My Stroke. My Story.
Part 1 — By Chris Martin
For years, I have promoted and practiced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the beautiful art/sport that I treasure.
In August of 2017 all of my most deeply held beliefs about the sporting discipline and art form I love were called into question. It was during that hot summer month that I was paralyzed and left unable to speak after a Jiu Jitsu choke.
This life-changing event completely changed the way that I look at training and everything I had professionally in my life up until this point.
While I still believe what I teach to my students, young and old, that jiu jitsu promotes longevity and all-around more balanced and focused approach to life, I also believe that is now my duty to speak an additional truth to these same students: that there are also inherent risks associated with the practice of jiu jitsu that are just now beginning to surface. These risks relate to the danger associated with neck manipulation. All students, coaches, and parents like myself (I have two daughters practicing the art) need to all be aware of these potential hazards immediately.
I deeply believe that this is how the grandmasters of our sport/art would have wanted it.
In June of 2017 a study was released intended to shed light on the risk of practicing jiu jitsu as it relates to neck manipulation in the sport.
Ironically, it was only a few months after this study was released that I suffered my accident, which I described in a November article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “What happened to me was super rare. I didn’t know, but I had a tear in one of my arteries, and I had a blood clot. During practice I was put in a choke that, combined with the other issues, gave me a stroke. I was instantly paralyzed. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t even remember my kids’ names.”
Although I made a full recovery, due in no small part to the inner and outer strength I developed as a jiu jitsu practitioner, I am living proof that the study is accurate, and according to some reddit threads some medical doctors are beginning to warn us of the dangers associated with the neck.
Ironically, since my accident I also have had a few practitioners who had similar accidents reach out to me — providing further proof that these types of accidents might be more common than any of us think.
For all these reasons, and the incredibly difficult struggles I experienced (and continue to live with every day) I believe it is important to bring stroke awareness — specifically strokes resulting from dissection — out into the open so that we can prevent others from having the same type of accidents in the future.
To help communicate the importance of this cause, and how it touches our lives, I will be interviewing individuals such as “Ray” a software engineer and triathlete who suffered a large artery brain stroke after BJJ sparring. In this fascinating, illuminating interview, Ray describes his accident, talks about how it has affected his life (for better or worse), discusses BJJ, and speaks to what other practitioners need to be aware of to mitigate similar accidents through education and improved supervision to the root cause.
Meet Ray —
Ray is software engineering manager and has a PhD in computer science. He is crazy about the Go programming language and writes experimental programs to analyze English text. For the past 35 years, Ray has worked out almost every day — and it shows. He completed an Ironman Triathlon with his girlfriend, and placed second in a Las Vegas bodybuilding contest.
Then something terrifying happened. August 15, 2017, Ray had a large artery brain stroke after sparring in BJJ.
It happened just four days after I had my stroke and came under similar circumstances: too much pressure on one side of the neck for too long.
Ray didn’t have my extensive background in jiu jitsu — as a white belt with three weeks of experience, he was sparring with two overly exuberant blue belts. One of his opponents placed too much pressure on one side of his neck for too long and caused a pinch in his carotid artery. The kink, technically an artery dissection, formed a blood clot that blocked the blood into this brain enough to cause brain damage.
In the months that followed, while putting his life back together again, Ray searched the web for people who had suffered a stroke as a result of a BJJ choke, and that is where he found my story.
You can hear Ray’s incredible story for yourself, and learn more about how he made his miraculous recovery in the video below:
Although Ray would tell you differently, he is a truly exceptional individual. One who defied the odds and never allowed his circumstances keep him down — or prevent him from winning a battle in which the odds were against him.
Indeed, many may say that Ray and myself are “warriors” — able to turn the tables on our strokes because of our toughness. And while our years of physical conditioning did play a role in our recovery, the fact is that in many ways we were just lucky.
Right now, there are individuals participating in jiu jitsu who may not be so lucky. They may be held in a choke too long — and not be able to recovery fully like we did. Never again being able to hold their children or participating in the activities they love.
It is for this reason that I will continue to use this space to promote awareness of the dangers of BJJ chokes — and their potential for producing serious stroke, and stroke-like conditions.
And if you have experienced a stroke related to combat sports activity, I urge you to reach out me (email below). Your story is worth telling no matter what your experience level may be — and I want you to know that you are not alone.
Together, we can all make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sister who see the beauty of jiu jitsu as an art form — and not a danger.
Thank You —