PARAMUS, N.J. -- Mark Pinajian was responding to a fraud in progress at a Paramus department store last year when a suspect fleeing from security ran into him.
The Paramus police detective had to think fast. He was all alone. He had to find a way to apprehend the man.
Swiftly. Safely. Systematically.
With unparalleled reflexes and little time to plan, Pinajian pinned the suspect up against the wall before tripping him down to the ground.
The final move the detective deployed was a common one he mastered over the past 12 years as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter: a shoulder lock.
And with that, Pinajian was able to control the suspect safely, swiftly and systematically, before putting him in hand cuffs -- all on his own.
He says he owes it to his dedication to training at Fair Lawn's Performance BJJ & Self Defense Academy, where nearly a year ago he became a black belt in the sport.
"Having muscles is good, but having technique is more effective," said Pinajian of Hackensack, 40.
"We're not baking cakes. We're putting criminals in handcuffs, and things don't always go smoothly."
The detective says BJJ training several times a week with his professor, Third-Degree Gracie Jiu Jitsu Black Belt Louis Vintaloro, is what prepares him best for work.
Pinajian was an athlete growing up in Fair Lawn, and played lacrosse as a student at Rutgers University.
His interest in BJJ was piqued while watching a UFC fight in 2006, particularly because of the ground strategy of it.
"People were dominating the fights," he said. "There was a system to it."
And it had a name: Gracie Jiu Jitsu, after the Gracie family of Brazil -- credited with the development of the Brazilian combat sport.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu was based off of Japanese Jiu Jitsu, meant for people of smaller stature to defend themselves against a larger opponent, the six-foot detective explained.
Pinajian's curiosity quickly turned into a passion.
"I became so obsessed with it that I wanted to train with some of the best fighters in the world," he said. "Brazil had that."
BJJ brought Pinajian all the way to Rio de Janeiro.
He was two years into BJJ training when he started working for the Paramus Police Department as a patrolman.
He soon learned how the martial art lent itself to police work.
"BJJ specializes in ground fighting, and most altercations end up on the ground," said Pinajian, who has been to Brazil twice to train with some of the best fighters in the world.
"A foot pursuit or any time a suspect is trying to allude an officer often becomes a physical altercation."
Pinajian progressed at work, becoming a detective in July 2016. He wondered when his training would follow suit.
"There are no tests to earn your black belt in BJJ," Pinajian said over coffee at Starbucks on Tuesday. "It's a matter of when your professor feels you've reached that level.
"The important thing is that you keep your head down, keep training and working hard. Eventually, it'll happen."
And for Pinajian -- on April 18, 2017 -- it did.
The Fair Lawn academy was filled with fighters all concentrated on defeating their opponent, when Vintaloro suddenly called everything to a stop.
Damp with sweat and short of breath, Pinajian looked up and could barely believe what Vintaloro was saying: Pinajian was about to become a black belt in BJJ.
"All the hard work and time you put into this martial art has gotten you to that part," he said.
"This wave of emotion hits you and you're like, 'What just happened?' It's a long process to get there, so it's overwhelming."
Vintaloro took off his old belt and tied his new one on.
With restored faith in himself and the sport, Pinajian got right back to grappling.
And he doesn't plan on stopping.
"There's no real end game in mind, it's just to keep getting better and better," the detective said. "Keep training and learning."
His efforts don't go unnoticed in the department.
"Mark's healthy lifestyle is reflected in his meticulous work as a Paramus Detective," Deputy Chief Rob Guidetti said.
Pinajian treats every fight like it's his last.
He never knows what the other person is capable of. The suspects he fights could have a weapon on them or a warrant out for their arrest.
"You try to do it nicely but that doesn't always happen," Pinajian said.
"When that's the case I have to ask myself: 'Why is this person resisting arrest and fighting me? What are they trying to hide?'
The answers will come once the suspect is safely apprehended, the detective explained.
He has yet to face a suspect better trained than he is, and he does his best to make sure he never will.
"Let's just say I train hard."
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