ROCKVILLE, Md. - Ronald Mann is an Army veteran who lost part of his left leg in a motorcycle accident back in 1995.
“Thirty days after the accident, I had a gun to my head,” he said. “And just before I pulled the trigger, I decided I was not going to quit. If I was going to die, I was going to die fighting.”
Ever since, Mann has been fighting.
“I just kind of had to find my own way and I went back into martial arts as way of recovery,” he explained.
Mann said he found his path through Jiu-Jitsu. But getting a chance to take part in the sport with a missing limb wasn’t easy.
“When I first started training, I wasn’t allowed to train in most gyms,” he said. “They turned me away. There was never an amputee before that trained in martial arts.”
He began to compete in tournaments. One of his early fights remains a memorable moment for him and the people in the audience that day.
“We had to drive four-and-a-half hours away in Chicago so we could sneak into a tournament,” he recalled. “I would wear long pants and my leg padded up to make me compatible. In my first fight, I knocked a guy out in the second round and I went to the center of the ring, took my leg off and raised it above my head, and the entire stadium went quiet and then they realized what happened and exploded. I can remember that. At that point is when I felt equal.”
Years later, Mann said he was offered a chance to compete in mixed martial arts. He retired from MMA after holding a 170-pound title in Michigan.
“Nobody knew if an amputee could do it,” he said. “It’s a live combat sport. You can’t think about. It's not linear motion. You have to react and flow and to me that shows true ability.”
Recently, Mann, who trains in Rockville, Maryland, traveled to Abu Dhabi to compete at the World Para Jiu-Jitsu Festival. For this tournament, he had to learn how to fight without the use of his prosthetic leg. But Mann would still come out on top by winning a gold medal.
“You adapt the art to your body,” he said. “There are advantages. You can’t ankle lock me. I don’t have an ankle on that side. There are disadvantages. I can’t block the guard attacks from that side. I’m not able to sweep from that side.”
After his devastating accident over two decades ago, Mann is grateful and thriving.
“Without this, I don't know where I would have ended up,” he said. “With Jiu-Jitsu, I'm a world champion.”