TXMMA – Texas Mixed Martial Arts

Iraqi war vet, Triple amputee Joey Bozik details his Jiu Jitsu journey

By TXMMA Staff // Tony Trammell // Photo: Mike Calimbas Photography


Bozik talks about how he began training, what competition means to him


DALLAS, TX – As people, we draw inspiration from all different sources.  Whether it’s from a quote, a movie, an image, or even someone’s own personal journey.   We want to feel moved.  We need to feel moved, and nothing is more moving than to find a story of someone overcoming an obstacle and persevering. If you go to your Jiu Jitsu School and speak to any member, you may find that each one has persevered in their own way. In fact, many people who begin training Jiu Jitsu will end up quitting for many reasons.  It is only the select few who are willing to endure hours of training. One thing is for sure, we all start at the beginning as equals; just as Joey Bozik did when he tried his first BJJ class. Joey is the same as everyone else.  He has a day job, a family and tries to spend as much time on the mat as possible. However, Joey is a triple amputee veteran, but he does not let this hold him back one bit. He trains and competes in Jiu Jitsu tournaments and has inspired other veterans to train in the process. He and Alan Shebaro at Tier 1 in McKinney, Texas have recently founded We Defy to improve the lives of military disabled service members through the use of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and physical fitness training. Having the opportunity to watch him train and to speak with him shows that he does not let anything hold him back.

When I lived in North Carolina, I started taking my daughter to Jiu Jitsu. I had trained wrestling in high school and done a little BJJ before and wanted to try it again. I went and bought a Gi, had it tailored and went in to try a class. I was very hesitant to try a class. They started every class with fundamental drills like shrimping across the mat, forward rolls, side rolls and other movements like that. I went in with the ideology that I didn’t want to be treated any different from anyone else on the mat.   At the same time, anybody with any common sense is going to look at me in my situation and realize I can’t do things the way they want me to.  Our first lesson was learning how to shrimp out of full mount. I got paired up with the biggest guy in class because no one wanted to work with him.  He is the last one standing, and I am the last one sitting. I can’t do the traditional mount escape.  What I can do is a modified version where I get on my side and use my hand to push my backside out, which is more difficult because I have no legs. I tried and tried, but I could not get the two hundred plus pounds guy off of me. The instructor then comes over and tells me that I’m not doing it right, which was even more frustrating. The next portion of the class we were learning shoulder locks from mount.  When I attempted this, my legs could not touch the ground. After that first class, I thought to myself that this will never work for me. I was discouraged and figured every class and instructor would be the same. I felt like there was no one else like me in the Jiu Jitsu community, so how could anyone teach me techniques? It seemed like the instructors were only taught a certain way to do things.  Everything is about technique and most of them could not think outside that box.

After a year of living there, we moved to Texas.  One day as I was driving down the road to a consignment store, I saw the Tier 1 sign.  The first thing that came to my mind was, “What asshole would name his training facility Tier 1?” I was telling my wife this guy probably has no idea what it means, and he is just a guy who plays Call of Duty.  Needless to say, it pissed me off.  A few days later, I started searching the internet to find Jiu Jitsu Schools in the area and came across Tier 1. I took a look at the website and read Alan’s profile and immediately felt like an idiot!  I decided to go to the facility and check out the training for my daughter.  Alan wanted to meet with my daughter, wife and I before we joined the gym.  He does this with all prospective members. To me, this shows that he is not about the money.  He is about the quality of the instruction and building a relationship with the student. Right off the bat, we got along and knew this was the place for my daughter.  He reinforced what I already teach at home with honor, discipline and respect.

When we first started, Alan had a kid’s CrossFit class followed by a kid’s Jiu Jitsu class.  My daughter would do both. Since it was the summer time, we were at the gym every day of the week for two hours. After a couple of months of this, Alan asked me if I had ever considered training again. I told him my story of how things had gone before, but he encouraged me to give it another shot.  I agreed to give it another try. I showed up to my first class, and we just worked on my movements.  After that, we set another time for me to come back and work some drills followed by strength training. For a few months it was just Alan and I working together to get me stronger.  We were trying to figure out exactly what I could do and then tried to find ways to modify the normal Jiu Jitsu techniques.

One day, Alan asked me if I would be interested in coming in to train with the rest of the class.   With apprehension, I came to the first group class.  People were extremely friendly and helpful.  They were all willing to help me with all of the moves. I don’t remember who I first rolled with outside of Alan, but I remember that I got my ass kicked. I guess you could say I’m a glutton for punishment because I kept coming back. Every time I came back, I started to learn more and more.   People would explain things to me, and I felt like I was part of a family. That is the thing with Tier 1; we are more than a place to train.  At Tier 1, we are a family.  When we go to a tournament even if only a few go to compete; we all go to support.

My first tournament was the Houston Open of 2015, which I will also be competing in again in February 2016. I put my faith in Alan when it came to competing and asked him if he thought I was ready.  He told me yes, so I signed up. We traveled down to Houston as a group, and I think we had about six competitors. I was more concerned about screwing something simple up like getting on the mat. We got to the tournament around 9 am, but I didn’t compete until 3pm. I had to watch my weight, so I didn’t eat or really even drink anything all day. When I finally got onto the mat and the referee said fight; all the nerves melted away. I couldn’t even hear my coach yelling at me. I was only focused on the task at hand and trying to implement my game plan. I remember hearing the buzzer go off and the referee breaking us apart because the match was over. I ended up only losing by points in my first ever Jiu Jitsu match and even though I didn’t win; it was such a great experience. Competing for me, is the only true measure to find out what level your skill is at.  Alan tells me all the time that you can be the best guy in the gym but things change once you compete.

After competing for the first time, I knew that this was an integral part of my growth in Jiu Jitsu. The reason I started training was not to compete but to build self-confidence; to know that I could defend myself and family if I needed to.  When I train, I try to treat it like I would when I compete or if I’m trying to defend myself. Your reaction time has to be trained just like with everything else. If you carry a gun for instance, you have to train to draw the weapon and fire it.  Another reason that I like to train under Alan is because he is constantly testing himself by competing. That helps build confidence in a student to know that their instructor competes or even used to compete.

I do believe that Jiu Jitsu can be for everyone, but you have to find the place that will help you train the way you want to train. If you don’t like the first place you try out don’t just give up; go to a few more places and try it out. If I can train, then anyone should be able to.   The biggest thing to remember is to have fun while doing it!

If you are at the 2016 IBJJF Houston Open this weekend, stop by and cheer Joey on!  If you would like to find out more about We Defy, please go to their website www.wedefyfoundation.org.