Sport

Blinded Warrior: The Injured Afghanistan Vet Beating Sighted Fighters

A former British soldier has begun enjoying success in the seemingly-unlikely sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, after losing his sight in an...

A former British soldier has begun enjoying success in the seemingly-unlikely sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, after losing his sight in an explosion in Afghanistan.

Lance Bombardier Robert Long, who served with the Royal Artillery, was injured while on tour in 2010 after being caught in an IED explosion.

Medically discharged from the military five years ago, Rob admits the sport has reinvigorated his zest for life.

Robert Long, blind Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter

Under first-class instruction he's developed a basic knowledge into medal-winning success and has beaten sighted opponents.

At this year's Army jiu-jitsu championships in Aldershot, Rob not only made his tournament debut, he also won gold in the white belt division. He told Forces Network:

"I'm absolutely over the moon. My emotions are all over the place... It's the missing bit of the puzzle that I've been searching for a long time - since I lost my sight."

"Getting an opportunity to fight for the Army again, it's more than I could hope for. I'm so happy."

In an environment that demands fast body movements and strong visual awareness, logic suggests jiu-jitsu wouldn't be considered the go-to sport for the blind.

But Rob is able to make use of his other senses to overcome his opponents during fights. He said:

"Once you've got them [your opponent] in your grip... eyes aren't an advantage. It's all about feel."

"You're using the other person's weight distribution, [feeling] how they're attacking you.

"It's all about sense of touch, that's why it's absolutely perfect for me."

Jiu-jitsu's appeal is clear for many members of the military.

Robert Long, blind Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter

It's a combat sport that focuses on grappling, especially ground fighting, as well as promoting physical fitness.

Many units from all three services have now incorporated its disciplines into their close-quarter battle training sessions. Rob said:

"We practised forms of Brazilian jiu-jitsu [in my unit]... so I had a slight background."

Coach Andy Roberts has adapted his instruction so Rob can perfect his technique. He said:

"He [Rob] only decided to compete last week. I know he had a lot of nerves building up to it [the tournament]... [I'm] super proud."

With his first win under his belt, Rob is now hungry for more success.

"I want to see how far I can take it [the sport]... This has given me a massive sense that I can get there [and] represent the Army well."

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