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ALBANY, Ga. — Veterinarian James Lee is 58, and looks perfectly comfortable contorted into a shape of a pretzel while rolling around on the floor waiting for his opponent to make a mistake.

Suddenly, an opening results in a chokehold and his practice partner taps out before losing consciousness.

Lee’s hobby is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a form of martial arts and self-defense discipline with emphasis on grappling and ground fighting.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a larger stronger assailant by using leverage and proper technique most notably by applying joint-locks and chokeholds to defeat the other person.

“It’s a lot like a dance, and is far superior to other forms of fighting,” Lee said when asked to describe the sport. “Size is really not important. The trick is to take your opponent to the ground. That is the great equalizer. It’s kinda like playing in the backyard and wrestling with your cousin.

“I always enjoyed wrestling with my friends growing up. It’s just a lot of fun for me.”

Lee was lured into the sport just over 10 years ago by Glenn Hamby, a freestyle jiu-jitsu instructor and physical therapist at Advanced Rehab.

“Jim is a perfectionist and does not go into anything half-heartedly. He’s all-in or nothing,” Hamby said. “He’s a competitor who gets the whole picture. A lot of the younger guys we see come in here just wanting to fight, they don’t want to bother with learning technique and usually don’t last very long.”

Hamby says Lee’s competitive and work ethic are an ideal combination

“His dedication sets him apart,” Hamby said. “He’s in the weight room at 5:30 in the morning and he’s always the last one off the mat during training sessions. Even at 58 he’s still putting more into it than the younger guys.”

The results are several world championships in his age class and a brown belt ranking — just one notch below a black belt.

“I found I had a talent for it,” Lee said, smiling.

“My greatest concern for Jim is that he will eventually run out of people to fight and will lose interest in the sport,” Hamby said.

But Lee is more than just a BJJ champion, he is also a humanitarian.

On a fight trip to Rio De Janeiro in 2004 with his wife, Bobbie Joe, who went along as a missionary from First Free Will Baptist, Lee recalled seeing the orphans scattered along the streets of Rio. The memory stuck with him

After they returned home, Lee had an epiphany.

“We were sitting in a pew at church one Sunday and I started thinking,” Lee said. “I have talent, a good life and those children literally have nothing. That bothered me.

So Lee, Hamby and fellow vet Steve Whatley made arrangements to begin a jiu-jitsu school for orphans in Araras just south of the Brazilian capitol of Sao Paulo.

Sponsored in part as mission work by First Free Will, the school at the Lar Nova Vida Children’s Home, has a class of 16 youths ranging in age from four to 17.

“This gives them (the children) something to do,” Lee said. “They have no family and little chance at life. This gives them a chance to get off the street. It is a chance to learn a trade. We’ve gotten letters for some thinking us for the opportunity, that they appreciated the discipline and the chance to earn a black belt.

“It gives them hope and goals. It’s very gratifying.

How long can Lee fight? He has no idea.

“I’ll do it as long as I am physically capable,” Lee said. “Right now I am in better shape than I was at 48. If I can avoid injury, I’ll keep going as long as I can.”

Source: Albany Herald