Orlando Sanchez has accomplished a lot throughout his jiu-jitsu career. He became a world champion as a blue belt, a Pan American champion as a brown belt, and an ADCC champion in 2015 as a black belt.
But if you ask him what his proudest achievement in jiu-jitsu is, don’t be surprised if he starts talking about his older brother.
Orlando himself got a relatively late start in the sport, taking it up at age 26 after a hard-fought battle with drug addiction. “Jiu-jitsu found me,” he says. “I became obsessed with it.”
When he was a purple belt and living in California, he took his first professional MMA fight down in Costa Rica, where his mother originates from. Meanwhile, his brother, Armando, was living in Florida, depressed, overweight, and struggling to pay the bills. Orlando invited him to come watch the fight, and when he learned that Armando couldn’t afford it, he scraped together his own meager savings to fly him down.
Neither brother knew it at the time, but the trip would end up changing their lives.
Armando found himself intrigued by the camaraderie he saw when he spent time around Orlando and the other fighters, and he decided he wanted to try jiu-jitsu for himself. Orlando called up professor Igor Andrade of Gracie Barra Orlando to let him know his brother wanted to start classes, and by the time his first session was over, Armando was hooked. He started coming three to four times per week, and after six months, he made the huge decision to move to California, where he would not only be closer to his family but he would be able to train with Orlando. “He was 34 years old and gave up everything in Florida,” says Orlando. “He sold everything he could, still didn’t have a lot of money, but moved to this tiny one-bedroom apartment in Pasadena.”
Before long, though, Armando, who has a master’s degree in child development, saw his luck begin to change when he got a job at a nice charter school and began to make more money. He went straight from work to the gym every night, and soon, he started to become happier and happier.
Orlando, meanwhile, had been in negotiations with the owner of Gracie Barra Pasadena, where he trained. He was hoping to buy him out, but lacked the money to do so. “I was sitting in the sauna with my brother after training one day, and he said to me, ‘I’ll take my savings, my entire life savings, and I will give it to you to take over the school ourselves.’ I was able to buy my partner out, and I think he was surprised; he didn’t think I’d be able to come up with the money,” says Orlando.
Both brothers worked hard to ensure that the huge risk Armando had taken paid off, and sure enough, it ended up being worth it. Armando was able to quit his job at the school to work at the gym full-time, and now, six years later, GB Pasadena boasts hundreds of students and is producing both world champions (like Orlando) and passionate hobbyists (like Armando). Armando is happier, healthier, and was able to buy a nice house on two acres of land because of the academy’s success… and recently, he was promoted to black belt by the very brother that got him into the sport.
The moment was incredibly special to Orlando, who called Armando his “hero.” “Growing up, he was always taking care of me,” he says. “He was the greatest big brother ever. Whenever I was scared, he’d let me come sleep with him. All of this has been such a blessing; it’s amazing to see the change in his attitude and confidence. I mean, we’ve had our problems and stuff, but what we have has brought us closer.”
Both Orlando and Armando have had their fair share of struggles, but now, it seems like they’re on an endless drive forward. They were able to open up a second school in La Cañada, and they’ll soon be opening up a third academy as well. “It’s remarkable what jiu-jitsu has done for us,” says Orlando. He and his big brother are proof that with a little motivation and a lot of dedication, this sport really can change your life.