Gene Simco: From Martial Arts to Ministry – Jiu-jitsu to Jesus
During the infancy of MMA, Gene Simco was at the forefront of the BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-jitsu) and MMA instructional industry. He was the founder of one of the largest Jiu-jitsu websites, with millions of visits and was the first to author Brazilian Jiu-jitsu books here in the US. He is the author of the largest Brazilian Jiu-jitsu book ever written, starred in several instructional DVD series and was an acclaimed coach who produced Brazilian Jiu-jitsu champions at a world level. He built the largest MMA Gym to date in the Mid-Hudson Valley area of New York.
Not without controversy, Simco was also known for his arrogant persona and shrewd business tactics. Like him or not, there is no arguing that he became a financially successful Martial Arts entrepreneur.
So why leave a lucrative business behind for a financially uncertain career in Christian Music? We interviewed him to find out.
Naples Noteworthy: So let’s get to the big question. Why did you leave the martial arts business?
Well, that IS right to the point. It was a gradual thing. When I started doing martial arts, I can honestly say I loved it. As it turned into a business where I “needed” to show up in order to pay the bills, it turned into something I “had” to do. That made it less fun. After I turned 30, I began to suffer from a lot of reoccurring injuries. The great irony about martial arts is that you train to protect yourself, and in most cases you end up suffering more harm through the training process than through injuries any potential attacker might cause you. It isn’t a whole lot of fun to know more than you can actually physically do. I enjoyed teaching to a certain extent, but it became more about the money for me after a while and eventually reduced itself to a job.
Naples Noteworthy: But if “it” was still making money, why leave?
It was, but that actually became the problem. Money was my ‘god’. I was at a point where I had all of the things in life that I thought I had wanted, yet I was still unhappy. I came to a realization that nothing can make you happy if you don’t have faith. I became tired of chasing money. I had been brought up Catholic, so I knew that God existed, and there was something in my heart calling me to Him. I had no idea what it was, just a very strong feeling. Something was telling me that nothing else was going to work or fill that void in my life, so I began looking for a church.
Naples Noteworthy: What church did you end up joining and how did you arrive at the decision?
I decided to look for a non-denominational church. I knew enough about church to know I didn’t want to be involved in man-made hierarchies or any additives. I was fortunate enough to recognize that money was one of my problems, so I knew to stay away from churches promising it and churches asking for too much of it. I wasn’t looking for religion, I was looking for Jesus and wanted to be a part of a good group of Christians who followed what it says in the Bible. We ended up at a great non-denominational church called Community Congregational Church (C3) here in Naples with a fantastic Pastor and a wonderful group of people. Now that I know a little more, there are some denominational churches with biblically-centered leadership structures that I would consider if I ever had to find a church again.
Naples Noteworthy: I know that you’ve returned to music and are now very involved in Christian music in particular. What are your plans moving forward?
I’ve returned to songwriting, playing guitar and singing. That is what I did before pursuing a career in martial arts. I know a lot of people that end up reading this knew me from martial arts and I hope that this interview serves as something that points to Christ and not my own endeavors or acts as a “plug” for anything I’m involved with now, so I’d prefer to center the discussion on the reason for my transformation rather than my future plans. For those who follow me on social media or the web, I will be letting them know what I’m up to in the future, but I hope that after reading this interview, people will follow Jesus, not me.
Sure. Three As One is a band formed by three of us from the worship team at C3 Church in Naples. The idea is to share Jesus’ message with the unreached through music. Leading believers in worship on a Sunday at church is important, but Jesus commanded us to go out and share the Gospel and “make disciples of all nations”. The message is to go out there and reach out to those who haven’t heard or been touched by the message. We did have our first live event recently, which went very nicely; the best thing about it was to see how the church came together to really show love to people beyond the music, serving them and feeding them – that’s what it’s really all about. We have some live recordings of the event available online for free download and hope to record in the studio so we can make that available online as well, using the internet as a way to reach people all over the world.
Naples Noteworthy: So can you let us know how you came to the decision to return to music?
Sure, I actually didn’t want to. When I started going to church, I was pretty much continuing on with my life the same way, with a little Jesus on the side. I was a Sunday-to-Sunday Christian. I wasn’t all-in. When I joined my church, they found out that I had been involved with music most of my life, so they asked me to join the worship team. I played guitar at first, then they found out I could sing harmonies, so I started singing a little. Eventually, the worship leader told me that he wanted me to be his back up when he went on vacations. I laughed at him. It was not at all what I wanted to do. But eventually I found myself singing lead on some songs and becoming more involved. Now, I’m working in music ministry full time and I really enjoy it.
Naples Noteworthy: What caused you to finally go “all-in”?
Well, I’m assuming that there are going to be many non-believers reading this, so I’ll stay away from all the Christian-ese words and simply say that once you surrender to God and say that you want to serve Him, He’s pretty much an all or nothing kind of Father. You’re either all in or you’re all in – anything else is not comfortable and when you’re not obedient, He’ll let you know through any number of different signs or circumstances when He sees fit. For me, it was a minor stroke. I was doing “Christian things”, but not living a Christian life, so I believe He made me stop and put things into perspective. I was at my house doing my normal routine one day and all of the sudden, I started going gradually numb on the left side of my body. I had my wife drive me to the hospital, which was only ten minutes away and by the time she got me there, I was unable to get out of the car on my own strength. I could barely speak.
They admitted me as a stroke patient, did all the tests and scans. Let me tell you this: while I was lying there unable to move, I didn’t care about what kind of car I drove, how much money I had in the bank, or what sports or hobbies I was good at. It all meant nothing. I was terrified because I didn’t have a relationship with the One I might be about to meet next. I had no explanation for myself or my actions. So with what words I could utter, I asked my wife to call my pastor and “bring his bible”. She already had and he was there in minutes. So I had him pray for me – he would even if I hadn’t asked – the feeling slowly came back. All tests had confirmed it was a minor stroke (TIA) and then all of the sudden, I was moving again. I was released the next day. I honestly believe God wanted me to see that I was being called to be used for His purpose and that I needed to wake up and listen. I look at it as a wake-up call and a second chance.
Naples Noteworthy: So that’s when you began working full-time in Christian ministry?
Not exactly, I still struggled letting go of certain things – it’s a process that we all go through, but I had some amazing people provide me with support and confirmation. I’m still a work in progress. I still appreciate and enjoy nice things, they just aren’t at the top of my priority list.
Naples Noteworthy: Some might find that this transformation is pretty extreme. Knowing who you were before, they might find this hard to believe. What would be your answer to that?
I don’t blame them. To those who doubt or look for fault, I would say a couple of things: first, the Apostle Paul said, “If I were still trying to please man, I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ.” The difference now is that I don’t care what anyone thinks, just what my God thinks. Before, I cared what everyone thought and that’s what made me the kind of person I was. Second, some don’t know this, but the Apostle Paul was “Saul” before he converted. He was responsible for persecuting and killing Christians, then went on to serve Jesus and become the author of a large portion of the Bible. That’s the story of the apostles and disciples. Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous. And that’s a part of my message: if He can save a wretch like me, he can certainly save you as well.
Naples Noteworthy: Do you miss training in martial arts?
No. Jesus is better than Jiu-jitsu … and I’m just not cool enough to leave it at that. I tried. It’s not for me anymore; I don’t think it’s how God wants to use me right now. My heart has changed and the things that motivated me to do martial arts just aren’t important to me anymore.
Naples Noteworthy: Does martial arts conflict with your Christian beliefs?
This is a personal thing and I’m not sure if you can definitively say whether combat sports are right or wrong based on anything in the Bible. I think it’s a heart issue and it’s hard to know what is in someone’s heart – that is for God to judge. I’m careful about how I say this because I don’t want to judge anyone and I know God can use anything for His glory, even martial arts. So BIG disclaimer here, this is about ME and not a judgement on anyone else. Where I struggle is with the inherent violence and ego associated with combat sports. I can see how teaching a cop to restrain someone without causing them too much harm is a peaceful use of martial arts. Self-defense is obviously an appropriate application that I don’t think is sinful as long as excessive fear isn’t the motivator. I can see the purpose of being involved at a certain level in order to evangelize to people in the MMA world. I have lots of friends who are great fighters and their walk is their walk, it’s not my business to judge how God speaks to them in their lives or to know what is in their hearts.
Naples Noteworthy: What do you say to those out there who simply don’t believe in God?
I have a friend who told me about an argument he had with an atheist. He said, “If I’m wrong about Jesus and you’re right about ‘nothing’, then there is no consequence for me. But if I’m right and you’re wrong, you’re screwed.” It’s a basic argument, but it is kind of funny and true. To say there is not a God is to say you know everything. To say there is a God is to say that you don’t know everything. I’m now one of those who will humbly acknowledge that we will never fully comprehend all the mysteries of this universe and this world. I’m okay with that – it’s called faith. As long as you keep trying to control everything which you actually have no control over, you will always be unsatisfied. Faith is fulfilling. Science changes every few years, so they obviously don’t have everything figured out. Think about what scientists were telling people fifty or one hundred years ago and how it’s changed.
I’m not saying all science is wrong and I do think that science and Christianity can coexist. But to have faith in science only or theories that change every few years is kind of crazy. One thing hasn’t changed in thousands of years and that’s Jesus. Nothing He said or did has been disproven. Nothing He taught is considered unwise. In fact, two thousand years later, He is regarded as the most famous person in history and He still will be thousands of years from now. It’s funny how over the last ten or twenty years, archeologists and scientists are finding more and more evidence that backs up what it says in the Bible. I’m not an expert or theologian and I don’t need to be; I know what Jesus has done in my life and I’m happy to share it.
For those who don’t believe in Jesus, think about the people you believe in and the things you count as having value in your life. Those things will all rot or be destroyed someday, the people you believe in will not be remembered, but Jesus will always be. He’s still the most famous name in history thousands of years later and while there may be other famous names, not one of them comes close and none of them are the subject of the best-selling and most widely published book in history, still to this day. There is a reason for it. Jesus is the only person in history who can bring joy on earth and eternal salvation in heaven – and He has for billions of people. No self-help program, religion or scientific theory can make that claim; only Jesus can.
Naples Noteworthy: Thanks for your time. Is there any final message you’d like to add?
It’s always a pleasure to share about what God has done in my life. I would just like to say to all those who feel like they will burn up if they enter a church, that Jesus came for you. His message was for you. There is no one too lost or broken to be saved. Paul says “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” ALL, meaning him, too. Jesus was the only perfect person; even the “saints” were sinners. God has love and grace for you and a purpose for you.
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Community Congregational Church
Modern Worship: Sundays 11:00 am
15300 Tamiami Trail North (Rt 41)
Naples Fl, 34110