Carlson Gracie named Small Business of the Month
Along with the shops and restaurants that define downtown Plant City, there’s also a hub for intense but recreational activity – Carlson Gracie Plant City/Cross Guard Fitness.
This establishment offers Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts (MMA) classes.
Now The Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce is helping the school start off 2022 on a high note, by recognizing it as January’s Small Business of the Month.
Samuel Kimmel is the owner and head instructor of Carlson Gracie Plant City, which he opened eight years ago.
“Coming up, my goal was always to try to be a pillar of the community, just to give back as much as I can” he said.
Kimmel and his staff welcome both kids and adults alike, to train in martial arts and learn the self-discipline, self-defense and healthy lifestyle that comes along with it.
There is diversity among students as they are made up of doctors, lawyers, construction workers, and teachers, among others.
And it is a place that brings together people of different ethnicities and ideologies to work together and better each other.
Kimmel said that he wants Carlson Gracie to be a family-friendly atmosphere.
He added that, “Whenever anyone comes in here, we always want to embrace them like a long-lost relative. That’s how you always should feel.”
The Plant City school is just one of many Carlson Gracie schools throughout Florida. Often times the Lakeland branch will use their facility and vice versa.
Carlson Gracie Plant City focuses mainly on Jiu-Jitsu for ages 3 and up. MMA training is offered, but for adults only.
It’s a style of martial arts that involves more forceful sparring through boxing and kickboxing.
Kimmel practiced boxing and karate growing up and transitioned into Jiu-Jitsu by age 17. Jiu-Jitsu is a form of martial arts that involves taking an opponent to the ground and keeping them locked to the point where they’re defenseless.
Carlos Gracie is the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which has become a global skillset. He taught his sons these defense tactics, and they carried the mantle, including Carlson Gracie – whom the Plant City establishment is named after.
While the school has become a staple in town, it had some bumpy roads along the way.
At his first location, Kimmel had a difficult time building up enough clientele, which prompted him to relocate. His second place of business seemed promising, however, it was located in front of a muffler shop, which people had often mistaken it for.
“We stayed there for four years,” Kimmel said. “The problem is, we didn’t have any identity. We had Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu signs and people would call us for mufflers.”
Now, the third and current location in downtown, has given his business a resurgence, he said.
Adjacent to the Brick City Bricks Lego store, on Reynolds Street, the school trains anywhere from 50 to 80 students a day.
“When we moved here about four years ago, it was a night and day difference,” Kimmel said. “It really took off from there. We’ve really livened up the downtown area.”
Kimmel travels cross-country to be a referee at Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. Not only does the staff train students to gain new belts in class, but they take them to perform in statewide competitions.
Carlson Gracie Plant City also took part in the Tap Cancer Out Tournament, raising approximately $12,000 to help fight cancer.
While Kimmel said that he’s competitive, he tries to instill in his students that winning isn’t always important, it’s the effort that counts.
Not only does Jiu-Jitsu teach competitors to pin their opponents down, but it also teaches how those in inferior positions can defend themselves.
Kimmel said that this defense strategy can also be an analogy for remaining strong when held down by challenges in life.
“My motto is ‘You got to lose to win,’” Kimmel said. “The more you lose, the more you’re going to learn from that and the more you’re going to gain to win.” Kimmel is also a firm believer that education is an attribute of a winner. His staff is committed to picking up kids from Plant City elementary schools and bringing them to the training spot. Not only will the kids get their training sessions, but staff assists them with homework and reading, while providing snacks.
The school also offers summer camp programs when students are on their break.
And training sessions are opportune moments for Kimmel and his staff to be big brothers and sisters.
They take time getting to know each child and help guide them in the right direction.
He noted that parents express gratitude toward the school, and in one instance a principal came by to detail the positive transformation of a student.
Adults too, receive counseling with whatever issues they may be dealing with.
The trainers also work with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We’ve been slowly building ourselves up like building blocks, working our way up and we’ve snatched every goal that we’ve tried to accomplish. I’m just going to keep setting higher and higher bars and try to jump them,” Kimmel said.