By Alan Shebaro, former US Special Forces soldier and 4th degree black belt
As a teacher it is great to have challenges and I’ve certainly had my fair share. I was the first US Special Forces soldier to get a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and I trained Navy SEALs and other elite troops in martial arts.
We took techniques from different martial arts styles and adapted them to suit soldiers in the field. The focus is on weapon retention, with close-quarters combat skills either as a vital last resort, or using adapted techniques to subdue a detainee.
Then a few years back I met a completely new challenge in the form of an unstoppable individual who came to my gym, Combat Base Texas. Joey Bozik served with the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, winning a purple heart and a bronze star. He was severely injured by an IED while operating in Iraq, losing both of his legs and his right arm below the elbow.
Before the injury Joey was 6ft 2in and had done a lot of traditional martial arts. But that day he rolled up in a wheelchair with no intention of training himself, but instead to ask about classes for his daughter. We got to talking and after a while I said that if he was willing to be patient with me as a teacher, we could work out some way that Joey could train in the way that suited his physical capabilities. He was intrigued and had lots of questions about how this or that would work, and I told him to leave it with me.
I made pages and pages of notes, trying to work out how to adapt jiu-jitsu techniques for Joey to use. Page after page was eliminated until eventually we came up with a full systematic game especially for him.
After leaving the army, Joey worked in the Dept of Homeland Security as a computer forensics analyst and he enjoyed putting that mind to work in conquering the intricacies of jiu-jitsu, made all the harder as we were having to adapt and modify as we went along. For me it was like being a brand-new teacher again, and Joey was hooked right away and told me that not only did he want to train, he wanted to compete against able-bodied opponents.