Gordon Ryan – The Rags to Riches Rise of ‘The King’

Gordon Ryan is undoubtedly one of the best modern day grapplers of our time. His meteoric rise through our sport saw him start Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and gain his black belt in just 5 years. A rare feat. that few have accomplished. This Black Belt isn’t just any black belt though, it was awarded to him by his good friend and training partner Garry Tonon, under the watchful eyes of one of the greatest grappling coaches and evil genius’ of our time, John Danaher.

But it’s not just Gordon’s grappling that sets him out from other, while most grapplers let their results do the talking and will happily slink along in the shadows, Gordon wears his heart on his sleeve, when it comes to his opinions, on himself, on grappling and other people. This sometimes ends him up in hot water, but it never fails to add to the personality of ‘King’ Gordon Ryan.

However, not many people know the full story of Gordon, and recently on his Instagram stories, he decided to lay it all out for people to read. Many think of him as a privileged kid from New Jersey, who was lucky enough to train Jiu-Jitsu full-time but this story paints another picture.

“Here’s a [bit of] background on me. I was born in 1995 into a very nice home in NJ. My parents had moved into my grandparents house (on my dad’s side) and they tore down the entire house in the mid 30s and invested every penny they ever had into building a new one. My mom was pregnant with me and her and my dad built a 5000 sq ft house with 4 garages, 5 bedrooms, and 7 baths. Her, my dad and their friend build the house from the ground up by themselves.

When I was 7-years-old my parents and my grandparents got into a legal debate and because my parents didn’t have their names on the deed to the house, we got kicked out. My parents at 40 years old, having invested their entire savings into the house, 2 kids (me, 7, and Nicky, 1) got kicked out on the street with nothing. No money from the house, no settlement, no nothing. They have to start life over.

For the next 10 years, they did everything they could to keep a roof over their head and food in our mouths. But the life we lived was far from luxurious. They couldn’t afford to pay for BJJ, so I had used my savings from birthday and X-Mas from previous years to pay for training.

At 17, when I could finally drive, I got a job at a yoghurt store so I could afford my car payment and the rest of my bills. At 18 I didn’t have enough money after high school to make it to the city to train or keep paying bills, so I started working at DPW throwing grass bags in the back of a truck for 40 hours a week, and training at night with Garry [Tonon] after. I did this for 1 year. Then I had enough money to support myself to be able to get to the city and train fulltime. Carry wouldn’t let me pay for travel into the city, but I was always ready to pay if need be.

At 18 and a half, I realised I didn’t have enough money saved so I went back to work for the summer (5 months) to save more money so I could train full-time. At late 18, early 19, I started training full time in the city with John [Danaher] as a pro, training twice a day, every day in the city. and commuting 1000 miles a week, back and forth.

I was fortunate enough to be able to save money while living at home. But granted, I wasn’t able to do that one my own and pay all of my bills, [but] I would have made it work.

At 20, I was legitimately able to survive on my own. I was able to pay for everything, and do everything, I had to be a real adult. Not because I was lucky, or because I grew up white and privileged. Because I worked my fucking ass off to get somewhere in live. I have been working 12-18 hours a day, 365 days a year, for the past 5 years straight. Why? Because I don’t wanna be like everyone else. If course I had amazing parents and they did everything the could to help me.

But that doesn’t change the fact that even if I grew up in an impoverished area in the middle of nowhere, that I would still find a way to be incredibly successful. Life isn’t about how to cards are dealt, It’s about how you play the hand. if you wanna be successful, or even just live a decent life. Otherwise, you’ll just sit around and feel sorry for yourself, like most people.

So the next time and of you losers say ‘you’re lucky this and that, you’re privileged’ think about this. My family was kicked out onto the street with nothing but debt at 40 years old and they found a way to stay off the streets and support 2 kids. I refused X-Mas gifts when I was 15 to train bjj and have been working like a dog since 17. Of course I don’t have empathy for people who don’t help themselves. Because, it’s simple, the world doesn’t care about you. If you wanna make it in life then get the fuck up and do something.”

About the author

Richard Presley

A purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Richard is the owner and primary writer of Attack The back. Check out my About Me Page to learn more!