After years of training in a variety of martial arts styles, Ken Sumner earned his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) April 8.This milestone is a huge accomplishment as it takes years to reach this level of expertise and allows him to be competitive with anyone in the world.
“It’s been an interesting trip…lots of ups and downs and frustrations,” he said, adding the reason he’s stayed with the sport for so long is that he loves it.
Sumner started training in BJJ in 2002, then took a few years off for post secondary school before resuming his training to reach this milestone. There aren’t many BJJ black belts around the world because of the length of time it takes to train to this level.
This is not the first black belt for Sumner. He earned his first black belt in Hapkido in 1999 and then in 2002, he got his black belt in karate, adding his second degree in 2009 and third degree in 2015 as he taught classes.
He explained if you’re a black belt and you’re not teaching, you get a white bar embroidered on your black belt and that’s as far as you go. If you are teaching, you get a red bar on your black belt and you can start getting degrees. Sumner’s black belt has his karate stripes on one side and BJJ on the other.
“For you to move on, it’s mandatory to teach,” he said.
He also says martial arts create a constant learning process and that if he understands something really well he can teach itto you and help you troubleshoot
“Everyone has something they can teach you,” he said, adding that he even learns from the four year olds how to be a better teacher.
Martial arts started off as a family affair for Sumner with him beginning training in 1991 with his father. Sumner said his sister got tired of being left at home so she started training as well. After about four years, Sumner’s dad got busy at work so his mom started to take the kids to practice. Not willing to simply sit on the sidelines and watch, Sumner’s mom decided to jump in as well, earning her black belt in karate the same year as Sumner.
Sumner says martial arts are about having the confidence to handle yourself and become comfortable with beingun comfortable. He gave the example of having a two-hundred pound man on top of you and that you have to deal with it.
“First you have to relax, you have to become comfortable, then you have to think.”
Sumner loves the strategy involved with the sport and it’s that aspect that keeps him coming back even when he’s tired and sore.
“It’s such an interesting thinking game.”
He also loves that the sport shows people how to defend themselves in the context of actually being in a situation that causes the fight or flight response in the body. According to Sumner, the problem with most self defense training is it’s done out of context and misses addressing that adrenaline dump so when people are in a real situation they freeze.
“The sport teaches that adrenaline rush, that management,” he said, adding the problem is when someone freezes rather than running or fighting, that’s when they get hurt.
Sumner gave a quick overview of the styles of martial arts he’s trained in, saying each has a different perspective on defending yourself and defeating the other person. He compares karates to being like a jet fighter; hitting hard but you can’t get hit. A lot of movement is included.
Sumner compares Muay Thai to being like a tank: “You’re gonna rumble in and take a couple shots and then they hit you back.”
BJJ is your “strike team” that sneaks around and smothers you. The sport includes a lot of grappling, wrestling, submission,chokes, arm locks and joint locks. Sumner gave an additional image to explain the sport by talking about how fighting with Hélio Gracie, the founder of the sport was described as “like rolling with a boa constrictor.”
In the end, the friendships developed through the sport are invaluable to Sumner. He loves the camaraderie and the friendships that are developed between people willing to play and learn with each other.
“You roll around and sweat on each other…you’re trying to choke each other out for five minutes then you’re like ‘dude that was awesome,” and you give each other a hug…you form such a close bond with these people,” Sumner said.