The Adaptive Fighter Series: Brandon Ryan

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In order to show the world that jiu-jitsu truly is for everyone, the Jiu-jitsu Times is starting a new series on disabled grapplers called The Adaptive Fighter Series. Each week, we will interview a disabled (i.e., adaptive) athlete about his or her journey through the grappling arts.  If you want to be featured or know someone who does, please contact the Jiu-jitsu Times by replying to this post’s Facebook thread or by contacting the author at zahar40@gmail.com.

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This week’s adaptive fighter is Brandon Ryan, a 30-year-old martial artist from Omaha, Nebraska.  Brandon has cerebral palsy (CP), a condition he described as “a disconnect between the brain and the body.”

Though CP makes even the most basic techniques difficult for Brandon, he has refused to let his condition get in the way of his martial arts dreams.  Brandon not only trains in Jeet Kune Do and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he developed a training system specifically for people with adaptive needs called Adaptive Defense Methods.    

When not studying psychology at Grace University, Brandon teaches self-defense on campus.  He describes himself as someone who loves people, and he believes it is his calling in life to spread hope and love through martial arts.  He is also the inspiration for the name of this series.    

The Jiu-jitsu Times caught up with Brandon Ryan over the weekend.  This is what he had to say.     

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The Jiu-Jitsu Times: Tell us about your martial arts experience. What martial arts have you studied? How long have you studied them? What ranks do you hold?

Brandon Ryan: My martial arts journey started off watching my father (Robert Ryan) teach Kempo Karate from my wheel chair after school. I would get out of my wheel chair and try and mimic what he taught. Beyond that, I was eased into the martial arts. After my father had taught Kempo for numerous years, he and a senior student stumbled upon a flyer for a JKD (Jeet Kune Do) class taught by Larry Hartsell, who was one of Bruce Lee’s original students. I was amazed at what I saw, in how fighting could go from standing to the ground in mere seconds. The original MMA before it even was MMA. JKD is everything, wing chung, muay thai, kali, wrestling, judo, jiu-jitsu, sambo, and more. The arts that I specialized in are more of the grappling arts as you could have guessed. I however teach adaptive methods of the stand up arts. I hold a level one instructorship in the JKD grappling association and a blue belt in 10th Planet Jiu-jitsu. I have also sat under the teaching of Guru Dan Intosanto and Sensei Erik Paulson.

JJT: Tell us about Adaptive Defense Methods? What are its goals and purposes? How long has it been around?

BR: Adaptive Defense Methods is a dream that was given and put aside for awhile. There were a number of years where I was helping teach youth classes for my father. I had always wanted to teach people with adaptive needs. I set out to post flyers and get the word out any way I could around the town and my high school, but I got nothing. As such, that dream was put aside a number of years. I kept learning and teaching, took up some judo. When I reached college, I quickly noticed that adaptive athletes were about to make a huge splash in the fitness world, most specifically through Crossfit. So I thought, there wasn’t much in functional, easy-to-learn self defense for the adaptive world in terms of the Internet. YouTube was blowing up, so in my mind there was no better way to reach the adaptive world but through the Internet. I made one video with a friend and over night it got a lot of eyes watching it. I knew I was onto something, then I started the ADM FB page and from there it has done nothing but grow. Most recently we have taught self defense at the working wounded games in Washington DC. The goal of ADM is to spread, hope, joy and love through learning functional movement and self defense. We strive for people to make the most of themselves in every area of life.

JJT: What got you interested in martial arts?

BR: As I said in the first question, my father got me interested. Raising me with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris movies. Coming home from school and watching the Power Rangers. Martial arts was an escape from living with cerebral palsy, especially with ground fighting, everyone became my size. There is something so beautiful about the martial arts, beyond all the violent aspects, martial arts has taught me to be at peace with God, myself and others. I believe the Lord gave me martial arts as a gift, to honor him with and to help others with.

JJT: I was watching an interview with Sean Fong, a BJJ practitioner who lost his arm and leg. He told the interviewer he does not like the word “disabled.” Do you feel the same way? Why or why not?

BR: I would agree with him. Yes, the word is extremely limiting. Hence why I use the word “adaptive” so much. There are always ways to make something work. We are all adaptive in one way or another. The only thing that truly stops you is you.

JJT: Tell us about the people who inspire you. What is it about them that you find inspiring?

BR: Anyone that decides to get off their butts and better their lives and the lives of others. So many people have overcome weight issues, anxiety, depression, eating disorder with the simple choice to fight. I believe the most amazing lesson we can learn in martial arts/self defense is the ability to never give up the fight. I’m really inspired by Guru Dan Intosanto, who was one of Bruce Lee’s original and senior students. He just turned 80 and still moves like a teenager. That is, by God’s grace, how I want to be at 80.

JJT: If there is one piece of advice you could give to a new martial artist, what would it be?

BR: Make a choice. Decide to get off the couch and better yourself, be humble, always knowing that there is much to learn. Be patient with yourself, allow others to speak into your life, encourage you. Know that in life, hard times will come, but we mustn’t quit because the storm increases. We must always fight.

[All photos used with the permission of Brandon Ryan]

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