Leading with the Positive

An interview with Thomas Oyarzún by Andrew Morris

Upon meeting Switzerland’s most success competitor, black-belt Thomas “Mastwo” Oyarzún, you will realize immediately, you are in the presence of a positive human being. It is difficult not to be inspired by his enthusiasm and positivity as he discusses a range of topics from Jiu-Jitsu, to hip-hop, to meditation and karma.

He has been putting this power to inspire to good use, having spent the first half of the year traveling Europe, delivering seminars to raise money for the social project. Arriving in Rio, he has spent the last month teaching at the project itself where he is beloved by the young students.

How did you become involved with Terere Kids Project?

I have been with Alliance and Terere since I was a purple belt. I was always a part of organizing the seminars when he came to visit Switzerland. At the start of this year, I had just had surgery on my knee and gone through my own personal situation in Jiu-Jitsu, I felt like I had to do something and the best thing for me to do was help the project.

You have recently arrived in Rio after traveling throughout Europe raising money to support the project. Can you explain the genesis of this idea?

I had visited the project a year and a half ago and met Nico (project director), we got to chat a little and kept in contact. When Terere was unable to do a seminar here (Switzerland), I did it myself.  I wanted to give the money to the project and Nico thought it was a good idea. I organized two more seminars and from there, I thought I could do more. I was lucky, I contacted different guys who agreed and then other people began to contact me saying that they wanted to help too.

It was a perfect time because surgery had taken me off the mats. The first seminars I gave, I couldn’t even train, I could only teach. But this has helped me to visualize my game even more as I wasn’t able to roll.

What countries did you visit?

I traveled a lot in France and Switzerland, in the UK, and Russia. Time wise I wanted to fit more in, but it was difficult. And now I go to the United States, I already have three seminars booked in California. This week I will speak to some more people and see if we can get more seminars.

How were your efforts received?

I have been traveling and doing these seminars for the children and the whole time I have had this energy that has been overwhelming, in a good way. People give you recognition for all the good work you are doing, it is motivating, it makes you want to do more.

Doing this has given me the confidence to initiate conversation and ask academy owners for their help, and people have been open and receptive to it. It is very hard when people say “no, I don’t want to help kids in the favela”. But this isn’t to judge anyone, everybody has a tough situation making money in Jiu-Jitsu. But people have taken it in a positive way.

Spending time living within the community, what problems have you seen that the young people here face?

I see how people live and it is a tough life, favela life is tough, living in poverty and things are dirty. A lot of dealers and the police, a lot of drugs. They all have weapons and you can see all the kids just playing around in front of them. There is always the possibility for the kids to be influenced by them, by seeing it every day, they can choose the wrong path. The more they see negativity, the more it can draw them in. The community is very strong, despite all of this, people are very happy, it is crazy but it is true.

It a tough line between the positivity and the negativity and the kids are caught in the middle. By doing what I am doing, I hope to provide them with a little positivity to tip the balance and send them on the right path.

What benefits does the project provide for the children and young people of the community?

It is a sport and it can help students escape their situation. Terere provides the perfect example, everything that he has ever gotten from Jiu-Jitsu, he has shared with those around him. He isn’t just a champion on the mats, he is a champion in life.

So important for the kids to come to the academy. I give them the same message every day, that they are all friends, they are here to have fun, enjoy their time and pass on the good energy, accept who you are.

Miguel conducting an interview for the mini documentary below

The project has produced a Pan Ams Kids champion and watching purple, brown and even black belts come to the academy and be beaten up by the young orange and green belts of the academy. What do you put this success down to?

Moicano 2016 Pan Kids Champion and Professor Birrinho 2015
Brazilian Nationals Champion thanks to sponsorship from TKP!

They put in the work, they understand that they can be a champion and get out of this situation. There are a couple of students that are already getting their names out there and I only wish them more success. There are five guys off the top of my head that could be world champions within the next five to ten years. It is just amazing to see that. The level they are on now is a result of motivation, determination and being in good hands. Terere is showing them the right path and that is very important.

Is being taught the most up-to-date technique in class the most important thing?

The best techniques have a lot to do with it and that is what Terere gives them. He has always been building champions, many world champions they come from Terere. But more than technique he has something, that he has obviously been given to him. When I spend time with him my Jiu-Jitsu evolves so much. It isn’t just the technique, it is more than that, it is this energy that he gives, you can’t see it but you can feel it.

With you competing at the Masters Worlds next weekend, at this stage what is more important to you, competitive success or helping others through Jiu-Jitsu?

For me, it is the life aspect, helping people is such an amazing feeling and it is a continuous feeling, becoming a champion is fleeting, it feels good but then it is over. And I think that the more you are a champion in life, the more you will be a champion on the mats. The more positive I am, the more positive outcomes will occur. Even if I lose in competition it will not take away from what I have learned and what I have experienced doing all this work for the project.

Any final words? Shout outs to sponsors who have helped out with the project?

What is best about the project is it involves kids. It is not about knowing what the future holds but who holds the future, and that is the kids. You have to love, you have to teach and you have to nurture and believe in all these kids, if you don’t, there is no future. The more I give these kids the more confident I am about the future. Give as much as you can and don’t give any negativity, just give a smile.

I want to thank the project, all this has been the greatest motivation that someone can have, this has been life changing. To the project and Terere, he has shown me the path that I have to follow. Thank sponsors Shoyoroll and Shoyoroll Europe, everyone that is on the team. Thank you to The Arm Bar Soap Company, who have always helped me out. Both companies have given me so much and given the project so much, they have helped out by producing things for the project and continue to do so. They have been a great help for the kids, I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I would like to thank my family, my parents, my brother, who is a great person to talk to and has always been an inspiration to me. I also want to thank everyone that surrounds me.

Check out this mini documentary about how Jiu Jitsu has impacted the lives of kids in the Cantagalo Favela. 

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