Dedicated teacher Fernando Restrepo works as a restorative practices coach at Bronxdale High School. His passion is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and he spends his days giving lessons to students who attend Bronxdale and the other four high schools within the Christopher Columbus Educational Campus in the Bronx.
For his tireless efforts to improve the lives of his students and impart life lessons through martial arts, Restrepo is nominated for a Hometown Heroes in Education award.
Restrepo, 39, said he began studying jiu-jitsu in 2002, while he was still working as a teacher for young prisoners at Rikers Island.
“I figured I’d get started in a healthy practice,” Restrepo said.
He practiced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu daily. Eventually he decided to work helping at-risk youth in traditional city schools.
“Rikers is tough work. I thought it would be useful to help black and brown students,” Restrepo said.
“I was working with young people who have been incarcerated. I decided to work with students in social studies to stop them from going to Rikers.”
Restrepo landed his current position at Bronxdale in 2015, where he helps students alleviate stress and avoid conflicts.
His jiu-jitsu programs at the Columbus campus now boast around two dozen students who train regularly in twice-weekly 90-minute classes.
Restrepo said he has plenty of support from the faculty.
“The principal loves the paradoxical thing where I spend most of my day teaching kids not to fight and now I teach them how to fight, how to grapple,” Restrepo said.
Not only does his program teach students to be humble and confident, but Restrepo says it also offers them a chance to practice something they would not otherwise be able to attain.
“Growing up, I couldn’t afford it,” Restrepo said. “For me, the idea here is to provide free access to Brazilian jiu-jitsu.”
Through generous donations from people within the martial arts community, Restrepo received much-needed mats and fighting robes, called “gis,” for students to use.
He has also been able to team up with the people behind Bronx Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to provide scholarships to students who wish to pursue the sport outside of school.
Restrepo’s end goal is to push for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice in more schools. He said many schools have contacted him about starting their own programs and he would love to potentially raise enough money to see his own students compete in tournaments around the city.
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Andy Gonzalez is a coach at Aces Jiu Jitsu Club. He has earned his purple belt under Professor Mikal Abdullah. Follow Andy on Twitter at @GoGoGonzilla
Andy lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Amanda and their 3 beautiful children. Andy is also the father of a Marine who is honorably serving in the United States Marine Corps.