As a boy growing up in Depew, Michael Katilus had always been interested in martial arts. After trying various styles through the years, including boxing, kung fu, and mixed martial arts, Katilus discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and it stuck.
Now, he’s a black belt in BJJ, travels the world for jiu jitsu and runs his own school, Lake Effect Martial Arts.
“I discovered I was more passionate about BJJ,” he said, noting it can take longer than a decade to earn a black belt. “It takes a long time to learn, and there’s always something new to learn. When I have guys come in to teach, they’re not just teaching my students, they’re teaching me, as well.”
The school, open for three years and located at 2106 George Urban Blvd. in Depew, now has over 120 students. It offers kids’ classes, boxing and judo, in addition to BJJ. Katilus brings in guest instructors from around the world, and works to make the school Buffalo’s premier and authentic BJJ and martial arts destination.
“We’ve really grown with minimal advertising dollars,” he said. “It’s all been word of mouth.”
A social worker by day with a young family, Katilus took a risk opening the school in 2016.
“Almost everyone within the jiu jitsu circle told me I would fail,” he said. “My wife and father pushed me to challenge that and they believed in me.”
Four black belts currently teach at the school, Katilus said. That’s a big deal, as there aren’t a lot of black belts in Western New York.
“We have one black belt who started doing jiu jitsu in 1991 in Sao Paulo,” he said, referring to Fernando Mello. “He’s from Brazil.”
Since opening, Katilus (above photo – far right) has taught a variety of students, including beginners and children.
“The kids with the confidence building is something else,” he said. “We had one kid who would barely look at me when he first started, and now he’s a leader in the class.”
The benefits of taking up BJJ are many, Katilus said. While it instills confidence, it also teaches humility.
“You’re going to have great days, and terrible days,” he said. “You have to come to grips with that. You’re human, and you’re flawed.”
It’s also good for anger management, Katilus said. People consider it to be “physical chess.”
“If you get angry in jiu jitsu, forget it,” he said with a laugh. “It doesn’t work. You have to keep a level head.”
Most importantly, practicing BJJ over the years has made Katilus a better person.
“I really believe that,” he said.