Cesar Cabrera’s single mom worked three jobs to support their family, so Cesar was often left to his own devices after school and on weekends, exploring his Washington, DC neighborhood on his own or with friends. One Sunday morning he happened on a movie theater and it changed his life. “I discovered that the local theater showed Kung Fu movies on Sunday mornings,” he recalled. “I was always fascinated by the Kung Fu masters in these movies. They barely spoke but whatever they said it was like God speaking to the students. I wanted to be the little old Chinese man with the white Fu Manchu. Then I discovered Bruce Lee, and he became like my father. Everything he said was the code I lived by, and I haven’t looked back since.”
At the age of five, Cesar began training himself to be a martial artist, but he didn’t have an outlet for formal training or coaching. When he and his mom moved to Arlington, he attended Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and one day got in trouble and was sent to the principal’s office. The principal’s assistant though Cesar could benefit from structure and mentoring, and introduced him to the school’s wrestling coach.
“Conditioning for wrestling is as hard as it gets,” he explained. “That was my first dose of pushing my physical limits and it changed something for me. I had been a chubby, insecure kid. Wrestling gave me confidence I never had before in myself.”
Cesar’s brief wrestling career ended when his mom remarried and the family moved to Maryland, but Cesar found a Kung Fu school near his new home and started authentic Kung Fu training at 13. “Bakari, the Kung Fu master was half Chinese and half Jamaican. He was built like a Nigerian warlord and spoke like a monk. He reignited by thirst for training hard.” On Friday nights Bakari invited students at local martial arts schools to come fight, using any style of martial arts. Cesar always fought.
After high school, Cesar studied at Montgomery College before moving to Miami Beach in search of further physical challenge. “Miami Beach is famous for training boxers,” he said. He was taking classes at Miami Dade Community College, teaching kickboxing, and working security at night clubs and as a personal trainer. Cesar got a job as the trainer at the Delano Hotel, a popular destination for celebrities in Miami. As a result, he began training Will Smith, Jada Smith, Mila Jovanavich, and other actors. Meanwhile, he was still fighting. “I found a great little gym—they had fight clubs with no rules. I was good on my feet and with my hands, decent at Kung Fu, Karate, boxing, and wrestling. But the moment the fight went to the ground, I was getting submitted. I didn’t understand what was going on. It frustrated me so I wanted to learn this art. That was the beginning of my Jiu-Jitsu education.
Although by then he was traveling all over the country as an in-demand personal trainer, Cesar decided to New York to study Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with the Gracie family, who popularized the sport in the United States. “I gave away all my possessions and lived out of my backpack,” Cesar explained. “I spent four to six hours every day learning Jiu-Jitsu.” Once he earned his black belt, he left Manhattan to travel the US and the world teaching seminars and serving as a guest instructor at martial arts schools.
Cesar met Emerson when Cesar was teaching a Jiu-Jitsu seminar at a Kung Fu school in Arlington where Emerson was training his own students. As Emerson learned more about Jiu-Jitsu, he decided it was important to integrate its principles into the EvolveAll curriculum, and Cesar joined the EvolveAll team.
Cesar has come a long way from no rules Friday night fights to teaching adults and kids how to grapple. “That comes with maturity,” he said. “I look at the world differently now. Over time martial arts teaches you compassion because you see how easy it is to hurt another human being. You respect the technique. You don’t want to hurt your training partner.”
Jiu-jitsu benefits kids in a variety of ways, Cesar explained. “The most important thing is it teaches them to fall and not hit their head because they have to practice falling so much. It teaches them coordination. They understand how to move their bodies. They learn how to breathe and not hyperventilate through pressure and anxiety. Jiu-jitsu helps kids overcome insecurity because they have to practice demonstrate what they know. Some adults never learn to do that.”
Cesar’s vision is to expand his teaching at EvolveAll to other martial arts schools, training other instructors to implement his Jiu-Jitsu curriculum.
Cesar is married to Jennifer, an emergency room nurse, and the couple has two-year-old twins who are often seen on and off the mat at EvolveAll.