Clinton Terry “The Blind Grappler” first went viral a few years ago hitting a beautiful takedown in a local nogi tournament. Since then he’s managed to collect a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Championships as well as a bronze medal at the 2019 Wold Masters Championships. What many don’t know is that before he even started Jiu Jitsu, he was a ten time New Zealand wrestling champion as well as a two time Commonwealth greco roman wrestling bronze medallist. In fact, he only started training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as his retirement hobby after hanging up his wrestling shoes:
“I started coaching at about 2008 or 2009. In 2014, I had two boys who were very good, who were moving up into my age and weight division and I had a decision right? Do I teach them how to beat me and take my New Zealand team spot? Because I’d represented New Zealand every year from 2008 to 2014. Or do I sabotage their training so I can keep my national team spot? As a coach, I couldn’t do that. So I retired and I went to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu thinking it was going to be my retirement sport. And then we started a whole other story.”
That story has lead him to travel around the world to train and compete in Jiu Jitsu tournaments, start coaching at a club, build a sizeable social media following and acquire a Hyperfly sponsorship. Next year he even plans to open his very own Jiu Jitsu Academy – “Dare Devil Grappling”.
As a grappler who has managed to overcome significant adversity, to succeed in not only one but two sports against sighted athletes despite being blind, Clinton has a lot of insight on what made him so successful. He was kind enough to share these with me:
1. Find Out If You Really Want What You Say You Want
First of all, you have to know whether you truly want what you’re telling everyone that you want to achieve. Whether you want to be a world champion or you want to make a million dollars. Your dreams sound all good and shiny in your thoughts. Like yeah, that’d be nice to have, but it’s what you are willing to sacrifice to get what you want.
Now for me, I was willing to sacrifice everything except my family. I met my wife young, I had my son young and then my daughter pretty young as well. So unless it was to do with my family, I sacrificed everything. People would ask me to go out partying and I’d say no I’ve got to get up and train the next day. I didn’t have a lot of money because training was more important. So as long as I had enough money to support my family, that’s what mattered. Then all the rest of it was for training.
I didn’t go out and socialise. I don’t have a lot of friends outside of my sport. My social life took a hiding because for fifteen years people didn’t understand my drive. They didn’t understand why I didn’t want to go out drinking on the weekend. I can’t do that because anything I do like that is going to affect my body. I can’t go on holiday because it’s time off the mat, time away from training. I’m not naturally good. I need to train all the time. I need to be working on my skill set all the time. So other than my family, I was happy to sacrifice everything else to get to where I wanted to go.
2. Believe In Yourself No Matter What
I started training wrestling and after about four weeks I went to a tournament. That first night before the tournament, I didn’t sleep the whole night, I was so nervous. I went on the mat and completely forgot everything. Within thirty seconds, I was pinned and it was game over. I came off the mat and I thought ‘oh my gosh that was so awesome, I’m gonna do that again’.
So I did it again and then I found out that they have national championships for wrestling. I said ‘you know what? I’m gonna be a national champion wrestler’. Everybody started laughing, and they were like ‘you’re blind, you’re never gonna be a national champion in wrestling’. I just replied ‘I’m gonna be a national champion in wrestling’.
I kept losing matches. So I ended up losing about forty matches, and not only did I lose forty matches, but in those forty matches, I didn’t score a single point. Thats even worse than just losing forty matches. You can’t get much worse than that. I just kept telling people that I was going to be a national champion. Eventually I won my first match and that was super awesome.
What you need to do is believe in yourself because nobody is going to believe in you. Or rather, not many people believe in you. When I started telling people that I wanted to be a national champion, there was really only two people that believed me and everybody else had said ‘oh no you’re not going to make it’. The whole time I believed I could do it. I wanted it. I was happy to sacrifice stuff for it. If I just worked hard enough that I could do it. So you have to absolutely believe in yourself.
3. Find Someone Who Believes In You
The third thing you need is one person that believes in your goal and believes that anything is possible and can help you out. Now the job of that person is not to stroke your ego. The job of that person is to kick your backside. There were days when I went to a tournament and had a bad loss and would come home and say to my wife ‘aw man, maybe I can’t make it’.
Although you do believe in yourself overall, there are times when doubts start creeping in. Especially when people keep telling you that you can’t do it and then if you’re also failing quite a lot, it can get hard. Andrea would say ‘you want this. This is your dream of course you can do it.’ And I’d be like ‘no I’m giving up today. That’s it I’m quitting wrestling’ and she’s like – ‘yeah right you’re not quitting wrestling. Go to training tomorrow.’
So the person that believes in you, they’re there to keep you on track. Not to be soft with you. To tell you that nothing that’s worth having in life is easy. Of course they can celebrate your wins with you as well. But the main thing is, when you start not believing in yourself, to give you a good butt kicking and get you back on track.
4. Set Big And Small Goals
I’ve always had huge goals. Always. I can’t remember the last time that I haven’t had a huge goal on the horizon that I’m looking to get to. So to start with, especially before I met Koji (Harabayashi, his wrestling coach), I was like ‘I’m gonna win a national title’. But I didn’t really know how to get there. Once I met Koji, and we started planning he taught me a bit about how to set my goals.
So the first thing we did was we wanted to score points in big tournaments. So he’d be like ‘Look Clinton, if you go and get a point at this tournament, we just celebrate it like you’ve won the match. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. The goal for this tournament is to get points in these matches’. So when I’d get the points and lose, I would come off the mat disappointed and he would celebrate like we had won. I’d say ‘no but we lost’ and he’d reply ‘no we achieved the goal’. Then the next goal was to get the points and get to the end of the match without getting pinned. After that get the points and win the match. The next goal was to win the tournament and then win nationals.
So I think it’s awesome to have a huge goal, but if you don’t have the small achievable goals along the way, the small steps, you’re not going to achieve the big goal. Because the big goal, to start with, is almost like a dream. It seems almost unattainable. So if you don’t have the small goals along the way to give yourself those little victories, and if you just keep thinking in terms of the long term goal. Its always just failure because you’re not there yet. So it’s hard to want to progress towards it.
5. Be Prepared To Work Hard
The fifth thing you need is hard work and you need to be prepared to outwork everybody else that you know. I am 38 years old and I don’t know anybody in my gym that out-trains me. I don’t know anybody at my gym that spends more hours in the week on the mat than I do. It’s not an insult to them because not everybody has to have the same goals as me.
I wanted to be a Jiu Jitsu world champion after I finished wrestling and so I had to put in the hard work in. I’m not saying that somebody shouldn’t go to Jiu Jitsu for the fun of it. Their goal might be to have fun at Jiu Jitsu or to lose weight. Your goal is your goal and that’s fine. I’m just saying because of my goal, I work harder than everybody else to achieve my personal goal. Like if you want to make a million dollars, you should be at the office before everyone else in the morning and you should leave the office after everybody else at night. You’ve got to work hard. Otherwise you’re not gonna achieve the huge goals.
The Blind Grappler On Being Stubborn And Not Naturally Athletic
What becomes more and more obvious when you talk to Clinton Terry “The Blind Grappler” is that he is extremely strong-willed. As he says himself: “One thing that everybody should know about my sporting career and stuff is that I’m not naturally talented, but the one natural thing I have is stubbornness.”
An example he shared was his experience with going to a boarding school for the blind. There they insisted that he would not be let out of class for lunch or intervals unless he used his cane. He refused, because his mother has brought him up without one and was happy to be kept in class for six months, taking up his teacher’s lunch breaks, until they finally cracked and gave into him.
For most of us who aren’t naturally athletic or Jiu Jitsu prodigies, this gives us hope. Perhaps all we need is a strong dose of stubbornness.
Looking for more inspiration from other sources than the blind grappler when you are struggling with losing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Check out this advice from Jocko Willink.