Shortly after a verdict was handed down awarding over $46 million in damages to a partially quadriplegic jiu-jitsu student after an accident that reportedly took place at Del Mar Jiu-Jitsu Club in 2018, video footage of the injury in question began to circulate.
Notably, longtime jiu-jitsu and MMA legend Tom DeBlass posted the video to his personal Instagram account, criticizing the broader narrative being painted around the incident.
In the caption, DeBlass wrote:
I think this is important for everyone to see. This is the case where the student injured was paralyzed (I’m not sure if he still is?).
He was awarded 46 million dollars. This instructor who did this was getting crucified. Being called incompetent, careless, among every other thing.
What’s being said is that “he spiked a white belt on his head, maliciously.”
A few things, apparently this kid also competed in the Pan Ams in 2018 or 2019? Why is everyone acting as if he is taking a trial class. Still, TRAGIC FREAK ACCIDENT none the less. Horrible.
My question is, where did he spike him on his head? My heart breaks for the student injured. However, my heart also breaks for the instructor.
After seeing the way this played out, I am not sure I will allow visitors to be in my Academy anymore at all. Truly, I really need to sit with my students and workers and lawyer to speak about it.
This is tragic all around. God bless the student, and I hope he recovers fully.
However, this was an honest FREAK ACCIDENT. This was not done maliciously at all. In fact, if the instructor were to be malicious, he would have ripped a submission or lifted and slammed him.
This is not ok for this instructor being ripped apart the way he is.
DeBlass later edited the post to add that he had seen photos of the student standing and allegedly recovered.
DeBlass also published a second post defending the instructor, Francisco Iturralde, wherein he wrote,
The instructor, who was slaughtered, Sinistro, was well-respected. Unfortunately, the world turned on him before seeing the video.
I can not imagine what you must have felt, [Francisco]. You aren’t alone now, and your reputation isn’t ruined, brother. Xx
To the student injured, may God help you recover fully. My heart breaks knowing you had to go through the injury you did.
DeBlass has also been heavily critical of the testimony provided by Rener Gracie of Gracie University, who reportedly gave a statement at the trial against Iturralde.
“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was designed to empower the weak against the strong. In order for the art to continue serving those who need it most, the safety of our students must always remain our top priority,” said Rener, according to attorneys, per Business Wire. “This is why, as an ambassador of the art and a member of its founding family, I chose to get involved in this case. This verdict is a step in the right direction.”
DeBlass criticized Gracie for a statement that “made this instructor look terrible,” and offered to vouch for Iturralde in Gracie’s place. DeBlass has also stated that he would be happy to testify on Iturralde’s behalf in event that the case returns to trial.
“Now, I always liked Rener,” wrote DeBlass in a Facebook post captioned on his Instagram page. “I even endorsed him. However, for him to testify against this instructor, and make it seem as though it were malicious makes me sick. Not everyone in this martial art has multiple sources of income like you and I, Rener. Their Academy is how they eat.”
DeBlass additionally invited Gracie to participate in an Instagram Live session to debate the topic face-to-face. At this time, Gracie does not appear to have responded to the request.
Editor’s Update, April 3, 2023: Rener Gracie has provided a response to Tom DeBlass’ invitation.