For Tommy Montoya, the world of martial arts represents a safe space. Growing up in a single-parent household, Montoya gravitated toward Jiujitsu at the age of 14 in the hopes of finding life guidance, mentorship and a positive influence. He found that the practice went far beyond kicks and punches — it strengthened his mind and spirit while imparting lessons such as building self-confidence, learning how to handle life’s curveballs and understanding the value of treating yourself and others with respect. It’s these life lessons Montoya now works to bestow upon the young athletes he trains at his gym, Gracie Allegiance. Whether he’s representing Corpus Christi at the No-Gi Worlds competition or training the next generation of champions at his local gym, Montoya’s passion is evident.
You moved back to your hometown of Corpus Christi in your 20s and eventually opened a Jiujitsu and fitness gym. What was that experience like, and why did you feel passionate about opening your own place?
TM: When I came home to Corpus Christi, I was initially working at a church as a youth pastor. It was a humbling and eye-opening experience, but my interaction with the youth was limited to an hour a week. The pastor allowed me to build a martial arts program within the church, which allowed me to have more time and opportunity with the community. Eventually, my program outgrew the space within the church and that prompted me to open my own gym, allowing me to reach even more people.
Your gym, Gracie Allegiance, has a mission centered around mentorship. Why is it important for the gym to be a safe and motivating space for youth?
TM: Growing up in a single parent home and losing my brother at an early age taught me the importance of having good role models who can provide guidance in a safe environment. I was one of the fortunate ones who was graced with strong role models in my life, and that eventually opened opportunities for me to grow beyond the limitations that were imposed upon me. That is why I strive to provide a safe and motivating space for all who seek to better themselves in our community.
The practice of Jiujitsu itself imparts life lessons such as building self-confidence and learning how to treat yourself and others with respect, which is a mission statement and vision shared by one of my mentors and friends, Clark Gracie of Gracie Allegiance.
Most recently, you competed in the very prestigious No-Gi Worlds in Anaheim, and won gold in your class, making you the World Champion in No-Gi Jiujitsu. Can you share how that winning moment felt?
TM: Winning at No-Gi Worlds in my division was a liberating feeling because it affirms my belief that with passion and consistency, anything is achievable. It took me four attempts before I was able to achieve this title, and with each of my previous attempts, my goal was to show up and be the best competitor to honor this art form that has given me so much. With each attempt, I prepared as best as possible but without ego, and without the medal in mind, other than the lessons of personal growth and building positive relationship in this journey. To finally see it all come to fruition felt surreal, but also as though it was always meant to be.
What did preparation for the competition look like?
TM: At the black belt level, No-Gi Worlds is a coveted title and always a goal for the serious competitor, and I am no different. I have been a black belt for six years, but I have been preparing for this competition for much longer than that. I have been training Jiujitsu for at least 13 hours a week, not including my strength and conditioning sessions, for the last 15 years. This formula of consistency and perseverance and smart training to avoid injury has allowed me to earn the much-coveted title of No-Gi World Champion.
What exactly is No-Gi Jiujitsu?
TM: Conde Koma, a Jiujitsu practitioner, was always willing to face a challenge and would consistently fight bigger and stronger opponents. His motivation wasn’t always about winning and instead more about facing challenging circumstances and obstacles. In 1908, he decided to compete in a hybrid grappling sport without a martial arts uniform (called a Gi). This style eventually became known as No-Gi Jiujitsu. The goal is to wrestle an opponent down to the ground utilizing a variety of leverage attacks including strangulations (chokes), leg locks and joint manipulation. It is a style that has been gaining popularity because it requires athleticism, speed, strength and technical mastery.
Now that you have a World Champion title, what’s next on your list to achieve?
TM: Even though I have achieved State, National and World titles, I plan on keeping active in the competition realm to continue my growth in this art. However, my focus is now mainly on mentoring and guiding the next generation of competitors and leaders. I am also working on becoming more proficient in mastering the principles of business development. We are trying to create a model within our gym that will allow the next generation to spread our vision of providing a safe environment for people who want to grow into their leadership potential.