2024 ADCC World Championship

Who Is Dima Murovanni? The Mysterious Coach Helping Athletes To ADCC 2024

Who Is Dima Murovanni? The Mysterious Coach Helping Athletes To ADCC 2024

The mysterious coach surfaced during Jozef Chen's ADCC Trials run, and has become coach to stand outs like Owen Jones, Brianna Ste-Marie & Margot Ciccarelli

Apr 15, 2024

February 17, 2024. It’s a cold morning, temperatures just above freezing in Zagreb, Croatia. Hundreds of athletes pace the floors or sit alongside the mats, warming up and patiently waiting for their turn to fight. Only eight will punch their tickets to the desert heat and fanfare of Las Vegas, Nevada for ADCC 2024, in exactly six months to the day. 

Amid the cheers and chatter, calm in the eye of the storm is Dima Murovanni, a tall, pale German in a white long-sleeve shirt and black sweatpants. 

Readying himself for a day in the coach’s chair, Dima is all focus, eyes intent on his squad of competitors for the hours ahead: self-proclaimed “hobbyist dad” Jack Sear in the -66kg division, his protégé, Linus von Schenck, in the -88kg division, and one of his newest coachees, the pedigreed Margot Ciccarelli, in the -55kg division. Dima also has his eyes on a few other competitors who aren’t directly under his watch, but who participated in his Trials training camp a few weeks ago in Berlin: Taylor Pearman in the -88kg division and Marcin Maciulewicz in the -99kg division. 

Two of Dima’s coachees have already qualified to go to Vegas: British phenom Owen Jones in -66kg and B-Team breakout star, Jozef Chen in -77kg. One more of his coachees, ADCC 2022 -60kg runner up Brianna Ste-Marie, is likely to get an invite. 

For Dima Murovanni, on the morning of the second ADCC European Trials, it’s not a question of if but who else will join them. 

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Unexpected Turns: Evolution from Competitor to Coach

When Dima began training in 2017 at BJJ Akademie in Berlin, his primary interest in jiu-jitsu was in competing. Dima was on a strong path to reach his goals–participating in the European Trials among them–until he suffered his first major injury in July 2019: an ACL and meniscus tear in the training room that led to two knee surgeries and a two-year layoff from jiu-jitsu. 

Though Dima was unable to train, he remained engaged in jiu-jitsu. “I watched jiu-jitsu every day pretty much but I wasn't on the mat,” he says. By 2021 he was on the mend, and in early 2022, he made the most of his recovery by traveling to train at B-Team for three months. 

Just as he was regaining his competitive momentum, Dima was struck with new injuries. Between 2022 and 2023, Dima went through two hernia surgeries and suffered a torn ligament in his hand.

“Around that time [at B Team], I had a pretty good year of training, but then my body just gave out every time I tried to prepare for the tournament,” Dima said. “I felt like I could hang with some of the guys that did well in ADCC Trials, but then before I actually wanted to start my competition season again, I injured myself again.”

Much as he wanted to regain his momentum and fulfill his competitive ambitions, he thought, “It’s decided. I think the universe is trying to tell me that I need to coach or not compete.” Instead of risking more injuries, Dima took his bad luck as a sign to change course in his jiu-jitsu, choosing to invest in others’ competitive careers instead of his own: starting with his BJJ Akademie training partner, Linus von Schenck, and shortly thereafter, the “whiz kid” Jozef Chen. 


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Improving Competitive Mindset: Jozef Chen

The beginnings of Dima’s current coaching roster date back to his visit to B-Team in the winter of 2022. While training in Austin, Dima met Jozef Chen, who was helping his teammates prepare for West Coast trials while beginning his own camp for the second ADCC European Trials in May. The two quickly discovered a shared approach toward studying jiu-jitsu. 

“My Airbnb was a forty-minute walk away from B-Team, so I would just stay at the gym and watch tape,” Jozef recalls. Dima remembers Jozef opening his laptop one day and seeing a familiar sight: ton of tabs open to match footage he planned to watch.  

“A couple of days after I met him, I saw something that I only see in my laptop: twenty tabs open from FloGrappling. I’m like, ‘Oh there's another one that is crazy like me!’ We started actually watching the tape together, talking about jiu-jitsu and our mindset. I think this connected us because we are pretty much the same person when it comes to thinking about jiu-jitsu. I enjoyed talking with him about it. By watching him, my jiu-jitsu gets so much better in my coaching.”

Though the friendship and collaboration grew from March 2022, Dima and Jozef’s friendship didn’t become a formal coaching relationship until Summer 2023, about two months before the 2023 ADCC European Trials. By that point, Jozef had performed impressively in the ADCC ruleset, submitting four opponents before losing by ankle lock to Mateusz Szczecinski in the quarterfinals of the 2022 European Trials, and he submitted three opponents before losing 0-2 in the semifinals to Kenta Iwamoto in the 2022 Australia and Oceania Trials.

When Jozef formally began working with Dima for the 2023 European Trials, the aspects of his preparation were as much technical as mental. Though the two watched and analyzed tape frequently together, Jozef struggled to watch tape on people he was about to face. “Especially in the context of my own opponents, when it gets more personal, I get a little too nervous,” Jozef says. “Watching someone I’m about to compete against, I’m thinking more about what they can do more than what I can do. I fanboy a little bit, and it’s harder to implement my game.” 

When it came to taking on a star-studded -77kg division including ADCC veterans Tommy Langaker, Oliver Taza, and Mateusz Szczecinski, Jozef was particularly wary. “I had a better style to deal with Tommy and Oliver, but to me Mateusz was so dangerous,” Jozef says, recalling his quick loss and the pain from Szczecinski’s ankle lock from the 2022 Trials. “I didn’t want to risk my health ahead of [the 2023] Asian Trials if I had to compete again [to qualify for ADCC].”

Overcoming fear of injury and shaken confidence, Jozef trusted in Dima’s objectivity and in his analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, and a path towards victory against the strongest contenders in the division. “Dima had an ability to see and do these things I couldn’t for myself,” Jozef says, “I told him, ‘Tell me what to do and tell me what to think.’” 

Jozef came away with a breakout performance at the 2023 European Trials. He cruised through his first three rounds of the bracket, and triumphed in a hard road to gold for the last three rounds: Szczecinski in the quarterfinals, Langaker in the semifinals, and Taza in the finals. “As the match progressed and I didn’t get submitted [against Mateusz], my confidence improved and I was less scared,” Jozef says, reflecting on the pivotal quarterfinal rematch against  Szczecinski in his run at ADCC. In a tremendous run, Jozef edged out Szczecinski by referee decision, dominated Langaker 9-0, and strategically outscored Taza 3-0 in overtime, the back-and-forth scrap in the finals among the nominees for 2023 FloGrappling Match of the Year. 

Chen’s run was a proof point for Dima: even though his injuries prevented him from fulfilling his own dream of winning European Trials and qualifying for ADCC, he could successfully coach someone else into achieving it. 

Facilitating an ADCC Transformation: Margot Ciccarelli

In the months between the first and second European Trials, Dima proved that he could successfully coach another athlete into qualifying for ADCC — even one whose reputation was as a pedigreed gi athlete in the IBJJF ruleset: Margot Ciccarelli. 

Having crossed paths in China over the years, Margot and Jozef knew each other, and she discovered Dima while following Jozef’s career. “I thought, ‘If Jozef is interested in him, he must have something to offer that is different from the rest of the community,’ and I wondered, ‘What difference could [Dima] make for Jozef?”

When Margot saw Jozef’s growth between his ADCC Trials runs, she was impressed. “Dima doesn’t take credit for all that evolution, but having two critical minds to give more direction is great,” she said, reflecting on Jozef’s improvement from having a new sounding board in Dima as a coach after operating fairly independently for much of her career. 

Margot was in the midst of her own evolution by the time she reached out to Dima in fall 2023, after the European Trials that Jozef won. 2023 was becoming a landmark year in Ciccarelli’s professional career: she moved from New York to California, switched teams from Unity to AOJ, and dropped her usual weight class, lightweight, to begin competing at Featherweight.

After nearly making the World finals in 2023 and evaluating her goals for the following year, Margot began to wonder about exploring her identity as an athlete beyond the gi: 

“I was getting to the point of considering what are the main things I want to do in 2024. I felt like I narrowly missed the opportunity to get into the Worlds finals last year. I'm so passionate about the gi—it’s been a lifelong passion, over a decade in the making right now—but was curious to outsource my no gi growth to someone else. I already have a great mind for gi, but I don't have enough time to study all of no-gi and be really competent.”

When Margot reached out to Dima to “outsource her no-gi growth” in late 2023, Dima was excited about the opportunity to work with her. “I didn't need to think about it too much, because I really want to work with all kinds of athletes: men, women, older, younger athletes,” he said. “I want to have a wide spectrum because then we just have more stuff to observe and more stuff to elevate the sport, and the sport becomes even greater even faster.”

As she began talking to Dima about the camp he was putting together in Berlin ahead of the second European trials, she knew it was a leap of faith. For Margot, already training in a room with top coaching, training partners, and resources, going to Germany was a risk, especially in light of ongoing training camps at AOJ and the goals she still had for the gi season. 

“It sounded insane to leave AOJ and leave California to go to snowy Germany, where I didn’t know if the training would be good, but I really thought, ‘He is going to be able to help me do good work and I believe in what he seems to be capable of.’ I decided, ‘I really want to do this. I want to spend four weeks with Dima, speak to him on the daily, have him mentor and guide my growth. I’m gonna be a sponge and have him make me do the things I don’t want to do.”

During the month in Germany, Dima prioritized fixing Margot’s standup game ahead of European Trials: “I barely did guard or passing in the camp,” Margot says. “[Dima] had so much confidence in me. He said, ‘I guarantee you will take down someone by the end of the camp.’”

Margot’s standup practice in camp paid off, leading to some of the brightest moments of her Trials run: Margot was able to execute the pinch headlock sequence Dima had shown her three days before the Trials multiple times on multiple opponents, most notably in her finals match against Ashley Bendle: “He coached me to a point that I felt confident enough to do it, and it became my ability to do it,” Margot said. 

Looking back on her winning performance at Trials and witnessing her comfort on the feet, in particular, she adds: “I am dumbfounded that that could be me.”

With Dima’s efforts complementing her coaching resources and teammates in Costa Mesa, Margot’s next few months look bright ahead her debut appearance in Las Vegas at ADCC 2024. “I think in a very short amount of time, he allowed me to really understand what BJJ looks like in ADCC, shapes, and pathways. He gave me a way to think, more than just the skill,  and I’m excited about this growth journey and to see how I can shock the world in August.”


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Behind the Scenes: What Makes Murovanni Stand Out

While Chen’s and Ciccarelli’s winning results at ADCC Trials are what have most drawn attention to Dima, the process that matters more than the outcome to Murovanni and his coachees.

Hallmarks of his process include modulation of intensity and usage of other sports and best practices to inform his coaching approach for jiu-jitsu. 

In the words of Linus von Schenck, Dima’s longest-tenured coachee, who has worked with Murovanni since May 2021: “The thing is he's focusing on everything. He's not just a technical coach. He knows how to build up to a tournament and how to prepare you, but he also knows how to train in a skill-building period. He doesn't look much at other jiu-jitsu coaches or try to mimic them. He looks at sports that have been here for much longer like wrestling or judo, where the coaching level is much much higher and they have a longer tradition. He tries to figure out what they are doing.”  

According to Owen Jones, who first started working with Murovanni three weeks before his WNO debut against Dominic Mejia in November 2023, other attributes that set Dima apart as a coach are his intensiveness of study and his skill in observation, both of which allow him to prescribe specific goals and solutions for his athletes to improve:

“He’s able to watch you and the things you do subconsciously and give more direction on what to go for. For example–and this isn’t an issue for me anymore–but I used to be really bad attacking on my left hip. I used to retain guard really well on my left side, but I couldn't attack on my left side. Any time I'd retain, I would just pull opponents back onto my right side and start attacking. This was a thing I was doing that I wasn't even thinking about, then he told me like, ‘Okay this round, you're just gonna play on the left hip and be trying to attack,’ and this actually helped.”

Jones also notes that Dima’s ability to dedicate his focus solely toward jiu-jitsu and help a small number of athletes improve is another thing that sets him apart:

 “He has been a good outside perspective for me,” Jones says. “That's not something I lacked but like something that I could have used more of. Obviously you have your professor, for instance, but he has an academy to run and other stuff going on in his life. He can't take the time to solely focus on just me and tell me how to get better. Dima has chosen to spend all his time all invested on trying to make people better at jiu-jitsu and he has a very good brain for helping you notice where you're making mistakes, when you're going wrong, and giving you systems you can put in place to fix that.”

Brianna Ste-Marie, who was intrigued by Murovanni after Jozef Chen’s performance at the ADCC Trials and started working with him in Fall 2023, said she enjoys working with Dima because of his ability to offload some of the efforts associated with structuring effective training. “A lot of times as an athlete, especially in the sport of grappling, we must wear a lot of hats,” Brianna says. “Athlete. Manager. Student. Entrepreneur. Marketing specialist. Working with Dima really helped diminish that load.” Jones echoed a sentiment to Ste-Marie’s: “I won’t sit and watch matches for hours on end, but Dima will. Dima will keep up with the new stuff and relay it back so I don’t have to.”

Ste-Marie also lauds Dima’s ability to work with and augment an athlete’s style rather than change it: “He does not try to change who you are as an athlete, but rather finds the right additions to your game and targets the holes which need to be filled. His focus is not only on the skills to be gained but best practices for skill development: dictating situational rounds or games and what intensity they should be played at.”

Because of the geographical distribution of the athletes, Dima works with most of his athletes virtually, exchanging videos, voice notes, and footage. Even while Ste-Marie is based in Canada, Ciccarelli, in California, Chen, all over, and the rest, in Europe, Murovanni manages to foster a sense of community among his athletes.  

“He really cares about keeping the group small and doing good work with the people that he has a meaningful connection with,” Ciccarelli says. “I’ve never met anyone who has challenged me this much intellectually.”

When Murovanni can bring the athletes together in person, he’s able to create a uniquely humble but high-level training environment, his Berlin Camp before the 2024 European Trials a case in point:

“In the camp, he got a bunch of good people in one room, which is sometimes a hard thing to do, right? If you can have the right connections, the right power, and the right mind to do that, it explains why people want to work with you,” Jones says about the Berlin camp. “He'll have a group discussion where we’re bouncing ideas back and forth to get the best possible outcome rather than being like ‘This is how you do it. This is the only way to do it.’ He's definitely more inclusive and welcome to criticism.”


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Peace of Mind over Gold Medals: Murovanni’s Approach to Success in Las Vegas and Beyond

From Murovanni’s perspective, his relationship with his athletes transcends investment in their technical improvement. “They are more to me than only athletes,” he says. “It’s almost like a piece of my soul is in them.”

Perhaps for that reason, Dima’s future goals for his athletes have little to do with winning and losing. Instead, he cares about mentoring them towards continuous improvement.

He recalls an example from coaching Linus over the last year. After beating a black belt in competition as a blue belt at the ADCC German Open in August 2023, Linus had begun putting more pressure on himself, and was disappointed when he lost in the first round of the first European Trials one month later. Dima was concerned that Linus was becoming too emotional about his results. 

“I said to him, ‘I don’t want you to win until we fix this,’” Dima recalls. “People think okay, ‘A coach shouldn’t be happy if a student loses, but I was happy because he still wasn’t there.”

Over the following months, Dima worked with Linus to become less attached to the results. Even though Linus lost in the quarterfinals at the most recent ADCC Trials, Linus’ growth as a competitor and his happiness regardless of outcome were wins from Dima’s perspective as a coach. 

“When he beat Chris [Wojick], he was happy, and when he lost against Taylor [Pearman], he smiled, and he was still pretty happy. Do I care if [Linus] wins? Of course, it would be nice. But I don’t care too much so long as he is happy regardless.”

Dima’s attitude toward Linus extends to his full squad of competitors headed to ADCC, one of equanimity and perspective in winning or losing. 

“This is not one of my goals–that my athletes win something,” Dima says. “I hate doing something based on the goal of a result. I think this can break people. I want them to understand that winning ADCC is great. But if you don't get upset about losing in the first round and if you don’t think that it's the greatest thing–that you won ADCC–I did a good job in making you a good competitor and probably a happy human being. This is the most important thing to me when it comes to my goals. I've told all of my athletes to train with me so we can become the best version [of ourselves that] we can be.” 

It remains to be seen how Dima’s coachees will perform in Las Vegas in August, but for now, two things are certain: Murovanni has built something special among a unique cohort of athletes; and he has become a must-watch coach on the road to ADCC 2024 and beyond. 

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