Anthony Chandler heads Upper Canada College’s Middle Division English department. But when he’s not laying the groundwork to produce the next Stephen Leacock or Robertson Davies, it’s quite possible you’ll find him laying out opponents in Brazilian jiujitsu.
“As a teenager I had taken classes in judo and karate, and as an adult I tried out tai chi, but none of those activities really engaged me in a meaningful way,” says Chandler. “I wanted to be Bruce Lee, a ninja and a Shaolin monk all rolled into one; clearly, none of those childhood dreams came to early fruition.
“Two years ago I suffered a minor back injury from lifting up my dog who had just been sprayed by a skunk. In the same week my wife and I discovered that we were going to have a little baby. At the age of 43, I decided that I needed to visit a nearby chiropractor and a new activity to loosen up my hip muscles. My tattoo artist highly recommended that I try BJJ. I started two years ago and have been working hard ever since.”
Chandler normally trains from two to five hours a week and, because he loves to travel when he’s not teaching, has been able to train at some of the world’s great academies in San Francisco, San Jose, Maui, Denver, Prince Edward Island and Barcelona as well as at home in Toronto.
“I can travel to any part of the world and find a gym with a group of like-minded practitioners who welcome me as one of their own,” he says.
“I am currently at class 170 in my jiujitsu journey. Unlike other martial art forms, the promotion process is terribly slow. After two years I have received the fourth stripe on my white belt, which means I am close to receiving my blue belt. A black belt can easily take over 15 years to accomplish.”
Chandler entered three tournaments last year and earned two bronze medals and one silver medal, but he finds preparing for these competitions to be stressful. He also doesn’t think winning a medal is worth becoming injured or showing up to work with a black eye and has decided he’s pursued that aspect of the sport about as far as he wants to.
Even so, Chandler suffered a level three tear in his abductor muscles last year and tore multiple areas of his rotator cuff two months ago. He was just able to return full-time to the mats last week.
“Jiujitsu is a pretty rough sport,” says Chandler. “We spar on a nightly basis for as long as an hour or two at a time with fully resisting partners.
“Given my age, height and abilities, I tend to end up rolling with younger opponents (by about 20 years) who are much taller (often by as much as a foot) and who are heavier (by as much as 50 pounds).”
Part of the challenge is that Chandler belonged to a no gi gym. No gi styles forego the traditional Japanese-style kimono in favour of compression spandex and shorts, which makes the game more athletic, fast and easy to become injured against larger opponents.
“I am visiting five local gi-based gyms in the Toronto area to focus on the more technical, slower aspects of the art for now,” says Chandler.
“It will probably slow down my promotion to a blue belt, but injuries are not good for being able to stay healthy on the mats. Every step is a part of the path.”