By Jennifer Vazquez
There are many stories and personal accounts that reflect the importance and the changing factor that sports, discipline, hard work and passion have on the lives of numerous. This fact holds true to no other than Josef Manuel –owner and instructor of Cutting Edge Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
In an exclusive interview with The Observer, Manuel, an international champion-winning jiu jitsu fighter, vividly recounts the point in time when he became interested in this martial arts form and the important role this sport has had in his life.
Manuel, a first-generation born of Puerto Rican parents, was born and raised in Newark where he was raised. Being smaller than others his age and in his neighborhood he was bullied.
“One day I was at the playground, on the swing,” he said. “Next thing I remember seeing were trees, leaves and boots.”
This particular incident was a turning point in his life as he became adamant to become stronger and wiser –never allowing another to intimidate or physically hurt him or others in that manner again.
“Because of my size I was constantly being bullied,” he said. “That’s how my quest began. That quest to find out, what I can do, how I can prepare myself to not have to go through that again…There has to be some sort of self defense that I can learn to never have to go through that again.”
According to Manuel, since money was tight during his youth, it wasn’t until he was old enough to earn a living that he decided to finally learn jiu-jitsu, the fighting art form that had always captivated him.
Manuel points out that one of the main –if not the initial, sole reason –why he was so enthralled and mesmerized by jiu-jitsu is because of its unique distinction amongst all other martial arts.
“The thing about jiu jitsu is that out of all the (martial) arts it is the only one that physically deals with how to defend yourself against someone who weighs more and is stronger than you,” he said.
Being able to earn a living and pay for his martial arts training, Manuel started meeting and learning from individuals who are considered living legends, the best-ofthe- best in the martial arts realm, traveling all over the world.
“I traveled to Brazil, California, Portugal,” he explained. “I’ve been all over the United States.”
Even learning from the Gracie family –a prominent Brazilian sporting family that developed Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, according to Manuel.
After commencing training in August 2001, Manuel absolutely and completely dedicated himself to the discipline. Training at such a level that he entered his first competition a few months after starting his preparation and started gaining a following.
Throughout his competitive career he has acquired a great amount of titles, including a silver medal at the 2009 Pan American Championship, a gold medal at the 2009 World Championship, and a gold medal at the 2010 European Opener, among many other awards and distinctions. He is currently looking forward to participating in the 2013 European Open Championship –an international competition that will take place in January in Lisbon, Portugal.
Though Manuel is humbled and proud of his successful business, he really never had an entrepreneurial spirit. A barber by trade, the idea of opening up his own studio came about in 2003. The fact that he opened up his own studio came as a way for him to train the way he sought to be trained and taught and provide that learning experience and knowledge to others.
“The reason why I wanted to open up my own business was simply because I didn’t have enough resources that were going to help me to be a real competitor,” he explained. “I had to create that environment.”
Cutting Edge opened its doors in October 2005, with an estimated 50 students –a fraction of the number of pupils he has enrolled today, however still a fairly large number for a newly minted establishment. According to Manuel, the fact that he worked at a barbershop prior to opening up Cutting Edge allowed him to gain costumers and pitch his business while working.
Nowadays, Cutting Edge hosts roughly 200 students year-round, offering numerous classes to those interested. Besides jiu jitsu, Cutting Edge offers karate boxing, kickboxing, children’s programs among others. Are just a few of the other lessons offered. Manuel points out that the classes offered are opened to pretty much any age group seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“We even have a 60-something- year-old lady who can take down people half her age,” he said. “She is amazing. Our classes are not limited to a certain age group at all.”
As the owner and instructor of Cutting Edge, Manuel now feels a sense of accomplishment knowing that he has helped and continues aiding others that have faced a difficult time in their lives whether it be caused by bullying, personal setbacks or health issues. He very well knows the importance of martial arts and the escape, discipline and confidence they offer to people.
If you would like more information on Cutting Edge visit www.cebjj.com or call 973-445-7796.