Dedication pays off – World Champion encourages local martial artists

Talented martial artists have been promoted for their achievements in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in front of a world champion who refused to let cancer destroy his dream of competition glory writes Rob Griffin.

Six members of Gracie Barra Hastings received their next coloured belts in a ceremony held at the academy’s Earl Street home and a further 16 were awarded ‘degree stripes’ on their existing belts, which chart incremental progress between grades.

Caivan Namvar, Max Thompson, Tollef Rikje-Pearson all received their purple belts, while Alex Frear, Raphael Petrarca and 16-year-old Mark Griffin were promoted to blue.

In addition to the Hastings promotions, Owen Elphick, who runs sister club Gracie Barra Hailsham, gave three of his students their next colour belts.

Gary Cochran was awarded his brown belt after eight years of training, while Joe Powell and Gareth Edwards received their blue belts.

Paul Bridges, head instructor at GB Hastings, said he was very proud of everyone as getting promoted in this martial art is notoriously difficult.

GB Hastings grading
Lucio ‘Lagarto’ Rodrigues and member from Gracie Barra Hastings and Gracie Barra Hailsham at the recent grading.

“Earning their next belt takes a student many hours on the mats,” he said. “All the promoted students are dedicated and thoroughly deserve their success.”

Belt promotions are based on a combination of technical skill, attendance and attitude.

Adult beginners start as white belts, with the grades going blue, purple, brown and black. To receive the coveted black belt usually takes up to 15 years of study.

Lagarto teaching sharing his knowledge during a seminar at the Hastings club.

All students received their promotions in front of former BJJ world champion Lucio Rodrigues, a fourth degree black belt, who was teaching a seminar at the academy.

Rodrigues was told by doctors he’d never compete again after being struck down with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but he returned to training just weeks after starting his chemotherapy treatment and the following year won the Rio de Janeiro State Championship.

Rodrigues, nicknamed ‘Lagarto’, meaning Lizard in Portuguese, posed for photographs and chatted for almost two hours after the event. His remarkable list of achievements on the competition circuit includes being a gold medalist in the purple belt, absolute division in the World Championship. He has also won European Open championships, as well as being crowed World Pro Cup champion in a glittering career.

Today he is one of the most respected instructors within the international Gracie Barra organisation, founding a number of academies, including Gracie Barra Fulham.

BJJ has established itself as one of the world’s most effective martial arts due to its combination of throws, joint locks and ground-fighting techniques.

Gracie Barra Hastings caters for all ages – from three-years-old to adults, including a special class for the over-50s on Wednesday mornings and self-defence for all ages on Sundays.

Caivan Namvar (left) receives his purple belt and Kial Wilkins (right) received his second stripe on his purple belt with Paul Bridges.
Tollef Rikje-Pearson (left) and Max Thompson received their purple belts
Gary Cochran (white gi) was awarded his brown belt.
Mark Griffin receiving his blue belt – flanked by Lagarto, dad Rob and Paul Bridges.

If you are interested in giving it a go, then ring Bridges on: 07967 659867 or visit

All photos courtesy of Linda Zeberga.

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