Robert Long is a BJJ purple belt and former British soldier, who served in the Lance Bombardier’s 4/73 Special Observation Battery. On his last patrol in Afghanistan, his vehicle triggered an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), which killed his colleague – and left Robert completely blind.
In an interview for BBC, he remembered the incident:
On my last patrol, we went out in a five man team. And just as the sun was coming up, an IED was triggered underneath Sam Robinson, which ended up killing him straight away.
I was close enough where my left eye was smashed out straight away. My right eye took so much damage that doctors had to remove my right eye. And that was the last I ever saw anything. It’s been pitch black ever since, and that was 8 July 2010.
Following the loss of sight, Long realized that he had no time to dwell on what happened, but to make the most out of what he could. Following that maxim, he found out about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
After I lost my sight, going from being a frontline soldier in such an elite unit and now I have to hold a guy’s hand. I have to wait for assistance for day-to-day things that you take for granted.
To get through it I had to swallow my pride. And say: “This is it, you know. You can either be sad about it or you can get up and get on your feet.” I was determined that I was going to get every bit of independence back that I could possibly get.
Everyone was saying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the way forward for that. It’s the number one grappling technique, and the British Army Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu team was just forming at the time. They took me under their wing.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the art of grappling, controlling your opponent and then submitting them. So it’s all about rolling and moving… I understood that this is where it’s at, like they [training partners] can’t get away from me [because of grips]. I can now manipulate their body and put them in a position of control where I can dictate the pace.
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He found great success in BJJ, and now wants others to experience the same:
It [BJJ] was just everything I needed as a visually impaired person. Also, having no obstacles in my way on the mat – I can really express myself.
I won the army championship at heavyweight. Then I went onto Para Jiu-Jitsu, where I entered the British Grand Slam. I won gold at that, which got me my invite to the world championships in Abu Dhabi. And again I won gold at the World Para Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Now I’m looking to go forward and start fighting in some of the higher level able-bodied championships.
So I want to bring the skills and the lifestyle, and the coping mechanism that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has given me as someone with life-altering injuries, I want to extend that to other people.
I’m going to be building a Jiu-Jitsu studio; I want to invite anyone with life-altering injuries eventually to come and train with me.
Robert Long finishes up with words of encouragement for anyone clashing with difficult obstacles in their life:
You can find that same pride and that same determination, and that same moral compass, to live your life. You’ve just got different choices.
You can find a way of living a really good, decent life where you’re achieving things you want to achieve and you’re fulfilled.
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