My name is Oswaldo Vasquez, from Xela, Guatemala. At 13 years old I decided to look for opportunity in the United States because my family was experiencing an economic crisis. I crossed the desert in 4 nights and 5 days, arriving in California with the goal of helping my mother and grandparents, so I began working as a dishwasher in restaurants. The work was long and hard, but I was making money for my family. One day I found myself lonely and hungry, so I went to buy something to eat. When I walked past Vons Supermarket on Ventura Blvd I saw a sign for an academy that said “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gracie Barra.” I didn’t hesitate to ask about the program – a decision that changed my life.
Inside I met the instructor, Erik Klinger, who welcomed me as if he had known me for many years. I felt at home, and I took the opportunity to ask about the monthly prices for the classes. But since I couldn’t pay, he offered to give me a free lesson. I accepted the offer, and after the free class I enrolled in his program. Immediately, I was hooked. I attended class every day, arriving early and staying late to train as much as possible.
After three months Prof Erik told me he wanted to talk to me. I was a little nervous. Is everything okay? Did I do something wrong? He said, “Oswaldo, I’ve been watching you train. You are a great student, and I’d like you to help teach the kids.”
I had no words – I felt tears burning in my eyes. I responded “Yes, Professor, it’s my dream to teach these children.” After a few days of teaching, I told Professor Erik that my dream goal was to open an academy in my home country of Guatemala, to which he always told me: “With a lot of effort, you can accomplish it.”
Years passed, until a day in 2011 when my mother called me and told me my grandparents were gravely ill. I had to go back to my country. I completely lost contact with Erik for 4 years. When I finally got in touch with him, he brought up the idea of opening a BJJ academy in Xela, Guatemala. Since then it has been a whirlwind of change. IJEF has brought my students gis, mats, and the inspiration to train and become better people.
Everything BJJ has given me is kept and carried in my happy heart. In this short bio, I have been able to express the feelings I wanted to shout to the world: thanks to God and professor Erik for helping me learn to be who I am today. Again, thank you for the life lessons and for pulling me up from darkness. Thank you again to Erik and IJEF for blessing me, and I hope one day God will allow me to thank the people of IJEF in person.