Roll with the pros

SHIFAAN RYKLIEF

Scores of the city’s finest jiu-jitsu practitioners will be on the prowl for any submission that presents itself at the SA National Pro Jiu-Jitsu Champs , at Camps Bay High School, this weekend.

Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy’s Richard ‘Richie’ Lowe, 30, will be one to watch out for as he hopes to rake in some medals.

Apart from a chance to compete against the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the country, the SA Jiu-Jitsu Championships also serves as trials for the Abu Dhabi world championships, in April.

Last year, Richie fought his way through two weight divisions to cement his spot in the SA team that competed in Abu Dhabi – after winning the blue belt light absolute and blue belt 75kg divisions. And, after getting his first taste of international grappling, Richie has his sights firmly set on featuring on the world stage once again.

Coincidentally, his first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) competition was the Abu Dhabi trials four years ago, where he won a bronze medal.

“That competition was held at our academy in Bo-Kaap and I can remember how nervous and overwhelmed I was,” said Richie.

“When I stepped onto the mat for the first time, I forgot everything that I learnt because of the adrenalin. Competing brings out all your fears because you don’t know what your opponent is going to do. It’s just a massive roller-coaster of emotions. But, with time it became a nice feeling and I’ve learnt to enjoy it. I’ll never forget that first fight and up until today it’s my most memorable one, because that first one is always going to be something special,” he said.

Richie went on to win that bout through a triangle from the mount submission, and said he’s learnt how to deal with the pre-fight jitters and now just enjoys the roll.

“Leading up to any roll, there’s still an adrenalin rush but as soon as we touch hands it all goes away. I’ve now won most of the competitions in SA in the lightweight division and have done other international comps after last year’s world champs. I grappled at the Gracie nationals in Los Angeles which was a submissions only competition – and the toughest comp I’ve ever been in.

“I also competed in Finland as a pro and had to go up against black belts – and lost in the semi-final to the eventual winner. Locally, I participated in Unanimous, which is made up of the top 16 grapplers in the country, and finished second,” he said.

Richie’s hard work on the mat paid off and he got promoted from blue belt to purple belt, while in Abu Dhabi. Igor and Gregor Gracie handed his new belt to him.

He surfed and did waterpolo while growing up in Durban, and said he needed a new hobby when he moved down to Cape Town five years ago because he couldn’t get used to the cold water in the Cape. And, with no previous martial arts experience, he was a natural on the mat as he dangled his legs around his opponents while fighting from his favourite position, his back.

“I found Renzo Gracie and got shown some introductory moves. All I knew about the sport was from a couple of online videos. I remember getting smashed all the time when I started and it felt as if I wasn’t progressing. But I kept going regularly then before I knew it I was two months in, that turned into four months and not long after I had my blue belt after just 10 months. At the time, I was training six days a week. Now, just over four years into BJJ, I’m a purple belt. Progression in BJJ is the same as in anything, the more you practice it the quicker you progress,” he said.

Jiu-Jitsu practitioners say BJJ is a lifestyle, and, Richie has become one with the sport he came to love. Not only does he compete, he also teaches children and adult classes at the academy.

“I’m now the manager at the academy and also help out teaching the bigginner, advanced and kids classes,” he said.

“When I moved to Cape Town I never had a good paying job so after training I’d mop up the gym mats for extra money. Everyday after training I’d clean up the gym and get it ready for the next day,” said Richie.

“The gym has also become my home for the last year. I have a room at the academy, and it works out for me because I just need to step through my door and I can walk straight onto the training mats and do what I love.

“The only downside of living at the gym is that I can’t really call in sick, but if I do need to then I just lock my door,” he said jokingly.

After the SA champs, he has ambitions of doing more international comps throughout the year. But, first he needs grab a few triangles and armbars to get his ticket for the world champs.