Navy grapplers training for competition

Members of the Naden Grappling Club pose for a group photo during a recent training session at the Naden Athletic Centre.

Members of the Naden Grappling Club pose for a group photo during a recent training session at the Naden Athletic Centre.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Two navy grapplers are readying members of the newly formed Naden Grappling Team for national competition.

MS Lee Thibault, a four-time national military combatives grappling champion and Greco-Roman wrestler, and OS Connor Sher, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu player and bronze medalist at this year’s national championships in Petawawa, are training military members in the discipline of submission wrestling, a unique martial art that borrows techniques from wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo in order to control and ultimately subdue an opponent.

The team was founded by OS Sher this past winter as a way to get fellow sailors interested in grappling, the most important aspect of hand-to-hand combat.

“Being a proficient, confident grappler is one of the most important things we can learn as a functioning member of the military,” says OS Sher. “Understanding how the human body works regarding its structural base, balance, leverage points and vulnerable areas is invaluable. When it comes to our military duties, being able to confidently de-escalate a situation with the least amount of force possible is always going to be priority number one. Whether it’s controlling an aggressive civilian or detainee overseas or an active aggressor in a naval boarding scenario, its importance cannot be understated.”

MS Thibault’s enthusiasm for grappling is also infectious, his optimism unparalleled.

“There are so many wrestlers, grapplers and mixed martial artists at the base who compete at their own private clubs, but what OS Sher and I are hoping to do is bring them together to train and fight under one banner.”

Grappling teams have sprung up at other bases including CFB Edmonton, CFB Petawawa, CFB Gagetown and 12 Wing Shearwater. The Naden Grappling Team has approximately 20 members and trains three times a week at the Naden Athletic Centre.

Team members are now practicing their choke holds and joint locks in preparation for their first ever Canada West Regionals competition in September at CFB Edmonton.

“I want our team to make history; I want the navy to win the whole competition,” said MS Thibault.

Over his 12-year military career, MS Thibault has dedicated much of his free time training, defending his title, and promoting the sport and its health benefits to others.

“For me, seeing the sport of grappling officially recognized is like living a dream; something I have been waiting and hoping for since I first joined the navy.”

MS Thibault won his fourth consecutive grappling title in the Military Combatives Grappling Concentration at Garrison Petawawa on June 22, striking gold in the Advanced Super-Heavyweight category. The competition brought together 111 competitors from across the country. Even though there were only two competitors in his division, fighting fewer matches did not make winning this year’s title any easier he says.

“In other years when there have been more competitors in my weight category and thus more matches, competitors would try to pace themselves and conserve their energy,” said MS Thibault. “The grapplers in the advanced super-heavyweight category are the silver-backed gorillas of our sport, so when we knew we would only have two matches each, we tore each other apart when we competed, and really went at it.”

His father, a former mixed martial arts competitor and military policeman, serves as coach when MS Thibault travels to Petawawa for nationals. His father built a gym in their family home which propelled MS Thibault into success on the high school wrestling stage, while his brother Tyler once captured three consecutive titles at the Pan Asian Jiu Jitsu champion.

OS Sher also had a successful outing securing bronze in his Welterweight category, a deep division with over 14 competitors, winning five of his seven matches and subduing three of his opponents by armlock.

The Petawawa Military Combatives Grappling Concentration serves as the Canadian Armed Forces’ de facto national championship since it was founded in 2013 by LCol Steve Burgess. It brings together all ranks from every service branch across the country to determine the best fighter in the CAF.

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