USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth McKenzie, a Louisville, Kentucky native and Brazilian jiu-jitsu enthusiast, is using her love for the sport and unique skillsets to help improve health and wellness aboard the U.S 7th Fleet Flagship.
McKenzie, who is currently serving as Blue Ridge’s First Lieutenant, wanted to share her passion for jiu-jitsu, a self-defense system, martial art and combat sport that focuses mainly on ground fighting, with her shipmates aboard Blue Ridge and thus, began trying to gain interest from the ship’s crew.
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Luckily, there are many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu enthusiasts onboard Blue Ridge between ship’s company and Command Seventh Fleet, which McKenzie admits made it easier to get the classes off the ground. Lt. Joshua Eddy from C7F was a part of a Jiu Jitsu club during his last patrol and brought valuable experience that helped get BLR’s classes started. He, Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Richardson and McKenzie now share in teaching the class and are enthusiastic about the positive feedback they’re received from the crew.
McKenzie and the team instruct jiu-jitsu classes throughout the week for beginners and advanced students to develop and increase their skills, which she believes implements physical and mental benefits through the lifestyle it promotes. She says jiu-jitsu can serve as inspiration for Sailors who are trying to become healthier.
“It gives Sailors the drive to want to be better on the mat, so they want to lead a healthier life off the mat,” said Mckenzie. “It could be motivation to stop smoking so they can breathe better, eat healthier so they have more energy, or to cross-train to be stronger and faster on the mat.”
Mckenzie also believes there are mental benefits to learning jiu-jitsu because it engages you mentally as well as physically. McKenzie says the sport has helped her overcome her own mental struggles.
“Beyond stress relief, it’s given me mental clarity,” said McKenzie. “It’s helped me become less violent and more understanding and patient with others.”
Mckenzie says the class also serves as a morale booster for her fellow shipmates and has noticed everyone who attends the class always walks away from the mat feeling positive and more prepared to take on new challenges.
“Jiu-Jitsu has taught me to be humble,” said Logistics System Technician 1st Class Guy Griffin, a Jiu-Jitsu student. “There is always someone that knows more than me. I love that we are doing the basics and everyone is genuinely enthusiastic about learning.”
Andy Gonzalez is a coach at Aces Jiu Jitsu Club. He has earned his purple belt under Professor Mikal Abdullah. Follow Andy on Twitter at @GoGoGonzilla
Andy lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Amanda and their 3 beautiful children. Andy is also the father of a Marine who is honorably serving in the United States Marine Corps.