Nonprofit Executive by Day, Black Belt Jiu-Jitsu Trainer By Night

By Paul Biasco on February 21, 2013 9:18am 

NEAR NORTH — In 2009, Misho Ceko, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, was starting the first mixed martial arts school in Mozambique while working for the United Nations in that country.

A little over three years later, the 38-year-old man has opened his own gym just south of North Avenue on Halsted, where he teaches almost every night. But during the daylight hours Ceko is the chief operating officer for Chicago Children's Choir.

"That's full time. That pays the bills," he said. "This is my hobby."

Ceko, who is considered one of the most highly-regarded Jiu-Jitsu experts in the country, couldn't give up martial arts when he moved from Mozambique to be with his family in Chicago when his wife learned she was pregnant.

"All of that stuff I've done outside of the gym, I attribute to martial arts in terms of the lessons I've learned," he said.

"That stuff" includes obtaining graduate degrees from the Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. As COO of the nonprofit Chicago Children's Choir, he is now helping provide music education to nearly 3,000 Chicago Public Schools students, but in the past Ceko worked as a strategy consultant for Accenture in Washington D.C.., as a bioengineer for St. Jude Medical and the National Institutes of Health.

The 6-foot-2, 200 pound black belt, who trained under the legendary Ralph Gracie, opened his new gym, Chicago Mixed Martial Arts, on Jan. 1, a hybrid space that houses a CrossFit gym and his mixed martial arts studio.

The CrossFit trainer, Zoran Vukic, sees the mixed space as a perfect compliment between the two workouts.

"The response has been unbelievable," he said.

With his new gym Ceko hopes to instill respect for the martial arts in his students, and train them at an extremely high level.

Two of his students are preparing to compete in the Chicago Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament and 10 are training for the Chicago Open Jiu-Jitsu competition. Both are in March.

While the space is Ceko's first that he can call his own, his experience teaching Jiu-Jitsu, boxing and kickboxing in Mozambique was one that he wanted to continue in Chicago.

"Martial arts is not about fighting. It is an art," he said. "Everyone in there comes from different walks of life."

The experience teaching martial arts in Mozambique came to Ceko by way of an accidental broken bone.

On his first day training inside a judo studio, he ended up throwing another student and breaking his arm. The teacher of that studio recommended the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu studio down the street and when he told the instructor he had been training for 14 or 15 years, their roles reversed.

"He said you are going to teach and I'm going to be your student," Ceko said. "In Mozambique, they have a history. They really love martial arts and boxing. They've had boxing for generations ever since Muhammad Ali went to Africa."

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