Tom De Blas: How MMA fighters overcome childhood abuse and father’s dependence on becoming champions

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He was too young at the time to really understand that this was the result of an alcohol addiction, but his family tried to explain to him anyway, referring to the ragged-looking “slips” on the nights he went home.

On those occasions, De Blas-a former mixed martial arts player who had participated in UFC and Bellator-knew something was wrong.

“His hair would flatten when he was drunk,” De Blas recalled to CNN Sport. “Usually, he would brush it back, [but] Anytime he gets drunk, it will lay aside. I knew immediately that today would not be a good day.

“Some days, he is really, really great, super sweet and kind, some days, he is not very kind. His voice will rise, he is not affectionate, and then I realize that some things…not smooth .

“At the time I really didn’t understand what alcoholism was, but I knew something was not normal.”

Tom DeBlass and his father Tom DeBlass Sr.

His father’s alcoholism and drug addiction were recurring themes throughout De Blas’s childhood. On the day he was born, DeBlass said that the police had to be called to his house to “take me out of my father’s hand” because he was drunk.

A week later, old Tom took an overdose in Harlem, New York, one of the times he had to be hospitalized.

De Blas soon discovered that physical exercise helped him deal with the chaos caused by the difficulties of family life.

In his new autobiography “How Do You Endure: Victory and Resilience in Life”, De Blas described his youth sport as a “desperate escape”, although he eventually performed well in martial arts, he was initially discovered through football This release.

However, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu finally caught DeBlass and never let go.

Now 39 years old and retired from fighting sports, he enjoys a brilliant career. He has won multiple gold medals in ADCC competitions-the highest level of fighting and submission discipline-and won contracts in UFC and Bellator, both worlds The most prestigious MMA organization in China.

Sexual abuse

Most of DeBlass’ books revolve around car trips when he and his father are driving to and from the clinic for treatment.

DeBlass will fill his father at the moments he was absent or forgotten due to the influence of alcohol and drugs in his childhood.

But for a moment, he could never tell his father. De Blas said that when he was seven years old, he was molested by an older child.

“I never resented this person,” he told CNN. “I don’t know why, because I assume they are also in a terrible situation in their lives and have witnessed something.

“I always try to go deep into my heart and say:’Why are you doing this? What is good and what is bad?’ I think I just started to understand that some of my flaws are because of this. I have never asked for it. .That just happened to me.

“People say everything has a reason, and I don’t think it’s true. I think that’s nonsense. Not everything happens for a reason. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, you know. ?”

De Blas overcame his sentimental childhood and continued to participate in UFC competitions.

De Blas said that he came from a staunchly religious family, which made his mood even more chaotic because he felt guilty for the incident.

“When you were a child, you were pure and naive. I believed in Jesus very much and in God, and I still do that now,” he said. “When that happened, I thought it was my fault.

“I thought it was all my fault. I thought I was going to hell. I remember I went downstairs and I had a little fool plush toy. I cried, I said I had a headache, but I cried because I thought I will go to hell.

“For many years, I have been feeling guilty, like my fault. This may be one of the biggest things that changed me, because in order to cope with and deal with life, I have to like to make myself feelingless. I have to let myself Don’t care, because if I care, I will be overwhelmed.”

This incident continued to affect De Blas’ adult life and the way he built relationships with people at school as a young man.

It took him decades to deal with the complex emotions caused by being sexually harassed, and De Blas believes that he didn’t really feel calm about what happened until he finished writing this book.

De Blas, covered in scars and tattoos, looked like a battle-tested fighter, his tough appearance was interrupted by a low, rough voice.

In a world where men are often expected to remain tough and internalize their emotions, De Blas hopes that his candor will help break this stigma towards other people.

“Because if I talk about it, how many other men are helping you, do you know?” he said.

“Look at me… I’m a rough guy, buddy. Even if you don’t know I’m a fighter, I look rough–if I can get through it, anyone can pass it.

“So I think this is [writing the book] Really helped me. You know, I want to go back to what I said,’Not everything has a reason. Maybe this happened to me for a reason, you know, to help me understand, reach out and help other people. “

Old Tom De Blas and his grandson

Heal through exercise

As he continued to work hard to deal with his emotions, De Blas wrote in his book that he began to think about suicide when he was in his 20s.

In those dark moments, he said that Jiu-Jitsu saves him from depression, but sports always comforts De Blas.

When he was four years old, he began to learn about football and discovered his first martial arts taekwondo in the second grade. Although he was too young to realize this at the time, in hindsight, De Blas admitted that when he was a child, physical activity played a vital role in his mental health.

“Exercise is physical activity. It has been proven that physical activity can increase serotonin levels and release endorphins… it is good for your health.

“So I think the most likely thing is that when I’m doing this, it’s just… through physical activity to eliminate any form of offensive or repressive resentment or anger.”

De Blas no longer likes taekwondo-he said that at that age, taekwondo was taught to be non-contact-and then he did not learn martial arts for more than a decade.

In his early 20s, DeBlass started teaching children in special education after earning a university teacher degree, but at this time he discovered a new passion for martial arts.

De Blas said his father struggled with drug addiction throughout his childhood.

While he was still in school, De Blas entered the Jiu-Jitsu Academy for the first time. Although he started teaching full-time after graduation, his training has never diminished.

Every night after get off work, he would drive one and a half hours to train for four hours, and then drive back to get up early to prepare for the next day of teaching.

From the beginning, DeBlass was attracted to Jiu-Jitsu.

“You are not punching or being hit, it doesn’t look like a blunt weapon to you,” he explained.

“Jiu-Jitsu is more like a push-pull thing. It is very complicated and easily addictive. Every day, you are learning something that you think does not exist. Until today, as a black belt for 13 years, the more I learn More and more.

“Practicing Jiu-Jitsu really needs to be consistent with your own body. You must understand your own body. You must understand how to exercise. You must understand your strengths and weaknesses. Know yourself: Know yourself things you didn’t necessarily know before.

“I don’t believe other martial arts can do this like Jiu-Jitsu. This is a special thing, like playing a board game every day. I always tell Jiu-Jitsu people:’Don’t hit it,’ play.’ Don’t Think of Jiu-Jitsu as a fight, and think of Jiu-Jitsu as a game. When you think of Jiu-Jitsu as a game, it’s much more interesting.”

After talking with the teacher, DeBlass decided to devote himself to martial arts full-time and opened his own school in 2004: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Ocean County, New Jersey.

“I have a handmade sign because I can’t afford a real sign,” he recalled with a smile. “All of this is distorted-I am not very artistic-this is just the history from there. I just can continue to grow and grow.”

De Blas and his son.

In addition to owning his own school, De Blas-which is incredible, he said he has always been the weakest member of the family-continued to improve and eventually won the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, which he has now maintained 13 Black belt of the year. year.

During his professional fighting career, he participated in the famous UFC and Bellator mixed martial arts championships, and then retired in 2014 with a record of 9 wins and 2 losses.

De Blas can boast multiple gold medals in different projects, disciplines and weight classes—not to say that he is the type of boast—and finds it difficult to single out a career highlight.

“May win the ADCC North American trials three times. It’s like our Olympic trials,” he said. “Winning the Pan American Games…I don’t think there is only one game, because I think every game means different things to me.

“My most memorable time was my loss-when I lost in Sweden, it was my first loss in a mixed martial arts competition-because I realized that I was stronger than I thought. I can come back mentally, get up and move forward.”

Life course

DeBlass and his father died after being infected with Covid-19 earlier this year. They have established a strong relationship that he can rely on as an adult.

Even in those troubled early years, someone caught a glimpse of the father who the old De Blas would become.

“When he didn’t’slip and fall,’ he was the best father in the world,” De Blas recalled his childhood.

De Blas said that he learned from his father to admit his mistakes. He learned his professional ethics from his mother, and DeBlass described her as the hardest working woman he has ever seen.

To this day, he is still in awe of the power his mother has shown during those years, being with his father at the lowest moment of his addiction.

De Blas said his father was

“If my mom leaves my dad, [he] There is no doubt that I will die soon, I will have no father,” he said. “You know, I will not have that male image, it taught me unconditional love.

Despite his difficult childhood, De Blas said that the characteristics he learned from his parents — plus the lessons he learned as a teacher — made him a better Jiu-Jitsu teacher.

Among those who came to his school, he saw a lot of his past self.

“A lot of kids who do this, it will help them… Maybe it’s not something they will do forever, but some adults who find me, this is the last chance for some of them,” he said.

“They are just tired of life, they are tired, they are stressed, they are lonely, they are angry, I think Jiu-Jitsu gives them an outlet they have never had before.

“So in general, I am grateful to provide an environment where people from all walks of life are here-your skin color does not matter, your religion does not matter, your preference…what It doesn’t matter, man. Everyone is equal. You just sit on a mat and train.”


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