East Carolina Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students have strong showing at Pan American Championships

Group earned 6 medals, 3 gold at major event
Published: May. 13, 2022 at 12:15 AM EDT
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WINTERVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - East Carolina Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The Winterville training center is doing a lot of celebrating these days. A group of their top competitors recently placed well at the Pan American Championships in Florida.

“This is like Olympic style wrestling to a degree. I say with Japanese pajamas,” says East Carolina Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu owner Heath Chapman, “It’s a lot different than other martial arts in that we don’t do any striking.”

Instructor Heath Chapman, of Kinston, is a black belt teaching a wide variety of students who have become a family.

“We’ve got adults from all walks of life, we’ve got students who come through here, we have full time employees at the hospital, at some of the industrial places around here, we have people that travel in and out of here,” says ECBJJ competitor Erika Issler, “The support you get from the people and to have something in common with them is great.”

The group brings people in for many reasons. Some students came for their kids.

“He was scared to go on the mats by himself. If mommy does it will you do it and he was like yeah so I started doing it with him. Then I really liked doing it,” says ECBJJ competitor Janiece Caceres, “You have to have a level of intensity and aggression or you are not going to win. That’s against my nature because my profession is to heal people. So I had to teach myself how to do that.”

Some former athletes came looking for an activity to move into. Something Goldsboro native Sean Edwards has cherished. He won gold at the Pan American games.

“I wanted to be the first one on the mats and the last one on the mats leaving,” says Edwards, “That helps you in competitions because you are getting a lot more mat time than anybody else. You typically do better than anybody at the competitions.”

So did Chocowinity former soccer standout Alexandra Clark. The Southside student took Gold in Florida after following her dad to class.

“We’re really competitive and I didn’t want him to get better than me at anything,” says Clark.

Competitive spirit which made her a champion just like her dad Ricky.

“I didn’t expect to win. I just thought I would go down there and just learn to be better,” Alexandra says, “But coming out with a win was good for my confidence.”

Ricky became a MMA fighter before finding Jiu-Jitsu. Fighting to keep off weight.

“I used to weigh 380 pounds when I was MMA fighting. I had sleeve surgery about 7 years ago and lost a bunch of weight,” says Alexandra’s dad Ricky Clark, “Wanted to keep the weight off, wanted to keep moving.”

All of them cheering on each other in Florida, 11 of them from the gym competed at the Pan Am. games in total. None were prouder though than a dad cheering on his daughter.

“I had more fun watching her than I had competing. I probably would not have competed had my daughter not wanted to compete,” says Ricky, “There’s not very many 16-year old kids that want to hang out with their parents very much anymore. This has brought us closer together I think. We hang out 4-5 nights a week. It’s great.”

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