Every day Orlando Sanchez tells his classes at the Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu School in Pasadena to be "champions in life."
It's a motto Sanchez, a La Cañada High graduate, has not only trademarked but lives by. He proved that over the past two months, as he's won four gold medals in that time in the Pan-American Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Irvine, the Spring Open in Long Beach and two more in the Brazilian Nationals.
Sanchez' performance in the Brazilian Nationals has become the highlight of his four-year jiu-jitsu career. He won the ultra-heavyweight class for competitors 220 pounds and above and the absolute class, which is made up of the champions from each weight class.
"I beat some really big named champions," said Sanchez, who earned the fourth degree on his brown belt due to all the success. "It was a big deal, it really put me on the map and opened some eyes. I am the only American to do it as a brown belt."
It's the most impressive win in the four-year career of Sanchez, who doesn't even venture to guess how many tournaments or medals he's won since he picked up jiu-jitsu when he was battling alcohol and drug addiction.
"I come from a past where I should have died from drug and alcohol abuse," said Sanchez, owns the Gracie Barra School in Pasadena. "I am a testament that you can do anything if you set your mind set to it."
Sanchez has won gold medals in the World Championships, Brazilian Nationals, Pan-American (three times) and Abu Dhabi trials (three times).
"Winning the Brazilian Nationals is kind of the icing on the cake," said Sanchez, who credits his recent success to his opportunity to go train with Zé Radiola the past two months. "It showed I have arrived and that these medals I have won aren't flukes."
Sanchez is looking to make another statement in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in Long Beach, which begins today and goes through Saturday. He won the world title in 2010 and was cruising through the tournament last year before he dislocated his knee in the semifinals and had to drop out.
A victory will put Sanchez in line to get his black belt a few months after the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships.
"If everything goes as planned, I will be the fastest American to get a black belt," Sanchez said.
It would give Sanchez another chance to show his students back at Pasadena's Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu School what can be accomplished.
"I don't compete for myself anymore, I compete 100% for my students — all the kids in my class and for everybody else," Sanchez said. "I compete to be a champion for them now. …I am doing this so I can create champions so I can win and inspire others."