Curtis Manzys was hoping to test himself when he signed up for a Jiu Jitsu class five years ago in Sarnia.
“I started kind of late — I was 28,” he said. “A lot of people start when they’re kids or teenagers.
“I just wanted to see what I was capable of, so I jumped in with both feet, gave it a go, and never looked back.”
In December, Manzys won a gold medal at the Ontario championships in the Male GI Blue Belt Master 1- Heavy division. That earned him purple belt status and a ticket to the Canadian Championships.
This month the 33-year-old millwright headed to Nationals, where he won silver in the Master Purple-Brown-Black Belt division.
“It was pretty nerve-racking at first because it was my first tournament with the new purple belt, and I was going against people with a lot more experience,” said Manzys, who faced three opponents, all higher ranked.
“When you’re competing against a three-stripe brown belt or black belt, you just know they’re years ahead.”
His first round was won on points, or, scoring more dominant positions, while his second round — against a second-degree black belt — he won by submission with a triangle choke hold.
In the gold medal match he came up just short against another black belt.
“Once I hit the mat the nerves all went away and everything came together, and I performed well with a second place finish,” he said.
Manzys represented Sarnia’s Forge Training Centre, where he trains, and is affiliated with GFTeam Canada.
Fellow Forge athletes Gavin Whiteye and Phil Grimshaw also competed at the Brampton event, earning bronze medals in the white and blue belt divisions.
Owner Rowan Cunningham, who attended with coach John Fraser, said combat sports like Jiu Jitsu and kickboxing are growing in popularity.
“More people are finding ways to compete and push themselves in a safe way,” said Cunningham, who coaches about 100 athletes locally, from as young as six and into their 70s.
“The most important thing is that the athletes competing are well-matched and considerate of the health and safety of their opponents.”
After taking that first class five years ago, Manzys immersed himself in the martial art and combat sport, training regularly and steadily climbing the ranks.
“It’s about seeing what your body is capable of, really, where you’re actually learning all the time. Jiu-Jitsu is a non-stop journey of learning,” he said.
He added he plans to continue training and see what happens.
“If I didn’t have a day job I’m sure I could take this Jiu Jitsu career a lot further,” he said with a laugh.
“But you don’t have to go to high-level competitions — it’s a sport that anyone can get into, even just for fitness.
“It’s a great lifestyle change for anyone who wants to try something new.”