Some jiu-jitsu practitioners confess that they needed to go through a few classes before they took a liking to the martial art; for Omar Cruickshank, it was love at first submission. When he tried out no-gi grappling 13 years ago, he tapped out a black belt on day one. Today he is not only a black belt himself, he’s the founder and lead instructor of Crush Crew Jiu-jitsu in Fort Washington, PA.
Omar started grappling at age 22 but his interest in martial arts was established well before that point. Beginning at Tiger Schulmann’s Karate, he enjoyed all aspects of combat and trained in various disciplines: Jeet Kune Do, Kenpo, and boxing, to name a few. He prided himself on his fast hands. Once Omar tried jiu-jitsu, however, he was hooked. He spent two more years at Tiger Schulmann’s before continuing on at Renzo Gracie PA in Hatfield. Omar looks back on his time there with fondness: “At Renzo Gracie PA we cracked up a lot. It was my first introduction to jiu-jitsu brotherhood–everyone was busting on each other.” He focuses on promoting that kind of family atmosphere among the students at his own school today.
Counting his time at Tiger Schulmann’s, it took Omar 11 years to earn his black belt from Brian Miller on August 13th, 2015. He cites it as one of his greatest moments and proudest accomplishments, right up there with marrying his wife, having kids, and getting baptized. “I love jiu-jitsu,” he says with conviction. “It’s the ultimate stress relief.”
Another proud achievement for Omar was taking first place at the 2008 Pan Jiu-Jitsu No-gi Championship in the purple belt division, as well as creating his own move: the Crook Choke, a submission that can be attained from half guard or mount. As much as he loves to practice and compete, coaching others in their BJJ journeys has been a passion of his for a long time. Omar recalls the days when he and some of the other higher belts at Renzo Gracie PA took on leadership roles and helped coach competitors at grappling tournaments. He discovered that he got more satisfaction from instructing the competitors than from competing and winning himself. As an instructor, “Big O”s favorite thing about coaching others is the camaraderie and development of his students. “I like to see people grow in confidence. I like when people start to figure it out.”
For those who aren’t familiar with jiu-jitsu, there are often quite a few misconceptions about the martial art. Omar notes that many people view it as “kind of a cult,” which he admits that it almost is at some gyms. Emphasis on allegiance to just one school or instructor, religiously wearing their symbol, and feeling pressured to do whatever the higher-ups command are a few of the negative aspects Omar has observed and experienced in the past. “Screw that,” is his opinion on the matter. He also has to laugh at how some refer to jiu-jitsu as “the gentle art,” joking that the phrase almost gives people a false sense of security. Omar points out, however, that the beauty of BJJ in comparison to other disciplines is that you can get the most out of it without having to inflict actual damage to your partner:
“You determine your level of involvement. Boxing, you might get blasted in the face at 100%, and then you won’t be able to do it a lot…And with kickboxing or Muay Thai, you can’t take too many kicks to the legs all the time if you want to walk. But you can take a couple chokes, a couple arm bars, you can tap out when it gets too rough on you.”
As for the instructors that have profoundly influenced Big O’s development as a jiu-jitsu practitioner? There are quite a few that get honorable mention. “My first grappling guy was Jim Garzillo ( at Tiger Schulmann’s). He’s the one who started me off. And Brian Miller and Rob Scheier, they’re two of the best black belts I’ve ever been around in my life. They’re not big guys, but they’re technically sound. They’re old school.” Then there’s “Uncle Greg” Mikovitch from Renzo Gracie PA, who took Omar under his wing for nearly five years and essentially built him from the ground up. With Greg’s guidance, he “started winning again” and never finished out of third place in tournaments. “He never held back…Even when I was able to start tapping him out, he never got upset or weird. He just kept showing me stuff. He was one of those guys where your success was his success.”
Omar’s coaching style mirrors that of his mentor. According to his student, Matt Smith, you couldn’t ask for a more supportive, knowledgeable, and genuinely caring instructor:
“Omar believes in all of his students to the fullest. Over and over he tells me to believe in myself–I know he does, and with him behind you, how can you not? As an athlete, the type and amount of work you get while training with him gives you confidence in good and bad positions, staying calm and cool under pressure. That boils over into the rest of your life for difficult situations you might encounter.”
Besides his jiu-jitsu team, Omar is head of an affiliation called Crush Crew Family. Troy “Whodabull” Chamberlain is the “head MMA guy” and Bill Bryan, a black belt in multiple disciplines, is their “all around technician.” Matt Smith is a fighter out of Crush Crew Family and will be competing at XCC 27 on February 24th; he is happy to have Big O in his corner. For amateur fighters, Omar advises that they stick to their strengths in their first couple of fights, work on their defense, and then start implementing new parts to their game plan. Above all, he tries to instill a sense of confidence in his students. In typical Omar fashion, his advice is good-natured and straightforward: “Be yourself. If your attitude is rough, be rough! You don’t gotta be a butthole, but you can assert yourself. Be first.”