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

Misfits 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. 5th Ave. in St. Charles, opened in 2022.

Brad Edmondson, owner and operator of The Misfits Jiujitsu in St. Charles, watches over a class. David Toney/Shaw Local

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

Edmondson said the number one priority is safety, and has a code of conduct in the gym to prevent any injuries, so students can stay focused on improving themselves and learning rather than beating their opponents.

He 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 nearly five years. He had severe panic attacks when he did go out in public, so he rarely did, and he stopped doing physical exercise altogether.

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

During that time, Edmondson began going to the gym in the middle of the night since he wasn’t sleeping much anyway. 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 release his anger, 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 as it is based on using leverage and position to beat someone who is bigger and stronger.

“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 till trying to perfect the craft and constantly improving.”

Owner of the Misfits Jiujitsu in St. Charles Brad Edmondson, right, shows how to perform a move during a class. David Toney/Shaw Local

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 the gym to close.

Edmondson said he knew he wanted to open his own gym and 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 fit.

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.

Those who train at Misfits don’t wear 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.

Edmondson 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

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

Members of a Misfits Jiujitsu class practice what they learned at the St. Charles martial arts gym. David Toney/Shaw Local

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

“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 gym’s main focus.

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.

“When I was going through this depression, I felt like it was only me,” Edmondson said. “Just knowing there is somebody else is 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 meat-head culture, and it’s not great with mental health, and I’m trying to change that,” Edmondson said.

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. Okigawa 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.”

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.