An alarm clock softly announces the arrival of 4:30 am in a small home in Hamilton, NJ. As most of the country continues to sleep, Miguel Benitez rises to start his busy work day. He rushes to catch the 5:45 train to Newark to work his day job, occupying him until 2:00 in the afternoon. A brief hour with his wife and baby boy after an hour-long train ride, and he’s off to his true passion: coaching at Montgomery BJJ. Here he directs his students and trains them from 5:00 to 10:30 pm, or later if needed. “We’re trying to be one of the biggest and best schools in the world,” Miguel said.
Miguel is the 33-year-old owner of Montgomery BJJ and a black belt under Tom DeBlass. Having trained since 21 and instructed for the past eight years, Miguel opened his school back in 2018 under the DeBlass banner. “So far we’ve hit all our goals and have a great group of students,” Miguel said.
With a fresh crop of around 100 new students, Miguel has been focusing on building their confidence on the ground. “I’ll go a whole day without submitting any of my students. Just try to keep from getting my guard passed. Using no strength, just technique,” he said. Transparency is constantly reinforced between Miguel and his students, with the main goal of every white belt being their blue belt and the difficult journey beyond that. “BJJ is like sending your child out into the woods to become an adult. If they get from blue to purple, they’ve come out of the woods,” Miguel said.
Coming into jiu-jitsu with a massive frame and an athletic background, Miguel began his journey training with Ricardo Almeida and Tom DeBlass after a spinal injury ended his college football career. “Being a big guy gives you a lot of positive reinforcement for negative actions on the mats,” Miguel said. The early success gained by his size and athleticism failed in the face of superior technique fairly quickly, but this actually served to inspire Miguel even further. “It was that struggle, that daily grind, that daily looking for improvement that made me want to keep coming back and keep getting better.”
The commitment to the gym is one made possible by the support Miguel receives from his family and BJJ peers. “One day I came home and I told my wife, ‘I’m opening a school, and I’m going to check out locations tomorrow.’ She looked right at me and said, ‘It’s about time.’” Between his work obligations and running the school, his wife Stephanie has helped tremendously in her work raising their two-year-old son. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for her,” said Miguel. Stephanie not only supports Miguel’s BJJ training, but engages with him about his game. “She knows my favorite position is half-guard,” Miguel said. “A bad girlfriend can definitely end your jiu-jitsu dreams, but the right person can make them come true.”
Having a mentor, friend, and human tank in Tom DeBlass has also helped fuel Miguel’s ambition for his own gym. “Tom is creating an incredible affiliation. You have my school in Montgomery, 20 minutes away is Garry Tonon’s school, which is incredible,” Miguel said. “Where most places would have competition, Garry and I are constantly working to make each other better.” Tonon aided Miguel early on by having some of his higher belts assist the Montgomery coach with running classes.
When asked what advice he had for aspiring coaches, Miguel repeatedly stated the importance of wanting the responsibility over the monetary gain. “I want to create a special environment for people to enjoy the benefits of jiu-jitsu,” Miguel said. “I love having great days and love bad days even more. I love that constant failure to finally succeed at a technique or submission or competition. I love it so much that I have to share it. If your intentions are pure, then go for it and follow your heart and believe in yourself. It’s the only way you’ll make it happen”
More information on Montgomery BJJ as well as a full class schedule can be found here.