Written by Brandon Ibarra - Interviewed by TK Kline & Rome Lytton IV
He will spar ten rounds of eight minutes or five rounds of ten minutes.
Sometimes the gym will be so crowded he and his teammates run a gauntlet
Ezequiel Wang’s parents started their family in Taiwan. His father worked as an engineer, specializing in agriculture, and was offered a job by the Brazilian government to improve their developing rice crops. When he saw how beautiful the country was (and how available/cheap land was compared to Taiwan), he relocated his wife and three children there permanently.
After settling in Brazil, Ezequiel was born in Sao Luis. He excelled in judo from a young age, winning five state titles and three regional championships before receiving his purple belt.
When he left for university, there weren’t any judo gyms nearby. His sensei from home recommended a new place, but it was two hours away by bus. Jiu-Jitsu was gaining popularity, and there was a gym he could walk to five minutes from his house. He decided to give it a try just to stay fit and active, and took his first class in 2003, when he was 26 years old. Now he is competing in the World Championships, currently held in Las Vegas, USA (22 August- 25 August).
When asked about his first Jiu-Jitsu experience, Ezequiel says, “Yes, I remember, [class] was tough, man. I was overweight. I was like 120 kilos, but my Judo skills helped me a lot. And with my Judo skills, my Jiu-Jitsu teacher told me, ‘You have potential to go to competition’, so what I did [was] I got in shape, 95 kilos, and then after that I start to compete in my first competition.”
Ezequiel won the Sao Paolo Championship as a white belt and was promoted to blue in his first year (he is currently a brown belt). His Judo background served as an excellent base to build his skills from, and he was excited to continue his progression.
Then, adversity struck. While training for the Pan-Ams, Ezequiel injured his knee severely, requiring surgery and an extended period of rest and rehabilitation. He drifted away from martial arts, focusing on a career in information technology.
“I need to support myself, and I decided that man, Jiu-Jitsu don't make me money, and I need to focus on what I want to do,” he says.
Ten years later, with retirement in his sights, he shifted his attention back on his personal health and well-being. He had gained weight back to 130 kilos, nearly diabetic and experiencing arthritic pains.
At his wife’s behest, he resumed training and shed the extra weight again. Over the next five years, Ezequiel trained hard, even through additional injuries, to get back to 92 kilos.
“If you can't beat an injury, who you gonna beat on the mat, right?” he asks. The first fight is the one experienced internally, when you feel too lazy or hurt to train. Never lose sight of the initial goal despite the obstacles that arise along the way.
Ezequiel actually embraces the opportunity to find other ways to be effective if one of his usual tools is unavailable. If his knee is hurt, he will avoid full-guard and look for half-guard. If his shoulder is hurt, he’s got to keep it off the mat, half-guard on the opposite side.
“The need to adapt your game...it’s an art,” he says.
Ezequiel maintains a heavy regimen when preparing for competition:
“My training cycle will be five days a week Jiu-Jitsu [technique and sparring], five days a week weights and three times a week cardio, like running or bike, and three times yoga. To have flexibility is very important in Jiu-Jitsu.”
He will spar ten rounds of eight minutes or five rounds of ten minutes. Sometimes the gym will be so crowded he and his teammates run a gauntlet to pass or sweep the opponent, winner stays on the mat. He leaves those decisions and other “technical stuff” to his sensei.
His favorite competition memory so far comes from the Brazilian Nationals in 2015. He won the gold in his division after four matches to go on to the open class tournament. In his first bout, he popped his shoulder out of its socket, but pushed through the pain to secure the victory. As happy as he was to win despite the injury, he would still have to fight four more times before winning his second gold of the event. His only focus at that point was to stay warm and loose.
“So I take just one fight, five minute break, and I want another one because I don't want to cool down, [or] you’re gonna feel more of your shoulder [pain]. So i fought more four times with my shoulder out [of the socket].”
Everyone else looked at him like he was crazy. Normally you would want as much time to rest and recover before your next contest, but Ezequiel was the only one who would not sit down. He would rally to claim the second gold medal with his shoulder popping in and out over the course of the those next four matches.
When asked if he has any advice to share on training or competing, Ezequiel replies, “Just have fun in the competition, don’t take it too serious and talk with your sensei” and to “[enjoy] the good stuff like a when you think that you are good every time, [then you] have someone to beat your ass so you [know what you] need to get to improve.”
He seems to have underestimated the high level of training available in Taiwan just a bit despite its lack of prominence in the local culture.
“Yeah I say like man, I think that, ‘Okay I would go there [to Taiwan] and say that [it’s] gonna be a piece of cake’. When I come here, [I get ] my ass [beat] once, two, three, four, five, six... I said that, ‘I like this shit’. That was very tough, man. [It] was very nice.”