AMHERST – November 12, 1993.
That is the day when martial arts changed forever, because that is the day Royce Gracie shocked the world when he used the martial art of jiu-jitsu to easily win the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC 1, by turning his much bigger opponents into pretzels.
Since that day 24 years ago there has been a rush to learn jiu-jitsu, and three local practitioners won gold and silver medals at the Freedom Roll jiu-jitsu tournament Saturday in Truro.
“It gives me pride and joy to see them be so dedicated to the sport and go compete at a high level when they don’t have to. It’s very admirable,” said Justin Bourgeois, mixed martial arts coach and owner/operator of Cumberland Mixed Martial Arts in Amherst.
Springhill’s Jerico MacPhee and Port Elgin’s Matthew Fagan both won gold, and Springhill’s Mike Blue won silver in their weight and class divisions.
MacPhee, ranked second in mixed martial arts in the amateur lightweight division in both Canada and the Maritimes, has been studying jiu-jitsu for about six years. He’s coming off his first MMA loss, now 7-1, two weeks ago at Casino New Brunswick. He said winning gold in Truro felt good.
“Not fully, but it kind of helped get the bitter taste out of my mouth from my last fight,” said MacPhee. “To get my hand raised was nice. It definitely helped.”
Fagan has been practicing jiu-jitsu off and on for about five years and said it felt good to win gold as well.
“It’s nice to feel that adrenaline rush.”
Blue is new to the sport. He’s been training for about one month.
“It felt pretty good to win silver. It wasn’t gold but I’ll be there and I will get that gold,” said Blue.
Bourgeois said seeing somebody new to the game win a medal was nice.
“I’ve seen it time and time again where martial arts helps people in many ways,” said Bourgeois. “They quit smoking, lose weight, and they gain confidence, among many other benefits.”
Blue says jiu-jitsu is all about teamwork.
“You’re constantly striving to make each other better,” said Blue.
MacPhee says jiu-jitsu is humbling.
“Someone who is 170 pounds can grapple against somebody who is 120 pounds and the bigger man can get mangled up.”
Fagan says learning jiu-jitsu is a never-ending process.
“If you make one wrong move it can cost you the match.”
“You can be winning and, just as you think you’re about to win, you can fall into their trap and lose.”
Bourgeois says the Gracie family calls jiu-jitsu the gentle art.
“That’s why it attracts such a wide age group, from five to 50-years-old.”
The Freedom Roll tournament in Truro was a no-gi tournament, but Bourgeois prefers to wear the gi, which is heavy cotton jacket and pants used by jiu-jitsu combatants.
“I fell in love with jiu-jitsu in the gi a little over three year ago. I love it because it’s so dynamic,” he said. “There are multiple chokes with the collars and lapels. There’s so much more technique involved.”
Gi or no gi, Bourgeois says there are no specific physical requirements for people starting out.
“You come in and work at your own pace, do what you can do,” said Bourgeois.
“I don’t have a curriculum where you have to do a certain thing in a certain amount of time each time you come in,” he added. “I’m more of a coach who is interested in your mindset or what kind of a day you’re having. I think that helps my training.”
For more information about learning jiu-jitsu or other mixed martial arts, go to the Cumberland Mixed Martial Arts facebook page, or call Bourgeois at 902-297-5373.