Misfits JiuJitsu in St. Charles combines martial arts with mental health help

Brad Edmondson the owner and operator of The Misfits Jiujitsu of St. Charles wears one of his Misfits T-shirts that reads “Mental Health Matters” on Wednesday March 3, 2024.

ST. CHARLESMisfits Jiujitsu takes a different approach to martial arts, emphasizing fitness of the mind over toughness on the mat.

Owner Brad Edmondson has struggled with mental health problems for most of his life, but found serenity in sparring and created a safe space for those going through the same battles.

Edmondson grew up in Elgin and now lives in Geneva. His gym, located at 1150 N. Fifth Ave. in St. Charles, opened in 2022.

Brad Edmondson the owner and operator of The Misfits Jiujitsu watches class in St. Charles on Wednesday March 3, 2024.

Misfits fosters an environment of inclusivity with an emphasis on mental health and offers jiujitsu classes to all ages and levels of skill with a focus on technique and control, rather than submission and competition.

Edmondson said the No. 1 priority is safety and he has a code of conduct in the gym to prevent injuries so students can stay focused on improving themselves and learning rather than beating their opponents.

Edmondson described his upbringing as a really rough time in his life. He dealt with horrible depression from his early teens to his early 20s. He grew up playing basketball, but was cut from the team at age 13, which he said is when the depression started. He fell into a crowd of kids who were in a bad way and started losing friends to addiction and jail.

Edmondson was diagnosed with bipolar depression and became shut in and isolated from the world for almost five years. He had severe panic attacks when he did go out in public, so he rarely did, and he stopped doing physical exercise all together.

“I was a mess,” Edmondson said. “It was rough. I got so depressed I just quit going out, period.”

During that period, Edmondson began going to the gym in the middle of the night since he wasn’t sleeping much. He didn’t know anything about lifting weights or working out until the night manager started teaching him how to lift.

By his late 20s, Edmondson was going to the gym five days a week and after a few years he began making progress with his mental health, but his attitude at the gym was mostly angry. His first experience with martial arts came when he signed up for a Thai boxing class as a way to take out some of his anger and the first time he sparred he was choked out by a 15-year-old.

“He beat the crap out of me,” Edmondson said.

In 2011, Edmondson found jiujitsu. He said while he started martial arts as a way to take his anger out, he saw jiujitsu as more of a game and it became a more fun and positive outlet for him. He said it is similar to wrestling. Jiujitsu is based on using leverage and position in order to beat someone who is bigger and stronger than you.

“It became this puzzle that I was obsessed with and I was constantly training,” Edmondson said. “It’s the fine details of the sport and the little tricks that are just incredible to me. I spent a lot of time studying the art of it and I’m still trying to perfect the craft and constantly improving.”

Owner of the Jiujitsu company called Misfits located in St. Charles Brad Edmondson, right, shows how to perform a move during class on Wednesday March 3, 2024.

Edmondson found that with a balance of jiujitsu, medication and therapy, his mental health was starting to improve. Soon he was leading jiujitsu classes at a gym in West Dundee. After a few years, he started teaching jiujitsu full time at a Crossfit gym in Elgin where he started the Misfits brand, but just as he was getting started, the 2020 pandemic forced gyms to close.

Edmondson said he knew he wanted to open his own gym and already was going for an Addams Family theme when he found a space in St. Charles. It just so happened to be across from a graveyard and he knew it was the perfect place.

While he loved the sport, he said there were things he didn’t like about it as well. He said he always hated wearing a gi, the traditional martial arts robe, and didn’t like the belt system because it seemed to make the focus about rank rather than about working toward getting better.

“If they don’t sit down and tell you what’s up, you’d have no idea the things these people have dealt with and the incredible things they are doing. It’s really something special.”

—  Brad Edmondson, owner The Misfits Jiujitsu

Those who train at Misfits do not wear the traditional gis and the focus of training is not based on belts like most martial arts gyms.

Edmondson said the traditional gyms aren’t always the right environment for kids going through hard times. He said the last thing these kids need is another person trying to crack down on them, so he treats all his students like adults. He said he doesn’t try to change anyone. He just encourages them to be positive and have some fun and makes sure they feel comfortable being themselves.

A safe space to share

After classes, the gym is a place where they can hang out and talk. He said members of Misfits are always supportive of what others are going through and they celebrate one anothers’ sobriety and growth.

Members of the Misfits Ju jitsu class practice what they learned on Wednesday March 3, 2024, held in St. Charles.

He said the name Misfits represents the weird group of people he trains with.

“I have such a strange group of people and so many of them are just incredible in their own right,” Edmondson said. “If they don’t sit down and tell you what’s up, you’d have no idea the things these people have dealt with and the incredible things they are doing. It’s really something special.”

Edmondson said he tries to share his story with his students every chance he gets and as students started coming to him with their stories and sharing their struggles and fears, he realized the environment was making a difference and helping people and mental health became the main focus of the gym.

Edmondson said the gym fosters an open environment where people can talk about what they’re going through or the challenges they’ve faced, which makes others feel comfortable opening up and creates a safe space where they know they won’t be judged.

“When I was going through this depression, I felt like it was only me,” Edmondson said. “Just knowing there is somebody else out there going through it, that makes a huge difference.”

Edmondson said a martial arts gym is not where most people would expect to work on their mental health and the culture at other MMA gyms can be quite different.

“In the MMA world, a lot of it is kind of meathead culture and it’s not great with mental health and I’m trying to change that,” Edmondson said. “My place is just doing something very different.”

Matt Okigawa is a St. Charles resident who has been training at Misfits Jiujitsu for six months. He is a judo teacher in Barrington and has been training in jiujitsu for several years. He said he has been to a lot of martial arts gyms with really toxic environments, but Misfits does it differently.

“It’s such a welcoming environment and healthy culture,” Okigawa said. “Brad knows how to train everyone, from beginners off the street to really high level instruction.”

Sky Hone of Elburn, rear, works on a move she learned in class with classmate Dane Gonzalez of St. Charles on Wednesday March 3, 2024, at the Ju jitsu company named The Misfits.

“It’s so much different from what people expect,” Edmondson said. “There’s this idea that to be a tough guy, you can have one emotion and that’s anger. That’s getting people killed because there’s this idea that it’s not OK, not normal to deal with depression or to cry.”

Combining physical and mental health

Edmondson said he emphasizes to all his students that exercise alone isn’t enough and you have to talk to someone and get the help you need.

“I always want to stress it wasn’t just jiujitsu,” Edmondson said. “I’ve had to take medications and gone through a lot of therapy over the years and it’s still a work in progress. It’s hard, man. There are days I still struggle, but it’s so much better than it was.”

Edmondson had only eight students when Misfits opened in St. Charles in April 2022. Misfits has grown to more than 50 members.

“I really never thought that this was something I would be doing,” Edmondson said. “I couldn’t go out in public and now I’m teaching classes.”

St. Charles resident Chad Siemens’ son Mason is 12 and has been training at Misfits for about a month. He said Mason loves training at Misfits and it has been a real confidence booster.

Mason Siemens, 13, of St. Charles tries out the moves he learned during Jiujitsu class at the Misfits on Wednesday March 3, 2024, on Wayne Carlson of Sycamore.

“Brad is fantastic,” Siemens said. “He has a heart of gold and the gym is really inclusive. He has spent a lot of one-on-one time with Mason and has already made a lot of progress.”

Siemens said they chose Misfits because they were looking for a raw gym, rather than the traditional martial arts programs where they train in gis and work toward belts. He said at Misfits safety is the No. 1 priority and the way Edmondson trains is a great way to get exposure into contact sports and learn applicable self-defense in a safe manner.

“Mason will train with anyone, no matter their size. Everyone here is super friendly, careful and willing to teach,” Siemens said. “They’re all about mechanics and learning how to execute controlled finishes in a safe way.”

Misfits offers classes from 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.

To learn more about Misfits, view the schedule or sign up for classes, visit their website.