eventually become Relson Gracie’s first American Black Belt.
He immediately joined the academy training with Steve, who was a Purple Belt at the time and Phil Migliarese, who was a Blue Belt. Over the course of his time at Maxercise, Josh would have the opportunity to train with numerous Gracies, such as: Rorion, Relson, Rickson, Rolker, Royler and Royce as well as many of their most renowned students, including: Saulo Ribeiro, Caique Elias, Fredson Alves, Daniel Moraes, Fabricio Camoes, Leticia Ribeiro and Regis Lebre. Josh became so engrossed in learning Gracie Jiu-Jitsu that he spent the majority of his time during his college years, not in the classroom, but on the mat, much to his parents’ chagrin.
While at Maxercise, Josh earned his Blue Belt from Relson Gracie after seven months of training and his Purple Belt from Steve Maxwell six years after that. It was there, that Josh got his first exposure teaching; occasionally covering classes while the main instructors were away competing. It was also during this period that Josh made his first trip to Brazil. Through the late 90's and early 00's, Josh would travel to Rio de Janeiro several times to train at such academies as: Gracie Tijuca, Gracie Barra, Heavy Duty, Delfim and Brazilian Top Team.
Shortly after receiving his Purple Belt, there was split in the team and Josh ended up at the newly created Balance Studios. It was at this Philadelphia academy that Josh continued his training under Phil Migliarese. Shortly after joining Balance, Josh’s priorities changed and he focused on starting a family and advancing his career. He purchased a home outside of Philadelphia and started a new job in Delaware. It was at this time, unable to commute to Philadelphia, that Josh paused his BJJ training.
A few years past and with his position at work solidified and with a young son now at home, Josh decided to return to the mat. As he was no longer in Philadelphia, Josh joined the High Level Fitness academy in the Philadelphia suburbs. At the time, the instructor was Josh’s old friend from Maxercise, Noah Spear and the academy was affiliated with Balance Studios. Josh trained there for a year, seeing the academy change to having Regis Lebre as the head instructor and being affiliated with the Saulo Ribiero/Maxercise team. It was at High Level that Josh gained additional teaching experience, picking up occasional classes when the primary instructor was unavailable. Ultimately, Josh stopped training again. Work and raising a young son took most of his time and Josh was only able to train sporadically. Not being able to dedicate the time and energy into his training that he would have liked, Josh figured he would never train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu again.
Multiple years passed with Josh focusing on career, family and his own fitness training. Josh utilized many of the lessons Steve Maxwell had taught him at Maxercise. In addition to being a respected BJJ teacher and competitor, Steve was a legend in the fitness community and one of the main individuals responsible for the proliferation of kettlebell training and functional fitness that you see across the world today. Josh spent many years focusing almost exclusively on kettlebell training. He achieved tremendous results and the success drove Josh to delve deeper into functional training. Josh began practicing various grip training methods and pursuing various feats of strength such as metal rod bending and pinch grip lifting. In his zeal to achieve significant grip strength milestones, Josh pushed too hard and too fast. It was during a session of “pinkie deadlifting” that Josh completely ruptured the pinkie tendon in his left hand. An MRI was unable to find the tendon and an exploratory surgery to locate it was unsuccessful.
The day after Josh’s unsuccessful surgery, Josh’s son happened to take his first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class at World Class Martial Arts academy, owned by Aaron Morris. After the kids’ class ended the adults began their training. It was seeing the adults go through their paces that reignited the desire for Josh to continue his training. He joined World Class Martial Arts and through much trial and error, Josh and Aaron devised a method to tape his fingers so that he could properly close his hand for training. Shortly after Josh restarted his training, WCMA cancelled their kids’ program and Josh was once again in search of a new academy for himself and his son.
Josh ended up at Delco BJJ. Another academy run by a Maxercise and Balance Studious alumnus, John Wilson. It was there, after an additional three years of training that Josh was awarded his Brown Belt. While at Delco, Josh taught more frequently, covering a variety of classes focused on such topics as street self-defense, gi and no-gi competition.
In 2012, Josh’s employer asked him to relocate to Geneva, Switzerland. This caused Josh to stop his training for six months to focus on the move, work and setting his family up in Switzerland. Once again, Josh had to restart his training and find a new academy. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be quite political and various teams and factions exist. Josh originally tried an academy tied to his previous five academies; however, it was closed. This caused Josh, for the first time in his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu journey, to switch to a different affiliation and Join Igor Araujo’s Gracie Barra academy.
It was his time at Igor’s academy that Josh considers his “finishing school”. After Josh began training at Igor’s, he was quickly recognized for his experience, skill and ability to communicate technical details. Igor was competing in the UFC and needed to spend time focused on his own fight preparation in either Geneva or at the Jackson-Winkeljohn academy in New Mexico. Even though he was only a Brown Belt at the time and the academy had several Black Belts, Josh was asked to take over as the instructor for many of the academy’s gi classes. When Igor was in between fight camps, the class would often be split into two, with Igor teaching the advanced students and Josh teaching the beginners. Josh focused on teaching both street self-defense and sport Jiu-Jitsu in a truly unique environment. Geneva is an extremely international city, hosting executive and diplomats from all over the world. Josh would teach his classes in English, where his students would then translate Josh’s instructions into French, German, Italian, Arabic and Portuguese for the other students in attendance. Likewise when a student had a question, it was passed through one or more translators to Josh and then Josh’s response had to be translated back to the student. Josh’s reputation for teaching quickly grew and students from France, Germany and Italy would often travel to Geneva to take part in Josh’s classes. Multiple times, Josh had the surreal experience of being an American in Switzerland teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Brazilians traveling abroad.
After two years of training and teaching at Igor’s academy, nineteen years since his start at Maxercise and 21 years since UFC 1; Josh Simon was awarded his Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by Igor Araujo. While this was a major accomplishment in Josh’s life, it came at a significant cost. Josh injured his back shortly into his Geneva training. Unbeknownst to Josh, it was a significant herniation and he had continued to teach and train for years with an ever-increasing back injury. Months after receiving his Black Belt, the herniation became so severe that Josh’s back completely locked at a bent over 90 degree angle and he experienced tremendous and continuous sciatic pain. Not willing to let his students down, but unable to even walk, Josh continued his teaching. Josh’s Geneva students would drive to his apartment, carry him to a waiting car and drive him to the academy. As the academy would be locked and there was only one key, Josh would be laid down on the sidewalk in front of the academy as the students would wait for the key to arrive. He would then be helped into the academy by his students. It was in this condition that Josh continued to teach for several months.
After months of attempting chiropractic, osteopathy, physical therapy and Chinese alternative medicine, Josh relented and underwent spinal surgery. The surgery was a success with Josh immediately able to walk upright again and eliminated his crippling sciatic pain. However, as Josh had let the herniation progress so severely, he is now left with an extremely deflated disc that impacts his range of movement and strength in some positions.
At that time, with Josh’s Swiss work contract coming to an end and him no longer having the ability to train intensely or compete, Josh figured, once again, his time in BJJ was over. It would be too difficult to join yet another academy and he would not be able to properly train himself or others. At the completion of his work contract in 2015, Josh’s company asked him to move to Columbus, Ohio. As his son wanted to continue to pursue his BJJ training, Josh, once again, located another academy. This one, similar to Maxercise, was one of the earliest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academies in the US. And similar to Josh’s previous US academy experience, this school was also affiliated with Relson Gracie.
While Josh was hesitant that he could contribute, the head instructor at the academy, Robin Gieseler, encouraged Josh to join the kids’ class and assist with instruction. Over time, Josh’s back would improve and as he would gain ability and confidence, Josh began teaching the kids’ and then adults’ classes.
Robin also encouraged Josh to re-establish his relationship initiated 20 years prior with Relson Gracie. Josh spent multiple sessions with the Jiu-Jitsu Grandmaster, being grilled on his knowledge, technical proficiency and teaching skills. It was only then, when Relson was satisfied, that he awarded Josh the coveted Professor’s Diploma, granted him his first degree on his Black Belt and welcomed him back to the Relson Gracie Team.
Josh Simon is a now a fourth degree Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and currently teaches all the adult classes on Saturdays at the Gracie Ohio academy in Westerville. He is also available for private instruction, custom classes and seminars.
Josh receiving his black belt from Igor Araujo
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