At Jiu-Jitsu Times we like to give our readers an opportunity to be inspired by athletes and competitors who have to deal with disabilities on a day to day basis. Last Saturday at Fight To Win Pro 72 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania the promotion featured their first ever competitor with cerebral palsy, Andy Anderson.
To make things even more compelling, Anderson’s opponent is fully able bodied. Though Anderson lost his match, he has proven time and again to be a formidable challenge for any opponent, making his case fascinating. He’s an active competitor who has won divisions with fully able bodied competitors and has even fought MMA.
I had a chance to chat a bit with Andy about his jiu-jitsu experience as a person with cerebral palsy.
“My case is mild. Affects the right side of my body, with limited coordination & dexterity but I have been able to adapt and develop balance during both wrestling and now in grappling. As far as my game developed I do mostly a front headlock series I found that just getting a hold of my opponent and controlling either their head or one or more of their limbs really helps slow the match down so I can really use what I am capable of doing to my advantage. It does present challenges but I’ve been doing this since I was 12 when I started wrestling so honestly the biggest thing is I’ve been working since I was 12 on my physical strength and my balance as well really trying to get to the point where I can compensate with the left side, the able side, of my body to make up for what I am deficient in on the right side”
There is an increasing number of active jiu-jitsu practitioners with cerebral palsy, I was curious about Andy’s thoughts on why jiu-jitsu may be more popular than other martial arts for people with this specific condition.
“I think that grappling and jiu jitsu specifically is more adaptable for people with cerebral palsy just because of the wide range of submission attacks that are available in jiu jitsu compared to something like wrestling or judo or something like that plus it has more of a ground based component and I can use the ground for leverage that really isn’t possible for something like wrestling or judo where it’s mostly stand up or something like a striking sport like boxing or muay thai. That was a big limitation for me in MMA, the striking aspect of it, the spasticity really affected me when throwing punches that doesn’t really affect me when grabbing a hold of someone, I can control them from there. I think that gi specifically helps slow the game down for someone with cerebral palsy. I actually prefer no gi more probably due to my wrestling background but I think gi definitely has its advantages for someone in my position”
As there are more people with cerebral palsy and other systemic neurological and physical conditions doing jiu-jitsu, a subset has arisen within the jiu-jitsu community: para jiu-jitsu, that is jiu-jitsu for adaptive athletes. These amazing athletes are being given a chance to shine in tournaments and divisions set up just for them. I was interested in Andy’s thoughts on this, and his intent or lack thereof in participating in them.
“I really am encouraged by para jiu jitsu and just the opportunities that are being presented to people of all capabilities, not even just myself. Actually the Grappler’s Heart tournament, which is now renamed after Ian Matuszak, asked me to compete a couple of years ago, I turned it down because I was already winning matches against able bodied competitors and a couple of my coaches recommended that I didn’t do that because it could be misconstrued. I do have cerebral palsy but it is considerably more mild than some.”
Andy was the very first competitor with cerebral palsy to step onto the stage at Fight to Win Pro. I was interested in learning about Andy’s thoughts on the experience
“Competing at F2W was one of the best experiences I’ve had competing in jiu jitsu or MMA. I’ve been on both sides of a promotion both as a promoter and a competitor and that was one of the best experiences that I’ve had. Seth and his team run a great show, I really felt they took care of their competitors. I’d love to do one again in the future. I need to get more competition experience now that I’m competing in advanced divisions, though I’m still competing as a blue belt in the gi. I’d love to be back again at Fight To Win.”
Andy’s shout outs go to his team and coaches:
“I want to thank my team, Stout Training Center, Team Renzo Gracie, my coaches Warren Stout and Mike Wilkins, as well as the larger Team Renzo Gracie team Silver Fox Karel Pravic, Tom DeBlass, Garry Tonon, I really think we have one of the best teams out there and I’m really thankful for all of the support they give me.”