Most people expect soldiers to be trained in all aspects of fighting. I have been in the military for more than 20 years and while we were trained to use weapons, unarmed combat training was conspicuous by its absence. Thankfully things are changing.
I started doing jiu-jitsu ten years ago and decided to go all in.
If you’re going to learn it properly, I figured, you have to go right go to the source. So armed with an open mind but not much in the way of jiu-jitsu skills, I headed off to Brazil to learn from the masters.
I could not have been luckier. In Rio I got to train with Ricardo De La Riva, one of the true pioneers of jiu-jitsu, a man who got his black belt from Carlson Gracie and whose own students include the Pride and UFC legends Rodrigo and Rogério Nogueira.
It was a great privilege to train under such a jiu-jitsu master and I made the most of the opportunity, taking two classes a day at the gym in Copacabana and absorbing as much as I could. I even competed in the Rio Open as a white belt, getting through to the last eight, which I was delighted with.
Back in the UK I was determined that my Army colleagues would be able to benefit from jiu-jitsu training too.
With my colleague Don MacIntyre I started an Army jiu-jitsu team, and we have competed all over the world. But while there was nothing to stop us training on our own time, jiu-jitsu was not recognised as an official Army sport, so there was no funding or insurance.
I met up with Sam Sheriff who was fighting to get jiu-jitsu officially recognised in the Royal Marines and we set about doing the same thing in the Army. It was not easy as a lot of the senior officers didn’t know much about it. It took us a few years and a lot of persuasion, but in 2015 we finally succeeded, getting jiu-jitsu listed as an official sport in all the UK Armed Forces.
Since becoming officially recognised, jiu-jitsu has soared in popularity in the Army, as it has across the Forces. At our barracks I created a combat room out of an old squash court which we repurposed with wall-to-wall mats. This is a place where our guys can come and train whenever they want. It is a great way to de-stress from a difficult job, but let’s remember that jiu-jitsu is also a very effective martial art. So the days of joining the Army and avoiding hand-to-hand combat are hopefully a thing of the past.
Mark was talking to Richard Holt.