Living an exceptionally exciting life is no challenge for this BJJ practitioner. Brazilian jiu-jitsu accepts people from all walks of life and from many different professions. As someone that works in a dangerous job to protect those that are targeted, Lee McClelland brings an interesting perspective on jiu jitsu and how beneficial it is for high-stress situations. Learn how he used this martial art to help him in both his personal and professional life by forming new connections, better self-awareness and much more!
Submission Shark Jiu Jitsu Community | Instagram: @mcclelland_bjj
Full Name: Lee McClelland
Belt Colour: Blue Belt
Professor: Charlie McDonald (Team Sukata)
Short Term Goals:
In today’s current climate with Covid-19, I have a couple of short-term goals which is to simply keep myself as fit as possible, so when tournaments such as the IBJJF restart I am ready, although for myself a lot will depend on my work as I work abroad and unfortunately it dictates my dates and availability.
Like myself, I’m sure the entire BJJ community has that feeling of excitement to get back into the gym, unfortunately, this is an all too familiar feeling when working away in that I just want to get back home see my family and get back on the mats with my teammates.
Here's Why Close Protection Officers Should Train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
How long have you been training jiu jitsu for?
I have been training martial arts for over 18 years; Starting out in Traditional Jiu Jitsu where I trained in ground fighting and then cross-training with judo. During 2005 whilst living in Kuwait I began training with Gracie Barra, this was only opportunistic as I was working in Iraq so I would simply go and train when time permitted. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has now been my primary focus in martial arts since 2016 and I have loved every second of it.
Where do you train BJJ out of?
Do you prefer training in the BJJ gi or no-gi jiu jitsu?
I prefer Gi although I do train No-Gi when I can! but a vast majority of my training and tournaments entered have been Gi and most of my success has been in Gi.
Have your instructors helped you in other aspects of life other than jiu-jitsu?
I believe all martial arts can help you on and off the mats, with the correct guidance and application we can at times gain positive results in other aspects of life. This can be through discipline, grit, determination to respect, confidence, and the ability to calm a situation down.
Within my work, I am forced to make quick decisions and these choices can put myself or my team members in danger should I make the wrong choice, so I would say one key attribute I have learnt from Charlie is believing in myself.
As long as I have put in the hard work, as long as I have prepared myself, then I should believe in myself to get the job done and this has been key to myself and my decision-making process from experiences both on and off the mat.
How often do you train BJJ?
My training differs when home or at work, regardless I train around 5 days a week.
Whilst working away I am currently training on a Strength and Conditioning programme with my teammate Cemil Yesilyurt (who is also a rehabilitation and conditioning specialist) from back home who tutors me online, he has been a class act and is always on standby to guide me when needed.
Once back home and with the new facility that Team Sukata North Wales host’s I have been able to train up to 4 days a week, although there is potential to train around 6 days. My life when home on leave is very busy as I plan to get so much crammed into 3 weeks leave so sometimes I struggle to train as much as I’d like to, but there are always plans in the future to get more time on the mats.
What made you want to start training jiu jitsu?
Back in 2002 and after the third operation on my knee I felt disgruntled in life, my focus had gone, and I was not achieving any life goals anymore. After leaving the military where initially in life I had achieved so much in such a short space, then suddenly out of the military and living life day to day I had lost my purpose.
It was by chance that I saw a poster in the local sports centre advertising a Jiu Jitsu club, I still to this day don’t know what made me decide but something was just screaming at me to just go and watch and see what it was about.
I recall the first night I attended I sat and watched and was shocked and in awe when they started ground fighting and some of the smaller guys were all over their bigger opponents, there and then I knew I had to give it a go.
Do you believe your judo background helped with your Brazilian jiu-jitsu game?
In my opinion Yes, with Judo and BJJ originating from Jiu Jitsu many of the moves are already in place however they may be set up slightly different also there are a lot fewer rules in BJJ.
For me I find the biggest asset from Judo in BJJ is in tournaments and the use of my sweeps and throws from the stand-up, to get into a position where I can be 2 points ahead straight from the start and an opportunity to establish a dominance which allows me to start working my submissions.
Do you plan on training your whole life?
Ideally yes however the question is, will the body allow me! The answer for me is to train and compete cleverly, listen to my body and rest when I need to, that way I can train for however long is possible.
What’s it about jiu-jitsu that makes it so addicting?
For me, it is the mindset, the people you meet, the community and lifestyle. You get to mix with perhaps people you’d never meet or get to know outside of the gym, people of all backgrounds and many of similar belief in being the best they can be is just part of a journey that can take over your life.
Competing at White and Blue belt level around the UK and European Championships, some take downs, throws and trips.
You also continue to strive to be better and there is never a time when you are complete in my opinion, we are always looking to improve and better ourselves and Jiu Jitsu allows this so we are always looking for that high.
What has jiu-jitsu done for your physical health?
I am nearly 45 years old and I would say I am very healthy for my age, considering my line of work and the factor I have to conduct fitness test’s to even be able to work for my company then my health speaks for its self.
Then when I return home and go training at my club I have to compete with the BJJ fighters of today, with the understanding of endurance, speed, strength and stamina I have to focus on all aspects of my fitness and physical health and this allows me to be in good shape.
Has jiu-jitsu benefited your mental health?
Absolutely! From both my personal life and my career I feel Jiu Jitsu gives me a place of acceptance. I have found every time in the past 18 years when life is hard, I still have a place that I can go to and work out where losses and failings do not matter! Where I go to training to improve to prepare myself for the coming battles, I have my teammates alongside me where we aim to help one another be better.
My thought process is the same where I believe if my body is best prepared for the coming struggles then my mind is the same, it is down to me to give myself the best chances and not make excuses because perhaps life is tough or I am struggling to accept something that could be out of my control.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for me is just as much mental as it is physical, so to be prepared for one and not the other simply does not make sense.
I will specifically give one example: In 2016 after years of working in hostile environments where I had all the great things in life such as the car, the big house, the holidays all the things I guess many would say we aim for in life. Everything changed literally overnight as my marriage broke down, without going into the reasons I knew I was about to be tested, I knew everything I had ever worked for and sacrificed for was on the line.
It was at this moment I decided to retake back up Jiu Jitsu and without any mat time I signed up for a BJJ tournament, I’d never competed in a BJJ tournament, but thought perhaps my Judo would help me through.
By simply signing up and paying the entry fee my mindset changed, after the tournament I was directed onto Charlie McDonalds class and I can say without BJJ life through those years would have been unbearable but with BJJ I always had something to look forward and aim towards, I had that positive mental focus to put back into my life when much could have been interrupted as negative.
The time I spent on the mats enforced a strong being mentally in my personal life, this was down to the focus being placed back in my path and stopped me focusing on the negatives that life can some times throw at you.
If you could restart your jiu-jitsu journey, would you do anything differently?
I’d have sought and begun training with my instructor Charlie Mcdonald at the earliest opportunity in my life, but then hindsight would be a beautiful thing.
What’s your advice for someone that’s never tried jiu-jitsu before but is interested in trying it?
The hardest point is simply stepping onto the mat, once your there simply enjoy the experience and do not be afraid to lose! Losing, unfortunately, is going to happen as you learn, but then again if BJJ were that easy we would all be black belts.
Leave your ego at the door, smile and just see if it is for you! It truly is a great sport and why wouldn’t you want to try something that could change your life.
My Daughter Rayna Trained tonight for the first time in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, joining my partners two boys who have been training the last couple of months at @team_sukata_north_wales and are two stripe white belts! Super proud of all 3 xxx
Do you have any aspirations in jiu-jitsu?
I think like many receiving a Blackbelt would be the prize, however, as the BJJ community is already aware that is a long road. Also, after competing in 2018 at the European Championships In Lisbon I’d like to have further success in the major tournaments with the likes of the IBJJF and UAEJJF.
What’s your favourite BJJ move?
Rear Naked Choke is my personal Favourite simply because of the documentary on Rickson Gracie “Choke”.
If you didn’t discover jiu-jitsu, where do you think you’d be now?
I really would not know as Jiu Jitsu for myself has been instrumental in my life progression, what I can say is every time I have struggled Jiu Jitsu has helped me.
Would you like to see the sport become more mainstream?
Yes, I would love to see BJJ receive the recognition it deserves. Where I work in East Africa the UAEJJF tournaments are shown on television, I absolutely love watching the events and even some of my work colleagues (who do not train Jiu Jitsu) have asked me “did you see the BJJ on TV last night” so it’s great to watch even for those who don’t actively train in BJJ.
Have any of your Brazilian jiu jitsu training partners pushed you to reach your full potential?
I honestly believe they all do; To be pushed is part of our team and should be a core value in all teams in my opinion. From my instructors all the way down to the new white belt members, we all come to train and train hard, so I don’t anticipate any easy training sessions.
When you were first starting, what was the most difficult concept of jiu-jitsu that you had trouble getting?
I think it was to stop using my strength for everything, even now I can be told “stop powering everything” so it’s just a flaw in my game but one I also try to improve on.
If you could roll with any BJJ practitioner, dead or alive, who would it be?
Rickson Gracie – without a doubt for me has been an inspiration.
If you had to describe Jiu-Jitsu to someone that's never heard of it before in under 5 words, what would those words be?
A true-life changing art.
What has been the most memorable moment you've had on the mats so far?
My Bronze at the 2018 European Championships in Lisbon, I knew then that aspiring to goals can really be achieved through hard work.
What makes you want to inspire and motivate others?
I have been fortunate in life to meet some truly inspiring people, If I can inspire people to push forward and achieve goals in their lives then at this moment I believe I am fulfilling my potentials and goals.
Was there a difficult moment in your life where jiu jitsu helped you get through it? If so, please explain.
There have been many! I have experienced failed relationships and losses of life and although Jiu Jitsu was not used in those moments it is the discipline, calmness and focus that Jiu Jitsu brings into your life that can help the internal struggles.
Even now with the pandemic, we all feel the draw of getting back on the mats, its simply what keeps us going and that for me is Jiu Jitsu “Just keep going, don’t give up and be the best you can be in that moment”.
Can you please briefly describe what your line of work entails and how Brazillian Jiu Jitsu has helped you perform better at your job?
I am a Close Protection Officer (Bodyguard) and my experiences have varied from calm and relaxed situations to on occasions dealing with hostile crowds and actions.
I have from with my knowledge in Jiu Jitsu the confidence to deal with these situations, whether that be in an officer escorting my client to establishing a barrier for the extraction of my client I know that I can meet force with force of an equal level before having to escalate my stance to a firearm.
What mental relief has martial arts brought to you and why should others in your line of work consider?
My personal beliefs are that many more close protection officers should train in martial arts and particularly BJJ, it heightens your alertness as well as gives you confidence in dealing with situations and I feel earlier and with a more relaxed approach.
I have trained with fellow Close Protection Officers in BJJ and although you’d like to think many would be trained in martial arts, unfortunately, it’s not such a case, there can be ego’s where people don’t want to go on the mats to roll around as fear of losing outweighs learning a life skill but there are a few who will and do train in martial arts within the industry such as Boxing & MMA.
What would you like to say to other military veterans struggling to fit back into society after deployment overseas?
Find a hobby that you can set goals and then go out and do it, you need to mix with other people! The easiest solution in those moments of darkness is to get lost in your thoughts, this is when you really need to be out of the house and mix with other people and groups (however in today’s climate with COVID-19 that can be difficult until restrictions are lifted).
I struggled personally after leaving the Military, having served two tours of duty I would like to blame my struggles on them, but I honestly do not believe it is! I have seen lots of ex-service struggle and I believe when coming out of the military we lose our way in general as our purpose is taken away even when we blindly choose to come out.
And this is where the likes of BJJ can help cause BJJ has the brotherhood like the military and although granted it’s not for everyone, what have you got to lose? Go down and give it a try.
If it’s not the thing for you then go and try something else, there are simply so many options so don’t pick the easiest which is to sit there and not do something about your state of mind as only you can change it.
Please Don’t suffer in silence friends, there are people, teams and groups out there that really can help you.
What were your experiences like teaching other soldiers from different nationalities in the Helmand province and how did you all manage to find the passion to continue, despite poor conditions?
Helmand Province was unique, to say the least! From training in poor conditions on old and ragged mats in Garmsir with the US Marines, rolling with some of there marine corp martial arts programme instructors to teaching fellow Close Protection and Danish Military Personnel in Gereshk.
A major highlight of training in Helmand for me was the MMA tent in Lashkar Gah (Helmand Province Capital) where I and a few other CP operators would teach international personnel on base martial arts including Judo, BJJ, Boxing and MMA.
This activity was free for all and soldiers and contractors could train as much or as little as they wanted, circuits would be arduous, techniques and styles varied but we all wanted the same goals and that was to improve ourselves.
When in contact with friends from these days I’d have to highlight the tent, a canvas tent that in the summers the mats were so hot we were standing and switching feet like the lizards do on hot sands to the winters that were so cold we would start off wearing socks and hoodies to warm up and by the end of the session, the tent would be misted up from the steam coming off the bodies. Overall, it was a rough set up, however, it was our set up!
Those of us who trained together have stayed in touch on social media and remain close friends from the training in that tent.
What exactly did you mean when you described BJJ as a drug doctor can't prescribe?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a sport that can become paramount to people, to the point of obsession and individuals can follow it to a religious level.
It can become so important to people that even when picking up injuries it’s not enough to keep them away from the mats, I have seen this through social media where Individuals have had an operation and they share their story with the BJJ community online with pictures and videos of how their recovery is coming along with them in their Gi’s and with teammates.
I have been very lucky in training over the years where I have picked up minor Injuries and have found ways around working around them, knowing that if I were to stop training with every injury it could possibly set me back weeks.
Once BJJ bites it literally becomes a drug, Individuals start working their lives around Jiu Jitsu rather than working their lives around their jobs.
Frustration is easily found if your running late for class or mood swings cause other parts of life to seem to get in the way of your training! In many ways, you must laugh because it is a case of “Don’t people realize how important my Jiu-Jitsu is to the rest of the world” and this during the pandemic is more evident than ever. I know all my teammates are eagerly looking forward to getting back in the gym, to getting back tapping one another out and just to get back in their Jiu Jitsu lifestyles.
Only then will the drug off BJJ start to make sense, people are getting their fixes and life starts to make sense again.
What type of protection work are you currently involved in and why is this matter important to you?
I am currently working with a governmental contract, which I have been doing since 2008 in Afghanistan then moving over to east Africa.
My work varies from day to day and due to the nature of my work and it is at government level I am unable to talk openly about it, other than I protect assets and Dignitaries and can say over the years I have been very privileged to have been able to travel the world meeting different people, I have been tasked and completed missions that can make a difference to communities, families and Individuals.
During an extensive period working on different projects I have experienced all kinds of highs and lows, some exciting and some damn right dangerous but the rewards you can gain from some of the taskings are memories that I can always look back on with teammates and be proud of what we achieved from extracting citizens from dangerous situations to observing traditions and cultures unique to different areas of the world.
One such tasking was that of being actively involved in the assistance of setting up a centre of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in that the organization is helping to try and stop the illegal animal trade in Africa and the world specifically the middle east where the rich are known to purchase illegally traded cheetahs and even lions and then keep them as pets where the said animal would never be able to be reintroduced to the wild and will end up living its life in a cage which is a sad outcome.
To be involved in such projects for me I find great personal satisfaction.
What would you like to say to everyone that has supported you on your journey?
Where to begin really but “Thank You to all who have assisted me in what truly has been an amazing journey so far”.
I am privileged to have a wonderful supporting partner (who loves me competing in BJJ), our children (the twins and my youngest daughter who also now train BJJ) and my family, I have an amazing mum who when all others said don’t do it (in reference to me working in hostile environments) she said “do not regret any decisions Lee make the decision from what your feel is right” and really like what else could you ask from a family that sacrificed so much in support to me like that.
For me now it’s all about repaying the support, the love and establishing happy memories for us all to enjoy life.
When the journey is over, how would you like to be remembered?
I will continue to strive right up until the point I cannot any longer. My reason is quite simple “I do not want to regret not living life”. Through all my challenges and through all my life I have never given up, I do not want to regret missing opportunities to fear. So, I am going to live it and I am going to love it, I will make mistakes and I will mess things up!
But I will get to the end and when the moment comes, I will accept because I will have lived my life out to the absolute full potential “Love, Heartbreak, Wars, Conflicts, Gains, Loss, Stories, Beliefs, Targets and Goals” and I will have experienced them all. I want to be remembered for living life.
Bonus Question: Tattoos in BJJ?
Sounds like a crazy topic however I feel much of people’s life journeys can be seen on creative images on people such as Tattoo’s, I myself am pretty heavily inked and much of my work is related to phases of my life and I have noted that many within the BJJ community are tattooed (with quite a lot heavily). It is very similar to that of the Military were not all, but the majority seem to be tattooed and like to display their work I’d even say within the BJJ more heavily.
For me, Tattoos can reflect the person’s character or interests and what was best described in a report from BJJ-World as a Collection of Art within an Art. I also note that within the world of Tattooing and even in BJJ there is a strong link towards animals, with club emblems reflecting Dogs such as Pitbull’s and Bulldogs, to Snakes reflecting Vipers and Cobras the animals vary and this fascinates me more so.
My Tattooist Cathy Sue (who herself holds a black belt in Karate) a lady I respect and trust and someone I have known for many years both as a Professional Tattooist/Artist and a friend.
Cathy specializes in all kinds of Styles however when we began this project she had a clear idea of the style (Neotraditional) and the way she wanted to approach it, with the project directly linked with a passion close to both of our hearts that is animals from my experiences with Wild animals from diving with some of my favourite animals the Shark, to an experience with a young Grizzly in Canada whilst in a Canoe with friends.
More recently my Cheetah encounters and whilst also at the Cheetah centre, I came and got to know a Lion cub called Iman, these stories will be reflected in the up and coming project myself and Cathy-sue have.