Published June 21, 2016
Volume 24, Number 6

Dave Camarillo Brings a Lifetime in Martial Arts to Guerrilla


By Jay Hipps

At Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu, Dave Camarillo’s academies in Hacienda and San Jose, activities are offered for children as young as three years old. From that perspective, Camarillo, the son of noted instructor and founder of Bakersfield’s South Valley Judo, Jim Camarillo, was a relative latecomer to the martial arts. He began his training at age five.
Dave Camarillo“My parents made judo a part of everyday life, just like regular school,” he says. “Five days a week, we generally trained in the evenings from roughly 5:30 to 7:30. As soon as my parents were done with their regular jobs, it was time to get your gi (judo uniform) and then get in the car and go to the dojo, the academy. Eventually, my father felt it wasn't enough because we were high level competitors, and so he built a six car garage in our back pasture and he matted the whole garage so even on Saturday or Sundays we would train as well. We were training six days a week as early as 10 years old.”
That sort of disciplined schedule would be difficult for most children to accept and that was true for Camarillo as well.
“To be honest, I wanted to quit many, many times, like most people who do anything. The option was never there, and I actually fell in love with it at about 15 years old,” he says. “Once I fell in love with it, I did not need any external pressures to do it. I understood that all of this investment shouldn't go to waste by me just quitting, because every skill is perishable.”
To Camarillo, his early commitment to martial arts was just part of growing up. “I relate it to school. Every child wants to quit school at one time in their life,” he says. “They have a bad day, a little bit of frustration — maybe the teacher does something they don't like or some student does something they don't like or they're being bullied. No parent would say it's OK for you to quit school. My parents just took it one step further — there's really no difference except this was an extra, functional investment in my future. And now it's my career.”
He began to see the fruits of his labor through success in competitions, an element of his life that began at age six and continued for almost 20 years.  “I won the junior nationals, I won third place in the Junior Olympics, and then I started competing in high school,” he recalls. “I won the high school nationals, I won the collegiate nationals, and then I started competing and having success internationally.”
His growing skills gave him a doorway to new experiences which, in turn, provided an opportunity both to enhance his skill set and discover new meaning in the martial arts culture in which he had been raised.
“I would spend my summers in Japan for a few years — basically just saturate myself in the world of judo in Japan, and that really elevated my skill level and prepared me for future tournaments,” he says. His experience was also cultural. “I learned to speak a little bit of Japanese but also grew to understand things like the importance of respect and bowing. Why do we bow? When you're in Japan, you gain a higher deeper respect for everything that they’re doing since it originated there.”
At 19, he branched out into a different martial art, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a South American form of an art which originated in Japan. He found it perfectly complemented the judo which had formed the basis of his training to that point.
“Judo focuses on throwing an opponent — jiu-jitsu focuses on the aftermath, more of the groundwork,” he says. “A lot of the tournaments that I had in judo I would win on the ground after learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu and incorporating it into my judo game.” His aptitude and ability had already been rewarded with a black belt in judo at age 17, and he followed that up with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under renowned teachers Cesar and Ralph Gracie at age 26.
He began teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the Gracies and followed that up teaching at the American Kickboxing Academy, one of the pioneering schools in mixed martial arts. That experience allowed him to move into larger arenas. “There, I had the opportunity to work with fighters and I created and actually won six world titles as a trainer, training fighters to have the proper skills in mixed martial arts competition,” he says. “I would say the highlight of my work training fighters was when Cain Velasquez won the UFC heavyweight title in 2010. I was in that corner and I had trained Cain from the beginning of his professional career. That was a huge thing, where I developed a fighter from the start all the way into the highest level of competition and being victorious.”
While his success as a trainer was gratifying, it also provided Camarillo with the insight that, as he puts it, “training fighters is not a career — it's not financially feasible.” That realization helped spur him to create his own academy, Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu, which he sees as the culmination of all his experience in martial arts.
“Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu gives us a platform to create something that doesn't exist and that we feel people need in their lives,” he says. “For example, we start at three years old — if you have a son or daughter and they're three they can start their journey to become extremely aware of not only their changing bodies, their confidence, and developing these relationships within this martial arts academy but also have a better understanding of whatever the world can throw at them and how they can handle it. That doesn't exist in anything else. Basketball is outstanding for coordination and physical fitness, but that’s pretty much where it stops. Martial arts, to us, is one of the greatest gifts you can give somebody.”
Given the remarkable breadth of Camarillo’s experience, it is easy to see his point. “I’m not trying to pat myself on the back but the reality is I'm probably one of the most experienced martial artists in the world, because I've had so much experience with people that are on an elite level in so many different areas and I've embedded myself in those arenas, those environments,” he says. “I've trained with the best in Judo. I've trained with the best in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I've trained with the best in mixed martial arts and I've trained with top military, individuals that again have done things on an elite level. That's information that most people don't have access to. Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu is a culmination of all of those experiences but those experiences on that highest level. Its refinement is what I would consider the closest thing to truth — truth being a system of self-defense which gives the student not only confidence but the actual technical and mental ability to handle themselves in most any confrontation they can find themselves in. That’s a power that we give to people; at the same time our culture makes them respect that power. They have the responsibility on both sides of the coin — the positivity and the good nature to control what they’re given on the other side of the coin, which is the power to manipulate things in front of them that could do themselves or their family harm”
In addition to the two locations of Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu in Pleasanton and San Jose, Camarillo works training what he is only permitted to describe as “an elite U.S. military group.”
Still, he emphasizes that the ambition to perform at the highest levels is not required to benefit from Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu’s training. Programs are offered for children and adults, with a specialized women’s self-defense program available as well. Together, he says the programs offer benefits including positive, life changing experiences; confidence building; teamwork; weight loss; increased flexibility; stress relief, and mental and physical toughness.
Above all, he says there is one primary value behind his work. “Respect is number one, because if you're respectful then you will have control and responsibility over the power we give you,” he says. “In my opinion, that's half of the formula for success.”
For more information on Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu, access www.guerrillajiujitsu.com.


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