Justin Brezhnev has a distinct dream. With tears in his eyes, he will stare up into a blur of red, white and blue as the American flag is raised. “The Star Spangled Banner” will play over the loudspeakers after he wins the SAMBO World Championship. A man will proudly applaud with the rest of the stadium, and Brezhnev will run over to him, lift him up and carry him on his shoulders. This man is his sensei, his friend and his father.
One day Justin Brezhnev hopes to actually be carrying his father at the SAMBO World Championship. Since he was seven, third-year communication studies student Justin Brezhnev has trained to make this dream a reality. It was his father, Boris Brezhnev, who introduced him to SAMBO, a Russian martial arts form that combines wrestling, judo and karate, and through the years the two have bonded over the sport.
“You grow into this relationship that can move mountains. He and I are a strong unit,” Justin Brezhnev said.
During practices and competitions Justin Brezhnev calls his father “sensei.” As a former Olympic wrestler, Boris Brezhnev knows how much hard work it takes to become a champion and pushes his son to the limit. He holds high expectations for his son, sometimes doubling the number of push-ups his son does to end practice.
Under his father’s coaching, Justin Brezhnev has won numerous SAMBO competitions, including the U.S. Open SAMBO Championship at the age of 15.
Father and son agree Justin Brezhnev’s success is due to his strong will and hard work. His father recollects a time when Justin Brezhnev broke his leg, which kept him from competing. Boris Brezhnev admits that it was tough for him to see his son go through the struggles of not being able to walk. However, he is proud that Justin Brezhnev did not give up and overcame the adversity from the injury.
“(Justin) is a great example of how people can achieve something through hard work,” Boris Brezhnev said.
For the last couple months, Justin Brezhnev has practiced three times a day in preparation for the SAMBO World Cup among students, where he will be representing both the U.S. and UCLA. Justin Brezhnev decided to take the quarter off at UCLA in order to compete in the tournament.
While most UCLA students are studying for final exams, Justin Brezhnev and his father left for Kazan, Russia on Nov. 28.
Outside of competition, his father is a friend and life mentor. Together, Justin and Boris Brezhnev founded the Dynamo Sports Club, an organization aiming to teach and spread SAMBO in America. Taking the lessons that he has learned from his father, Justin Brezhnev dedicates his time to teaching his own students self-defense, proper grappling techniques and the basics of SAMBO.
Specifically, Justin Brezhnev hopes to popularize the sport on the university level. When he returns from Europe, Justin Brezhnev will look to create a SAMBO club at UCLA.
For Justin Brezhnev, SAMBO is not just a sport but a way of life, and he wants to share this lifestyle with his peers.
Jack Kogan, the President of American Amateur SAMBO Federation, has known Justin Brezhnev for over 10 years, and agrees that SAMBO is more than a new trend in martial arts.
“SAMBO is not just the physical ability to fight but also about philosophy, the way you approach the fight,” Kogan said.
Essential to this philosophy is discipline ““ a discipline Justin Brezhnev applies to every aspect of his life.
“When you dedicate yourself to a sport like this, you are dedicating your life,” said Justin Brezhnev.
This lifestyle includes sacrifices such as cutting weight, watching what you eat, and daily practices. In return, Justin Brezhnev has gained not only self-defense skills, but also the confidence to know that he is prepared for any situation.
What Justin Brezhnev loves most about SAMBO, however, is the bond it has created in his family. Justin Brezhnev cherishes all of the hours at practices and competition because it has become a way for him to stay connected with his father. Even at home the two are constantly discussing new tactics and strategies with each other.
“SAMBO has kept my family very strong. My relationship between me and my father has been really close because we have this one thing that is constantly keeping us together,” Justin Brezhnev said.