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Virginia Man Becomes World’s First Quadriplegic to Earn Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Belt

Eric Ingram of Norfolk, VA., has recently become the world’s first quadriplegic to earn a modified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu belt. Ingram, 20, trains at the Norfolk Karate Academy & Gracie Jiu-Jitsu training center in Norfolk.

With the assistance of his brother, Troy, a certified instructor of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Ingram and his coaches were able to modify Jiu-Jitsu techniques to accommodate his physical disability. Ingram was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a multiple congenital disorder which causes impairment in all four of the limbs. A common misconception of quadriplegia is that the subject is paralyzed from the neck down.

In a special belt awarding ceremony, Ingram received his modified blue belt from Ryron Gracie along with his lead instructor, Master Bill Odom.

During the ceremony Ryron quoted his father, Rorion Gracie, on his thoughts regarding Ingram’s achievement.

“His technique earned him a blue belt but his determination will earn him a black belt,” said Rorion.

Rener Gracie, brother of Ryron, stated that their grandfather, Helio Gracie, would be very proud. Ryron agreed with his brother’s statement.

“This is true because the idea behind Jiu-Jitsu is that ANYONE can learn, so my grandfather would be excited,” said Ryron.

The ceremony ended with Master Odom suggesting Ingram show his techniques by grappling with Ryron. Ingram was able to take side mount, transition to his back, and tap Ryron with a Kimura.

Aside from Jiu-Jitsu, Ingram is no stranger to physical combative competition. He is also a member of the East Coast Cripplers, a quad (wheelchair) rugby team based out of Eastern Virginia.

Videos of Eric Ingram’s freestyle fight simulation test and belt ceremony can be seen below, as well as an exclusive interview with Ingram’s brother and instructor, Troy Ingram.

Dustin Zuch for  How long has Eric been training Jiu-Jitsu leading up to achieving his blue belt?
Troy Ingram: Eric has been training for approximately two years. It generally takes 9-12 months to reach blue belt level, but since we had to modify the techniques it took longer.

DZ: Was it difficult to modify the techniques in order for Eric to be successful?
TI: Yes, it was a difficult process. Myself, Eric, and Master Bill Odom had to put our heads together to figure out the move modifications. Eric knows the way his body moves and what physical restrictions he has. Odom and I obviously know the thirty six techniques that need to be mastered, so it was a matter of us working together and battle testing the moves to make sure they were legit.

DZ: What are usually the requirements for a blue belt under the Gracie system?
TI: The Gracie blue belt is given out to people that can prove they can defend themselves in a real world situation against a larger unskilled opponent. For Eric, we had to think of the situations he might end up in. One roadblock we hit was Eric’s physical inability to use the guard. The guard is a combatant’s best defense while on their back but Eric can’t use it. Our best bet was to work extensively on Eric being able to lock up an opponent while side mounted. Our other roadblock was how we could work with Eric on defending the mount from the bottom. He doesn’t have the ability to lift his hips so we had to use a similar game plan and work with him “locking” his opponent down.

DZ: What are Eric’s future goals? Does he plan on ultimately pursuing his black belt and/or competing in grappling tournaments?
TI: He definitely plans on continuing to work up the ladder towards his black belt. As for tournaments- I don’t believe Eric has any intentions on doing so. However, he could if he wanted the opportunity. I’ve even learned of a person with Cerebral Palsy who competed and medaled in a grappling tournament. The Gracie Academy and Gracie University deals particularly with self defense and leverages the thirty six most commonly used techniques in a street fight. It is not really meant for tournament competition because the people you roll with know the same moves and counters as you do. The “average guy” in the street does not.

DZ: What has been the reception from the Jiu-Jitsu community and general public regarding Eric achieving his blue belt?
TI: Most people say how much of an inspiration he is and how much of a great thing it is for Jiu-Jitsu. But of course there are also people out there who are extremely critical. Some people think his inability to do the moves as intended should disqualify him from a belt and some have doubts as to whether he could actually use the modified techniques in a real world situation. I can’t stress enough that the moves we practice are the ones that someone would be most inclined to try in a real world situation if they don’t know Jiu-Jitsu. The fight simulation drill video is me feeding the indicators to Eric in order to test his reflexes against a person that doesn’t know Jiu-Jitsu.

DZ: We appreciate your time. Any shout outs or anything else you’d like to add?
TI: Please check out The Norfolk Karate Academy (, Gracie University ( , and Eric’s quad rugby team, The East Coast Cripplers (

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