“One Legged Man Wins An A***-Kicking Contest” screamed the front page of The Sunshine Coast Daily in huge block letters on April 17. The headline accompanies news of victorious Australian jiu-jitsu competitor Jed Gray, who won the blue belt division of the Sunshine Coast Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships this month. The tournament is not a para-BJJ event, meaning Gray bested “able-bodied” fighters to claim his gold.
Jiu-jitsu rarely makes it onto the front page of anything not printed exclusively for gym rats and aging Tapout t-shirt owners, but Gray’s story is so compelling it’s not hard to see why it caught the eye of writer Matthew Holdsworth.
Gray lost his leg in a Valentine’s Day car crash at age 16. A friend with a car was driving Gray and his high school girlfriend to what was supposed to be one of those sweet, kind of cringe-y teenaged dates but the trio never made it.
“It was a pretty sh*tty hand to be dealt at that age,” Gray told Holdsworth.
The athlete originally pursued boxing following the accident, but learned the sport doesn’t allow athletes with prosthetic legs to compete. Jiu-jitsu, however, welcomes athletes with altered bodies onto its training and competition mats, and has been a home for everyone from cancer survivors to war veterans for years for that reason. Gray dove into training at Noosa Heads’ CAZA BJJ for both his physical and mental well-being.
He says that “takedowns are still quite challenging, but once I’m on top I’m pretty good,” a statement which perfectly summarizes how every blue belt everywhere feels regardless of limb status.
The championship was Gray’s second competition ever. He reportedly snapped a tendon in his first.
“Not getting injured was great,” he said of his recent victory.
Holdsworth explained that Gray’s victory was a shock to the crowd and athletes as adaptive grapplers are less common on the circuit in Australia than the United States.
Much like Washington state native and Para BJJ gold medalist Jess Munter, who explained to Jiu-Jitsu Times how coaches welcomed the creative challenge of adapting the gentle art for her specific injury, Gray’s coach, black belt Yoshi Hasegawa, reports that Gray’s joining BJJ has been as positive for the gym as it has for the student.
“If anyone wants to make excuses in our gym they can take it up with Jed,” Hasegawa told Holdsworth. “His courage has been a great source of motivation to everyone.”
You can follow more of Jed’s BJJ journey at the awesomely titled Instagram handle @onelegbjj.