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San Diego
Thursday, May 30, 2024

Casper Jiu Jitsu Academy Powers Through the Pandemic

Once an on-field gridiron standout for Arena Football League teams in Montana and Texas, Ron Casper is now building future martial arts stars in Linda Vista.

The San Diego native and first-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu runs the Casper Jiu Jitsu Academy where he helps students train and condition, gain strength of mind and body, and learn how to use martial arts in close combat for self-defense.

“I can’t speak highly enough about Jiu Jitsu,” said Casper, 40. “It’s the most mental and physical thing you can do. And if you like to study, it’s incredibly challenging and so rewarding. It can be hard or easy.”

Jiu Jitsu is an ancient fighting technique with roots in Japan that keeps those who practice it flexible and agile. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu developed later and added other ground fighting and grappling positions.

New England Roots

Casper grew up in the New England area and graduated in 2005 from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, where he played defensive back for the Corsairs football team. He also ran the 55 meters indoor and 100 meters and 200 meters outdoors for the school’s track and field team.

He ended up back in San Diego in 2005, trained as a boxer and in the martial art/combat sport of Muay Thai and attended his first Jiu Jitsu class in 2009. He studied, stayed with it and opened his business in late 2019, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.


With the health emergency, state and county protocols forced gyms to close, then allowed them to set up with proper social distancing and reopen.

During that time, Casper’s student attendance dropped from 50 to eight.

Fighting to Keep Gym Open During COVID

“It was definitely one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do, working my way through the pandemic to keep the gym open,” Casper said. “It was super hard. But it was also one of the best things that ever happened.”

He said during the closures and related low student turnout, he created 400 unique videos. He said he had previously been outsourcing his videomaking but taught himself how to create content, which opened his eyes to becoming a better businessman.

He said he did not apply for government funding and instead concentrated on building up his personal training business.

Casper said he has always pushed himself, with a strong work ethic learned from his parents, which he shares with his students.

“Every day on every level there are small battles, small victories,” he said. “I always say, ‘The goal in everything is to get 1 percent better every day.’ I tell people in my class that right here on the mat you’ll learn more about yourself than anything else. Jiu Jitsu helps you with life.”

The son of an African-American mother and white father, and raised with several other mixed-race family members, Casper said he has “never seen color.”

He said the most difficult part of growing up was not having to deal with taunts of “not being white enough or not being Black enough” — though he heard that often — it was the plight of his mother. An athlete her entire life, she was a standout runner on the track & field team for the University of Minnesota.

Drawing Inspiration from His Mother

But his mother was struck with Multiple Sclerosis when Casper was a child. He said she became a paraplegic when he was a teenager. Casper said he never saw his mother walk. She died at age 43 in 2001, when he was just 19.

“That still pains me to this day,” Casper said. “But my mom never gave up, she fought the whole time. She believed in me and everything I did, I did to make her proud. And I still do. I run marathons for her, and when I’m out there running, I have time to talk to her daily.”

He said his father, an engineer, is still alive and remains his hero — and vice versa.

“My dad is definitely my biggest fan,” Casper said. “My parents grinded it out and always pushed me to do better. My dad always made health a priority. I’ve been hearing him say, ‘Your health is your wealth’ since I was 4 years old.”

Casper said his job is his passion, and although “football is No. 1, and if I could play another down, I might,” that teaching Jiu Jitsu is the closest thing to it and something he will do forever.

“My dad said, you’re living your dream and he’s right,” Casper said. “My students, sometimes they will tell me they’re having a bad day and do I have any uplifting stuff? I get to talk to them and help them. That’s good for my soul.”

“Everybody in my academy knows about me, they know about my mom. I want to have that same connection with them that I had with her, to keep helping the kids and the community.”

FOR MORE COVERAGE: Click here to view the entire Celebrating Black Entrepreneurs Special Section from the Feb. 7 San Diego Business Journal.


Founded: 2019

Proprietor: Ron Casper

Students: 50

Location: 6913 Linda Vista Road, San Diego


Notable: A black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Ron Casper played professionally for several teams in the Arena Football League, which lasted from 1987-2019.

Ron Casper finishes a workout. Photo by Karen Pearlman. 



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