Todd Pisarich is a Renaissance man. He is well educated and excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. He is a veteran who deeply loves his country and is not afraid to speak his mind. He is a loving husband and father, as well as a respected mentor to his many students. This is a man who has paid his dues, a proud US Marine who has always welcomed challenges and never backed down regardless of the circumstances before him. Todd Pisarich is also an expert in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and has carved out a remarkable career for himself over the past seventeen years.
On any given day, Todd spends literally hours on the phone, in conversation and answering hundreds of text messages. He seldom sleeps at night because the demons from his multiple tours of duty still haunt him to this day. He never complains about it, he just puts the lack of shut eye to good use. He takes calls almost 24/ 7 from his students, their partners or family members because he genuinely cares about them all. “I am the father, I am the mother, I am the pastor and the counselor…whatever they need, they can count on me – we are family,” Todd said. When someone enters into one of Todd’s programs and begins studying the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he will become a part of this very special brotherhood.
When someone is in need of help, they all come running. Nothing is ever an inconvenience or imposition…it is all for one and one for all. The Academy offers classes for very young children as well as adults. The programs are for 3 to 6 year olds, 7 to 12 year olds, and then the teen and adult program. Loyalty is the number one code of honor in this sport.
Todd grew up in Ocean Springs and always loved sports. He discovered martial arts at a very young age. Surfing became another passion and set the tone for a lifetime of riding waves whenever the opportunity presented itself. In 1987, Todd entered the Marine Corps and served eleven years, doing two tours overseas. Although he loved it and did America proud during his time as a Marine, when the time came to re-up he made the decision to leave. In the states, Todd had been a very successful recruiter but in order to continue in that capacity, he was expected to move to Lubbock, Texas. That location was failing and not up to par so the Marine Corp wanted Todd to go there and get the recruiting program back on track. It was an impossible situation because Todd had recently begun a martial arts business that was in it’s infancy and he needed to be there.
As a civilian, Todd settled in Diamondhead, Mississippi, and became a fireman. For four years he stayed with the Fire Department and steadily increased the membership of students at his Academy. “Being a firefighter was an amazing experience but I knew it was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. There was no doubt about it…martial arts was where I really excelled and where I belonged,” Todd said. Once again, another opportunity arose, and once again Todd became a public servant. He was now a Federal Police Officer. Training took place at the Federal Police Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Todd was there when 9/11 changed our lives forever and he was put on a new detail involving national security. “We protected nuclear sites and strategic petroleum sites, and I was one out of ten people chosen to be a canine handler for the federal government on a special SWAT team,” Todd said. After graduating from the Academy in New Mexico, Todd went to the Federal Canine Trainer School. He successfully completed his training and then went to work in New Orleans, Louisiana. “I am very good at defusing volatile situations, and calming chaos,” he said.
For four years, Todd commuted from Diamondhead to New Orleans in order to work on the police force with his canine partner. He had to leave his house at 3:00 a.m every day, and be ready to hit the streets at 5:00 a.m sharp. “I had to be on duty, locked, loaded and with my dog” he said. In addition, Todd was running his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school and teaching classes. If that wasn’t enough, he also agreed to help coach his then wife’s cheerleading squad. “First I was in charge of all the tumbling, then it became all the physical fitness exercises as well. I was spread so thin but didn’t know how to stop it, I had just too much to do,” Todd said. The couple was very successful financially but the physical toll on Todd was great and he was beyond exhausted. He couldn’t keep working around the clock in addition to the long commute and something had to give. “It was hard to let that kind of income go but there was no choice, my health was going downhill fast,” he said. It turned out that Todd was suffering from Desert War Syndrome. It is a Gulf War illness that presents in a multitude of symptoms, and it never goes away. Fatigue comes at the head of the list.
A seventeen year marriage dissolved due to a difference of opinion as to how Todd would continue to make a living. He wanted to follow his dream and be a master of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, engage in competitions and continue to teach his students. His wife at the time, felt he needed to get a “regular” job with benefits to support a family. Todd knew he would never give up what he worked so hard for. This sport and everything that came along with it was too important to him and they grew further and further apart until the marriage was over. She did not understand his vision and felt it was a gamble but Todd was completely sure about the path he had chosen and never gave up. When Todd saw the UFC on television, and saw Royce Gracie fight…that was it. “The Gracie’s started it all. Carlos Gracie is the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the entire family is legend,” Todd said.
Todd remembers well how there was little interest in MMA sports in America when he started. There were only a handful of guys who were actively pursuing a career or being scheduled in fights. Brazilian athletes came to the United States, barely speaking a word of English and began to set up shop to teach Jiu- Jitsu. They taught in garages and any where else they could find. From these very humble beginnings, MMA has become a worldwide phenomenon and Americans can’t get enough. To understand the scope of this, the International BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) Federation Pan Ams which are held in California, is the largest BJJ tournament in North America. There will be 14,000 individual adult competitors. Children compete in a separate Pan Am event and the numbers are also staggering.
As Todd was learning the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu he traveled all over the country to train. While in his twenties, he drove to Miami, Florida, from the Coast and attended the very first Gracie seminar in America. In those days, when you took a road trip, all you had was a map to go by, there were no GPS systems or anything else to assist you while traveling. Todd met a very young Pablo Popovitch and his family in Miami as well. Pablo went on to be one of the best BJJ fighters in the world.
Todd trained with a Professor in Dallas and had to pay $160 a month just to be part of his association.(When you earn your Black belt in BJJ, you are then known as a Professor) The cost of gas round trip, hotel fees, and food, made it hard. In Dallas, he was also charged an exorbitant fee just to step on the mat! Regardless of the expense, the constant travel, and the many hardships along the way, Todd accomplished his ultimate goal. He has been awarded five Black belts for excellence in five different areas of mixed martial arts. Todd also eventually reached the pinnacle of success in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. “That was the most difficult and means the most to me. I had to work incredibly hard to get it,” he said. Todd also frequently traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to train, and Kentucky and Louisiana.
As is so often the case in the world of sports, politics plays a big part in BJJ as well. Todd Pisaraich does not subscribe to any of it. At The Academy there is always a mutual respect among the athletes. Everyone is on equal footing and they support one another. The Academy is fondly referred to as a “Mom and Pop” operation by Todd and he wouldn’t want it any other way. He doesn’t envy the huge corporate type MMA businesses, Todd likes the one-on-one, personal relationships he enjoys with his students and their families. There is no staff or a long list of employees, Todd insists on doing everything himself with the assistance of his wife, Juliette, who handles the office and bookkeeping. “Parents don’t want someone else teaching their kids, they want me because that is what they are paying for. When I need help, I can trust my adult students to pitch in and they are all too happy to do so,” he said.
Todd came into BJJ/MMA already an accomplished athlete. BJJ is like a chess match, and it is very technical. “It is not about who is bigger or stronger, it is about calculating the moves and the knowing all the positions. This is a skill that cannot be mastered quickly, it takes time and requires patience,” he said. It is true that there are guys who are born with a natural ability and they pick it up very quickly but that is rare. It normally takes eight to ten years to earn a Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but it is not uncommon to take even longer. Todd was in the sport for fifteen years before he was awarded his Black belt. The constant traveling cut into his training time.
It took Todd seven years to find his current Professor, Helio Soneca. They were introduced at a BBJ seminar, and Todd was struck with how different he was from the other Brazilian Professors he had known. Almost immediately, Soneca took him under his wing. Todd was always welcome to come to his school, and the outrageous expenses for travel were no longer an issue. Soneca insisted that he stay with him and he could not have been more generous, sharing food and all the comforts of home. The friendship grew over time, and it was clear that Todd could count on Helio which deepend the relationship. The two men have been a team ever since. Helio is also a part of the famous Gracie family. “This man is a legend…he is a Drew Brees, he is a Michael Jordan. We talk about BJJ and everything else in our lives, nothing is off limits. This is a very unusual dynamic between a Professor and his student. Helio is also my house guest whenever he comes into town, we are family,” Todd said.
It was a rough road for many years but having accomplished what he set out to do, becoming a master of five MMA sports, Todd is content and very happy with the status quo. He oversees the daily operations of The Academy, while instructing his multitude of students. He also has a second Academy location in Pensacola, Florida where he teaches two days a week. A very prestigous honor was bestowed upon him to go along with the many trophies and awards he has garnered over the years, Todd Pisarich was nominated to be in the Black Belt Hall of Fame. He has groomed NAGA champions, Gracie World champions, and Grappler’s Quest champions. He has produced amateur MMA Cage Fighters and Pro MMA Cage Fighters. “It may appear that I work only a few hours every day but that is not true. My responsibilities to my students is never ending, I love it and I take it very seriously. I try to make a difference in their lives but I am also a dad and a husband…I have to wear many hats,” he said.
Todd’s oldest son, Shiloh, has followed in his famous father’s footsteps and is also a Pro fighter. Since the age of five, he has been competing in national events. Shiloh has won numerous MMA competitions including the NAGA, the Gracie World, and Grappler’s Quest. He recently turned twenty one and became a father himself. “I am now a Pop Pop, “ Todd said grinning ear to ear. Todd was nicknamed, “Paw Paw” by Soneca and his students long ago because he is considered the old guy. Todd is only 43 but he is much older than the people he trains and works with at The Academy. It is a loving tribute to his longevity in the sport and for the respect he has earned.
In the early days, you never knew who your opponent would be. Quite often fighters were horribly mismatched, and were seldom compatible in their level of experience. Today, before the men are slated to do battle in the cage, they know everything there is to know about each other. They study previous fights on YouTube and do extensive research…whatever they have to do to give them an edge. “When I started, you show up, you weigh in and you were set up with your opponent – no preparation and nothing to go by, you are complete strangers and were clueless as to what kind of fighter you were up against,” Todd said. Todd’s first fight was the result of starting out as a spectator and having the desire to get in the cage. He contacted the promoter by phone and said he wanted to fight in the next show and it didn’t matter who it was. Three months later he fought a very experienced, winning fighter. He went all by himself, with no assistants, no corner man, he just showed up to fight. Todd lasted three rounds but lost to a decision. Six months later, after some serious training and preparation, Todd fought the same man again and choked him out.
The injuries are relentless as a BJJ fighter. “I am so beat up and I will never be the same,” Todd said. This is a combat sport and it is one man against another, four or five times a week. It takes a terrible toll on the body. Todd has been injured over and over again through his career. Torn knees, cracked shins and elbows, broken fingers and spine injuries are part of the game. Ligaments are constantly torn in the arms and legs…that is why this is a young man’s sport. “I have some very important advice to guys that are involved in MMA sports…Don’t be a tough guy in class with your training partners, don’t be a fool, tap early rather than sustaining a life long injury to yourself or your team mate. You don’t want to be a statistic, you don’t want to be hurt for the rest of your life,” Todd said. “If I could go back and do it all over again, I would train smarter, get rid of the ego, and get a handle on the testosterone levels,” he added. Todd is always open to new ideas and training techniques. His students are given opportunities to teach and share in the spotlight whenever it can benefit the group. “I want everyone to shine,” Todd said.
Todd Pisarich and his wife and young children love exotic animals. Over the years they have raised a cougar, huge snakes, and other big cats that have lived with them under the same roof. A fascination with wild life began when Todd was a boy, he would catch snakes and alligators with no thought of the danger involved. For him, it was as natural as breathing. The family hopes to have more big cats one day, and would love to raise a tiger cub into adulthood. For now, the Pisarich household enjoys the company of their beloved dogs.
Todd is a devoted listener of Talk Radio, and his favorite programs are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Howard Stern. “I make it a point to learn something new everyday. If you get to the point where you think you know it all? You might as well hang it up,” he said. On the homefront, Todd loves to cook. He and his family just moved into a new house and there was no doubt who was the keeper of the kitchen.
For more information on The Academy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, check out todd pisarich on facebook or go to the website Pisarich You may also call 228-234-2506 to speak to someone at the Ocean Springs location.

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