No Excuses: Jiu-Jitsu Student Has Bipolar Disorder, Lost His Foot, And Still Hits The Mats

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Photo of Rob Van Batum: Used With Permission

The Jiu-Jitsu Times believes in the idea that jiu-jitsu is for everyone. We will profile several jiu-jitsu students who are training and using BJJ to overcome limitations and add to their lives.

Recently, we spoke with Rob van Batum, a student of BJJ who is affected by bipolar disorder and has trained BJJ with an amputated left foot. The Jiu-Jitsu Times asked Rob a few questions to get a glimpse into how he uses BJJ to deal with obstacles and improve his life.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Rob, Can you tell the the Jiu-Jitsu Times readers a little about your background.

Rob van Batum: Hi, I was born and raised in Beverwijk, the Netherlands. Been living there for my whole life, which is 32 years now. I started with martial arts when an employee of my father took me with him on Saturdays to karate training. At the time, I was 5 years old, and little than a year later, I started training karate (Wado-Ryu style). By 11, maybe 12 years old, I had reached first kyu, which is your 3rd degree brown belt. At the time, the Dutch karate association had the rule that you had to be 16 years old before you could do exams for black belt first dan. So I started kickboxing.

When I was 13 years old I had an accident with a truck while I was riding my bicycle. After, the doctors had to amputate my left foot. So karate and kickboxing was out of the question then. After years of not doing martial arts, I took up boxing. And January 2016 I started BJJ!

I started with BJJ for a couple of reasons. First, of all as you can see, I love martial arts. Also, being a fan of MMA, I was always interested in the ground part of a fight and respected the skill. When in 2015 after a manic psychosis, where I nearly committed suicide, I got the diagnoses bipolar. I started watching short documentaries of BJJ and the benefits. Now, I’m a sceptical person, so I was like “sure,” but I kept watching BJJ matches and documentaries. When I felt a little bit better mentally, I made the decision: January 2016 I’m starting BJJ!

Mailed the academy, took a trial and never left. My home academy is Bushido Heemskerk Judo & Jiu Jitsu, under instructor Sebastiaan Munter, brown belt (Rickson Gracie) and 4th degree judo black belt. I also train at an academy Bushido is an affiliation of, BJJ-Purmerend, under instructor Maxim Leijdekker, first degree black belt (Rickson Gracie). Both academies are part of Rickson Gracie Jiu Jitsu Holland.

Photo of Rob Van Batum: Used With Permission

Jiu-Jitsu Times: What physical and mental obstacles did you have to overcome to train BJJ? Which adaptations did you have to make to your BJJ game given your specific conditions? What is your game like?

Rob van Batum: When I started, I thought and kind of knew that I was at a disadvantage, giving I only have my right foot. But actually there are a couple of positives that outweigh the negatives. For instance, if I get the back when my opponent turtles up, it’s easier for me to put my left leg in as a hook and start working from there. A small negative is when I have closed guard. It’s easier to break my guard (I’m working on a couple of tricks tough haha) Besides this, there are little things that I had to change when shrimping to the left. I need to use my right foot with my stump etc., little things. But when my instructor show a technique, I already start thinking “Can I do it like showed? Do I need to change something?” Then when we drill first, I will always try to execute as showed. If that doesn’t work, I’ll start changing.

Mentally I don’t have to overcome much. BJJ is beneficial to my mental health outside the mats. On the mats I get the “mushin” mind state. A state of no mind which to me is the best feeling in the world: just reacting and finding a solution to the given problem.

As you now know, I’m only a little over a year in my journey, so putting a stamp on what my game is like, I don’t know. I’m still finding out, but I want to get to a point where I can have patience and pressure. What I also really like is adapting to my opponent and counter attacking. I don’t weigh much (70 kg) and am small (1.75m), don’t have natural strength; therefore I can and want to train in pure essence of Gracie Jiu Jitsu (the way Helio and later Rickson intended): just weight distribution, connection.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: How do you feel BJJ has been a positive force in your life? What have you learned from training jiu-jitsu that you have applied to your life off of the mats?

Rob van Batum: Starting BJJ is one, if not the best decision I’ve ever made. Besides the psychical benefits, it helps me tremendously mentally. I don’t have extreme ups or downs; when I’m not training, I feel calm in my head and my body. I can think clear and try to accomplish things step by step. That’s one of the main lessons I transferred from the mats to outside of the mats: “reach your goal step by step.” I used to be the kind of person that wanted something, but didn’t take the necessary steps to accomplish it. In BJJ, I had the same tendency and it took a lot of learning and patience to get rid of that characteristic. I’ll never forget what my instructor told me: “Rob, you can’t conquer Europe at once; you have to take it country by country”

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Do you have any words of advice for other BJJ students who are facing obstacles in their own training?

Rob van Batum: If you find obstacles in your training, whether you’re dealing with a handicap or you’re completely healthy, keep at it. If you can’t get a move right, drill it slow until you know it. If that doesn’t work, change the move a little. Nothing is set in stone and everybody is different, so you can make it work for you.

Have fun while studying BJJ, reach for perfection, although you’ll never reach perfection (GSP). If you have mental problems, tell your instructor and teammates. They’ll help you when needed. Trust me.

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