Not all athletes are created equal. While some have the opportunity to devote themselves full-time to their athletic pursuits, others have to juggle that with making a living, especially if their chosen sport isn’t that popular or amply funded yet.
Meet Gian Dee, Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, Southeast Asian (SEA) Games Philippine representative, and IT consultant.
The 31-year-old first took up the martial art in 2008 after a stint in judo. After seeing that he had trouble escaping pin holds on the mat, his coach at the time recommended he should give jiu-jitsu a try. “That’s when I fell in love with jiu-jitsu,” Dee says.
By his own reckoning, his early days weren’t exactly promising. “I joined my first tournament after two months of jiu-jitsu training and I got choked out within a few minutes by a more senior competitor.”
But over time, he took to the sport, and by the following year was winning gold. After getting his blue belt, he stepped onto the international scene.
“One of my coaches, Ralph Go, told me there was a tournament in Japan called the Rickson Gracie Cup. I won one match then lost my second. I knew then that we Filipino jiu-jiteiros weren’t that far behind.”
These days, Dee balances a career in IT consulting with his training. When he’s not on the mats once or twice a day, the Ateneo de Manila graduate swaps out his gi for corporate attire as a specialist in warehouse management. Like a well-executed maneuver on the mat, it all boils down to finding the right balance.
“It has pros and cons definitely,” Dee explains of being a working athlete. “The time you can be resting instead of working can definitely help recover your body for a more productive training session daily but at the same time, working also provides a blanket of comfort in case you will need to retire from being an athlete.”
Taking it to the mat
As someone who enjoys the minute intricacies of the sport, Dee finds some similarities between his sport and his career. “[IT is] pretty much similar in terms of developing your abilities. [You have to] always evolve, and never settle [for being] mediocre.”
It’s the idea of a safety net, however, which keeps Dee in the corporate world despite his international success. He acknowledges that making a living in jiu-jitsu is difficult in today’s current climate, so as a former student-athlete, he sought out a career that would allow him to train as much as he needed while providing him the opportunity to secure his financial future.
He explained: “At the moment everything balances out so I can manage both at the same time, not all athletes can train every day let alone twice on some days. There will always be sacrifices but these sacrifices are a necessity to see the value of your work in both corporate and sports.”
Perhaps the financial situation for jiu-jiteiros like Dee will change soon.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is perhaps one of the fastest-growing sports in the country, with more and more clubs sprouting up in different regions. As a sport that’s not usually taught at the K-12 level, it’s easily accessible to participants of every age. “We definitely can see a lot of talent coming up in the kids and juvenile divisions, they will be the future of the sport,” Dee says.
Beyond aspirations of national glory, Dee also hopes to use his sport as a vehicle for something bigger.
“Jiu-jitsu can be much more than just competitions and medals, it can be used as a vehicle for social change," he said. "For me this is just as important as winning medals, to have a longer lasting impact on society."