Arm bars and chokeholds, Barrie Man shines light on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu scene

Lee Kitajew talks about the benefits of the martial art form

On most weekends, you’ll find Lee Kitajew in Toronto fighting, grappling, and competing with other people, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

The 30-year-old Barrie man has been seriously training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a few years, and his passion for the martial art form radiates when he talks about it.

“It’s a very complex martial art but a simple one when you break it down to its principles,” Kitajew explains.

“The sport is a grappling art form meaning there’s no striking. Its self-defense moves allow you to isolate limbs. It’s good for a smaller individual to use techniques and applications of their body to escape a bad situation if you have a larger person on top of you.”

Lee Kitajew (middle) following a match in 2022

Kitajew, who currently trains at Barrie’s ‘Submission Arts Academy,’ has been involved with the sport since 2014.

He started while living in his hometown of New Liskeard, five hours north of Barrie, and says it was challenging to find training back then.

“A friend was training for amateur MMA fights, and none of that experience was readily available to us, so we had to find it at gyms several hours away in Timmins or Sudbury.” he recalls.

“Every weekend, we would travel several hours to train and take notes, and then we would go back and train in a non-heated garage in the middle of a -40 winter,” he says, smiling. “And that was my intro to Brazilian Jiu- Jitsu.”

PODCAST: We learn more about Jiu Jitsu and Kitajew’s involvement (and more local news)

In 2019, he stepped up his commitment by training seriously and competing more regularly.

His intensity has picked up even more since pandemic restrictions eased early this year.

So far this year, he’s competed in at least 20 regional tournaments in Toronto, plus his first professional match last month.

The great thing about the sport is anyone can try it, regardless of fitness level, Kitajew says.

“It’s going to be the hardest cardiovascular experience your first time out, but the next time it’s going to feel better and every time afterwards,” he explains.

“Something I hear a lot of people say when I tell them to give it a shot is, ‘I’m going to run on the treadmill to get in a little bit better shape before I start.'”

He emphasizes that no prior knowledge is needed. “Your body will adapt; your body will figure it out. Just jump in there.” he says.

Lee Kitajew (left) competing in first professional match in Toronto October 2022.
Photo supplied

Regarding its benefits, Kitajew can’t speak highly enough about the difference it makes in people’s lives.

“I guarantee if you spend an hour in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym, you will go away with something, whether it’s a new technique, making a new friend, or learning something to help you in your everyday life.”

“I’m not an elite athlete or competitor,” he stresses. “However, in training and competing with my heart and passion at the forefront, I’ve learned several life lessons and benefits.”

Getting involved in the sport is easier now than several years ago as its popularity continues to grow.

In Barrie alone, there’s several gyms offering free trials to see if it’s a good fit for you.

You can follow Kitajew’s gym on Facebook

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