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Fighter Series: Dominick Haider

Fighter Series: Dominick Haider


Dominick Haider is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the founder of Guardian Project Los Angeles.

Growing Up

At the age of 7, Dominick was the unfortunate victim of bullying. An older girl would harass him everyday on his walk to school, beating him up and stealing his lunch. One day, he forgot his lunch and this horrible bully decided to beat him up anyways. Seeing that Dominick forgot his lunch, his mother set out to give it to him, but she came across an unexpected and heartbreaking sight. Her son Dominick was crying and hiding in a bush, due to what he’d experienced from his bully.

Starting Martial Arts

Seeking to make change, both Dominick’s mother and grandmother decided that Dominick should try martial arts and learn how to defend himself. There was a karate studio near his grandmother’s house, but they couldn’t afford a membership at that time. The owner and head instructor, Frank Scalercio Sr., talked with the family and gave them a discounted deal that would allow Dom to train. He was instantly hooked with martial arts.

As he grew up, his family moved a lot which gave Dominick the chance to try other forms of martial arts. As a teenager, he admits that he became distant from training for some time, but eventually he got back into it in his 20s. He got back into martial arts by training kickboxing, which he eventually competed in. At the time, there was a new combat sport that was rising in popularity: mixed martial arts (MMA). 

Kickboxing to MMA to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Peaking Dominick’s interest, he made the switch from kickboxing to mma. After multiple mma fights, he identified a weak area in his game: grappling. He only had experience in striking disciplines at this point and wanted to become a more complete martial artist. During this time (2008), there weren’t any reputable promotions offering fights in Dominick’s weight class (outside of Japan), so he took this time to learn Jiu Jitsu. He moved to LA to train at Renzo Gracie Los Angeles, where he trained with Shawn Williams. Eventually, he drifted away from his mma aspirations and made the full time dedication to Jiu Jitsu.

Impact of Martial Arts on Dominick’s Life

When reflecting on his martial arts journey, Dominick says, “if I hadn’t found Martial arts at such a young age, I think my life would’ve been a lot different. Martial arts gave me foundation and much needed discipline and guidance that I just wasn’t able [to] get on the home front. My mom was a single mother with 2 kids working multiple jobs and she just couldn’t be there. In my teens when I stepped away from martial arts for a short time I did find myself getting mixed up in some bad situations but I found my way back to martial arts and it got me out of the ‘bad elements’...

It is a constant in my life. I live and breathe it every day. I love what I do and have an

overabundance of enthusiasm and energy that I try to convey to all of my students. [O]utside of my life Jiu Jitsu/Martial arts kind of permeates everything that I am. My ability to find calmness and composure during stressful times in my life can be directly attributed to martial arts training.”

So many others have experienced similar, lifelong benefits from training in martial arts. They get into great shape while learning self defense (to protect themselves and others who may not be able to defend themselves) and they get to become part of a larger community that has one main thing in common: becoming a better version of themselves.

Dominick says that what keeps him coming back to train is the martial arts and Jiu Jitsu community. He has met many people from all over the world, each with different experiences and stories to tell. “Being a part of the Jiu Jitsu community means you share a common language with people from all over the world and whether you understand each other linguistically doesn’t matter, you share the same language of movement and the love of Jiu Jitsu which can really transcend any other differences.”

Since he started Jiu Jitsu in 2008, Dominick has accomplished a lot in this sport, with two very notable achievements: (1) earning his Jiu Jitsu black belt and (2) opening up his own gym. His school, Omni Jiu Jitsu Academy, is also the home of Guardian Los Angeles – a Guardian Project location he founded.

Guardian Gym Los Angeles

Before he opened his academy (in 2021), Dominick wanted his youth program to run similar to Guardian’s non-profit model. Living in South LA for 15 years has shown Dominick that while there are a lot of negative notions about the community, it’s very similar to anywhere else. The people in the community just want to live and be successful in their endeavors. Some contributing factors that make this such a challenge are the lack of investments, resources, and recreational activities for the youth. With very few available and affordable opportunities for the youth to participate in, they may find themselves surrounded by bad influences – something that can drastically affect the trajectory of their lives in a negative manner. Dominick wanted to help change this.

In 2022, Dominick reached out to the Guardian Project, wanting to understand how they operated. Calder Powers, the director of the Guardian Project, responded and the two would remain in frequent contact. Dominick was offered the opportunity to be a founder of a Guardian location in Los Angeles – one he would jump on and accept, saying “I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to be a part of their amazing program and thus far we have 32 kids on full tuition scholarships training in South Los Angeles.”

Accomplishing his goal, Dominick is now giving the youth of South LA the same opportunity he was given as a young child.[The] Guardian Project is the thing that I needed as a kid. When Frank Scalercio made [martial arts] training available to me as [a] kid at my greatest time of need, it may have saved me from a lifetime of misery and bad habits. I am trying my best to be the thing I needed as a kid and give back the way Frank did for me. For my students I believe Guardian is a place where they can feel safe and where they have agency. The biggest lesson that may not be obvious to these kids at the time, is one of the most important, and that is the

concept of consent by way of the ‘TAP’. We have had kids come in here [who] were

afraid to use their voice and basically shut down in their bodies make complete 180

transformations. Guardian LA gives these kids a place where they are listened to and

they learn that from the start as we let them know that they are valued.”

Guardian LA’s Impact on the Southern LA (Dominick’s) community

The impact of Dominick’s Jiu Jitsu school goes further than “just” learning how to grapple on the mats. Guardian LA is more than just a gym for these youth, it’s a place where they can go and have fun, socialize, study quietly, clear their minds, eat something healthy (and/or take some home for later), and exercise/train. 

Guardian LA isn’t only impacting its students and their families, they’re setting a positive example for the Southern LA community to follow and expand upon. Dominick founded this Guardian Project in a location that has been historically impoverished for some time. Many businesses have been hesitant to invest and open in this area. Considered to be a hobby/sport for those who are seen as financially better off (due to costs of gym memberships, equipment/gear), gyms are commonly located in comparatively higher income areas. The Guardian Project defies these odds and proves that Jiu Jitsu is for EVERYONE, no matter where you come from or what you’ve been through. 

Having great success, students from all over LA train with Dominick at his Omni Jiu Jitsu / Guardian LA gym: “Many of those students would not have any particular reason to come here otherwise, but because of Jiu Jitsu, incredible relationships have been forged here amongst people that might not have ever met.”

The Worldwide Impact of the Guardian Project

Founded by Ben Kovacs and Joel Lunenfeld in 2015, Guardian started as one academy in Oakland California. Supporting more than 1,000 youths across the Bay Area with mentorship, free training, and a welcoming community, Guardian Gym was more than just a gym or a physical place – it was also a vision embodied through Jiu Jitsu.

“Jiu Jitsu, to me, is a vehicle to help these kids find a healthy community when oftentimes their communities are lacking or failing them. Our program is structured so that these kids are provided with valuable mentorship as well as opportunities to learn how to mentor others. As

instructors, our focus is to convey discipline, compassion, perseverance, and strong

moral character which in turn is mirrored by them and trickles down to each and every

new student that comes in. Unlike many sports or after school programs, Guardian

classes run all year round (and the good news is they can do it for the rest of their lives)

so these kids always know that they a place they can go and that they can count on to

be there for them, which to me is invaluable.

Guardian in my mind is best described as a way for youth, families and communities to know

that they have a place in the world where they can feel safe, heard and free from judgement. It is a place where anyone can feel as though they belong because the mats are what brings [people] together to a common cause, which at the end of the day is to become better versions of ourselves.

[W]e all matter. Jiu Jitsu can help EVERYONE but it isn’t available to everyone that wants or needs it. A very poignant quote I heard recently is that “Talent is universal, Opportunity is not” and one that many don’t realize or forget. This is a truism that can be applied to anything and one [of] Guardian’s main principles is [to] provide that opportunity to those that otherwise wouldn’t have it.” - Dominick Haider

Where is Dominick now?

Currently, Dominick is preparing his Guardian students to compete at Jiu Jitsu World

League at UCLA. He has also been working closely with the LAPD Community Safety

Partnership Bureau. They are looking to expand the our program to (1) get more kids from

South LA off the streets and on the mats and (2) encourage LAPD officers to train (to be able to better handle combative situations in ways that would not result in harm to themselves, their teammates, or detainees). For everyone reading this, he leaves us with some advice: trust the process of hard work and have patience with yourself on your journey to self-improvement.

Supporting the Guardian Project

The Guardian Project in South LA continues to expand, so they will be looking for a larger space very soon. If you want to help, you can donate directly to them at one of the links attached at the end of the article

The Guardian Project is a registered 501c3 non-profit. They are funded by donations from the community. 

We’ve attached all of their links below and HIGHLY encourage everyone to check them out to learn more about this absolutely incredible organization. Spread the word about them and the great work they do in-person and on social media - everything helps!

We would like to give a special thank you to Guardian Gym for making this Fighter Series possible and providing the opportunity for underprivileged youth to train Jiu Jitsu. Visit the links below to learn more about the Guardian Project and ways that you can help them.

Guardian Gym

Guardian Gym Los Angeles (LA)

Donate to the Guardian Project

Donatie directly to Guardian LA (via givebutter)

Guardian Gym youtube

Guardian LA Video

Guardian LA / Dominick Haider youtube short


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