Black belt world champion Tammi Musumeci: “I guess I was, am, and will continue to be a big nerd”

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No-Gi Worlds Female Black Belt Divisions-44

Tammi earns her first black belt world title with a kimura submission at the 2013 No-Gi World Championship. Photo: Erin Herle

At nineteen years old, black belt Tammi Musumeci has made us all look incompetent. Not that she means to, but she definitely stands out as one of the most tenacious people I have ever met. We all know the studious ones in school who take the toughest classes, join all the right clubs and read books instead of gossip magazines. She is one of them. But more than just the academic achievements is the rare title of Jiu-Jitsu black belt world champion she can proudly write on her resume.

She continues to push the pace in her Jiu-Jitsu training and competition because she loves Jiu-Jitsu. She continues to push the pace in her academics because she wants to secure a future for herself that she’s imagined. It doesn’t involve a Jiu-Jitsu academy or the Olympics but rather a life of numbers and six-figures, perhaps, too.

I spoke with Tammi about her time on the mats and whether or not it ever became a job for her like it has for some. I wanted to know whether she pictured herself the world champion before the straight-A student. But I guess it didn’t matter because she found herself as both.

GRACIEMAG: I want to hear about your training with Jiu-Jitsu and if it has always coincided with school and any other priorities.

TAMMI MUSUMECI: I started training Jiu-Jitsu when I was six years old in the first grade.  Jiu-Jitsu has been a large part of my life, throughout my whole school career, and continues to be today. Balancing Jiu-Jitsu and school proves to be a challenge. In high school I had even more priorities besides studying and training. To get into a good college, I not only needed good grades, but an involvement in the community and school activities.

So throughout high school, I was involved in the various clubs and societies, which were extremely time consuming. Because community service hours were so important, I volunteered at various places such as libraries and hospitals. I completed a total of 475 community service hours.

In addition, throughout high school I took intensive SAT classes and spent my weekends, that were already spent working on various honors and AP class work, taking at least four hour long SATS. Good grades never came easy to me; I had to work very hard to achieve the grades I got.

With much of my day occupied with stressful obligations, I still made sure to find the time to train and workout hard, and to go on and win world titles at blue, purple, and brown belt, along with three pan titles, two at purple, one at brown all in the adult division.

[While in college she has earned a black belt world title from the 2013 No-Gi World Championship and a black belt pan title from the 2014 Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship.]

Tammi wins the 2014 Pan black belt title. Photo: Erin Herle

Tammi wins the 2014 Pan black belt title. Photo: Erin Herle

How much is Jiu-Jitsu a priority?

Because of my busy schedule, prioritization is extremely important if I want to achieve all of my goals. Because school and school-related activities consequently have a huge impact on my future occupation those of course would be my number one priority.

Whatever time that was left would be spent between Jiu-Jitsu training, conditioning, eating and sleeping.

But I have also found an interesting relationship between jiu-jitsu and school: Jiu-jitsu helped me unwind from the ever present pressures of school. Even during my most stressful times, I always made sure to workout really hard, eat healthy, and get in some training sessions.

What are your studies like?

I guess I was, am, and will continue to be a big nerd. Throughout my life in school, I would spend literally hours studying when the other kids partied or went out. Socializing was not a priority for me.  As frustrating and grueling as studying was at times, I always hoped that it would pay off one day. This was and is the motivator that keeps me going.

My hard work landed me full scholarships to some of the best schools such as University of Miami, New York University, The College of New Jersey, Rutgers University, and Drexel University.

I chose to go the Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida because I received a full scholarship to their six year Accelerated Law Program BS/JD – 3 years undergraduate in accounting, 3 years law school.

All that studying and sacrifice paid off. Those tedious hours of studying sometimes till the wee hours of the morning were well worth it. Today, I continue to study really hard to get good grades and hope one day get a good job that will allow me to secure my future.

Incidentally, I never told anyone in school about Jiu-Jitsu. So when I went to school with the occasional facial scratch, bruise, or black eye, I would get the most interesting looks from my teachers and classmates.

I’d really love for you to spell out what your busiest day of the week from last semester.

In the final against Mackenzie Dern at the 2014 Pan. Photo: Erin Herle

In the final against Mackenzie Dern at the 2014 Pan. Photo: Erin Herle

My busiest day of the week last semester had to be Wednesday because I had to attend classes in the morning, be at a drilling session with my brother, Mikey, and Manny Soares at Jaco Hybrid Training Center at 1:30 p.m. After that, my brother and I would go straight to strength and conditioning with our trainer Cody Schovitz at Speed Evolution in Boca Raton, FL. From there at 5:30 p.m., I would rush back to Jaco Hybrid training center to teach my women’s class. Then on most nights my brother and I would attend an intense competition training session with Emyr “Shark” Bussade at ATT Wellington. The rest of the night would be spent studying, which sometimes would consist of an, “all nighter.”

What is your philosophy on competition?

I don’t believe that competition is necessary for all, but it is a great way to test yourself against other fighters besides the ones you train with. I love to compete, but most of all I love training for competing. It allows me to push myself to the limit and beyond that. I believe that real growth can only come from being uncomfortable. So I am very familiar with being uncomfortable.

How much do you love it versus how much is it about the end result?

The end result is very important to me as a fighter because it validates all the training and conditioning. I personally enjoy competing. I have been doing it for many years and it has become intricate part of my life.

How hard are you on yourself?

I am extremely hard on myself to the point where it is a flaw. This flaw is not only limited to Jiu-Jitsu, but also school. Somewhere along the line I came to believe that if you work real hard you will get the desired result you are looking for. But if you don’t get the desired result, you didn’t work hard enough. At this level however, I am working on changing my thinking because I am competing against the best athletes in Jiu-Jitsu and understand that I will lose not because I am not good but because they are just as technical and prepared as I am. I have a great deal of respect for my opponents and feel honored to even be competing against them.

What do the titles mean to you?

The titles I have won mean a lot to me. They tell me that my Jiu-Jitsu training, diet and conditioning were right on point. Again, I am extremely humbled by the thought of even competing at this level with such amazing fighters. So winning means that much more to me.

Will you ever open an academy?

I am not planning on opening an academy. I teach the women’s class at Jaco because I like to help the women achieve their goals and gain confidence, but I will not make a career of this.

What are your career goals?

My career goal is to become an accountant and lawyer and pursue a job in some aspect of business law or forensics accounting.

What parts do you not enjoy about Jiu-Jitsu if any?

The part of Jiu-Jitsu that I do not enjoy is the drama sometimes associated with it. There are times when beginners think they know all there is to know about Jiu-Jitsu when in reality, Jiu-Jitsu is a lifelong learning experience. I do not like when people are disrespectful to the instructor or to each other. A huge part of Jiu-Jitsu has to do with respect. Without respect, there is anarchy–not a Jiu-Jitsu class I would like to be at. I do not like when people refuse to tap. This is one aspect that I will never understand. Refusing to tap could result in serious injury that could side-line an athlete for months, or even years. Whether it be ego, or pride, this is a serious problem.

Finally, the last thing I do not enjoy about Jiu-Jitsu is when people react negatively when they lose. I believe that losing is an essential component in the making of an athlete.  No one is infallible.  I know I’m not.

It’s not how we win, it’s how we lose.

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