by Eric Oslund
At first glance, Elk River resident David Vinje appears to be your typical upstanding citizen. He is a loving father to his three children, owns his own business – Attics to Basements – is a member of the Elk River Chamber and helps put on Shiver Elk River.
He helped raise $22,000 for nonprofits last year, and he raised between $1,100 and $1,200 for CARE, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting global poverty.
But, like with most other people, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Vinje.
About four years ago, he decided to try out something knew. He wanted to be more active. He had tried joining pick-up basketball and volleyball leagues, but it just wasn’t enough. That’s when he saw pictures of one of his friends who was participating in mixed martial arts, or MMA, so he figured he’d give it a shot himself.
He used to wrestle when he was younger and always enjoyed it, so it seemed to be a perfect fit.
“Why not? I’m not getting any younger,” Vinje told himself when trying to decide if he wanted to give MMA a shot. “I might as well do it now and 99.9 percent of the people in the whole wide world would never even think of about it, let alone try it.”
So he went to his buddy’s gym and needed help getting started. The people there pointed him in the direction of jiujitsu, and that is where things really took off. He has participated in a couple amateur MMA fights over the past four years, but his primary focus has been jiujitsu.
He has competed in 25 tournaments and earned medals in all but two. In one he injured his arm and was unable to compete to his normal standard. The other tournament he didn’t place in was an international competition held in Las Vegas, where he was two points away from participating in the medal rounds.
Vinje has been able to work his way up to a blue belt and will be testing for his purple belt on Jan. 14. His goal is to eventually earn his black belt, but he knows there is a chance that might not happen. He is approaching 37 years old and has a lot of other responsibilities in life that come first.
“Kids’ sports and that stuff kind of comes first, and work,” he explained. “I kind of try to schedule it in when I get time. So far I’ve been very lucky where I’ve been able to get quite a bit in. But eventually, why not finish it? They say that only 1 or 2 percent of people who start as a white belt actually end up getting a black.”
Not only is jiujitsu a work out for the body, it is also one for the mind. Vinje described a competition as a human chess match. You are trying to read your opponents, what they are trying to do, and predict how to counteract that so you come out victorious.
He loves that aspect of the sport, but what he may like even more is the camaraderie he has built with the people he has met. People who train at MMA gyms often get a bad rap as thugs who just care about getting buff and fighting, but that often isn’t the case. Vinje said that you will find those type of people from time to time, but most of the guys you meet are some of the nicest people around.
“When it’s all said and done, I enjoy learning all the stuff, winning and competing, but my medals hang up in the closet,” he said. “I’ve got them hanging in there, but behind a couple belts and hats hanging over them. It’s fun, but I think the teammates – you get to meet a lot of new people and you learn a lot from people.
“They’re all nice guys. Every once in a while you’ll get somebody that’s not, but, for the most part, everybody talks to you and are really nice. They’ll show you moves. Even some of the guys, if you lose, they’ll show you a move afterwards, and say, ‘Here’s how I got you.’”
In the four years since he began his new journey, he has lost around 35 pounds, traveled to Las Vegas and Chicago for tournaments, has made many new friends and just feels better all around. Jiujitsu is definitely something that has changed him for the better and he recommends that everyone give it a shot, even if you end up not enjoying it. Just try it out, as a way to get active and do something different.
“A lot of us sit around, and we’re not meant to sit around as much as we do,” he said. “We weren’t built, designed to just sit – like a lot of the jobs are nowadays. I don’t think a lot of people get enough exercise.”