By Jay Vilarrubi-Smith
It’s Saturday morning and the jungle drum and bass is already pumping out of the speakers.
“Do you want to clean the mirrors or dust the shelves?”
This exciting ultimatum is offered in a scouse accent by my tall, brown haired colleague.
At first glance my supervisor is an ordinary, if not slightly unnaturally tall guy in glasses, with a friendly personality and an easy smile.
“I’ll do the mirrors” I respond, followed by “what did you get up to last night?”
“Training” is the response, as it always is.
That’s the first clue that the person before me, Elliot Beer, aged 23, has a lot more about him than he lets on.
For Elliot does Jiu-Jitsu, and has done for many years.
Having started working together at the start of the summer, it gradually became clear that Elliot not only does Jiu-Jitsu, but that he does Jiu-Jitsu.
Through a mutual love of competition, mine through surfing, Elliot’s through Jiu-Jitsu, we have wiled away many a lunch-break sharing stories, giving advice and supporting each other.
Although others are aware when he’s off to his next competition, or that he is going training later, it dawned on me that through his humility and eagerness to talk about others, it’s not well known exactly how big a part Jiu-Jitsu is in Elliot’s life, and the journey it is has taken him on thus far.
So on an otherwise undistinctive Saturday, I decided to share Elliot’s story, and get past his overgrown hair and inside that brain of his.
Whacking out my big red book is the first indication that I’ve arrived to the shop today with a different purpose.
“Oh no,” is Elliot’s reaction, already cringing for what he thinks is to come.
We start at the beginning, “I started martial arts ten years ago, moving from traditional Jiu-Jitsu to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” Elliot explains, all the while suspiciously eyeing the paper as I scribble down some notes.
As a tall, thin teenager, it was the Tony Bebbington Academy in Liverpool which started Elliot on his journey, and which has remained a constant in his life ever since.
Elliot elaborates, “My mum ran into the academy really wanting me to start Jiu-Jitsu, and the first thing Tony had to say to her was ‘calm down’.” From then on, Tony has helped turn a teenager who was “built like a lamppost” into a competitive fighter.
The combination of rolling with adults, and the philosophy drilled in at Tony’s academy meant a steep and often painful learning curve.
“I used to get killed by the adults, thrown around like a rag doll,” Elliot gleefully re-calls, “we used to keep going until we threw up, and then get straight back on the mat and continue, they used to peel me off and tell me to carry on.”
Having not yet filled out his tall frame, Elliot had to find a way to somehow survive. He explains, “to get anywhere rolling with the adults, my technique had to be perfect,” before quickly correcting himself, “I don’t mean perfect,” worrying all the while that my frantic note-taking will make him sound cocky.
It’s obvious the kind of commitment and hardship that went on with every Jiu-Jitsu class, but it wasn’t always that important to Elliot. It took an incident when he was 15 to really seal the deal.
“When I was 15, me and two others got jumped, and I thought I didn’t want that to happen again so I started doing weights and taking self-defence seriously.”
Not only helping him feeling more secure against Liverpool thugs, Jiu-Jitsu changed Elliot in a number of ways. Having been rudely interrupted by some weekend customers, we reconvene at the till and pick up the story, “Traditional martial arts focuses on awareness and helps to build confidence,” Elliot continues, warming to the task of telling me the story, “being thrown in with adults builds grit, determination and perseverance. It’s humbling and keeps you modest to be constantly getting smashed by everyone.”
As he goes on to explain, Elliot used to be a really anxious kid, often worrying himself sick about things, “Jiu-Jitsu was an outlet for the stress and it’s helped me to a stage now where I’m a completely different person, and not stressed about anything” he describes. Well until an annoying colleague turns up and asks him to boast about himself that is…
After some of his school friends signed up, the small academy Elliot joined, suddenly became a bit bigger. “The academy exploded one day” he tells me, “in a hot-box of a room, there was tons of us, everyone was a mess- it was incredible.”
A few months later Elliot entered his first competition. As a blue belt he had three fights, winning them all, whilst making the final of the absolute category. Having patiently explained that the absolute category is where fighters of all weight classes go up against each other, he carries on the story and reveals that the person he met in the final was none other than Tony Bebbington. A real pupil becomes the master type scenario you might think? “I got smashed by Tony,” Elliot reveals, bursting those thoughts instantly, “It was the best thing ever.”
Having stopped for lunch, in which I demolish some pulled pork, I’m ready to start asking some more questions.
If Elliot thought he was off the hook, he was wrong.
I’m interested to know more about his mind-set towards his ability and I remember him telling me about ego once so I prompt him to carry on. “Some people say you can’t have an ego, and that you should leave your ego at the door,” he tells me, desperately hoping a customer walks in to save him from this ordeal. “Do you have an ego?” I ask, bringing him back to the task at hand, “of course” is his immediate response which is coupled with a look as if to say stop wasting my time, “everyone has an ego, if you haven’t got an ego you’re not human, but it’s about controlling your ego and seeing Jiu-Jitsu for what it is. You’ve got to have some form of ego because you can’t accept defeat.”
I sense I’m starting to annoy him, so I turn to a subject I know he’s going to like. Brazil.
Relieved to move away from any topic in which he could come across as arrogant, he jumps enthusiastically at the chance to re-count his tales from Brazil, “you hear about people going to Brazil, and I saw an advert in a magazine which looked interesting and six months later I was off.”
Going out on his own with just his “Gi, belt, gum shield and a few essentials” the trip almost didn’t happen. “I had a panic attack in Heathrow, I nearly didn’t go,” he admits, “I wasn’t nervous about the Jiu-Jitsu side, just the going out on my own bit.”
Pausing to serve someone some Flip-Flops, “would you be interested in a bag for life for £2.99?” we then continue our conversation. The bag for life was duly turned down by the way.
“I arrived in Rio airport after an epic journey and my taxi driver hadn’t turned up and I had no clue where to go.” Not a great start to the trip. “After a fragmented conversation with a lady in a Kiosk I arrived eventually, having not slept in two days, and was told there would be a seminar in three hours’ time.” This work ethic was a constant throughout, with only four rest days in the 31 days he was there.
What of the level of Jiu-Jitsu he experienced in Brazil? After all, it is called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. “I had an image before I went that all Brazilians were killers and that they were born into Jiu-Jitsu and I rolled with some blue belts who were absolute killers, but it’s not at every academy. I learnt they are just human beings.”
Holding his own against all belts, Elliot tells me it was his preparation before travelling which set him up well. “I went out with very little ego but I felt mentally good, I had held my own in the British, won a fight in the Europeans and won the absolute category in the Newquay Open.”
This is a glimpse of the kind of competition success that Elliot has had since he started Jiu-Jitsu, although as soon as the red book comes out he’s hesitant to talk about it. I press him on the medal’s he has won. His response is predictably humble, “I don’t care about medals, of course it’s gratifying to win, but I just want to feel comfortable in positions I shouldn’t. If I lose, which I’ve done plenty of times, it makes me smarter.”
In total, Elliot has won something in the region of seven golds, five silvers and a bronze, although he’s quick to tell me that might not be accurate and he’ll have to check.
The latest additions to the total being two golds collected from the South-West Open in Plymouth. Imagining a medieval post-battle celebration with the heads of his victims being used as trinkets I ask him how he enjoyed his victory. The answer? “We rushed back to Mawgan Porth for a surf.”
Now we’ve reached the next interesting development in the life of Mr. Beer. Surfing.
Elliot is a part of North Shore Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which is run by Nick Tiscoe, a well-known ex-sponsored surfer, and Rebecca Hill, a former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world bronze medalist and current European champion.
North Shore Jiu-Jitsu is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy run out of Koncept gym in Newquay, Cornwall, where Jiu-Jitsu is number one but surfing is always on the table.
Both of us feeling more comfortable now we’ve reached the subject of surfing, the hands become unclenched and that easy smile starts to flash across my scouse friend’s face. I ask where surfing comes into the subject. “Old school Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is synonymous with surfing,” is the response, “some past and current Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champions surf, and some top surfers do Jiu-Jitsu.”
This is true. I’m sure most of the surfing community were exposed to the furor surrounding Kelly Slater posting a picture of himself in a blue belt, and as Elliot describes, Joel Tudor is a “legit black belt.”
Is there an actual correlation between surfing and Jiu-Jitsu? “I definitely can see the link, with the mental attributes and the fact that both sports are always developing.” Going on to list the obvious similarities such as balance, flexibility and stamina.
Having had his first lesson with Nick, Elliot was struck by the beauty and exposure to nature that all of us surfers experience, and spent last year with a borrowed board getting out whenever possible. But now he has a new board and that buzz that we can all relate to.
“I don’t always have a clue what I’m doing but I’m pouring my energy into it,” Elliot admits. I’m not sure any of us truly have a clue what we’re doing but I don’t tell him that. He continues, “it’s a nice break away from Jiu-Jitsu, its therapeutic and so rewarding, it doesn’t matter what state of mind you’re in you can always go surfing.”
We’re into that late afternoon lull that comes when you work in retail and I want to keep the mood light. His best surfing memory? “It was just before a Jiu-Jitsu camp with Nick and we all got in the sea, there was tons of us in the water all on foamies. The surf was too big for foamies but I offered a race to my buddy, first one to get out back wins.”
Smiling, we’re on comfortable ground now and I let him roll on with his story. “This set came in and I just got over the first wave, but I knew for a fact the next one was going to land on my head. My friend just got over it and looked back at me with a smirk as if to say ‘you’re going to get fucked.’ I got smashed and then the next wave hit him me from behind. I rode the white water in and we had loads of laughs about it.”
The surfing side of Elliot and of North Shore Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is fascinating, and something which Clunk is going to go into more depth in the future. But it is Elliot’s personality which is truly inspirational. A humble, funny and considerate man, hiding an interesting, unique and impressive story.
It’s time to put the book away and get on with the closing up the shop.
“That wasn’t so bad was it?” I ask. Elliot, like a man who has come to the end of a Jerry Springer show, looks tired and relieved. I offer him the last word. “I’ve got a love hate relationship with Jiu-Jitsu but I’ll never give it up.”
“Now can we stop talking about myself?”
If you’re interested in taking up Jiu-Jitsu then visit the North Shore Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu website: http://www.northshorebjj.uk/ based in Newquay, Cornwall.
Or the Tony Bebbington Jiu-Jitsu Academy website: http://www.tonybebbingtonjiujitsu.co.uk/ based in Liverpool.