Nova Scotia

Brazilian jiu-jitsu champ shows his skills on trip home to Truro

Internationally renowned jiu-jitsu athlete Jake MacKenzie was demonstrating his skills at his old high school in Truro this week. MacKenzie is home on a visit from Rio de Janeiro where he now lives and trains.

Truro's Jake MacKenzie is an international Brazilian jiu-jitsu athlete who now lives in Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Jake MacKenzie is shown in a demonstration with Dan Vanderlans at his old high school, Cobequid Education Centre, in Truro. (CBC)

Jake MacKenzie is a soft-spoken man. But on the mat, that quiet nature is transformed into hard-core determination.

Holding a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, MacKenzie lives and breathes his sport.

He loves it so much, he moved  to Rio de Janeiro where jiu-jitsu is huge.

"This is what I always dreamed of, it's really big down there, so it's great. It's like playing hockey in Canada, it's really big,"  MacKenzie said. 

He is currently back in Truro to visit his family. While he's in town, he's teaching seminars during his winter break.

"I've done seminars all over Europe, all over the States and Canada and in Brazil. That's all I do. Seminars, train and compete." 

'Canada's best-kept secret'

At his old high school, Cobequid Educational Centre, he is in their wrestling and judo room grappling with Dan Vanderlans. Vanderlans says he always relishes the idea of learning from the master.

"What I find most fascinating is, I will often learn something that I thought I knew for the last 10 years, a little bit better. Those skills are sharpened by him," he said.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Jake MacKenzie is in his hometown of Truro to visit family, and also to put on a demonstration at his old high school. (CBC)

"He has conquered the jiu-jitsu world and yet he still comes back to Truro and hangs with us and is very gracious and humble in the process. But he's still Jake, good old Jake, who's a world champion.  He's Canada's best-kept secret."

That's high praise and pretty impressive for a person who didn't really like the sport when he began as a twelve-year-old in Truro.

"My dad got me into jiu-jitsu and I didn't really want to do it at the start," MacKenzie said during a break in training. 

Now at 30 years of age, his list of wins is long. "I've won more than any other foreigner in Brazil. I've won the Pan-Am's, the Europeans, the American Nationals and I've won four Brazilian national team trials."

And that's just the short list. 

Wall full of medals

In his father Gary's Truro home, there is a wall full of the international medals he has won over the last decade.

"I just love it. I wake up in the morning and I'm thinking of jiu-jitsu, I go to sleep, I'm thinking of moves or scenarios or tournaments. It's just a passion for the sport."

Gary MacKenzie, father of Brazilian jiu-jitsu champ Jake MacKenzie, displays his son's medals and awards in his Truro home. (CBC)

While many people have been introduced to jiu-jitsu through MMA (mixed martial arts) and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), MacKenzie wasn't interested in going down that road.

"At one point in my life, I was interested and started the training and I liked it, but it wasn't something I woke up every morning wanting to do," MacKenzie said. 

And so he returned to where his heart was, jiu-jitsu and he hasn't looked back. He feels he's just
entering his prime.

"I think the athletic prime is between 30 and 35 if you stick with it, and you get lucky and don't have the injuries. I try to do prevention work, preventing injuries, take care of, always training and being in shape." 

He heads to New York to train this weekend, then comes back to Nova Scotia for a quick good-bye before returning to Brazil where competition begins in April.


World champion curler Colleen Jones has been reporting with CBC News for nearly three decades. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleenjones.


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