Meet Nikola Trajković, a remarkable individual who seamlessly navigates two seemingly disparate worlds - the thrilling realm of jiu-jitsu and the intellectually challenging engineering domain. As a world champion in jiu-jitsu and a valued engineer within our company, Nikola's journey to success is a testament to his unyielding dedication and unwavering passion. In this interview, we delve into his extraordinary development path, exploring the fascinating link between sports and engineering and uncovering the sacrifices that have propelled him to the pinnacle of his career. Through his inspiring story, Nikola exemplifies the essence of perseverance, demonstrating that one can conquer even the most extraordinary of ambitions with determination and focus.
Hello champion! 😀 Please tell us a bit about your journey as a world champion in jiu-jitsu. How did you get started, and what were some of the highlights along the way?
My journey started in 2005 when I was seven years old in the small town of Aleksinac, where I began practicing Jiu-Jitsu. It took 17 years before I won my first gold medal at the world championship in Abu Dhabi in 2022. At first, I hadn't taught of becoming a world champion, but I enjoyed learning new techniques and having fun with my friends from the club. When I started competing as a child, I lost my first fight and was very disappointed, but It ignited a spark in my mind to be better and train more and more. I didn't want to surrender and quit because of one bad day at the competition. After it, I won medals one by one from the national championships, international tournaments, and Balkan championships. People thought it was the best someone from Serbia could do, but I didn't want to think like that, so I continued working hard. The biggest crossway in my career was when I became the first-ever European champion from Serbia in the category under 18 years old in Sweden in 2014. From that moment, I realize that everything is possible if you give your best and believe in your dreams. Step by step, I won a world and European bronze in the juniors category in 2016 and 2017.. Unfortunately, the transition from juniors to seniors was pretty hard, and even though I won against much better opponents that were older than me, I didn't achieve significant international results in the new category. Still, I believed the results would come if I worked more and be persistent.
After winning European and World bronze medals in 2021, I qualified for the World Games 2022 in Birmingham, USA. The World Games is the highest competition that someone from Ju Jitsu can compete in, and it is organized every four years. It's similar to Olympic Games but for non-Olympic sports, and you can only be qualified there if you collect points from the Grand Prix tournaments and European and World championships. It was the first-ever qualification for someone from Serbia in Ju-Jitsu. The best year of my career was 2022 when I won European and World titles and the gold medal at the World Games in the same year. I became the first world champion in the senior category from Serbia, and I'm proud of that result. Even though I won all of these medals, I have continued to compete, and this year, I defended my world title at the World Championship held in Mongolia in July 2023 and became a double World champion.
Juggling a demanding sport like jiu-jitsu and a career as a software engineer must require excellent time management skills. How do you find time to balance your jiu-jitsu training and work responsibilities without losing your mind? 😀
I faced time management problems early in primary school because I went to school, did my homework, attended music school, and trained. It was easy to manage at that time because I didn't have other "life" problems, but it required me to think about time and my obligations. At the high school and faculty, I trained at a higher level and much more than earlier, but also, there was more stuff to do in my education. These two periods taught me how to manage my time better. Mostly it requires disowning from stuff such as going out, parties, having fun with friends, and focusing on more important things at that moment, exams, preparations for the competition, etc. When I started working, the new leaf of my life turned around; there were again more things and responsibilities that I needed to handle, but now with other real-life problems. From the beginning of my professional software engineer career, I didn't stop training and competing. It requires all-day activities and more mental focus. There are a lot of things that I need to finish in only one day and a lot of context-switching in my head. My sports career requires at least one training per day, mainly two, frequent weekend training camps, and a lot of traveling to the competitions, which is very physically demanding.
On the other hand, my software engineer career requires 8 hours of work and learning every day where I need to be focused and concentrated, and it can be very mentally demanding. There is no magic trick of managing all these things together; I prepare monthly, weekly, and daily plans of activities, follow them, and give my best in what I'm doing now. When I finish one thing, I go to another, following the plan. When I feel tired, I separate one day or the whole weekend to go to nature, which relaxes me. Most importantly, you must do things you like and enjoy, and nothing will be hard.
Are there similarities between the mindset required for jiu-jitsu competition and tackling complex engineering projects? What lessons or values from your jiu-jitsu experience have positively influenced your engineering problem-solving approach?
Ju-Jitsu competition and software engineering are different fields, but how I do them is similar. I'm trying to give my best and work hard in both. Also, as a person, I'm persistent and a fighter which means that I don't surrender when a problem appears. Some issue or hard thing motivates me to focus and work more on that to solve it. Often It requires me to push my limits and think out of the box to achieve something.
Competitions can be intense and nerve-wracking. How do you handle the pressure and the adrenaline rush during matches?
Before the competition, I'm trying not to think about it and do the things that make me happy without any stressful activities to be as much better mentally prepared for it. The competition day is very stressful and nerve-wracking; every fighter feels a lot of pressure and stage fright. Something that makes a difference between competitors is the way they can handle it. On the highest competing level, all competitors are the same physically prepared, but mental strength makes a difference. Before matches, I stay focused on things I need to do to prepare my body and mind for the next fight, and I don't let other things affect me. When a match starts, I don't feel any pressure; I'm just thinking about what to do and what tactics to apply because everything happens very fast, and you don't have time to think about other things, such as pressure, audience, judging, etc.
Do you have any funny or interesting anecdotes about how your colleagues react when they find out you're a world champion in jiu-jitsu?
Firstly I need to thank my colleagues for their support and the positive energy they send me. I'm thrilled to make them happy and proud. When I meet new colleagues, they often don't expect that a software engineer is also a competitor in a combat sport, so they find it a bit strange, but I'm glad that they support me and wish me all the best in my future career. Once, my colleagues made a joke at my expense when we were talking at a meeting about who would get which task to do; one colleague told the team leader to be careful which task he would give me so as not to make me angry. And when the team leader gave me a task, he asked me do I like it or if I would like to change it. It was a funny moment. But we are here on the same duty to work together and help each other to become better engineers and do the tasks as best we can, not to introduce bad relationships and negative energy.
Nikola’s team in SYRMIA
Lastly, if you had to choose one word to describe the connection between jiu-jitsu and engineering, what would it be and why?
INNOVATIONS - from the angle of Ju-Jitsu, I need to introduce new techniques or new tactics to the next competition, even to the next match, to surprise opponents and brake their concentration. On the other hand, innovations are the nucleus of engineering, solving new or well-known problems to make stuff easier or the world a better place to live.