The Jiu-Jitsu Pastor

The Jiu-Jitsu Pastor

Imagine for a second checking your bracket at some local tournament, Pans or Worlds and you see your pastor’s name. Awkward would be an understatement, a rare occurrence would be a truly accurate assessment. A select few churchgoers have the opportunity to get their guards passed and their souls nourished by the man in the pulpit, those attending Recreation Church are the lucky ones. The pastor, Vincent Dehm, does not shy away from his love for the mat, in fact his intention is to spread the lessons learned from BJJ to the kids in the community.

Have you ever been challenged to roll by a fellow pastor or church member?
Pastor Dehm: Surprisingly not, but I do joke around with members of the church and tell them, “Don’t make me put the mats down!”

How did you discover BJJ and where do you train?
Pastor Dehm: I have to lay some foundation here, first off, I am not unfamiliar with the mat, my background is wrestling. I wrestled all four years of high school and two years of college. I ended up catching a knee to the temple and I sustained a brain injury that resulted in a swift end to not only wrestling, but my doctor at the time ordered a halt to all combat sports. Now fast forward 22 years later and I’m getting a check-up and the doctor asked me when I had had a heart attack and I said, “What?” I was 226lbs at the time and that was the wake-up call I needed. I went on a diet and decided to get into BJJ, I went to Crazy 88 in Elk Ridge, Md. and did a few trail classes. It has remained my grappling home ever sense, that was November, 2011.

Pastor Dehm teaching guard work

What do you say to those who may wonder, or even ask you if it’s appropriate for a pastor to do BJJ?
Pastor Dehm: That is a question I have no problem discussing. To any who say that, I simply say there is wrestling, grappling and fighting throughout the bible.

How long have you been a pastor and what led you into the ministry?
Pastor Dehm: I have been a pastor since 1999. What led me into the ministry? Well, I wasn’t necessarily led, I was ‘called’ by the audible voice of God when I was 12 years old and I ran as fast and far away from that ‘calling’ as possible. Years later I chose to stop running and embrace it with an open heart and clear vision.  

Where is your church located?
Pastor Dehm: Recreation Church is located in Park Heights, which is approximately 6 miles northwest of downtown Baltimore.

What is the community like?  
Pastor Dehm: I could easily provide some attention-grabbing crime stats, or disproportionate and negative school drop-out rates, but that does not tell the entire story of any community. I will say that as a church body, along with family and friends we do our best to provide programs that result in positive empowerment and a call to action.   

What exactly is the BJJ program at your church and how did you come up with it?
Pastor Dehm: Honestly, I cannot take full credit, I watched an episode of ‘Rolled Up’ on Budovideos, which highlighted Fernando “Tererê” Augusto. One of the topics was his social project for kids, which without question inspired the formation of our program. We offer a 1 ½ hour class on Wednesday during the school year and then in the summer we do Mondays and Wednesdays, and it is 100% free, with snacks and meals included. I’m also proud to say the Gi’s are provided by my friend Geoffrey of Deus Fight Company, who I reached out to after I saw his merchandise/sponsorship on that episode of ‘Rolled Up.’

Pastor Dehm with students

How many kids are involved, what is the curriculum, and who are the instructors?
Pastor Dehm: To date we have 65 kids enrolled ranging from 5yrs old to 14yrs old and the curriculum is a combination of anti-bullying, self-defence and sport BJJ.  Our instructors, besides myself, we have my daughter, Kayla, who is an avid competitor and a blue belt, John Johnson a purple belt from Crazy 88 and Dustin Herfurth a blue belt from Ground Control in Columbia, Md.

Have the church administrators been supportive and are there any people who take issue with the program?
Pastor Dehm: Absolutely! They see the results and the enthusiasm of these kids, which is infectious. As far as haters go, there has been at least one colleague of mine who has been critical of the program, but besides him everyone is on board with what we are doing, they see the vision.

Pastor Dehm in front of class

What have been some challenges you have faced?
Pastor Dehm: Well, as much as I love puzzle mats, it is a lot of work and it is highly time intensive to put them together, clean them and subsequently take them apart and restore them. Staying on the subject of time, it can be difficult to coordinate the instructor’s schedules, more so during competition season, as many of us compete and we need at least two people at each class due to the amount of kids. So those are ongoing challenges, but it’s all good, we make it work.  

Can you share a testimony about one of the kids in the program?
Pastor Dehm:  Now this could be an article all to itself, I can think of so many worth sharing. One that stands out is a 13yrs old who has Asperger’s Syndrome, his mother enrolled him with the hope that it would help with his social interactions and he has shown noticeable and progressive improvement.  

How can people get involved, how can they help?
Pastor Dehm: Email me at,  and tell me what you are interested in doing, how you may want to help.  

Pastor Dehm and Kayla on the mat

What are your personal goals with BJJ?
Pastor Dehm: I want to be able to keep up with my daughter, Kayla, and ultimately see us become black belts together. I also want to share the journey with our team mates and the kids in our program who would otherwise not be in a financial position to do this great sport.

Kayla Teaching

What are your long terms goals with the program?
Pastor Dehm:  We want to open a Recreation Center and have a full schedule of classes and activities from BJJ, Muay Thai, fitness instruction and more that will be 100% free to the Park Heights community.

Check out Pastor Dehm and make sure to pick up a copy of his latest book  at

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