City Born / Island Inspired
We caught up with our boy Zata at his East Village dojo on the last few days before they would close its doors after 7 years…
Zata Clemete Toscano is an athlete hailing from New York City’s Lower East Side. At 26 years young, and as of November, 2017 he holds a Black belt in the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
When asked how long he’s been training his response is simple, (with a big smile) “I pretty much learned how to walk on the mats.”
Jiu-Jitsu is his life.
History of Jiu-Jitsu
It's a tale many tell throughout the history of the sport, that Buddhist monks from India who needed to protect themselves from thieves and highwaymen began the early development of grappling, because Buddhism forbade the use of weapons. It continued to spread from India to China and then to Okinawa and into greater Japan. Jiu-jitsu most likely originated in feudal Japan as a response to armor that rendered striking techniques useless. The Brazilian influence occurred later when the art was brought to Rio by Mitsuyo Maeda and taught to the Gracie family. The Gracie’s then adapted the fighting style to refine the ground and submission techniques, and the rest as they say is history.
The Jiu-Jitsu we know today is fairly new with the rulesets currently practiced being under 40 years old. It’s important to acknowledge that there are clear differences between Sport and Self-defense within Jiu-Jitsu.
“The coolest thing to me about Jiu-Jitsu is the fact that you can reach a level of proficiency that allows you to defend yourself, de-escalate a situation, or win a fight without throwing a single punch or kick.”
About 12 years ago as a freshman in high school Zata made the decision to take training seriously, to make it his purpose and dedicate his life to the sport.
He attributes his knowledge and skills of the art to his father Fabio Clemente, first and foremost, who helped pioneer Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in New York City and the throughout the East Coast. The Fabio Clemente Academy was founded in 1995 by Clemente himself, who today is a Master 7th degree Black belt and a 5x World Champion.
Some of Zata’s other teachers were, Babs Olusanmokun, his father’s first homegrown Black belt and an incredible coach. And lastly Lucas Lepri. The Lightweight G.O.A.T. He had the pleasure of learning under Lepri when he was based in NYC and teaching out of the Fabio Clemente school for a few years.
Along with the aforementioned that have helped shape and form Zata into the person and athlete he is today, idols like Muhammad Ali, Joao Gilberto, Ram Dass, Leandro Lo, Remedios Varo, and Bob Marley have also impacted this young man’s mindset and his strive for greatness.
The academy’s current location at 123 East 12th Street opened its doors
back in February of 2014. While shooting this article the school had been closed for several months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The day of the shoot was very much a spiritual farewell between Zata and his dojo, as he reminisced with stories and recounted a few memorable moments. After all, this was the place where 3 years prior, he had achieved his goal of earning a Black belt in the sport.
Black Belt Story Short and Sweet
“I don’t get surprised often but my dad got me good. I was running the show during my youth student’s graduation ceremony. After awarding the last belt of the night my dad steps up and announces “Time for final belt.” I looked at him crazy because I knew the last belt had already been given out. He proceeded to pull out a black belt tucked into his kimono jacket and pointed at me; the room erupted. I couldn’t control the emotions in that moment and buried my head into my hands to let out tears of joy. It was a special moment I had dreamed of ever since I could remember and I’m glad my students got to see hard work pay off.”
Zata’s face lights up when he recalls watching his sister win the 2019 IBJJF World Title in her first year as a Black belt.
Sister’s Championship Run
"Vedha was out in California preparing to fight in her first World Championship at Black belt after receiving it only 6 months prior. She had a stacked division with every other participant holding a World Title at the lower belts, making her the underdog. Come the day of the championship, we live streamed the matches at the dojo on our projector, and invited all our students to come watch. Vedha had a tough opening match against a girl who had previously beaten her in 2017 at Purple belt. They went the distance (10 mins) with Vedha edging out a win by the slimmest of margins. Her final match was against the favorite, but that didn’t put a single ounce of pressure on her as she brought the heat and displayed great heart and determination throughout the round. In the final moments with Vedha being up on points, her opponent worked hard to establish a dominant position that Vedha comfortably denied till the clock ran out and crowned her World Champ. Shout out Vedha !!"
* It’s a family thing.
Time in Hawaii
“At the end of 2016, I separated my shoulder in training, trying a new technique (diving leg drag). After a miserable two weeks I decided that I would visit my mom on Oahu and heal in Hawaii. After a month my arm was rendered useful again. I applied and got a job at RVCA/Billabong in Waikiki a block away from my mom’s spot. Before I could train again I picked up surfing which was complimentary rehab for my AC joint, paddling out helped me restore range of motion in my shoulder. Once my body was fully recovered I hit the mats and started my Jiu-Jitsu adventure and was ready to explore the island. I was lucky enough to train at a few different academies and dissolve borders. Honestly, I just wanted tough training and to exchange knowledge with anyone I shared the mats with. I had never lived anywhere outside NYC and got to thinking about how Manhattan is an island just like Oahu. I came up with the idea of being “City born, Island inspired” as a way of describing myself and my situation. It grew from that and manifested into VIVZ Pro Shop which I am looking forward to launching by the end of this year. Overall Hawaii showed me genuine love and care, I have a second home out there aside from my Mom’s crib. The people I was around, do what they do, for a love of the art in themselves, not lust themselves into the art.”
Zata’s plans before the pandemic were to compete and get some championships at Black belt and winning at the highest levels.
But the current goal is to rebuild his academy in light of the current situation, while adhering to all the new restrictions, guidelines and accommodating everyone.
Zata’s future plan is to open up VIVZ Pro Shop & Gallery and make it a staple visit for any practitioner of Jiu-Jitsu that comes to NYC. And the dream is to keep spreading Jiu-Jitsu across the globe especially to kids in areas struck with poverty and zero to no opportunity.
This pandemic set a lot of academies back for many months, both big and small, says Zata. “We aren’t permitted to currently hold classes; the city is limiting us to hosting an open gym allowing members to come and use the facility while maintaining a safe distance”. Luckily, they found a new location close by in the neighborhood at 6 Saint Marks Place NYC 10003.
The academy has high hopes and their fingers crossed they can fully re-open in a few weeks and in time to celebrate their 25 Year anniversary as a team.