Fighting The Odds Down Under

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


Few things are more important for a martial artist than his limbs. They are the weapons he can always rely on to punch, kick, choke, crank, and otherwise beat his opponents into a knockout, submission, or decision.

Yet for some who have taken up the fighting arts, two arms and two legs are either a dream or a distant memory.

Thirty-four-year-old Sean Fong falls into the latter category. At only seven years old, the Fijian-born Australian fell victim to a train accident that left him without his left arm and right leg. Since then, he has been featured in articles done by Gracie Barra and BJJ Today, and his “Reslience” interview with Antony Robinson has received well over two-thousand views.

The Jiu-Jitsu Times caught up with Sean Fong last weekend via email. Here is what he had to say.

Tell us some non-BJJ information about you. How old are you? What is your educational and work background? Where do you work now?

I’m 34 years old. Straight out of high school I got a Diploma in Accounting and did odd jobs. I did administrative work at a law firm for 10 years before I started working at Gracie Barra Sydney. I joined Gracie Barra as a student in March 2012, 6 months later I started working there as Program Director. I’m still there today.

You have been training in BJJ since March 2012. What is your current rank and how often have you been training lately?

I’m currently a purple belt. Recently I haven’t been training jiu-jitsu as much as I’d like. I like to train at least 4 times a week. I do swimming or stairs workouts for cardio a couple of times a week and bodyweight exercises.

Tell us about the first time you stepped on the mats. Were you nervous or excited? Were you hooked immediately or was your passion for BJJ something that took time to grow?

The first time I stepped on the mats I was nervous but very excited, I was so excited to put on a gi! I arranged a private lesson as I was self-conscious about what I could and couldn’t do. To his credit, [first degree black belt] Professor Fabio [Bertolli] did an amazing job in the first lesson. I remember it like it was yesterday. Professor Fabio told me that I could be good and that there were certain situations in a grappling match where my disability would give me an advantage. I had so much fun! Afterwards I had a great chat with the head instructor, Professor Marcelo. Then I sat and watched the group classes. Everyone was so welcoming! One of the brown belt students, Sasha, noticed my disability and approached me. He introduced himself as an occupational therapist and said “Whatever it takes for me to get you doing this…you just let me know and I’ll help wherever I can.” It was love from day one for me.

Tell us about your coach. Is Professor Marcelo just the person who teaches you BJJ or is he something more to you?


Professor Marcelo is so much more to me than just a coach. Marcelo is my teacher, mentor, employer and one of my closest friends. I could go on all day. I admire him for his jiu-jitsu skill, his professional work and projects but also for being a man of character. I think that’s essential in the martial arts. He’s so passionate about teaching and spreading the benefits of jiu-jitsu that it’s contagious! I really believe in what he’s doing and I’m grateful that he’s bringing me along for the ride. I count myself lucky to have him in my life.

You mentioned in one of your interviews that you’re a highly competitive individual. Do you compete often? If so, how have you done? Do you get the impression that some competitors try to take it easy on you because they think you’re at a disadvantage?

I’m very competitive and I always want to win! I don’t compete often, I’ve only competed twice with mixed results. I really want to do a submission only tournament. I think this will favour my game. My loss of limbs naturally makes me unorthodox. I only train for able bodied athletes and it’s very hard for able bodied athletes to prepare for someone missing an arm and leg. I’m always working on my defense and if they cannot tap me, the plan is to turn the tables on them and try to catch them. I don’t think people take it easy on me. Maybe they did when I first started but if they do now, they’re in for a surprise!

Do you think you would view jiu-jitsu differently today if you still had your arm and your leg? If so, how?

Great question! No one has ever asked me that! I don’t think I would view jiu-jitsu differently if I had my arm and leg! I love the journey and the accumulation of knowledge.

I think if I were able bodied I would have more options but I probably wouldn’t be as hungry to learn and get better. I could add more techniques to my game…more takedowns, all the different guards, more guard passing techniques, more submissons etc.

I don’t think it does me any good whatsoever to dwell on what I haven’t got or can’t physically do. I’d rather spend my time and energy perfecting what I can do. I might only ever do 10 techniques really well but I aim to make them world class.

My teacher gave me Roger Gracie as an example of a high level jiu-jitsu champion that has a very simple and effective game – takedown, pass, mount and cross choke. He’s a master at this game. Good luck trying to stop it too.

If you had the chance to talk to yourself shortly after the accident, what would you tell yourself?

I would say everything will be ok. Always stay positive and dedicated to getting better and the rest will take care of itself.

You once said in an interview that when you’re not in jiu-jitsu, you’re thinking about jiu-jitsu and watching jiu-jitsu videos. Do you have any non-BJJ interests? Have you broken any swimming records lately?

I don’t plan on going back to swimming competitively. It’s not my passion anymore.

I like all combat sports. I like rugby (league and union) I’m very interested in yoga and being in the ocean. All types of water sports, swimming, surfing. I would love to explore diving and stand up paddling.


Note: The first version of this article mistakenly referred to Sean as a New Zealander.  He is a Fijian-born Australian.


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