If you’ve watched any of the major BJJ events over the last couple years, there’s an American who’s name you’ve probably been hearing more and more: Josh “Hingertine” Hinger. His most recent accomplishments include winning the IBJJF adult black belt nogi world title in his weight division, which makes him one of just a handful of Americans to pull it off, fighting in ACB, and getting quadruple gold at the Chicago Open for 2 years running. He’s a gi and nogi Gracie Worlds submission-only champion and has won more medals than the average person can fit on their wall. What makes him most exciting is that the majority of his wins come by way of submission. He actually won via Go-Go-Plata in his last two tournaments! He’s also a writer and pretty damned smart. If you read any of his articles on FloGrappling, you’ll quickly notice that he doesn’t care about points or looking good. It’s just kill or be killed.
I don’t remember the first time I met Hinger. As long as I’ve been doing jiu jitsu, I’ve heard his name mentioned when I went back to Indiana to visit family. He regularly trained with 2 of my long time friends: Tim Sledd and James Clingerman. In fact, I thought he was a fellow Hoosier. When I sat down to chat with him about his jiu jitsu journey I found out that I’m the worst friend ever. Not only did I have no clue about most of his background, I found out he wasn’t even from Indiana! His story is sure to inspire you as much as his electric live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword fighting style.
RABJJ: Now that we’ve established that you’re not originally from Indiana and I know nothing about you, walk me through your background and how you got into BJJ?
Hinger: It’s amazing how you can feel close to someone on the mat but know very little about them, right?! I actually grew up in Temecula, California and started training back in 2003 with Chris Brennan. The team fell apart around 2006.
RABJJ: I had a similar experience with a team coming apart. It’s not fun. So what team was next for you?
Hinger: The Peace Corps actually. I had just finished under grad at UCI and it was time for an adventure. I was in Turkmenistan in Central Asia. It was a great opportunity to travel a different part of the world.
RABJJ: Any really memorable experiences while you were out there?
Hinger: Aside from learning about new cultures and trying to help others, there was a really strange situation that came up during a trip to Vietnam. It’s the only time I’ve ever been in a street fight actually. I’m not a proponent of fighting and it was a total accident. A couple Irish guys got into it with me and I ended up taking them down and finishing the fight. No long term damage was done to either party; and as I said, I don’t condone fighting. It was a good eye opener, though, of just how effective even a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu can be in a self defense situation.
RABJJ: That’s wild! So when did you get back into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
Hinger: In 2008 I came back to Orange County and spent 6 months training with Jason Bukich, one of Baret Yoshida’s black belts. A job opportunity came up in Tucson, Arizona and the plan was to save a little money and then go to Grad school after 6 months. I moved to teach NoGi at an MMA gym. 6 months turned into 2.5 years! I was able to save money, though, and in 2011 I went to grad school in Indiana.
While attending Indiana University between 2011 and 2014 I taught at the IU BJJ club, trained with friends, and worked on 2 master’s degrees. I ultimately graduated with one in Central Eurasian Studies and one in Public Affairs with a focus in Finance. As graduation approached, I passed up an offer to work for the city of Indianapolis.
RABJJ: I remember Andre Galvao kept trying to get you to come out to California to train with him. What inspired you to live the BJJ dream?
Hinger: Yeah, Tim Sledd and I were close friends and he introduced me to Andre. Andre liked my style and work ethic. I remember he used to say, “Come train with me full time and in a year I’ll make you a world champion.” It took 2.5 years(he laughs) but it came to fruition.
Obviously, Andre was a huge influence but a lesser known source of inspiration was Mike Carbullido. I used to watch his workouts online and he inspired me to train harder. I decided to go for it and made the move back to California.
RABJJ: I find that so admirable! A lot of people share that same dream. I’ve even thought about it but felt like I was too far along in my career to make the leap. How did you come to the conclusion that you were going to go for it?
Hinger: It really boiled down to not being afraid of being homeless. I weighed out my options and decided I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk doing excel spreadsheets.
RABJJ: That’s powerful stuff. So many people say, “I want to be a world champion” or “I want to be a full time BJJ practitioner” but you nailed it. Do you believe in your dream so much that you’re willing to be homeless?? If not, then you don’t have what it takes to make it.
Hinger: I don’t want to give the impression that it was an impulsive decision. The original plan was to give it 6 months and to see what happened. I had some family in California so I had a backup plan if I failed but it wasn’t an attractive option.
RABJJ: One of the least talked about things in the BJJ community is how people actually make a living being a full time practitioner. How do you do it?
Hinger: It’s not easy or glamorous. I was lucky to have Professor Galvao’s support and he gave me a job teaching the kids class as soon as I got to California. It wasn’t going to make me rich but was a critical part of helping me put food on the table. Keenan Cornelius put me up for a while. I basically couch surfed for a year.
I caught a break after Nationals. I won a great match against AJ Agazarm and picked up a gi sponsor. 6 months in I lost nogi worlds and it got me fired up! I decided to give the experiment a full year. I continued to get exposure by fighting in EBI and in a tournament in Guam. I’ve been fortunate to generate some income with private lessons and seminars as well as my Hingertine DVD.
My biggest break came from getting a contract with ACB(Absolute Championship Berkut). They put on incredible events with awesome production. More than anything, though, they are doing more for the BJJ fighters than any other promotion out there.
RABJJ: Were there any low points?
Hinger: There were definitely low points. There were many times that I started looking at job openings thinking that I wasn’t going to make it. It was a constant battle.
RABJJ: Good for you for sticking with it. So when did you know you were going to make it and what do you have planned for the long run?
Hinger: Honestly, it wasn’t until I won nogi worlds that I thought I could really do this. Maybe at some point I’ll open a gym. For now, though, I’d like to keep focusing on competition and fighting the toughest opponents I can.
RABJJ: I’m surprised to hear you came to that conclusion so recently. Do you ever worry that the BJJ market is saturated and running a gym is tough with all the big names running gyms?
Hinger: People don’t care what you know; they want to know that you care.
RABJJ: That’s a great way to look at it! Changing gears a little, one of the other things that I think is inspiring about your story is that you’re not 25 anymore. Most of the athletes in the adult division are in their 20’s and you just hit 35. What’s different about your training routine compared to the young guns at Atos HQ?
Hinger: The younger guys train hard morning and evening. My body doesn’t respond well to that. I train hard in the morning and then teach and drill in the evening. The night practitioners can be a tough workout but they’re pretty good about matching the intensity I need.
I train 5 days a week twice a day and take 2 consecutive days off. Rest is critical. I try to do as little as possible on the weekends. When I was younger it was tough to take time off. I wouldn’t want to go to weddings or events because I felt like I was missing a chance to train. Now I know I need it and I make every effort to recover.
In terms of sleep, I get 7 hours a night and then take a nap between sessions. I was lifting weights for a long time but stopped a couple months ago. Right now I’m just focused on cardio and plyometrics.
I also know that I do better when I don’t put pressure on myself. After winning double gold in the Gi last year at the Chicago Open I wasn’t going to compete in Nogi. I decided to give it a shot since I was there anyway and won. I also wasn’t planning on doing nogi worlds and ended up fighting and winning.
RABJJ: What can we expect to see from you for the rest of the year?
Hinger: I’ll do Worlds and Nogi Worlds. I also expect some super fights in the future. You can expect to see me at the ADCC trials in the 88kg division as well.
RABJJ: I look forward to seeing you tear it up. As I’ve said, I love that you put it all on the line and go for the kill no matter what. Fans will be in for a treat no matter what format you fight in.
A big thanks to Josh Hinger for taking the time to share his story. He has a really unique background and I think many people will find inspiration in his story. Check out some of his blog posts on FloGrappling and pick up his DVD!