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Gi Real - The VonRossum-Perez Family

Updated: Feb 10


The real story of the VonRossum-Perez family.

/Meeting The VonRossum-Perez Family


I first saw Max at a local Fuji competition. I was in mid-conversation with a student, and he was competing on the mat in front of me. I had to stop talking and watch. It doesn’t take long to realize Max has something special. The way he moves. The way he doesn't stop moving. Always working. Always smiling. Pursuing his goals with fluidity and ease. People spend years developing skills at this level.


Max was 5.


I began tracking Max’s progress online, and when I could, live. It became clear Max has more than natural talent. He has a family and network of support working as hard as he does. There is no doubt, if Max and his family continue on this path he will be a world champion.


I reached out to Max’s parents, Ashli and Frank, in hopes that I could peek inside. What does it look like to raise a child with so much promise? How do you manage the demands of training and traveling? What I found is truly special. A family of 10 balancing life, talent, and a drive to be better.


This is the story of the VonRossum-Perez family.


/Starting Off Balance


I found a place and after that it was like, all right now it’s round one. I'm interested, and my kids will do it. Learning to defend yourself, but everything that martial arts encompass. Learning how to win, learning how to move, learning how to work hard for something. Learning how to work well with others, learning how to be taught. So many things that martial arts can teach you, and I wanted myself and my family to have that as part of our structure in life.

Frank grew up with an interest in martial arts. There is a mythos around what can be learned in a gi. Some fact, some fiction. Lessons learned don’t come from lectures. They come through experience. How can you convey that experience to the uninitiated? The mythos carries weight. You begin in hopes of finding truth behind your expectations.


What brings you to the mat and what keeps you going will shape your take-a-aways. Jiu Jitsu’s ability to adapt to your needs is the foundation of its beauty. In many ways, this is a mirror into your own intentions. When you seek to be better for yourself, and for your family, Jiu Jitsu provides a path. This is an important thread that weaves through the story of the VonRossum-Perez family. A mirror that holds up to Jiu Jitsu and shines is a reflection of Ashli and Franks's commitment.


…we always want our kids to be respectful and it was really one of the first times that our kids had to listen and respect. Respect someone else, other than us.
…it was challenging. they were pretty good at, but again it was listening. One was crying, or they both were crying, or they were both doing great in class. It took a while, I want to say maybe three to four months to really keep them both in class where they're having fun and they want to be there…
…they were little ones. So, they would still fall asleep on the way there. That took a while.

Max and his twin brother, Val, were young. Waiting to be 4, waiting to begin a lifelong journey. Young children have to grow into interactions we take for granted. Showing up. Listening. Understanding the structure of the day. They grow into this by doing. By crossing boundaries, and then being realigned. By extending their days, testing their focus, and sometimes crying when it all falls apart. This is growth that doesn’t click. It’s a slow burn on the backdrop of lots of love and patience. It’s a structure built with intention and a little bit of hope.


When the timing was right, Frank and the twins began their training. But timing brings no certainty. Frank's job change pulled him from the mats. COVID came. Gyms shuttered. These were challenging times for structure and finding balance in new hobbies and a changing world.


Something took off with Max, we just really saw him explode, he loved it. Which was awesome. I don't know if it was that six month break of being at home and not doing much, but he just took off and he loved it…
…so we saw that switch when we came back from Covid and he just, I don't know what motivated him. I think it's the competition.I think he just loved it.

Disrupted training didn’t disrupt the mission. After a 6 month break, Max and Val returned to the mat. Six months is a long time. It is especially long at 4 years old. Six months of waiting can bring a new perspective and extra drive. There is a split here in a story of two young boys, reflecting how kids grow, how parents let them, and how Jiu Jitsu will meet you where you are.


Val goes to Jiu Jitsu, but he's not there to compete. He really has no desire. He started off competing and then man, it just got hard to watch. He really did not like it. We said, you know what, you just don't have to. So, he goes to class, he doesn't complain. He's a good student. But he really has no desire to compete…
…he likes doing stuff that really stimulates his mind. Creating things, making crafts, coloring...

Max found a special talent and love for grappling. Val is a different kid, with different talents and different interests. Physical performance is visual. It is easy to spot talent and recognize effort. It is easy to get behind wins, medals, and podium shots. These are the things that tend to garner attention and drive the narrative of sport. Yet, the value of Jiu Jitsu transcends. Jiu Jitsu has a place in every life and has benefits for every young child.


Being a Jiu Jitsu parent can be difficult. The mythos of martial arts that brought you to the gym has turned into concrete examples of how Jiu Jitsu has helped shape your child's character. More Jiu Jitsu is surely going to amplify these benefits? In life and Jiu Jitsu, balance determines outcomes and longevity. Frank and Ashli recognized the splitting talents of their twins and allowed them to grow toward their own strengths. This is Jiu Jitsu in action. To recognize the direction of movement, and use it to your advantage.


/Finding Community


I think he just got more and more excited. You know, he started to really get to know the kids and that's a big deal. Friendships, building friendships…

Structure begins at home, and builds into the interconnected lives of your community. When young kids grow they meet new relationships and learn the value of friendship. What is the backdrop of this relationship? Each relationship in your life has a different set of expectations, needs, and purpose. The early connections young children make define the nature of their relationships as they grow and mature. In an environment where your purpose is to learn, share, and help your teammates develop, the mats create a backdrop for relationships focused on mutual benefit. Healthy connections create healthy lives. When you surround yourself with people that believe in you, support you, and push you to grow, you become the best version of yourself. These are the lessons learned through experience. To share these lessons early in your child's life is an incredible gift.


Man, this guy, he has got a lot of patience, I gotta tell you. He tells the kids, if they're hurt or they're crying or they're having a bad day, no matter if the parent is sitting there or not, he will look directly in their eyes, get down on their level and say, do you want to roll today? You do not have to. I'm not gonna make you, and he says it all the time. I hear him say it at least once or twice a class to a variety of different kids, and a lot of the times they say no, because sometimes they just need to hear it. I don't have to do this today, but I'm choosing to do this today.

Professor Jadyson Costa has been in the game for a long time. If Chute Box rings a bell, you have been around long enough to know this was one of the most feared teams in the early days of MMA, and Professor Costa was there in the fight. There is a dynamic to skilled violence that is difficult to understand. Physical competence eliminates the defensive boundaries people put up to protect themselves. There is no need to project strength when you are strong. It opens the pathway to blanket compassion and allows you to focus on discovering what people have inside themselves. As a coach, this is a crucial element of connecting with your team, especially the youngest among them.


These people love our kids so much, Jadyson and Paula love, literally love our children and we know it. Max’s success has to do with us, but it also has to do with Jadyson. Wholeheartedly always believing Max is gonna take it. Max has it. Max is gonna take it. Max is gonna win gold. He has changed his life. He's changed Val's life…
…Jadyson is his support system, it's crazy to say he is best friends with his professor, and his professor pours into him love and just everything, I mean, pours into this kid.

Part of the structure you find on the mats is the structure of coaching and mentor relationships. Whatever your reasons for starting you need your progress validated. You need direction. You need inspiration and insight as you face the demands of the game. These are needs kids are too young to know they need, but not too young to feel.


The list of lessons we need to teach our kids can be overwhelming. The stakes are high, and sometimes you miss. When you bring your children into a community you introduce them to more leaders, more models of behavior, and more opportunities to learn. When you bring them to the mats, you do this against the backdrop of healthy relationships and endless progress.


It's this community that we have that really makes jujitsu what it is, and it's crazy. I've never been a part of it. I mean, I was a dancer as a kid. Our other kids have done football, rugby and lacrosse and all these other sports. But this is like a community, like a legitimate family, a community village. This is life now for us.

It takes a village. Every parent learns this as they juggle their responsibilities and balance their long days. Having more people on your team helps you. More importantly, it helps your children. You can only give so much because you only have so much. When we come together, our collective sum is greater than our parts, and we give our children what they deserve.


/Born Ready


…when he came out, he came out and took a big deep breath, and popped a hole in his lung, and so he was sent to the NICU and so, he's always just been a fighter …
… you know it was a very scary experience because when she says, see what life was, he went from being a baby that was born with life to a child that went limp. They laid him down on the base table and picked up his hands. Pick up legs and there was nothing…
…I don't know what it was that made him come too, but he went from not moving to hours later slapping my hand. After telling him he was meant to be here and there were things he had to do. Like giving me a high fives. It was great. It was great….

It’s hard to imagine a scarier moment as a parent. Max was born with a hole in his lung. This moment was uncertain. It’s a story that is difficult to listen to, but it’s told with enthusiasm. Frank’s tone is a tone of triumph. He is telling a story about a son born ready to fight. A moment that finds a way to define character, for both father and son. This was a story that Frank and Ashli made sure I knew before we got off the phone. It’s part of Max’s story. A part of who he is.


We were with Jadyson about, I want to say like two weeks, and he said to us, You have to think about taking him to Pans. And we were like, what? There's no way. We genuinely laughed about it. We were like, Yeah, right. He said, No, you got something special. You have to take him and you know, no matter what happens, it's a great experience for him. Jadyson was gonna be there anyways because he was going to compete as well, and so one and a half months into training with Jadyson we're on our way to Orlando taking Max to the biggest kids competition. It was a great experience. Going to Pans really even lit a fire under Frank and I, and we thought , this kid's got it.

You have to watch Max compete to understand his gifts. Can fighting be a dance? Can you be born with an inherent knowledge of complex movement systems? Max was born to do Jiu Jitsu. At 7 years old, he possesses the fight IQ of experienced adults. He understands his purpose. He carries himself like an athlete preparing for the apex of their career. And of course, he is.


As soon as he steps foot on the mat, it's like go time. he turns it on, and I don't even know how else to explain it. He holds that frame of mind until he walks off the mat. There have been times where he's cried on the mat after a loss, but he really holds it together until he get off the mat. It's crazy. Like he knows that that's his job.

His job is one part of the story. As a parent, what do you do with so much promise? The VonRossum-Perez family travels the country for Max to compete. It’s certainly a job. It's a lifestyle that Frank and Ashli describe as their adventure. Plane rides. Hotel stays. Six days a week on the mats. It’s the competitor you see, but behind the competitor is a Jiu Jitsu family who is all in.


/Finding Balance


It costs us money and it costs us energy, but we’re good with it, we're all in. Because our number one team is our family. That's our mindset. That's our mindset with Jiu Jitsu, that's our mindset with our family

You don’t begin with this commitment. You begin with the hope that you can provide your family with structure and the lessons of martial arts. Jiu Jitsu is hard. You have to learn to problem solve your challenges, and work around obstacles. You don’t always have the solution, but you keep moving. You keep believing in the power of Jiu Jitsu. You grow as the Jiu Jitsu grows within you and within your family.


It's been difficult. It's a game. It's a game of Tetris to make everything fit and everything work. Frank and I often divide and conquer or we reach out to our Jiu Jitsu village …
…but a lot of the times Frank and I will divide and conquer. We just do what we can, and try to listen to everybody's feelings, but it is challenging. It's extremely challenging.

The balancing act is complex. A balance of time. Traveling logistics. Attention. The needs of 8 kids, and each other. This conversation provides clues to how a family manages to stay upright while juggling so many responsibilities. Ashli and Frank speak as a unit. They defer to each other’s voices as they navigate through their story. They share the same passion for their adventure and the development of their children. They accept the challenges as part of the point. In many ways, this is Jiu Jitsu.


So that's the only time we have really seen competitiveness and we really try to be conscious of the fact that we have other kids, and particularly that Max is a twin. And so If Frank goes with Max to a competition, I'll stay with Val and we'll do something…

Behind the support of Max, is support for a full house. Max is simply the tip of the iceberg. We see him. He captures our attention. But he sits atop a family with different needs and wants that need to be met. Divide and conquer. Frank and Ashli push themselves in order to help push their kids, but push them in the direction they want to go. Push them towards their own natural talents and motivations.


Parenting is a noble job. Often thankless. Always rewarding. Never ceasing. With so much poured into Max and his Jiu Jitsu journey, how much of his experience has become a part of Frank and Ashli?


What happens if Max quits?

…so with him quitting, we use to tell him he has to go. He can't miss a class. We're paying all this money, but now we just listen to him. He doesn't complain, I mean he's seven, so there are days where he's like, can I stay at home? And we've made compromises, we have put him in other sports, sports that correlate with Jiu Jitsu. So, he did wrestling and now he's in a little Judo class…
…we think about it and it would be devastating to be honest. We selfishly never want him to quit. We want him to do this forever, but ultimately we just want him to be happy and we are just trying to make him as happy as possible.

To be sure, Max quitting would be a loss. He has too much talent not to see it through. This is the balancing act. Staying focused on your purpose. Keeping it in perspective. Not knowing where it leads, but going full throttle one day at a time.


/Growing Together


Look, we've also had to learn how to lose and how to win. It's been a struggle. We have definitely grown and evolved. We look at competitions and this journey differently than we did in the beginning. We think about it. We just want him to have fun…
I think, as parents, they're looking to us. He's looking directly at Frank and I when he wins and when he loses. One of the first things Jadyson said to us at one of Max's competitions, after he found out how passionate Max is about winning and losing, is as much as you want to yell and scream and be so excited about wins, you have to treat the wins just like the losses.

Competing takes courage. You step into the arena, all eyes on you, an opponent full of unknowns. Your coaches and team cheering you on. Many adults crumble under this pressure. Most people simply avoid it. For a young child to take on this burden is impressive. A parent's role here is challenging. How do you disconnect an emotional reaction to your child competing in a combat sport? You have to understand the nature of this Jiu Jitsu parent relationship. Kids need affirmation. They need love, listening, and a source to be grounded. They have a coach. They have a crowd. You have to be something different than that. Your role is new and unique, and it must grow as your young athlete grows.


It’s not easy to develop into this role. It takes conscious effort. Sometimes it takes a coach telling you to settle down. This is where there is room for growth for all of us. Youth sports are inflicted by overzealous parents. This is part of the balance. This is part of the growth.


…being in this community for, it'll be four years in December, so about three and a half years, we've seen all walks of life. So we've seen parents be that way. We've been that way, we're not gonna lie. It took a long time and I feel like just now, and I hope that Frank can agree with me, we're just really getting the groove of it.

Jiu Jitsu is a process, for everyone. Frank and Ashli take stock of their own experience and lessons learned. They have adopted this Jiu Jitsu life and are pushing it forward. Jiu Jitsu offers endless pathways. A young boy, like Val, who isn’t competitive but can find fun on the mats. A young Max, who is born to roll and has a bright future to grow into. Ashli, who is just beginning her own training. Frank, who is still trying to get back in the gi. Parents, who have balanced their lives around the mats, training, and raising their twins in the art. The VonRossum-Perez family is growing, and growing together.


/Gi Real. From Then Till Now


The youngest students fall asleep on the way to the gym. They cry. They Run in circles instead of lining up. It’s a long process for kids to learn structure and discipline. These are challenges of age and maturity. For Frank, a change in job pulled him away. The challenges of responsibility often get in the way of our best-laid plans. This is real.


Learning to overcome challenges was always the point. Frank was looking for structure. He was looking for discipline, self-defense, and athleticism. He was looking for the lessons Jiu Jitsu could provide for his family. Jiu Jitsu clearly transformed the VonRossum-Perez family.


On the mats or not, the transformation stays. It is earned and lasting. The lasting lessons we teach our kids are the lessons most valuable. We can’t always be there. We can’t always protect, guide, and nurture. We can only hope that we can provide them with the internal strength and knowledge to hold their own.


There were many topics in this conversation I left on the table. Stories for another day. This story is about family, and how Jiu Jitsu can be used as a tool to build families up and bring them together. About how Jiu Jitsu can adapt to kids with different interests and talents, and tap them into a community that will love and support them. My hope, and the hope of Frank and Ashli, is that their story will highlight the power of Jiu Jitsu in the community and the potential impact it can have on the life of your family.


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Guest
04 ก.ค. 2566

Great articl, I have been to many of his competitions and it’s amazing to watch him. Great job Max.

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