Martial Artist

Reprinted from PN March 2011

Eric Ingram leaves his mark on the on the martial arts world by achieving blue-belt status in Gracie jiu-jitsu.

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Eric Ingram (Norfolk, Va.) is believed to be the first quadriplegic to achieve his blue belt in Gracie jiu-jitsu. The 20 year old began trying out various forms of martial arts several years ago and found jiu-jitsu to be the best fit for his skills and ability level. Along with his brother, Troy, a certified Gracie instructor, and Bill Odom, owner of a local karate school, Ingram developed a program to adapt the moves to suit him.

Jiu-jitsu is a martial art, combat sport, and self-defense program that focuses on grappling and especially ground fighting. Helio Gracie developed Gracie jiu-jitsu as an adaptation from judo.

Eric Ingram, shown with fellow blue belts, reported is the first-ever quadriplegic to achieve a blue belt in Gracie jiu-jitsu.

Ingram, a junior at Old Dominion University, was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, also known as “whistling face syndrome,” a rare genetic condition that characteristically includes a small “whistling” mouth, a flat mask-like face, club feet, joint contractures usually involving the fingers and hands, and under-developed cartilage of the nose. He says that with this new martial arts training, he feels more able to defend himself, and it has given him new confidence. Working with his brother was also important to Ingram, since Troy was the one who introduced him to jiu-jitsu and was there for him every step of the way. He cites his brother as a major motivator and influence for jiu-jitsu and beyond.

The process for Ingram to get his blue belt took more than twice the time it usually takes an able-bodied person since he was “constantly tweaking and altering the moves to suit my body and physical function. It’s always fun and interesting trying to figure out new moves and seeing if they will work for me (which a lot don’t), and it’s always much more satisfying to finally get one figured out and dialed in.”

Ingram’s primary passion is quad rugby. He is a founder and current team captain of the East Coast Cripplers, the only team in Virginia. He says his martial arts training has benefited greatly from the physical training he does for rugby, and vice versa. 

News outlets across the United States reported on Ingram’s achievement.

“I had no idea it was going to be this big and largely publicized,” says Ingram. “There had been some talk of its significance when I first started, but after that I was just so focused on learning the moves and attaining my blue belt that I hadn’t even taken into account the effect it would have on everyone. It wasn’t until the actual belt ceremony where the gravity of it all really hit me.”

When asked what he would tell other people with disabilities who were interested in martial arts, Ingram said, “When in doubt, try anything and everything. Don’t let anyone talk you down from doing what you want to. Don’t be afraid to prove people wrong.”


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