From Shooting Victim to World-Class Competitor: An Interview with James Clingerman

James Clingerman

Every once and a while, an important event or story in the Jiu-Jitsu world comes by and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Such is the story of James Clingerman. An active competitor, owner of the largest BJJ academy in Indiana, and survivor of a random shooting, it seems like nothing can stop this man. His story serves to inspire others in their training and their adversities. He agreed to sit down and do an interview with us to share his experiences. After having met him, I can say that I am truly impressed with what sort of person he is. He runs a great school where everyone is treated like family. Here is what he had to say to us.


JJTimes: How did you get your start in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?


JC: Well, I was always interested in Martial Arts. It’s the only thing that has ever been a constant, my entire life. The problem was I was extremely shy as a kid. It was actually Martial Arts that brought me out of the extreme shyness.

After watching me run around punching and kicking everything I possibly could for 10 years, my Dad finally forced me to take Karate at 13 years old.

While Karate didn’t supply the realism I required, it got me in the proper mindset that I could put myself into that environment without freaking out.

I saw Royce Gracie smash through the first UFC on an episode of “MTV Sports”. I wanted to learn what he did.

I started Judo and a Japanese form of Ju-Jutsu when I was 16 and then met a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt under the Gracie Affiliation. I started training with him (Greg Eldred), in July of 1997.


JJO: You were shot in a random act of violence back in 2000. What happened?


JC: I was fresh off of winning the Gracie Nationals and the America Judo Cup. My competition record was climbing and I was set to head to Brazil that year for Mundials (World Championships).

One Sunday night, I was headed to my mother’s house to house-sit, because she was in Las Vegas.

I was sitting at a stop light, when a car pulled up to my left. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what looked like someone waving at me. When I looked to the car next to me, there was a belligerent man in the passenger seat. He was cussing and flipping me off. He was obviously intoxicated and a complete idiot.

After a bit of him yelling and cussing, the driver (his girlfriend) pulled her car forward, to where we could not see each other.

Apparently, he then pulled his weapon and told her to back up. I saw the 9mm handgun and then felt the impact.

The bullet struck me in my left cheekbone and drove its way into my head.

I was knocked almost into my passenger seat, breaking my seatbelt retractor. I was instantly blind and deaf from the concussion and blood.

I didn’t know what the assailant was doing next. So, I hit the gas and laid on the horn. I drove a block or two and ended up slightly rear ending another vehicle.

911 was called and there was actually a Sheriff on the scene. I was rushed to the hospital and taken into surgery.


JJTimes: How did you recover from your injuries?


JC: I rested a lot. There were several surgeries on my eye and inner ear.

I wasn’t able to do much of anything for a few months. Although, I did make frequent visits to the new Academy at which I was training/teaching. I would literally lie on the side of the mat and watch classes.

After a few months, I was able to start training lightly with no choking.

After 6 months, I was cleared to start training 100% again. The very next day, after being cleared, I travelled to Nashville Tennessee to compete in a BJJ Tournament.


JJTimes: Are there any lingering effects?


JC: Yes. I have daily issues with my ear and am about 99% blind in my left eye.

I have 2 metal plates to reconstruct my cheekbone and the bullet is still deep in my cheekbone.

The impact also caused some issues with my neck that didn’t fully manifest until 2009.

The neck injury put me almost completely out of competition for 3 years.

I have gotten it a little under control, but still have numbness and weakness in my right arm.

JJTimes: Was Jiu-Jitsu a part of your recovery?

JC: Jiu-Jitsu was most definitely a huge part of my recovery. It was really the only physical activity I did for quite some time after the shooting.

The mental aspect was also a very big part in just dealing with the whole scenario.

Jiu-Jitsu also gave me something to look forward to after recovery. I set goals and worked toward them.

JJTimes: You run the largest BJJ Academy in Indiana. How did it get started?

JC: Well, as I said before I started training under the Gracie Affiliation in 1997. In early 1999, I met Scott and Eric Sullivan. They were Purple Belts under Mario Roberto and had just moved near my side of town. Remember, this is 1999. A Purple Belt (especially in Indiana) was a huge deal!

Many of the guys who trained at the Gracie Affiliate began cross training in Eric Sullivan’s garage. Even Greg, who was the Gracie Affiliate instructor, trained on some of his off days.

The Sullivan’s Jiu-Jitsu was just so much better than the Jiu-Jitsu I had experienced previously.

Scott Sullivan (the son) was also a very accomplished Muay Thai competitor. I was fortunate enough to get to train a lot of Striking with Scott.

After winning the Gracie Nationals in late ’99, I officially made the switch to Mario Roberto’s Team. Eric, a retired police officer, was convinced to finally open a full time Academy that offered Kickboxing, Jiu-Jitsu, and MMA.

It was 2 weeks before the Grand Opening of the Indiana Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy that I was shot. I did what I could to be as active in the Academy as I could, until I was able to start training again full time.

Later that year I started teaching at my own division of the Indiana Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy (IBJJA), while working a full-time job.

My IBJJA was in a room I was sub-leasing from a Tae-Kwon-Do school. I taught out of that location for 2.5 years and then moved into my own place. We have been growing ever since!


JJTimes: What has your competition life been like?


JC: Honestly, it has had its ups and downs. I use to compete in just about every tournament I was able to make it to, until I got shot. That put me out for a bit, obviously. I was also young and getting out on my own. So, there were more bills and work that made many of the bigger, more distant tournaments inaccessible to me.

Injuries have put me out of competition, sometimes for years at a time. I have recently tried to really start competing again. I had a very good competition record from White to Brown Belt.

As a Black Belt I have recently placed in several IBJJF and other tournaments. I’ll tell you; it is hard running a School (, a Tournament (, an online store ( and a few other businesses fulltime and train to compete at a high level.

I recently fought a very good Black Belt at Masters’ Worlds. We started talking after our match. He was surprised to find out that I was from Indiana and was the only Black Belt at my Academy. He trains with 20 other Black Belts, on a daily basis in Brazil. Although, I lost the match it was very competitive (and I accidentally registered up a weight class). It felt good to know that I could at least hang with someone of that caliber. It motivated me to train harder and really push myself in training.

I plan on competing much more in the coming years. I just really need to stay free of injuries.


JJTimes: Have you ever considered quitting? If so, what kept you going?


I have never considered quitting. I have FEARED it. When I got shot, that was one of my biggest concerns (after I realized I was actually going to live). There was a point where I didn’t know if I would ever be able to do Jiu-Jitsu again. Most recently, I went to see a specialist for my neck. He wanted to do a triple fusion and told me that I could never train again. I had a small breakdown and was pretty depressed for several days, if not weeks. Eventually, I just decided that I could do better than listen to such bad advice!


We here at Jiu-Jitsu Times would like to thank Mr. James Clingerman for agreeing to sit down and do an interview with us. His life is a true embodiment of Jiu-Jitsu and the strength that can be afforded through it. We wish him the best of luck in the future, and hope to see him continue to improve and compete.


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