In jiu jitsu, we often encounter truly remarkable and inspirational people. We see people defy great odds against them, often odds that the majority of the world will never have to face. These people inspire us through their ability to push themselves through hardship to victory…
I recently attended a local tournament where I saw something that I’ve never seen before, something that deeply affected me. I watched a young man in a wheelchair get on the mat, looking at his movement it was clear that he has cerebral palsy. In spite of limited use of his limbs he engaged in three matches, one of which he won on points. Throughout his matches, his opponent was unable to submit him, though in the third match he seemed to be making a concerted effort to do so. After watching him compete, I approached the young man, Nick Hyndman, and asked him if he would be willing to be featured in a Jiu Jitsu Times article.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Different people handle tough situations differently. What I knew was that I had watched a tremendous display of heart and I wanted to share that with the rest of the jiu jitsu community. Nick’s words have made a profound impact on me, and I hope they have the same effect on you…
Nick is 22 years old and is a green belt in Japanese jiu jitsu at USA Martial Arts under instructors Sensei Lynn Gray Sr. & Sensei Mike Gray…
“I started taking jiu-jitsu on June 6th 2013 with my dad, so almost 2 years ago. I was going through a rough time emotionally with depression and I was a little bit out of shape because I had been out of a physically challenging sport since I wrestled in high school. My Dad had taken tae-kwon-do at USA Martial Arts with Sensei Donnelly when he was a teenager so he and I decided to check out the dojo and see if we could try jiu-jitsu together and we fell in love with the sport and the dojo and that’s how it all started.”
Given Nick’s unusual physical limitations I was interested to learn about the specific challenges which his Cerebral Palsy pose to him in his training regime.
“I would say the biggest challenge competing or practicing jiu-jitsu with CP is knowing exactly what to do in my mind and not being able to execute it the way I know how to do it because of the physical limitations.
My mind as an athlete is very sharp, just my arms and legs don’t let me do what my mind wants to do. CP affects my limbs and fine motor skills. Mainly my legs and feet and my right arm and hand. The positions that work best for me would be full mount or half guard or side control. Which I think is the case for most people, haha. But some people prefer being on the bottom, which is my weakest spot, my ability to shrimp or bridge to flip positions is hindered because of the weakness of my legs. So I try to stay on top or side as much as possible. My favorite technique is the arm bar, if I can get the mount, then the arm bar is my go to move.
Anything standing up is out of the question because of my lack of stability, so whether the opponent starts standing up or knee to knee, I have to do takedowns from my knees. But the thing that I love is that my Senseis and teammates have never taught a technique and said ‘Nick, you can’t do this one.’ They always take a second and think of how they can adapt the technique so that I can find a way to do execute it to the best of my ability. I love the people at USA Martial Arts because they see me as an athlete and a competitor with abilities and with the same desire to learn, grow, and succeed that every non-disabled athlete does instead of focusing on the disability of CP.”
I’ve had the opportunity to interview several people who have overcome physical limitations in order to train and compete in jiu jitsu. Every individual has different motivations for why they train, why they compete, and their goal for competition. Some prefer to face opponents with similar limitations to have a somewhat level playing field while others prefer to enter competitions with the “general population” of jiu jitsu. I was interested to learn about Nick’s thoughts on this.
“I wrestled for 2 years in high school and have done 2 jiu-jitsu tournaments now, and have had roughly 30 matches between both sports. The match I won at the most recent tournament was my first victory, so a long road full of hard training and adaptation pulled off. My victory wasn’t by submission but I was very excited that I got my first win my biggest passion in life has always been sports. I’ve played different sports with other people with disabilities. I did 8 years of baseball, 3 years of soccer, and I’m currently playing wheelchair football in which I’ve been the quarterback for 8 years. So, I’ve played sports with fellow disabled people all my life and have been whether successful doing so. In football, over 8 seasons, my team and I have a record of 37-3.
When I went after wrestling and jiu-jitsu, I was looking for a sport that could challenge my physical being to the full extent and I wanted to prove to myself that I can be just as good of an athlete as my non-disabled peers. So, going into it, when I face a non-disabled opponent, I know there’s a better chance of me losing the match but I feel that by going out there and just competing to the best of my ability and hearing people say I inspire them and motivate them to be better, or when I hear another disabled person say I inspired them to go into the sport, I’ve won so much more than I can win by winning the actual match.
Winning the actual match is just a nice bonus. So for jiu-jitsu, I do prefer more able-bodied opponents but I love to see other disabled people compete as well. I’ve never had the opportunity to face another opponent with a disability but I’d be honored to and want to one day.”
Nick’s powerful words strike a chord in anyone who has ever struggled to achieve something. However, at the same time, they raised a crucial and difficult question: any fully able-bodied competitor who steps on the mat with a person like Nick is faced with a dilemma. Do we go out there and treat the opponent like any other opponent, trying to win, but potentially injuring them in the process? Should we be kind, lie down, and let the other person win? How much effort is too much? How much is enough? Given Nick’s depth displayed in his other answers, I wanted his thoughts on this delicate question, and following suit with his other answers, they are truly inspirational.
“Yeah, I definitely have thought about that before, I’ve wondered how other opponents see me as a competitor. I do doubt that they give me 100% like they would a non-disabled competitor and I accept that. I think if you don’t roll with me on a day-to-day basis, you don’t really know my capabilities and how much I can take. So, I can’t blame them for not wanting to “kill me”.
Sensei Gray, the sensei I work with the most, tells everyone in practice to treat me like everyone else. He knows I can take it. CP is a disability that affects function. It doesn’t affect my ability to take pain, it doesn’t make me weak in the sense of “fragileness.” I’m no more or less “fragile” than others. I live in pain every day so I can take a lot. So to my future competition, never be afraid that you’re going to hurt me or “break” me.
As far as effort goes, only thing I ask is just don’t lie down and give me a win. If I win, I win; if I lose, I lose. Like the most recent, the first two matches I’m pretty sure my opponent Ryan did not try 100% because when it came down to the third and final match, he stepped it up a notch and went for the win by submission but I defended everything he tried and even though I lost the match, I didn’t get submitted all day. I appreciated Ryan’s effort, it was the perfect amount, and he gave me a good battle, and never gave it to me.
So, to summarize, to my future competition, never worry about hurting me and never just give me the match. If you don’t give me 100%, then all I ask is you give me a good battle and give me as close to 100% as you can with the intention of still kicking my ass. Let’s have fun and compete the way jiu-jitsu is meant to be competed!”
Watching Nick’s display of heart at the tournament at which I met him was one of the most profound experiences of my jiu-jitsu journey thus far. Even though his body doesn’t work like the average jiujiteiro, he makes up for it with his heart and tenacity. In closing Nick had the following shout outs:
“I obviously want to shout out to everyone at USA Martial Arts for believing in me and spending hours and hours training me and adapting to my disability. Specifically Senseis Lynn and Mike Gray!
Huge shout out and thank you to my Dad, Greg Hyndman for taking this journey with me by practicing and competing by my side. It’s been a hell of a journey together and I look forward to seeing all we can accomplish in the future!
My family is my biggest support system, without them, I would be nothing. I’ve had people all my life point out everything I can’t do and my family looks at every ABILITY I have and see me as a human being instead of another person with a disability. So I can never thank them enough for all they’ve done for me!
Finally, I want to thank my first wrestling coach Matthew Boggs of Perrysburg High School. When I went you, you could have easily said you don’t think you could work with me because of my disability but instead you spent hours on your computer finding ways to adapt the sport of wrestling for disabled person. The things we accomplished together means so much more than any win on the mat. Because of my 2 years of wrestling, I fell in love with both sports of wrestling and MMA. My journey of jiu-jitsu never would have never begun without you.”