"I started training Martial Arts at age 12 with Chad Glisson in South Houston. My Brother David had started training Martial Art's before me with Chris Fagan as well as Chad Glisson in League City Texas." Phil admits that his brother was having more fun than him while he was at class. " I started staying and watching, giving my parents time to run errands and pretty quickly jumped into class at Chad Glisson's house." Chad Glisson taught a progressive form of Tae Kwon Do, full contact training, not Olympic style. Glisson had invested many hours and held high standards and expectations for Phil as a student and teenager. Phil mentioned that " He was one of the people I had to answer to when I became rambunctious, and really gave me strong guidance."
Phil had the opportunity to train in many styles of Martial Arts, including: Kali, Escrima, Boxing, Kickboxing, Akido, Judo, Hapkido, Jeet kun Do, Small Circle Jiu-Jitsu, and many others. His training background in various Martial Art's created an interest in many styles of practice with his students. In total, Phil accomplished 4 Black Belts under Master Chad Glisson. Chad was also the very first person to tell him about the Gracie family and the old challenge that they had issued.
Phil's other younger brother, Steve also had the opportunity to train with Chad and was the first of "the Cardella Brothers" to train directly with a Gracie Family member. He had the privilege of training seminars and privates with Royce, Rorion, & Relson. "I remembered being 16 years old and thinking that I would take them up on the "Gracie Challenge" one day, but later I just trained and learned with them after my little brother arm barred me in some situational sparring in our garage when I was on boot camp leave." Steve told Phil that a Gracie was in Hawaii, and told him to seek him out.
After joining the USMC and getting through bootcamp as a 3rd squad leader, Phil was introduced to the idea of combative’s. “I was a squad leader in Marine Combat Training, and Amphibious Assault Vehicles training.” Having purposefully signed up "guaranteed Amphibious Assault Vehicles" and guaranteed "over seas", Phil became stationed with his brother David. They found themselves near the Relson Gracie Team at their final duty station, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii! Marines are warriors and in the quest to be combat ready to his fullest ability, Phil trained with everyone possible while enlisted. With minimal Martial Arts training, more warrior mindset and conditioning under his belt, it was time to get more regimented again.
"I eventually hung up my Black Belts and made my way to learn from the start with out any preconceived knowledge or ego. The best rank in the academy is the White Belt, mistakes are allowed, you are taught everything you can soak in, and the learning curve is amazing!
I found a wrestling room in an abandon building and got a key to train there! It was across the island from both of Relson's locations, but we founds ways to make it to training when his VW van wasn't working or my VW bug didn't have brakes!” Some days were more creative or spontaneous than others, The brother’s would make it to class and back some how.
While traveling in the USMC, Phil had the honor of training with several talented service members, and with many foreign military members. While in Thailand, he trained Muay Thai directly at the source, and while in Korea he trained as a Tae Kwon Do Black Belt, also directly at the source. “The first time Russian Military trained on American soil my brother and I were there and had several sparring matches on Bellows Beach. I went on Deployment on the USS Juno, The USS Dubuque, and the USS Fredrick. There are many stories about the tank deck training days on the good ol' "Fast Freddie". While still enlisted, I had the first bit of competition, representing Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, primarily training out of the Aiea academy ran by Sam Mahi, Chris Onzuka, Mike Onzuka, and Scott Divine.”
Eventually as a blue belt, Phil trained at U.H. then transferred over to the main academy back when it was in the Kokohead area, then off queen street. “I had the privilege of training with Relson Gracie at his house, and stayed there for months in Hosaka at a time, living on the mats there, learning from a hungry Relson, Daniel Moraes, and Fredson Alves and others. It was a very unique time. Helio, Rorion, Royler, Relson, Royce, Carlinos, Marcio Cruiz, Saulo Ribero, Xandre Ribero, Vitor Shaolin, Marcio Corleta, The Moraes brothers, Murillo Bustamante, Mario Sperry, and many others visited Relson's academies, building a very strong capable team. With so many champion competitors around, I got a taste of competition and started doing it on a regular basis. I started finding success after the first few gi grappling tournaments.”
“The first tournament, believe it or not, I locked on a triangle choke backwards and lost the match! I started figuring out I had potential when I placed second at an "In House" tournament at the Kokohead academy in the semi-finals defeating fellow team mate & friend Paul Joyner by a couple of points. Relson started opening doors to the world for me and I am forever grateful for his education and support. On a good day he is one of the best people in the world to be around for training, friendship and stories.”
In the late summer of 1999, Phil moved from Oahu back to the mainland US. He was welcomed by Rudy Vasquez to train out of his facility and started a small class to have people to train with. “Some days it was just Kevin Phelps, and US Army SSgt JJ Chapa, who was part of the 4th ID. Later Tristan Truscott gave me an amazing opportunity at Austin Martial Arts Academy in West Lake Hills. Eventually I opened up my own facility as well, and with the guidance and education of my previous business partners, I learned a lot about the Martial Arts industry".
Phil was the first Relson Gracie Team member in the southern region of the US. Being far away from the source of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu competition was a great way to problem solve and find ways to improve. “I hunted training where I could, and where Relson suggested; with Carlos Machado, who was very welcoming and still to this day is very helpful, Silvio Braga, and many peers from Texas including Yves Edwards, Saul Soliz, Rodney Soliz, Victor Huber, King Webb, Royce Gracie and others. Representing the Relson Gracie team across the nation gave a good way to link up with other team members and respected peers. I would get extra training with Relson, even if it was last minute pointers at the hotel before the events.”
Sacrifices were made for several years to be at every grappling tournament possible. Relson hosted “Ready for Battle” and Phil closed out the light weight divisions by finishing his opponents in Gi and No-Gi, in Hawaii, Ohio, Texas, and anywhere else the battle field was set. Many times in the open division as well.
Between 2002-2005 Phil competed in almost every major tournament in the United States and even traveled to Brazil to prepare and compete a couple of times. Frequent extended trips to Hawaii & Ohio were done to train with some of the best team members the Relson Gracie Team had. “Steve Hordinski, Ron Shiraki, Kimo Kreis, Rod Kopina, Kaleo Auwae, Andre Derizan, Shane Agenda, Reyn Morimoto, Todd Tanaka, of The Onzukas and Dr. Miles. Many others shaped my game as well, pointers from Baret Yoshida, Kelly Motzukawa, Kaleo Hosaka... the list goes on and on.” After traveling to LA and competing as a Black Belt in the "Gracie Worlds" and placing in the open division, the decision was to fight more MMA than anything to test his ability to apply Self-Defense against the toughest people I could find.”
Relson had his dream of promoting professional MMA events called the GFC. “Having fought in MMA with his blessing since 1999, it was only logical that I would represent the team with my Jiu-Jitsu”. At both the Gracie vs Hammer House event and the Brazil vs USA GFC, Phil represented in grand fashion winning both events for the team in technical displays of Jiu-Jitsu being applied in Columbus Ohio at the Nationwide arena. Shortly after those events, Phil stepped into several major International events to test his Jiu-Jitsu and to stay active in MMA competition. Having fought in the WFC, FFC, PRW, The Battle at the Beach, The Dungal & Renegades Extreme FIghts with very effective results, it was time to be in the brightest lights and to fight the toughest fights possible.
So Phil stepped into the light weight division of the WEC and had some epic battles. “The fights I did in the WEC are still being played on television today. I also fought in Shark Fights as well.”
“With instability of life at the moment and distracted "support staff,” 2009 was a 3-1 top level MMA competition year with a couple tough calls not going my way. I learned a lot about life that year, and while planning in 2010, life changed drastically. In the pursuit of happiness, and with new life goals there needed to be a shift of my day to day routines. Shortly thereafter, and for the third time, I found the guts and determination to move across the nation. I moved to the coast I had the least experience with.” Phil saw a need for leadership and wanted to remove himself from a less than ideal business partnership and a saturated market in Austin,Texas. Phil created and invested in the Relson Gracie Team in Texas for a little over a decade. “I was capable of leading the team from the front and built a very solid network across the state and felt that my efforts in Texas were at the point where I could step back, so I did and the cards were played out. I still feel that Texas is a part of me just as Hawaii is, but i live in Florida now and it is my main focus. I also feel my peers across the US are part of the reason I am able to produce "the product I have". Being able to ask questions to people like Robin Geisler, Mike Casey, Richard Giberson, Mark Stephanic, Jim Thrift, Tony Waldecker, Jim Hannan, Dave Patton, Kofi, Mahi, and others you can get some solid guidance.”
Now Phil is in St. Augustine, leading the team in North Florida. “After three and a half years, and two locations later we have found the spot to focus our efforts and thrive. Many changes have happened in North Florida, from when Scott Divine and Lionel Perez ran the show. Victor Huber, Daniel Moraes, and Rhalan Gracie were all the team enforcers for a while. A changing of the guard has happened. I am here to lead the team and the Martial Arts community.”
“ If I have created one "Master Piece" it would be my St. Augustine Academy. Our facility is one of a kind, was built with both my efforts and my students’.”It is the type of academy where people enjoy spending time, ego's are wiped from our ranks through guidance, education, and hard work.” Each person that walks through the doors of the academy are ready to invest in themselves and their training partners. The common goals of bettering each other as people and sharpening the physical moments of Martial Arts. Mindset and education are the foundation to progress as individuals and a team. “Our Academy is a wonderful destination spot we are fortunate to have visitors from all over the world.” The Ancient City has become a stable home for one of the oldest martial arts, in a very progressive hands on approach.
Phil Cardella formerly fought as a lightweight in the World Extreme Cagefighting organization. He holds a 3rd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Relson Gracie.
"Thank you for reading some of my martial arts history. It is an honor to share it with the world. Thank you for all those that believed in me and my goals, I am humbled by the way Martial Arts can change and improve lives. If nothing else, this is what I try to pass on to my students with out bias. "