Chad Robichaux – Marine Special Forces, MMA & Jiu-Jitsu Fighter Overcoming PTSD

chad-robichauxA man was barricaded in his house pointing a rifle at Chad Robichaux – the police officer who responded to the domestic violence call.

“That morning, if you asked me what if a guy points a gun at me,” Chad said. “I’m going to blast him.”

But it was not that easy after Chad glanced in the living room full of family pictures and toys.

“I felt compassion,” Chad said. “It would be such a permanent decision.”

Chad kept his handgun in close, stepped forward and reached for the barrel of the rifle.

“When I grabbed his gun, I really believed I could yank it out of his arms,” Chad said. “I still felt like I was in control.”

They started fighting over each other’s weapons, but the guy was much larger.

“When he grabbed my hand, I knew I was in trouble,” Chad said. “I got pissed. I remember thinking, You’re going to make me kill you.”

Chad and his partner each fired six times.

The man turned, dropped to his knees and looked back surprised. “You killed me,” he said.

The suspect was hit eleven times. He died in front of them with his wife screaming in the background.

Chad was somber telling the story, then he cracked a small grin and said, “I always joke that my partner was the one who dropped the round.”

Cops have to find humor in the darkness. That’s how they cope with the overwhelming stress, but this was only one of the many high stake events in Chad’s life – a pressure cooker that was on course to boiling over.

Rather than confront the issues, Chad distracted himself with ambitious pursuits. His list of achievements is long, especially when you realize Chad is only forty years old. 

Chad is a 2nd degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and a world champion mixed martial arts fighter with an impressive 18 win, 2 loss record. 18 of those victories ended by submission.

Chad is a fighter in the cage, but he also served eight tours in Afghanistan as a Special Operations Force Recon Marine and when he was a police officer he earned a medal of valor. He is not only a warrior, but also an intellect. Chad is a bestselling author, has earned MBA and PHD degrees and is also the President of one of the most successful Military Veteran non-profit charities today, Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs.

Chad has accomplished a lot, but he has an unusual perspective when he hears his own resume read aloud.

“Honestly,” Chad said. “It sounds like someone that was discontent.”

Chad is proud of his achievements, but he admits that unhappiness is what fueled him. He recognizes a pattern with the Special Operations guys, black belts and fighters.

“Whatever drives guys to that level, it makes them super-successful, but at the same time they’re always chasing the next thing when the last one wasn’t good enough,” Chad said. “I think it’s constantly trying to overcoming some type of shortfall in your life.”

That theory became evident after Chad opened up about his childhood. When Chad was only 14 years old, his 15 year old brother was killed by their 11 year old step-brother who shot him in the chest with a shotgun.

Chad and his brother shared the common bond of growing up in a physically abusive, dysfunctional home, so losing his brother was devastating. Whatever semblance of a family Chad had, it completely deteriorated after his brother died.

Chad’s step-mother became an emotional train wreck after her son died, then his father fled the country for a job in Africa. Chad moved in with his real mother, but his abusive step-father did not want him around and they pretty much abandoned Chad.

“That left me in a vacant state of depression,” Chad said. “I had no idea what to do at that time.”

At age 17, Chad dropped out of high school and joined the Marines.

“I didn’t have much guidance in my life,” Chad said, “but I definitely recognized this was a brand new chance at life.”

Chad knew he wanted to do some type of special operations, so once he committed to joining the Marines, he started running and swimming daily to prepare himself. Goal setting became an important part of his life.

“I’m the hardest working lazy person I know,” Chad said. “Without a goal, I’ll start eating and putting on weight, but when I put a date on a calendar, everything changes.”

Within the first year, Chad was already entering the Reconnaissance Indoctrination Program (RIP) designed to weed out about 90% of the applicants. Next was Basic Reconnaissance School where candidates work to earn the title “Recon Marine,” much like the BUD’s program for Navy SEALS.

Recon candidates endured such rigors as “wet-suit appreciation day.” Chad smiled as the memories came back and he told me how challenging those early days of training were.

“We’re not leaving until five people quit,” one of the instructors would yell as waves crash over the recruits that lay shivering in the fridge Pacific Ocean.

“You pray that your best friend quits, so you can get dry and warm” Chad said. 

Chad did not look at the program as a challenge, instead he saw an opportunity. “I couldn’t process why someone would take on an opportunity like that and just quit,” Chad said. “Not just quit, but quit so easily.”

It was 1996, while in the Marines, Chad noticed a club on base advertising Jiu-Jitsu. He had been training Japanese Jiu-Jitsu most of his life and had already earned a black belt, but when he visited the Jiu-Jitsu club, he was dominated by the blue belts.

“What’s going on here,” Chad said during his first class. “They beat the heck out of me.”

That was his first exposure to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and he immediately fell in love. Shortly after finding Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, his first tour in the Marines ended and he was able to train regularly. He also started fighting amateur mixed martial arts fights around the same time.

“It wasn’t like I wanted to be an MMA fighter,” Chad said. “The gym I went to in New Orleans, that’s pretty much what they did on the weekends, we competed in Vale Tudo matches.”

Chad weighted about 120 pounds for his first fight. It was a four-man MMA tournament and 155 pounds was the lightest class they had.

“In fairness, the competition wasn’t the same back then,” Chad said. It was almost cheating if you were a Jiu-Jitsu guy.”

In those days, Chad would run across the ring, drag his opponent to the mat, and start punching until an arm or neck was exposed. It was a simple game plan and worked until the sport evolved. When the competition improved, Chad had to add striking and wrestling to keep winning.

With eighteen professional wins and only two losses, Chad admits he does not like to lose.

“I can’t put my finger on why I hate losing, I’ve never had a fear of getting punched or kicked in the face,” Chad said as he paused to think for a moment. “Your losses, you know? They just eat at you.”

Chad reluctantly admitted there is always some desire for affirmation from your peers, especially those he trains with, but when he competes, winning is not his main focus.

“I feel like each time I compete, it’s a competition against myself. I want to be better than I was the time before. It’s a journey for self-improvement.”

Chad switched from active duty to the Marine Reserves to attend college and worked in law enforcement, but when he got in the domestic violence shooting, things changed. As the media typically does, they sensationalized the story calling the shooting a “Cold Blooded Murder” in the headlines.

“It was scary,” Chad said. “I remember trying to explain to my wife how serious it was. If the grand jury indicts me, I’m going in handcuffs.”

After a week-long trial, all of the forensic evidence clearly aligned with the officers’ story and they were not charged.

“I was pretty bitter afterwards,” Chad said. “The DA’s office and police department didn’t want to take a position on the case.”

It wasn’t until after the trial that the chief publicly supported them. They received the Medal of Valor from the State and were both promoted to detective. 

That process jaded Chad towards police work, a point that most officers eventually reach, so when the terrorist attacks of September 11th happened, Chad promptly volunteered to go active duty with his reserve military unit.

While waiting for his unit to deploy to Afghanistan, he served briefly as a Federal Air Marshal and then got a chance to try out for the very elite Joint Special Operations Task Force.

“It was stupid from a career perspective,” Chad said. “I had a federal job, making good money and the best federal retirement you could get, but I’m a warrior and I was trained to do this.”

When Chad was selected, he said he could not possibly sit it out while his brothers were there fighting.

Much of what Chad did in Afghanistan is protected by a top secret security clearance, but did Advanced Force Operations for Tier 1 Special Operations Forces providing clandestine operational logistics in unconventional ways.

Chad felt like he was born for this role because it was a culmination of his law enforcement and military experience and also his college master’s degree in business.

“It was the pinnacle of my professional life,” Chad said. “We were running around the worst parts of Afghanistan with no rules, supporting the hunt of the most wanted men on the planet.”

After returning to Afghanistan eight times, Chad began experiencing anxiety from the intense pressure of the war.

“I wasn’t telling anyone,” Chad said. “I just tried to push through it and I ended up pushing until the wheels flew off.”

The stress became so overwhelming that Chad does not remember the last two weeks of his deployment.

“I was having these severe panic attacks,” Chad said. “My body would go numb and my throat felt like it was swelling shut. My body was in a constant state of fight or flight. It just finally broke and the physiological effects that come with that just continued on.”

When he got back to the U.S., he was diagnosed with severe PTSD. “I was pulled from the program and Kathy and I were left to deal with it.”

One moment Chad was excelling in the task force and the next moment he was stripped from doing the most amazing job in the world.

“I quit my law enforcement career,” Chad said. “So what am I going to do now?”

Chad’s wife Kathy was really worried because she had never seen him like that before. The doctors told her to keep him preoccupied, so she encouraged him to open a Jiu-Jitsu school, but she did not foresee the catastrophe that would lead to.

“When I grappled for the first time, I felt like I found the cure,” Chad said regarding his PTSD. “When you’re grappling you don’t think about anything. You unplug and don’t think about anything else.”

Chad trained Jiu-Jitsu non-stop and invested every minute into the new gym. When spending ten hours a day at the gym, it did not take long before he was excelling as a fighter and the gym grew into a successful, six figure business. In a three year period, they grew to two locations with 1,000 students.

“I was successful in business because I spent a lot of time there,” Chad said. “It was a comfort, a way for me to not have to deal with my problems.”

Chad explained how in the gym environment everyone elevates the professor and no one questions him.

“It didn’t take long for me to step outside of my marriage,” Chad said. “Kathy and I separated, sold our home, and moved into separate apartments.”

“I took something that could be really good for me and then immediately abused it,” Chad said of Jiu-Jitsu.

Chad said some people turn to drugs or alcohol, but he took elements of the Jiu-Jitsu academy to excess.

“There’s a difference between an 1½ hour a day and using it as a place to hide from the world,” Chad said.

At that time, Chad blamed everyone else. He blamed his father, the military, PTSD and his wife because she did not understand what he had been through.

“That time by myself, I really had a chance to reflect and I came to the conclusion that it was me,” Chad said. “That brought me to a point of deep depression. That was a really low point for me because I would sit in my closet with a pistol.”

As a cop, Chad had been on suicide scenes and started thinking about who was going to find him and clean up the mess. He was torn with the statistic that one in three children also commits suicide following a parent and he realized how much his boys already emulate what he does.

When the divorce papers were ready to be signed, Kathy came to his apartment and asked how he could be so successful in the military, MMA, and everything else, but when it came to his family, he quit.

“That question, it really challenged me,” Chad said. “She said it many times before and I never responded to it, but at that moment, you know.”

That question helped Chad accept responsibility and empowered him to change. Chad decided he could take the same lessons of character and discipline he learned on the mat and apply them to his personal life.

“When I didn’t have a dad or anybody to teach me those things,” Chad said, “I learned them in martial arts, but I wasn’t doing it in the areas that matter most.”

Prior to that moment, Chad created a life with no accountability. His Jiu-Jitsu students looked up to him and he pushed anyone out that would tell him he was messing up.

Chad realized he needed to change, so he returned to his faith to find accountability and a healthy model to live by.

“Christian was on my dog tag,” Chad said talking about his past. “Being honest, what it meant to me before was a way to control my family. If I went to church on Sundays and check that box, my wife was going to be faithful and my kids are going to have a structure and discipline. Church was like a mechanism to keep my family in check.”

Losing his wife was definitely a turning point for Chad, but realizing that he chose to be in that position is what empowered him to change things.

“That’s probably why I beat that drum so hard with the guys,” Chad said. “You do have a choice. When I decided to choose differently, my life turned out differently.”

Chad said there is a common misconception that soldiers have PTSD or anxiety because they killed people.

“I don’t think any veteran cares about killing Taliban,” Chad said. “The real war fighters I come across don’t sit awake seeing the faces of Taliban they killed. That’s just not reality.”

“Their biggest thing is that they were important and now they’re not. They were trusted with millions of dollars in equipment, lives and all those missions and now they can’t be trusted in a psych ward with shoe laces or a job at Home Depot.”

“I’ve been to all the counselors, I’ve been medicated and I have done all those things and nothing worked,” Chad said. “When I simply made decisions to align my life with my faith, this PTSD thing, this anxiety, anger, all these things, they went away.

That’s why Chad feels confident when he tells people, “You have the ability to choose a different life.”

When students claim he does not understand, he says, “You can pull that with a counselor, but I’ve been exactly where you’ve been.”

“It’s a lack of purpose,” Chad said. “For me, the restoration of my faith was really re-finding my purpose.”

Chad’s new purpose in life lead to the birth of Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs, the non-profit that helps men recover from the most challenging cases of PTSD. Chad’s life purpose is taking what healed him and sharing it with others.

“I’m so driven to make it happen,” Chad said. “I feel like so much is at stake.”

While there continues to be over 22 U.S. veterans that kill themselves every day, there has never had a single suicide of the 990 Mighty Oaks graduates.

There is a list of 350 veterans waiting to come to the Mighty Oaks program. No one pays to go through the program, but there are expenses and limited funds, and sadly, there have been people on the waiting list that have committed suicide.

“We had three guys on a waiting list in the last week end up in the emergency room for trying to kill themselves,” Chad said. “One guy laid against his kid’s toy box and put a .45 to his head and blew his brains out.”

Chad said the government will only fund clinical programs where millions of dollars are wasted with zero success.

“There’s no reason that somebody should be on 30 pills a day for a PTSD diagnosis,” Chad said. They’re never going to get better as long as they’re on those medicines.”

Chad suggests soldiers ask their doctor what is the exit plan to getting off the pills and recovering. They will always get a blank stare.

“There’s an entitlement culture in the military,” Chad said. “They feel entitled to something because they went to Iraq or Afghanistan, but no one was trapped, they chose to go.”

“There’s three things that are going to happen when you get out,” Chad said. “You’re going to become a menace to society, because you’re going to let your behaviors and choices lead you to a path of doing destructive things.”

“Or two, you’re going to become a social dependent. Collecting that check and kicking back with your feet up for the rest of your life.”

“Or three, you could do something important again. We believe that if you challenge them and provide a path forward, they’ll do something important again.”

The organization that Chad oversees is growing fast and it is an intense environment, but today he has accountability in his life that he did not have before.

Chad and his wife Kathy, rebuilt their family and after 21 years of marriage they share what they learned in their book Marriage Advance: Love Never Gives Up.

Chad took a huge risk and sold his prosperous gym to open Mighty Oaks where he and Kathy work side by side, sharing an office.

Today, Chad’s focus is on Mighty Oaks, but he still trains and teaches Jiu-Jitsu regularly because Kathy said, “He’s no fun to be around when he doesn’t.”

Chad retired from MMA, but still competes in 3- 4 Jiu-Jitsu events each year because having a goal on the calendar is what keeps him going in life.

Did you enjoy this interview? Click HERE to get the book with all the other interviews.

motivationsmallThis interview is part of the book, “Motivation: Stories of Life and Success From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts.” Click HERE to get it at Amazon.

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2 Responses to Chad Robichaux – Marine Special Forces, MMA & Jiu-Jitsu Fighter Overcoming PTSD

  1. Joel says:

    Great interview Chuck, this was one of my favorites.

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