School teacher moonlights as cage fighterBy Carley Dangona
WEST SPRINGFIELD By day, Kym Sturdivant is a mathematics teacher at Van Sickle Middle School in Springfield; by night, he morphs into a cage fighter at Gabriel Gladiator Training Center in West Springfield.
Originally, Sturdivant was a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. He began studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in 2007. Currently, he's a purple belt in BJJ and "would love to be a world champion one day."
Sturdivant said that students do ask him about fighting. They'll Google him and come in with questions about his fights and his training. While he doesn't discuss it much with other teachers, his assistant principal is a fan of the sport.
Sturdivant, a Springfield native, said, "I could be described as a kid on the fence. I had good grades but after school I would hang out with a bad crowd." Sturdivant explained that in high school, a coach encouraged him to play sports such as wrestling and football, in an effort to keep him from having the time to get into trouble.
His academic background is in finance and economics and examining developing countries and their social issues. Sturdivant described his interests as "looking at how to fix some of the things I saw growing up."
When the local economy didn't provide opportunities in his field, Sturdivant turned to teaching. Long-term, he would like to enter the field of school administration.
"I look at math differently than other math teachers. They look at the numbers and I look at ways to manipulate the numbers. I look more the statistics [aspect of math]," he said.
Sturdivant met Gabriel "Gladiator" Santos, MMA fighter, instructor and owner of the training center at one of his early fights.
"He's very honest, very fair," Sturdivant explained the appeal of Santos and his gym. "I appreciate the knowledge that he gives me. I have respect for that knowledge and the respect that he has for his students. We're very, very similar. That's the thing that attracted me to Gladiator. Being around him changed me as a person. As a competitor, it's like night and day with him. The switch flips and he becomes a person you don't want to be on the other side of the cage from. When he competes it's always world class."
Santos said, "He's the gentlest person that I've ever met. He's a very humble person. Kym knows he has more technique than [some of] the other students, but he allows them to work. He's a guaranteed madman during competition an awesome competitor. He likes to compete and is dedicated to his training. If you love it, you learn."
In addition to working full time as a teacher and training, Sturdivant is raising four children with his wife Natasha: Dametrius, 13; Kym "KJ" Jr., 5; Kameron, 5; and Kayden, 1. All the kids, except Kayden, train at Gladiator's.
"My wife realizes what my goals and dreams are, and more importantly how training makes me a better husband and a better father," Sturdivant said.
He added that in 2009, the couple lost their 10-day-old daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. As a result, Sturdivant deals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"Training helps control that," he said. "No matter what's going on I'm relaxed."
He continued, "If I'm not here for a week, I'm on edge. You go into shock. It's kind of like therapy but more effective." He noted there's research that shows a correlation between PTSD and BJJ, and that the military uses it to help returning soldiers readjust.
Sturdivant "doesn't worry about promotions," but greatly values competing in tournaments.
"I can improve at a faster rate by competing because I see my mistakes in actual battle situations," he said.
His training regiment focuses on improving his BJJ technique and physical conditioning. He is 245 pounds and competes every other month on average.
"I have a great group of training partners here to help me get ready," he said. "Just before stepping into the cage, I don't feel anything, I'm just relaxed. It's like water; it just flows. I don't strategize. I know what works for me and I'm comfortable with what we do here, I'm comfortable with my instruction. I'm prepared for whatever position I'm put in when I get on the mat."
Sturdivant said, "I'm a teacher at heart. I like coming in and sparring with the white belts, helping them with their mistakes, showing them techniques that work for me. For me, coaching them equates to paying it forward."
Santos stated, "That's what makes us different [from other gyms], we're like a family. Everybody helps each other to improve. I try to teach the students what I learned as a student of Carlson Gracie BJJ. We train really hard here. You're exhausted by the end of a session. We prepare for every situation the worst positions you could possibly be put into, so we can be better prepared for fights."
He continued, "BJJ teaches students to respect everyone. It's a lifestyle that helps develop character."
New students wanting to learn BJJ are welcome at Gladiator's.
For more information, visit www.gabrielgladiator.com or call 273-1145.