CAF Story | Black Belt

Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Burgess

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I have a black belt in Karate, a black belt in Judo and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’ll do my talking in the ring. If someone thinks that they’re better than me or if they’re tougher than me, that’s fine and maybe they are. But then we can also prove it too. My name is Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Burgess. I’m the logistician in the Canadian Army.

I’ve really got to back off the espresso, oh my God… I was 12 years old when I started training in Karate. I actually saw a Chuck Norris movie and that was my first exposure to the martial arts. When you look through recorded history of militaries, the more advance weapons become, we always refer to it as standoff-distance. The greater the standoff-distance becomes, the less important ‘combatives’ becomes. When we talk about the close quarter combative range, which we generally define as 25 metres or less, that would involve tactical shooting, blunt and edged weapons, and of course hand-to-hand combat.

And what we’ve seen is that 80% of the world population is in urban built up areas. And it is forcing soldiers to go into the close quarter range. The approaching combatives can be summed up in three words, it’s: close, dominate, finish. I’ve had many of my students, who are Combat Arms but also in Special Operations as well, who have had to go hand-to-hand combat. In some of these situations it made the difference between life and death.

I’m always scared, whether it’s, you know, on a deployed operation or from fighting. It’s not about not being afraid; it’s learning how to fear-manage. Being able to be calm in a chaotic environment. I had a student of mine, who, after a belt promotion in Jiu-Jitsu, he came up to me afterwards, he said: “You don’t understand, I have PTSD.” He said: “I just wanted to let you know that this is the only thing that got me through. It made me feel part of a team again, I felt that I was in control again.” It teaches you that you can always overcome, there is no situation that you cannot overcome.

I do believe in lead by example. It’s been 17 years, but I’ve decided to go back into active competition. I’ll be going to Las Vegas to compete at the 2018 World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Masters. The Samurai have an expression. When you talk about the way of the warrior, which they refer to as bushido, they say that when you think you understand what bushido is, you’ve completely missed the point. The path, that journey, never ends. And that’s what I hold onto.

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