Andrew Wiltse Interview… Beyond the Mats

5 min read
Read how Andrew’s far more than just a world-class BJJ athlete and some advice that is sure to help improve your life both on and off the mats

Andrew Wiltse Interview… Beyond the Mats

Read how Andrew’s far more than just a world-class BJJ athlete and some advice that is sure to help improve your life both on and off the mats

Interviewee: Andrew Wiltse

Location: Massachusetts

As I watched the first class of the evening tie their belts and line up, I overheard a conversation behind me that caught my attention. “Are the Daisy Fresh guys recording over at Fanatics?” As my class began, my mind (and technically my body) began to run in circles. Interviewing Andrew Wiltse would be an amazing opportunity. Having only met him once when he trained at my gym a few months prior, I wondered if reaching out to him was appropriate. Then I remembered something a friend told me once that I remind myself of regularly. “Fortune favors the bold.”

The BJJ Fanatics headquarters is located in a maze of hallways that seem to continue endlessly. Andrew and Bird Wiltse were recording an instructional video and our teammate Alex West, who was behind the camera, asked us to enter quietly. We closed the door behind us gently, slid off our shoes, and watched as Andrew explained a position he was working through with his brother for the camera. As soon as they finished, Bird left the mat and Andrew simply gave us a smile and welcomed us to begin our interview. It seemed he recorded content in the same way he trained… without breaks.

The Wiltse brothers are both very nice guys, particularly so, considering they’re most likely the most dangerous people in any given room. They’re also smart and witty; making conversation with them is easy and interesting and goes far beyond simply discussing jiu-jitsu.

They train and live at the notorious Daisy Fresh gym in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, where Heath Pedigo raises world champions in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. They were in Massachusetts on this particular week to film two DVDs for BJJ fanatics, including one on guard retention in the Gi, and the other on wrestling out from guard.

Andrew, a natural homebody, prefers to stay home at the gym as much as possible. He recently got an adorable puppy named Riddle, who was back home with his girlfriend, Michelle Dominik. If you want to hear him speak passionately about something other than jiu-jitsu, dog training is an excellent place to start. Another hobby of his is reading. Andrew is constantly enjoying online web serials. He is particularly interested in the fantasy genre and turns to The Rational Community for recommendations.

His passion, perhaps, is most evident during live rolls. After the interview, Jack Stapleton from Team Trifecta and Enigma Jiu-Jitsu and Alex West of Team Flo Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, two of New England’s best up and coming competitors, began to train with him. I have had the opportunity to watch Stapleton and West train and compete, and they are both absolutely formidable. And it was fascinating to watch as Andrew moved around them, jokingly narrating his moves as he went and whispering shhhhhhh as he closed chokes.

My monthly column, “Passing the Mental Guard,” centers around mental health in jiu-jitsu. I ask everyone I interview an open-ended question on this topic in the hopes of learning more about how jiu-jitsu has affected the mental health of practitioners from their personal perspective. Awareness of mental health struggles is a topic close to Andrew’s heart. He shared with us that he has a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and that he uses his training to help keep him organized. This organization is key for him to stay level in his general life, particularly because competing when he is feeling low is difficult.

He mentioned that members of the jiu-jitsu community have reached out to him frequently to thank him for his openness in discussing this topic. Andrew explained that a lot of men in this sport, in particular, feel that they have to remain quiet about certain feelings to maintain their macho persona. They don’t discuss heartbreak or mental health challenges, and so he wants to speak openly about his own struggles, so they do not feel so alone in theirs.

Along with remaining organized, Andrew provided some advice to newer practitioners. He feels that developing a solid foundation is key to a successful journey in jiu-jitsu. He recommends focusing on a particular sweep or pass until it is strong, as opposed to simply spending time rolling. He feels that he has a slow learning curve, and so he sticks with something new until he really has it down, whether in training or video games or in any other skills he is developing.

It is always a wonderful experience to speak with a highly successful person who is also humble. Andrew’s other interests, such as dog training, reading, writing, and video games, add layers to a man who is known for one particular thing. And his openness to discussing his struggles keeps him relatable. It will be fantastic to watch him as his career develops. He’s someone to root for.

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