Center Grove resident and National Guard Staff Sgt. Aaron Johnson sets his sights on a world title with the USA Grappling Team
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, says Center Grove resident Aaron Johnson. Set your goals high and go after them. It’s a principle he lives by.
As a staff sergeant for the Indiana National Guard, Johnson spends six days a week outside of his military career training in Jiu-Jitsu. He has his sights set on winning a title at the World Championships in October. There, he will represent Team USA in grappling, a hand-to-hand sport which Johnson describes as a mixture of Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling.
“There are a lot of people who have told me that I shouldn’t do this anymore, or that I’m too old,” he said. “I am not willing to accept the negative. I want everything to be positive. I set my goals. Once I achieve a goal, I set another one. I just keep going. When I feel like I’ve achieved my final goal, I’ll step back.”
At 40 years old, Johnson has wrestled for 36 years, beginning at age 4. Growing up in Philadelphia and moving to Indianapolis when he was a junior in high school, he said he has gotten to train all across the nation. He attended University of Indianapolis and wrestled there for a couple of years. He completed his degree at Indiana University in 2004. He has coached wrestling at Pike High School, University of Indianapolis and Decatur Central High School.
Johnson and his family moved to the Center Grove area in 2007. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two daughters, Kyla and Chloe, who attend Center Grove schools. Shortly after coming to the area, nine years ago, he joined the Indiana Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy (IBJJA) located at 1140 N. State Rd. 135, where his now an instructor.
“I love to teach,” Johnson said. “For me, wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu is a journey. I want to help grow the sport and someone else’s journey. My journey is still going. That’s a thing we talk about in Jiu-Jitsu. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s how you get to your end point. That’s what motivates me, to continue to strive to reach another goal. I’ll probably do it until I can’t walk because I love it.”
For those new to the sport, Johnson recommends researching an organization before joining, and to get into it for the right reasons.
“Don’t just get into it for self defense or competition.” he said. “Get into it to better your overall life: your health, your wellbeing, your diet, your mental health. There are a lot of things that go into Jiu-Jitsu that help you, not just your cardiovascular. We work a lot with soldiers that struggle with PTSD. Jiu-Jitsu helps them manage that. For anybody that’s struggling with depression or mental issues, it helps them focus on a goal and it keeps them on track.”
Having always wanted to be in the military, Johnson decided to join the Guard in 2009.
“I talked my family into giving me their blessing,” he said. “Once I got in, I loved it. I’ll stay there as long as they’ll have me.”
He served in a chemical and biological, homeland security unit for the first six years. He is now a mechanic, working full time since 2013.
Johnson spends six days a week after work training in Jiu-Jitsu and does strength and conditioning every day. Though he has had his successes in his sports – such as winning the Army Combatives Tournament in 2011 – it hasn’t come without its difficulties. Johnson has had two pulmonary embolisms, a blockage in the arteries in his lungs, in the past eight years.
“I have overcome some stuff that a lot of people would be done with the sport,” he said. “The second embolism was two years ago. I take medicine and found ways to treat myself. In 2015, I won a world title, about seven months after I had one.”
A USA Grappling Team, unitedworldwrestlin.org, developed last year and after trying out, Johnson made it. He competed in the Grappling World Championships in Belarus, losing in the round before the bronze medal match. The Guard got word of what he was achieving in the sport and profiled him online at youtube.com/watch?v=8n_N7Iml8ho.
Johnson tried out for Team USA and was accepted again this year at the end of April. The World Championship in Azerbaijan is at the end of October. He is currently looking for sponsorships to help fund the trip. Those interested can email him at email@example.com.
“If I don’t win it, I may come back and give it a try,” he said. “I said I would keep going until someone beat me and I wasn’t on the team anymore.”
Also in April, Johnson earned his blackbelt. He will compete in his first blackbelt competition in August, in Chicago. He will compete in the Pan American Championships in New York, in grappling, after that. Then it’s Worlds.
Outside of competing, Johnson continues to offer instruction through the IBJJA, and is planning to coach wrestling at Center Grove High School this year. As he plans for the future, the thought of deployment is in the back of his mind. Two potential deployments have been cancelled, but he has been told that he will be sent somewhere in the next six months to a year. In the meantime, he is working on improving his Jiu-Jitsu skill-sets.