When I left the Army I felt completely lost

Published On: Nov 19, 2021

By Kev CapelRAF chief jiu-jitsu instructor

I joined the Army at the age of 16 and when I left ten years later I didn’t really know anything else. I missed the feeling of belonging to a tight-knit group and having that shared sense of purpose. To be honest I felt completely lost.

When I first walked into a jiu-jitsu gym my expectations were not that high. At that point I wasn’t a great believer in the effectiveness of martial arts and I figured that as a squaddie who had done a bit of boxing that I didn’t have too much to learn. But of course I got my arse handed to me that first day, because toughness alone just doesn’t cut it on the mats.

Starting jiu-jitsu was a harsh lesson, but it also turned out to be just what I needed. It kept me out of the pub and out of trouble and gave me a constant, positive focus in my life. After the Army I started working as a firefighter, but when I was off-shift I trained as much as I could. As I worked through the ranks in jiu-jitsu, I started wondering if I could make a job out of it.

I used to pass this derelict building on the way home from work and I fantasised about doing it up and turning it into a gym. Then one day I got chatting to the owner. He was a wealthy property developer who was kind enough to believe in me and he gave me a chance. His trust and a loan from my family got the ball rolling on my dream.

I left the Fire Service after ten years and went all in on my jiu-jitsu gym in Aylesbury, Bucks. I am a black belt under Roger Gracie and my gym is the Buckinghamshire branch of the Roger Gracie Academy. We started back in 2004 and are still going strong.

The gym is just down the road from RAF Halton, one of the Air Force’s biggest training bases. From the beginning we had loads of guys from the base coming to train and after a while I started going to the base and giving training sessions. 

Back then in the RAF they used to teach a form of combat grappling but jiu-jitsu was completely new to them. Eventually in 2015 with a combined effort we were able to get jiu-jitsu listed as an official sport across the Armed Forces. I was then able to become the RAF’s head jiu-jitsu instructor, a great honour for me as a veteran, being able to put something back.

I am so privileged to have made a career out of jiu-jitsu. I still love training, and while it is great fun, jiu-jitsu is about a lot more than that. Early on the in the lockdown I lost two students to suicide. That is why the work REORG is doing is so important. People need a healthy focus in their lives. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without jiu-jitsu, and I have made it my life’s work to share it with as many people as possible.

·     Kev Capel is head instructor at the Roger Gracie Academy, Buckinghamshire. He was talking to Richard Holt. 


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