I’m reminded of an old wrestling poster that said “Any Body can Wrestle!” featuring a large heavyweight and a very small wrestler, both Champions. This is especially the case in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu where many times it’s focus is to use leverage and technique to overcome strength and size.
But what about people with disabilities?
In my BJJ journey I’ve learned that many of the “guards” and other positions/techniques were often developed to overcome a handicap or injury that an athlete had. From PTSD to a bum leg, amputees, partial hands, diabetes, suffering seizures, and being exceptionally weak are only a few real examples of disabilities BJJ and MMA fighters have overcome. These are some physical or mental disabilities that people may be concerned about. I have also experienced parents with concerns of their children having ADD, ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia and other behavioral disabilities or special needs that they think might hold their child back from learning. In many cases, I found it to be the complete opposite! Many times these are the children that excel and thrive in my kids classes! Many adults and kids experience huge benefits from Grappling specifically pertaining to their challenges. This is in addition to the long list of benefits of training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu every person who trains can tell you about.
In the following post I’ll be reviewing some of the most popular Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and MMA athletes that overcame their disabilities to improve themselves rather than letting it hold them back.
The first that comes to mind is Jean Jacques Machado. Cousin to the Gracie’s, and a Black Belt under Carlos Gracie Jr., Machado suffered birth defects resulting from Amniotic Band Syndrome, which left him with only his thumb and pinky finger on his left hand. Despite this affecting his ability to grip in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, he won many National and International titles, including Gold in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Nationals for 11 consecutive years. He also won a Gold in Abu Dhabi and earning the “Most Technical Fighter” award.
Kyle Maynard, born with congenital amputation, is a quadruple amputee who wrote the book No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life. Maynard began training in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in 2005. He had his amateur debut fight on April 25, 2009.
- At 19 years old, Roberto “Gordo” Corriea suffered a knee injury in competition and damaged the cruciate ligaments in his knee. This injury lasted a very long time and prevented him from using one of his legs. He didn’t let this stop him from getting better. He overcame the injuring by working around it. Through his adjustments in his jiu jitsu game, he contributed to the development of the “Half Guard”, one of the most important positions in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu today!
In May 2000, then 19 year old, Keith Miner was feeding trees into a wood chipper when the driver of the truck it was on pulled forward without telling anyone. He tripped and his hand and forearm got caught in the wood chipper. Right handed, but now without without being able to move anything past his shoulder, he had to learn how to do everything left handed! He started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA, holding a record of 5-5 and becoming the first professional amputee fighter.
Tracy “Tra” Telligman was in a car accident crushing his ribs when he was only one and a half years old. Tra can be seen fighting with a deep recess in his chest because he is missing his right pectoral muscle and his right lung due to the accident! Telligman began training in karate when he was 8 years old, continuing until he was 13 years old, and then began boxing until he was 15. During high school he started training in jiu jitsu. Tra Telligman has a professional Boxing record of 4-2 and MMA record of 7-5-1 and has fought some legendary UFC fighters!
Garrett Holeve, of Cooper City Florida struggles with Downs Syndrome and is also fighting to be allowed to compete in MMA. On November 8, 2014 he earned a victory in his first sanctioned MMA bout.
“You expect great things from your children, but you learn how to be realistic with a child that has sensory problems early on. You learn their limits fast and try not to push too far past those too fast. Most people know my awesome fun loving son, but haven’t seen what it took to get there. He amazes me all the time, but on this day he really went past his limit and way beyond. He showed strength, heart, control, and above all respect. He put it out there on the mat then with the exception of a few heartbroken minutes he left it there and told me what he was going to work on in the future. I am proud to call him my son and I have seen the struggles we went through break through the clouds to a beautiful moment. It’s almost too much and I never though Jiu Jitsu of all things would bring this out of him. So thank you Brian Ruscio and Rita Rojas, you have given me something way more precious than any medal he could bring home.”– Brandi Rust, Mother & Behavioral Health Tech.“Building Champions On & Off the Mats!”