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Dream Killer

Kristian Woodmansee, aka the Dream Killer, and head instructor at Logic Jiu Jitsu and Martial Arts. photo: Bryan Lathrop

When Kristian Woodmansee was gunning for a world title in Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ), his coach told him “everybody here, their dream is to be a world champion. And the person who wins Worlds has to kill the dreams of everybody else—you have to make all these people fail physically, mentally, and emotionally.” Woodmansee embraced that concept, claimed the moniker “Dream Killer,” went on to win a world title, three Pan-American championships and two European championships along with numerous others. A recent BJJ article dubbed him “one of the top rooster weight competitors of his generation.” This December, Woodmansee brings his BJJ skills to Legacy of Hope.

Let’s take a second to clarify what BJJ is. For most of us, BJJ is an enigma, and folks with even a modest understanding of this martial art are likely to confuse Brazilian jiu jitsu with its more violent cousin, mixed martial arts (MMA), popularized by the UFC's big ticket cage fights that frequently result in bloody faces and broken bones. MMA incorporates the use of multiple martial arts discipline like karate, Muy Thai, kickboxing, and Brazilian jiu jitsu. While BJJ is a key component of MMA, it has no strikes or kicks, and is more of a ground game focusing on highly specialized grappling with the goal of having your opponent submit, either to a chokehold or a variety of other submission holds.

So what could a world class BJJ expert known as the Dream Killer possibly bring to Legacy of Hope? Your gut response is probably ‘not much.’ When you get past stereotypes and dig a little deeper the answer turns out to be—a lot. This apparently random connection between a martial arts champion and a non-profit organization started with Legacy of Hope board member, Gina Mancuso, who studies BJJ under Kristian Woodmansee at Logic Philly—his jiu jitsu and martial arts academy in Philly’s Fishtown section. When Gina told him about Legacy’s Operation Santa initiative; Woodmansee was all in—ready to rally the entire Logic staff and all 300 of its students.

“Operation Santa’s mission of helping cancer patients who are too sick to work and are unable to provide the kind of Christmas they dream of for their children is a great fit for the culture we've built at Logic. Our community at Logic understands the importance of helping others. We help each other, we help others. In order to impact the world, we have to first impact our home.” Woodmansee’s visceral desire to help those in need, presents a glaring dichotomy: on one hand he embodies his intimidating [Dream Killer] moniker; on the other, he shows immense kindness through his willingness to help make the world a better place. He’s clearly hardwired to do far more than just choke out his opponents, and he works to “wire” his students similarly.

Woodmansee’s innate drive and need to help stem from a particularly rough childhood. He knows firsthand what it’s like to do without. With no trace of self pity, Woodmansee elaborates, “One of my earliest memories was of my biological father leaving our family. This left only me and my mother, who suffered from severe mental illness. I never had meals cooked for me, and I basically raised myself. Once every few days I’d get a birthday cake—not for my birthday, but to eat on for a few days.” Fortunately, he was adopted at age 15 and celebrated his first Christmas a year later. Thanks to his adopted father, he finally got a taste of “what a family was like.” Tragically, he lost his mother to suicide when he was 20.

Woodmansee matter-of-factly shares “a lot of who I am today was created at a very young age, in terms of understanding survivability, creating structure, not making excuses, realizing how life could be unfair or whatever it may be.” Those values have been integral to his success in BJJ. While Woodmanse no longer competes, he remains wholly immersed in BJJ as head instructor of Logic Philly, along with 20+ affiliate academies under his direction worldwide.

Woodmansee says he’s not a people person, but you’d never know that when you sit down and talk with him. He’s not quiet, he doesn’t mince words, his eye contact is consistent, and he conveys a strong dedication to cultivate in his students a sense of duty to help others. “I've gone into the fire and come out, so I have strong opinions about what it takes to grow. My job as a leader is to have a lot of patience, to be able to lead many different people. One person will grow in a different way than someone else. There's no mold. It's different with each individual. It's tough because there's only one of me and there's hundreds of students.”.

Woodmansee admits that he has a high standard of accountability. When necessary, he pushes his students really hard to help them grow. “If it’s important to you, there's nothing else that matters and I'm gonna push until it happens, you know? So you have to break before you have a breakthrough. Pushing people like that is taxing. Because you have to love them in those moments when they don't love you, when they’re telling you ‘Hey, this is too much.’ I endure that on a daily basis.” Multiply that by hundreds of students, and you can see how it becomes extremely challenging. But that's his favorite part as well. The reward is seeing his students grow and progress. “To have people show up and allow me to guide them…when they grow it's astronomical—worth more than any amount of money. Even though it has the highest cost, it has the biggest reward."

“Gina put Legacy of Hope’s mission on my radar. Helping people with cancer is reason enough for Logic Philly to get involved, but Legacy of Hope being a local charity is huge. Add to that, helping families at Christmas time, and it all really hits home for me. I do my best to lead by example. I'm constantly doing things to show people my i