The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Math professor spends free time practicing mixed martial arts

Charles Johnson is not your ordinary City College math professor, he also submits and chokes out his sparring partners at the Paragon Academy of Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing.

Mixed martial arts is taking the world by storm, and has now reached the shores of Santa Barbara. Paragon has been a home-away-from-home for Johnson, a brown-belt, since 2002.

“Practicing Jiu-Jitsu is very addicting, I spend at least 5-6 days a week here,” Johnson said. “I have learned so much since I came to Paragon.”

The 170-pound 40-year-old was born in Kansas City but later moved to Visalia, Calif. to pursue his dreams. He holds a record of 12 wins and 4 losses; however, Johnson has accepted that he will no longer compete professionally.

Story continues below advertisement

He said that before entering a fight he tries to stay calm, remember his strengths, and imitate his mentors, Ricardo Miller and Shaun Apperson, but he also looks up to ultimate fighter Randy Couture.

“Charlie is very talented, and he is known for having intense warm-ups, that’s why he got his nickname Gnarly Charlie,” said Apperson Paragon’s owner.

While he spent countless amounts of blood, sweat, and tears in the gym, he also spent many hours behind a desk to achieve his educational aculeate.

“It took me seven years earning a brown belt in Paragon and I spent six years on my master degree,” said Johnson. ” Math is intellectual demanding and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is both physically and intellectually demanding, but they complement each other very well.”

The 5-foot-9-inch Johnson, or “Gnarly Charlie” as his sparring partners at Paragon call him, received his bachelor’s degree at UCLA and his master’s at in Math. He said the transition between being a City College professor and a mixed martial artist flows very well.

“Exercising Jiu-Jitsu has helped me teaching math because BJJ is very physics based,” he said. “Every semester I teach, I have found ways to connect math to BJJ”.

He was first introduced to mixed martial arts through his cousin, and initially wanted to be able to defend himself as well as find a way to channel his aggression. In 2000 he started training Japanese karate, but two years later picked up BJJ instead of karate.

“I felt that Japanese karate was not the ultimate,” Johnson said. “And I saw how the Grazie brothers just tapped out these big tough guys in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.”

Mixed martial arts has gone mainstream thanks to organizations such as Ultimate Fighting Champion and Strikeforce, but Johnson said he believes there is still more room for growth.

He sees the issue of people connecting MMA to street fights, but the people who practice it professionally are well respected and self-disciplined.

“MMA teaches self-discipline, and if we fight outside the gym we get kicked-out,” said Johnson. “The gym helps me stay in balance.”

The Paragon gym, which has been based in Santa Barbara for 11 years, is known for hard-work and developing world-class talent.

Former world Champion Jeff Glover is one of many talented fighters who train at the gym.

Paragon’s owner Shaun Apperson and head teacher Ricardo “Franjia” Miller are both black belt holders.

They strive to make a champion out of every fighter who walks in the gym.

“Charlie is very well rounded fighter and a super smart guy,” said UCSB Ph.D student Andrew Michael Lee. “He is probably one of my favorite guys to train with.”

Anthony Califano, a PE health and wresting coach at Dos Pueblos High School, said that Paragon is trying to negotiate a PE class for City College students for Fall 2010.

For more information about the gym log on to

More to Discover