Interview with BJJ globetrotter, BJJ black belt Dimitris Tsitos from Greece who has competed/trained/lived in 6 continents. Part 1

Dimitris in Bali, Indonesia

1. Dimitris can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, my name is Dimitrios Tsitos and I am 32 years old. I was born and raised in Athens, Greece, were I also lived for the first 25 years of my life. The last 6-7 years I am consistently travelling, teaching, competing and living around the globe.  I am a black belt under Draculino and my team is Gracie Barra Greece, the biggest and most successful team of the Balkans region (http://www.brazilianjiujitsu.gr) which is owned and operated by Professors Christos Marquez and Aris Chajiiakovou.
A week ago I moved to Sofia, Bulgaria where I will be leading for the next 6 months the BJJ program of Real Pain Sofia (http://realpain-mma.com/). I would like to thank Hristo Hristov the president of Real Pain Sofia and his business partner Dido for trusting me and bringing me to Bulgaria.

Training at Gracie Barra Greece

My BJJ fighting record consists of 185 fights in 19countries (144 wins; 99 via submissions and 41 losses; 7 via submissions). I also have a 2 wins- 0 losses record in MMA. I have won or placed amongst others in the: Euro Open 2006, Gracie Invitationals 2006, Brasileiro 2006, Sul-Americano 2006, Pan-Asian 2008, Korean Open 2008, Pan-Pacifics 2008, Tokyo Open 2009, while I qualified for the European ADCC finals in 2009. The achievements that I am more proud when it comes to BJJ are the facts: that I have competed in 19 countries in all continents and helped the development of the sport worldwide.

2. How did start training BJJ?

In contrast with most of the guys in the sport I never got motivation to start BJJ by watching Royce Gracie in the first UFC. Actually the first MMA event I watched was PRIDE FC at 2004!  Going many years back, as a kid I was very aggressive and physical, so my parents decided to enroll me to swimming to calm me down. I swam for almost 14 years with some success; I was member of the Hellenic (Greek) National Team for 6 years and of the 2000 pre-Olympic team and won 6 National titles.
When I turned 20 my interest for swimming started to fade away and my aggressiveness returned. I tried several martial arts; kick-boxing , ninjutsu and aikido to name a few! The transition from swimming to contact sports was physically tough mainly because I hadn’t discovered something I really liked yet. All these changed when I went for vacation to Brazil back in 2003. In Rio de Janeiro I met a girl that trained in a Brazilian variation of the Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and I bragged to her that I am good into martial arts myself. As expected by any legit BJJ practitioner she told me to go train with her at her academy (some local small dojo which I don’t even remember the name). After one session, it was back to reality; the hard way, since I got tapped by everybody there, including kids and girls. This was my first contact with our beautiful art! Few days later I returned back to Athens.
Once back home I started searching a place to train. I trained for couple of months with David Dimopoulos, (now Alliance Greece Black Belt, back then a blue belt running an academy called Warehouse BJJ) and after that I ended up at Gracie Barra Greece, where I still belong, the last 9+ years.

3. You have travelled all over the world, training and competing in BJJ, please tell in detail us about your travels.

Well, this will be a long answer! My first BJJ-travel experience was as mentioned above, in 2003. I had just graduated from Physical Education University and decided to travel all over South America and ended up getting destroyed in BJJ by small kids and girls in some Brazilian dojo!
Between 2003-2007 I was based mostly in Athens and had limited time and resources to travel because of my post-graduate studies and my 16 month long military service. Despite that I was training a lot at Gracie Barra Greece. During this period I did manage to travel for competitions: 4 times to the UK, twice to Portugal, and once to Sweden, Germany and Hungary. At the end of 2006 I went for 2 months to Brazil to train and compete. I stayed in Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Buzios and Florianopolis. Soon after that trip I got awarded my purple belt.
During the summer of 2007 and for a period of 5 months I moved out of Athens because of lifeguarding work at a Southern Greek Island called Crete. This was my 2nd season at the island, which I still consider one of the most beautiful places in the world. Two more seasons have followed until today (summer 2009 and summer 2011). My training intensity and quality in Crete during these 3 summer seasons drops a lot, because of the lack of reliable and skilled partners. Despite that every time I go at the island more and more people are interested to train with me and I am planning another return there during an upcoming summer season.

Dimitris in Thailand

After I returned to Athens from Crete, I did few more travels around Europe and at the end of 2007 I moved to Shanghai. I stayed a year in China teaching Physical Education and swimming at International Schools and residential compounds; which at that time was my main profession. Parallel to that I was training and from time to time I was teaching at Shanghai BJJ (http://shanghaibjj.com/). Living in Shanghai was not that easy due to the massiveness and the pollution of the place but my BJJ friends made my stay there enjoyable. While based in Shanghai I participated in many regional competitions and travelled to places such as Hong Kong, Australia, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Jordan, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and United Arab Emirates, etc.
After leaving from Shanghai, I felt again that it was time to train a bit more seriously so I moved for 3 months to Brazil, staying mostly in Florianopolis. Living in the Santa Catarina State capital, is one of my highlights of my BJJ life so far. I was dividing my time there between training BJJ, eating, surfing and swimming in the ocean, relaxing, cycling and hiking in the mountains and just a bit of partying! Few months after I was promoted to Brown Belt from Draculino himself at his annual seminar at Gracie Barra Greece, on September 2009.  (The only belt I got personally from his hands; when I got awarded my blue belt; 2005, purple belt; 2007 and black belt; 2011, I couldn’t attend his seminar due to my travels).
Because I had already lived, travelled and competed in Asia for some time I have developed a great network there. Through that network I got a BJJ teaching job from a Martial Arts academy in Bangkok, Thailand, called Executive Martial Arts Center (http://www.emacthailand.com). That was a pivotal point to my career since the people there really embraced and trusted my BJJ skills and gave me the chance to evolve a lot professionally and as a person. Around that time I decided to keep Bangkok as my base and travel around whenever I got good and interesting BJJ related offers.
I have lived the last 2+ years in Thailand travelling in and out of the country at will. These 2+ years also include 3 months teaching and training at the largest Thai Boxing-MMA camp of the country; Tiger Muay Thai at Phuket (http://www.tigermuaythai.com/). Once again I made some travels to compete in regional tournaments; mostly to Japan and United Arab Emirates. I also finally made it to the States for the Pan-Ams, where I lost by points, but also taught to more exotic places such as Indonesia (I stayed 6 weeks there teaching BJJ to the 2 kids of a wealthy British tourist and surfing the rest of the day!)

In Abu Dhabi

For 3 months at the beginning of 2011 I went to New Zealand for a series of seminars and classes in 7 different academies. The difference of that trip was that I was cycling from place to place. I rode my bicycle, carrying my tent, my gear, food, water, my kimono and my brown belt around the country doing mostly freedom camping. After 81 days I cycled 5514 kilometers and saw some awesome landscapes plus I managed to fly all the way to the exotic Cook Islands for a break from teaching and cycling. Two of the most memorable moments of my BJJ life happened during that trip. The first was teaching BJJ skills at the Rugby team of the NZ infantry; the guys were massive and really good in learning BJJ! The second was teaching a seminar at a Maori High-School (Maoris are the NZ native population). At the end of the seminar the students performed a Haka, the traditional dance of the Maoris that is reserved for special occasions such as welcoming and farewell of friends and guest, war preparations, before big sporting events etc. Also they gave me a traditional wooden axe, a gift that goes from warriors to warriors!
From December 2011 until March 2012 I was based in Africa, and specifically South Africa. Amongst cage shark diving, experiencing the Zulu culture, surfing and many travels I gave 6 seminars and taught several classes in different towns. I also fought and won a pro MMA fight at Cape Town. With my visit at South Africa I achieved one big accomplishment since I have competed in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Middle East, North and South America.
Just before returning to Europe at March 2012, I took the chance to be the first black belt to visit and teach at the Kingdom of Swaziland; a tiny country between South Africa and Mozambique. I was invited there by an American BJJ practitioner whose wife is the director of a hospital treating HIV and Tuberculosis. Swaziland has the highest rates of HIV and TB patients in the world with percentages ranging from 25% in towns up to 80% in rural areas for both deceases. I did few classes and a seminar and all money gathered were donated to local charities; including an orphanage that we delivered food and drinks for the kids.  Spending 5 days there was one of the most educating, eye-opening pleasant and unpleasant at the same time experience I ever had.
As mentioned I just came to Bulgaria to continue teaching and enjoying the BJJ lifestyle here for the next 6 months. Things are great here and I am happy!

Read Part 2 Here