Meridian Star

June 9, 2013

At State Games, jiu jitsu teaches life lessons

Sarah Moomaw
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     On the side of the mat, Chris Thrasher shouted over the cheering crowd to guide his marital artist into a hold at the first annual Mississippi State Games jiu jitsu tournament.

    Thrasher is the founder of Vector Jiu Jitsue Project at Winfield High School in Jackson, which he started as a way to give back to him community and mentor disadvantaged youths through his passion – jiu jitsu.

    Jiu jitsu is a style of martial arts that focuses on ground fighting, joint locks and choke holds.

    “I call it more of a human chess match,” Thrasher said. “You are looking for a trap, an advantage, a move here, an arm out of place, balance basically broken in one direction. You're looking for all the little advantages, so it's more a chess match than a fighting style.”

    Time was called. Stepping up to the left of the referee was Tatianna Lewis, a 15-year-old from Winfield. The ref raised her left arm and declared her the winner over Topenga Weeks by points, not submission.

    “It was a great match for Tatianna,” Thrasher said. “She was going against someone that had a lot more experience than her [but] similar size, and she did well. She represented well.”

    She wasn't just representing her skill level and strength on the mat at a state-wide competition, but a name for Vector, Thrasher and her high school.

    Needing a change of pace when a business venture flopped, Thrasher decided after being interested in jiu jitsu for so long, it was time to don the traditional Gi. He found South Gracie Jiu Jitsu and has no plans to look back now that he's returning the favor.  

    “We did a non-profit club at the school to try and help bring some change to an underprivileged school,” Thrasher said. “Jiu jitsu basically helped change our lives so we wanted to give back.”

    Thrasher liked the idea of taking it into Winfield because of the values taught in learning the fundaments. Its focus on personal placement forces artists to think about themselves and others in order to gain the advantage in the match.

    The program is as a club through the school at no charge, but it goes full circle. He and his staff are giving their time so they expect the same from the students. Jiu Jitsu is an outlet to better themselves, so Thrasher keeps requirements in place to prevent them from slacking off away from the mats.  

    “We give it as a free class but require them to have grades at a certain level or improved to a certain level, have to have behavior in order, and they have to help us when we do community service events,” Thrasher said. “We've been so proud of the improvement in our people.”

    It debuted in January with the help of funding mostly from his own pockets and a few others around the community, with the intention of becoming a non-profit. Friends of the program have chipped in on equipment, such as mats, Gis and kimonos and helped spread the word about the need for general fundraising using social media.

    The non-profit paperwork has taken over a year to get off the ground, but soon will be deemed a 501(c)(3). Once approved, Thrasher said he will look to apply for grants and other fundraising methods to keep the program going.

    In its short life, he and the school have already seen dramatic improvements in the 30 kids currently involved.

    Sparring on Saturday, Tatianna Lewis, was a prime example having drastically improved her math skills and gaining a more positive attitude and outlook.

    “There are so many stories like her throughout our program,” Thrasher said.

    Lewis said she came out to the State Games competition after pressure from her boyfriend. She's really taken to the sports and he wanted her show off in front of the packed room at the Frank Cochran Center in Highland Park.

    The win was nice, but Lewis said the whole picture is what attracted her to the new sport.

    “I went to the meeting and it talked about a lot of things: how we know ourselves, better ourselves and help others. So I just wanted to show a change,” she said. “I decided to just go out there and make something different of myself, you know do something with my life, stay out of trouble and see how my future works out for me.”