17th AF NCO takes European Jiu-Jitsu title at tournament

Story and photo by Master Sgt. Jim Fisher
17th Air Force Public Affairs

When the spotlight was on him, Tech. Sgt. Charles Baker choked his opponent until he passed out, giving Baker a submission and victory at the recent International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Foundation’s European Open in Lisbon, Portugal. Baker, along with four other members of Ramstein Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, took part in the competition from Jan. 26 to 29.

The win gave Baker, a 17th Air Force training manager, the title in his 221-pound weight class.

As the only title winner from the group of five KMC fighters who traveled to the competition, Baker won all four of his matches, taking the first two bouts on points, and forcing submissions in the final two. The relative newcomer to the sport took the title by rendering his opponent unconscious with a choke hold, surprising himself despite his success in the tournament’s earlier rounds.

“I was happy to get the submission, but I didn’t realize he was out until I saw the ref lifting his legs to help him regain consciousness,” Baker said, explaining that he and his German opponent left the tournament with mutual respect. “I shook his hand afterwards — we’re Facebook friends now.” 

The success seemed on course for Baker, who won his first competitive tournament fourth months earlier in November 2011 at the North American Grappling Association-Europe tournament in Paris. However, Baker only began studying and practicing Jiu-Jitsu in the latter part of 2008 and then took a long break before resuming training before the tourney in France. He said a close-knit group of people training at Rhine Ordnance Barracks (the KMC group known as Ramstein Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) fired his interest in the sport. Group leader Staff Sgt. Anthony Benavente, 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron, kept at him to stay involved.

“Sergeant Benavente just kept hitting me up to come back out, and he and the guys were like family, so I got back out there, and we went to the tournament in France and it went really well,” Baker said.

Benavente said he saw that Baker had potential right away.

“I saw he had really good movements for someone his size,” Benavente said. “He started working with me after working with a good friend of mine and when I took him in he still had some holes in his game. Then he went on a long break and I kept hounding him to come back.”

But enthusiasm for Jiu-Jitsu born out of his first time on the mats ultimately led Baker to rejoin the group and resume training. Wrestling in high school and ascending to fourth at the state level in 1999 gave Baker a background in grappling, but Jiu-Jitsu presented a new challenge.

“The first guy I sparred with was the smallest guy out there and that dude put so many different chokes on me so many times, and tapped me so many times, and easily, and I outweighed him by more than 100 pounds,” Baker said. He went on to explain that conventional wisdom relating to Jiu-Jitsu holds that new competitors have one of two reactions to a typically humbling first experience. “Either their pride can’t take it and they walk away, or they say, ‘I have got to learn how to do that!’ I had the second reaction. That, and the quality of the people out there, made me interested. They were great.”

Success in the tournament and determination led Benavente to initiate a promotion for Baker from the status of white belt to blue belt.

“I knew he had been putting his heart into it, and he was recently promoted to blue belt because of his dedication on the mats,” Benavente said. “He has been working new angles and submissions — he has really had a breakthrough in the way he views Jiu-Jiutsu.”

Baker said his success was evident of the quality of instruction provided by Benavente and the support of his teammates.

“My technique came through. I was pretty excited about (the victory), because to me it was a validation of the time that my instructors put into me and the quality of their instruction,” Baker said. “They believed in me enough to sponsor me in the tournament and I was happy to validate that.”

Baker is focused on continuing training and looking forward to a series of tournaments within Germany in the coming months.

“I am still a beginner. I could be a blue belt for a year, or up to five or six years, depending on how quick I develop,” he said.

If Baker continues at his current pace, the next promotion, or the next victory, shouldn’t be far away.