"BJJ saves lives" is a common saying because it’s true. If you are a jiu jitsu practitioner or have been following these Submission Shark martial arts blogs, you will understand how beneficial this art form can be for positively impacting lives. In this article, we dive deeper into Thomas Lewis’ story. You will see how through his daughter’s love and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he was able to avoid committing suicide and find a new passion and caring community on the mats. By the end of this interview, you will understand how BJJ saves lives.
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Full Name: Thomas Lewis
Belt Colour: Purple
Professor: Elijah Fletcher
Short Term Goals: Brown belt in the next two years
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Saves Lives
How long have you been training jiu-jitsu for?
3 and a half years
Where do you train BJJ out of?
Currently American Judo and Jiu-Jitsu Academy but as a military family we have moved around a lot and I have trained at 5 places in the last 4 years.
Do you prefer training in the jiu jitsu gi or no-gi?
Have your instructors helped you in other aspects of life other than jiu-jitsu?
All of the professors that I have been able to train under have always shown great care for their students on and off the mats. Going as far as helping talk people off the edge of wanting to end their lives.
What are some lessons you learned from jiu jitsu that apply to everyday life?
There are so many lessons that transfer from one to the other. My personal motto is "If you can look up, you can get up" In life no matter how bad things get we can always find a way to get up and get back in the fight.
How often do you train BJJ?
7 days a week for 1-3 hours depending on the day
What made you want to start training Jiu Jitsu?
So this is a bit of a long story but I was medically discharged from the Army after 10 years and my wife joined the Navy. As I transferred out my wife went on her first deployment and I was left raising a 4-year-old all on my own. 6 months after getting out my mother took my daughter for a week and in my loneliness and depression, I decided that I was better off dead. That I was a drag on all that knew me and it was time to remove myself from the equation.
I loaded my .45 and right before I pulled the trigger my daughter called via my mother. She said "Daddy you look sad. Don't be sad. I love you. I miss you, daddy" I broke down and told her how much I loved her and after crying like a baby I called a good friend from my Infantry time.
We talked and he suggested a place close to me called Independent MMA. It is a Roberto Travern school in Ga. I agreed to check it out and from that point on I was hooked.
Do you plan on training BJJ your whole life?
As long as my body can hold out I plan to train and teach what I know.
What’s it about jiu jitsu that makes it so addicting?
For me, it's the camaraderie. That sense of belonging that I miss from the service. Add in being able to watch yourself and your teammates grow how could you not be addicted?
What has jiu-jitsu done for your physical health?
I have always been fairly athletic but it has helped when I start to get depressed and eat a little too much. It reminds me that I do not do well chunky
Has jiu jitsu benefited your mental health?
Absolutely, Even on my worst days going in and forcing myself to start class will always result in a smile on my face afterward.
If you could restart your martial arts journey, would you do anything differently?
I would have lost the ego a little sooner. coming from a wrestling and combatives background I thought I was hot shit. So my coach invited me to the comp class and after the 1st hour I had thrown up twice. I barely survived and it taught me a lot about how to be humble in the sport and in my journey.
What’s your advice for someone that’s never tried jiu-jitsu before but is interested in trying it?
Do it. The hardest part is walking through the door. Yes, we are simulating murder but everyone is there to help you grow and expand on whatever you may know already.
Do you have any aspirations in jiu-jitsu?
My end goal is to teach full time. I've been helping with kids classes for a little over two years now and I love watching them grow and discover their own game. same with the adults but the kids are so much more willing to explore and find their own groove.
What’s your favorite BJJ move?
So I live and Die by the Loop Choke but my favorite will always be the Ezekiel
If you didn’t discover jiu-jitsu, where do you think you’d be now?
Honestly not on this side of the dirt. It has helped me with PTSD more than words can do justice.
Would you like to see the sport become more mainstream?
Absolutely, every time I talk to someone about it all they think of is MMA. Then we end up in a long drawn out conversation about BJJ and end up watching my Kids videos.
Have any of your training partners pushed you to reach your full potential?
Yes, The best and most valued friend I made on this Journey, Will Sampson. He is a Tap cancer out ambassador who helped me to grow on and off the mats. He is probably one of the most selfless individuals I've ever met.
When you were first starting, what was the most difficult concept of jiu-jitsu that you had trouble getting?
As with most of us, it was the concept of technique over strength.
If you could roll with any practitioner, dead or alive, who would it be?
Renzo Gracie. His power and transitions are phenomenal.
If you had to describe BJJ to someone that's never heard of it before in under 5 words, what would those words be?
destruction and mayhem meet Carebears.
What has been the most memorable moment you've had on the mats so far?
This is a tough one. Probably when I earned my blue belt through a tournament match. The guy (Gregory) I had to fight in the absolute bracket had just bow and arrowed my friend Will. He was 6'9 and 275lbs. Will is 6'5 and 300 and was thrown around like a rag doll. I'm 5'9 and 195lbs at the time. I couldn't get my takedown so I pulled Guard and set a loop choke in. I earned the title Giant Killer at the gym and the next practice went form a 1 stripe white belt to Blue.
What makes you want to inspire and motivate others?
It's honestly a calling for me. I found that I was born to lead when I was in the Army and it carried over into other things I tried. BJJ, volunteering, PTO at the kid's school, and other things. I'm always the hype guy because I love building others up.
Was there a difficult moment in your life where this martial art helped you get through it? If so, please explain.
Probably the story I mentioned earlier. It literally saved my life and has helped many of my veteran friends
Do you have any advice for others that may be having suicidal thoughts and are looking for help?
The first thing we are taught in the Infantry for any fight is:
- Bring a friend.
- Have that friend bring friends.
Too often we isolate ourselves and that is when the darkness really creeps in. Find yourself a group of people that are in your corner and you are in theirs. Put your backs together and roar your defiance at the world.
Did your friend that first guided you onto the mats know you were going through suicidal thoughts at the time?
Oh yeah. Sadly he passed a year later from a car wreck but he was good people.
What would you like to say to your friend that helped you step onto the mats?
Thank you for saving my life and all the lives that I've touched by being here still.
What's it about jiu-jitsu specifically that helped relieve your depression?
Remembering that I am a Warrior. That no matter what battlefield a Warrior finds themselves on we are called to fight and give it our all.
What are some ways the BJJ community as a whole can do to help spread this martial art to those that need it?
Getting more in touch with the local communities and offering seminars geared towards groups such as police, firemen, EMT, Women only, Veterans groups. Word of mouth is a powerful thing once you get it to spread.
It seems like you've gotten your children involved with martial arts as well. How has BJJ benefited them?
My daughter has actually benefited the most as it helped her find her voice and stand up for herself. She has also stepped in-between bullies and their victims a few times according to her teacher. But both of my older ones have been given a sense of confidence and pride through their journey
What would you like to say to everyone that has supported you on your journey?
Thank you. For every roll, every bit of advice, and the time you took out of your life to work with me. I can never repay your kindness.
When the journey is over, how would you like to be remembered?
As someone who was willing to be there. I may not always have the right answer or know the right words but that I was always willing to stand with them.
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