A journey which began 11 years ago recently reached its apex, when Goulburn Martial Arts Academy head instructor, Craig Harmer, was awarded his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt.
The belt was presented by the highest-ranked Australian BJJ practitioner, John Will, at the end of a seminar on March 12 and came as a surprise to the Goulburn resident.
This achievement makes Harmer the first Goulburn local to achieve the rank of BJJ blackbelt, which is a notoriously arduous achievement.
"To be promoted by John is right up there with winning a Taekwondo World Championship, and becoming a Taekwondo master," Harmer said.
"Those three achievements are parallel, it's probably one of the most significant achievements I've had in my martial arts career."
Will is famous in Australian martial arts circles as one of the first 12 non-Brazilians to achieve a BJJ blackbelt in 1997, and has since gone on to forge a career as a prolific instructor both in his own schools and for the military.
On average, it takes practitioners of BJJ ten years to achieve a blackbelt. When Harmer began studying the art, he was not confident it was a milestone he would ever reach.
"The process of becoming a BJJ blackbelt is so long and arduous, it's something you don't really think about," he said.
"When you start as a whitebelt, you think 'I want to be a blackbelt', but after a while you realise that this is one of those journeys that may not ever happen."
But happen it did, and Harmer said that his focus now will be ensuring that his students see him the same way as before.
He added that Will conveyed a similar message upon presenting him with his blackbelt.
"John mentioned a number of things," Harmer said.
"He said 'You don't change with your blackbelt, you're the same person. The first thing I want you to do on Monday is get on the mats, line your students up, roll with them and let them tap you. You haven't changed, but they'll look at you differently, so show them that you're not any different'.
"That was one of the biggest things that he mentioned, that there's no superpowers that come with a blackbelt."
BJJ was originally developed in the 1920s by the Gracie brothers - Oswaldo, Carlos, Gastao Jr, George, and Helio - in Brazil.
The difficulty associated with achieving a blackbelt in the discipline stems from the huge amount of intricate techniques and variations within the techniques, which mostly focus on taking down and submitting opponents using chokes and joint locks.
BJJ techniques are difficult to master, and part of the reason a blackbelt takes a decade on average to achieve is to ensure the student is sufficiently competent as to avoid unnecessary damage to themselves, their training partners, or their students.
The Goulburn Martial Arts Academy has already produced several BJJ practitioners who have won medals at high-level tournaments in Sydney and Melbourne.
The addition of his blackbelt to the club's list of achievements, Harmer said, further vindicates its reputation as a martial arts school of quality.
"The club does well at competitions, we had one girl compete recently for the first time and pick up a silver medal," he said.
"She did amazingly well, and that is not uncommon for our guys and girls. Everyone's very competitive, and they understand that they get everything they need from where they are."
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