PENDLETON — In 2008, Brandon Dames became hooked on the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

And over the past nine years, the Pilot Rock native has put in countless hours of work to help escalate himself through the various belts and ranks of the sport before finally achieving the superior rank of black belt. Dames, who now resides in Vancouver, Washington, returned to Eastern Oregon to receive his promotion to black belt on Saturday morning prior to a seminar that Pendleton’s Solid Base Jiu-Jitsu gym was hosting at Pendleton High School.

“It’s the biggest life achievement I’ve ever had next to getting married,” said the 40-year-old Dames. “It takes most people around 13 years to get their black belt and I did it in nine, which I’m proud of. But it meant a lot of sacrifice like being away from home and my family.”

On hand to award Dames his promotion was Orlando Sanchez, a Jiu-Jitsu legend who reached black belt in just four years that had become Dames’ professor for the past three years. Sanchez made the trip up from his home base in Los Angeles and was proud to help Dames achieve his goal.

“He’s an amazing man that’s been through a lot and it’s special that he invited me up here to promote him in the town where he started,” Sanchez said. “Since I’ve known him, Brandon’s completely changed in Jiu-Jitsu. He looks at it completely different and he’s gotten so much better, so much more involved and in tune. It’s hard to put into words just how much he’s grown.”

After graduating from Pilot Rock high school in 1995, Dames’ journey took him many places and into many hard times. He confessed some of his story to the attendees of the seminar on Saturday, from living in a garage with no plumbing in Boise, to countless days spent on the road away from his wife, Ashley, and his family whether it was for Jiu-Jitsu or bodybuilding, which was his passion before finding the martial art.

And though his life has taken him away from Eastern Oregon, he still gives back when he can. Dames is the professor for Solid Base instructors Johnny Picard and Logan Skinner, the latter of which also received a promotion to brown belt on Saturday. That connection as well as coming home made it a logical one for Dames to receive his promotion.

But soon, Jiu-Jitsu is taking Dames further away from home again. In two weeks, Dames and his wife are moving to Melbourne, Florida where Dames will continue to train. And then after the first of 2018, Dames and Sanchez will be looking at places to open up a gym together and continue a partnership that has helped Dames reach new heights.

“When I think of (Sanchez), I think of meeting someone you’re connected with that will help you reach your goals because he’s already reached them,” Dames said. “He’s been there and knows how to get me where I want to be. I have the work ethic, the hunger, the education, I just needed that mentor to help me conquer those goals and he did it.”


Contact Eric at or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter at @ByEricSinger.

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