“Adapt and overcome works for every single one of us..” Stuart Penn
The Jiu-Jitsu Times believes “jiu-jitsu is for everyone” and will profile several jiu-jitsu students and instructors who are training and using BJJ to overcome limitations and add to their lives. That is why we created the Adaptive Fighter Series.
Stuart Penn was born with an arm and leg missing. He is a fourth dan in taekwondo and a blue belt in Gracie Barra jiu-jitsu.
Stuart is due to compete in the Abu Dhabi Para-Jiu-Jitsu tournament in April and talked with us about his jiu-jitsu.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Stuart, can you tell the Jiu-Jitsu Times readers a little about your
Stuart Penn: Hi, I was born with only one fully formed limb, my right arm. My left arm ends just below the elbow, my right leg ends at the knee, and my left leg has various bones missing and a small clubbed foot. Despite this I have always been focused on achieving whatever goals I set myself. I attended mainstream schooling in the UK, and qualified as a gym instructor and as a taekwondo instructor, in which I also hold a fourth-degree black belt.
I started training in BJJ only two years ago when I moved to the Channel Islands and was looking for a new challenge!
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What physical obstacles did you have to overcome to train
Stuart Penn: After years of wearing prosthetic limbs for all the sports I trained and competed in – snowboarding, swimming, sprinting, judo, taekwondo – I was most surprised by turning up to BJJ and being advised to leave all the technology behind and get onto the mat as just myself. For me this was a big change and immediately a big draw as I didn’t need to rely on the prosthetics and how they might be fitting at the time or how the various mechanisms might be and how close they might be to needing replacing.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Which adaptations did you have to make to your BJJ game given
your specific conditions?
Stuart Penn: One of the main adaptions I’ve made to my game recently is using other people’s grips on me against them. I initially started training no-gi BJJ because I like the speed of movement, but recently I’ve moved more and more into gi, even though it might be considered that a one-armed man could be hampered by not having two hands to grip with. However, stumps and a small clubbed foot can make wicked hooks!
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What is your game like?
Stuart Penn: Fluid and ever improving. Last year, I set the challenge for myself of grappling for 12 hours solid to raise awareness in the Channel Islands for amputees and limb service users. For this challenge, I worked on a very passive and reactive game to ensure my stamina would last (especially as I had a fresh opponent every thirty minutes), but with the invitation this year to the Abu Dhabi Para-Jui-jitsu festival, I’ve had to concentrate on building a more proactive and attacking/point-scoring game.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: How do you feel BJJ has been a positive force in your life?
Stuart Penn: I feel that BJJ has reinvigorated my love for pushing myself to the limits. I’ve always had a positive attitude and looked to challenge and achieve, but with two young children and a third on the way, as well as a full time job and house to keep up, life was beginning to get in the way of my natural desire to strive towards challenges. BJJ has given me a new outlet for this desire. Along with this, I feel the confidence boost BJJ gives me outside of my prosthetic limbs it immense. I have always been self-confident but have to admit that before BJJ, I was probably less confident in being without my prosthetics, as they have simply always been on me when I’ve achieved things. Not wearing them for BJJ gives such a different twist and a positive experience of being ‘limbless’.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: What have you learned from training jiu-jitsu that you have applied to your life off of the mats?
Stuart Penn: My motto has always been that there is no such word as ‘can’t’. There is always a way; it is just sometimes harder, or takes longer, but if you want to get to something you can always find a way. BJJ on the mats optimises this. Whether it’s adapting submissions to work with less limbs on the mat or adapting the way you tie a tie with only one hand, there is always a way.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: Do you have any words of advice for other BJJ students who
are facing obstacles of their own in their BJJ training?
Stuart Penn: Simple, there is always a way to do what you are striving to do. You just need to find it. Adapt and overcome works for every single one of us, no matter what our physical or mental obstacles might be.
If you or someone you know is an adaptive fighter, please contact the Jiu-Jitsu Times at firstname.lastname@example.org for an interview.