BERNARD Smith has proven age is no barrier when it comes to practising martial arts as the 75 year-old Derry man recently received his Jiu Jitsu ‘coral’ belt at the Foyle Arena.
It’s a remarkable achievement and has taken almost 60 years dedication to the gentle art - a sport he has fallen in love with.
Since taking up martial arts as a 16 year-old, Bernard has devoted most of his life to Jiu Jitsu. And he shows no sign of slowing down!
Bernard, who was born in Bond’s Street and grew up in Foyle Street, credits the sport with keeping his mind and body young. In fact he claims he feels ‘young and alive’ when on the mat.
Having shared a mat with UFC Brazilian Jiu Jitsu legend, Royce Gracie, who infamously defeated four men by way of submission on the one night in UFC 1 back in 1993, he’s certainly learned from some of the best in the business.
A member of the Ireland 32 Jiu Jitsu International Club in the Foyle Arena, the 6th dan has dedicated almost his entire life to the sport and insists he will continue to grapple with the demands of the sport until he’s physically unable.
I told him he didn’t get this in a lucky bag. He’s earned it.Josie Murray
“I plan to keep going on until whatever day God wants to take me and then you can’t do anything about it,” he smiled. “I don’t smoke or drink and I feel fit and healthy.
“I feel young, fit and alive when I’m at the club. So I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing.
“I’ll go as far as I can go,” he added. “I was glad to get into something like this. It makes me happy when you’re around like-minded people like those at the club.”
Describing how he maintained his interest in the sport over six decades, Bernard explained how when his work as a labourer took him to England, where he sought out clubs he could practice the self-defence orientated sport.
“When I was 16 years-old I started getting interested in martial arts,” he continued. “I loved it. We trained outdoor out in Brooke Park at first.
“I went across the water then in Bedfordshire and was practising in a few clubs over there and when I was doing labour work in Middlesex.
“I lapsed for a few years afterwards but got back into it at John McCartney’s club in Prehen Boathouse when I came back to Derry.
“Later on I started in Letterkenny when I saw all the Jui Jitsu pictures in the centre.”
And that’s where he met Grandmaster, Josie Murray who he’s been training with for almost 30 years - an 8th dan and a blackbelt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu , Murray, an eight times world Jiu Jitsu champion, is also a 2nd dan in Judo and 5th dan in kickboxing.
And Murray says Bernard has fully earned his stripes and is a ‘role model for everyone’.
“Bernard has travelled with me to different countries doing Jiu Jitsu with all the top masters. He’s well known out there. He’s a role model for everyone.
“He has such discipline and respect and looks after everybody. Bernard’s the type of person who can see a technique and improvise.
“I told him he didn’t get this in a lucky bag. He’s earned it.”
To achieve what he has, it’s taken a lot of dedication and commitment to his training programme. And so Bernard is fully appreciative of the patience of his long suffering wife, Liz who hails from Strabane.
Since meeting his wife at a dance in Dungiven Castle she’s proved to be a great support. And when he was presented with his belt last week at the club he also couldn’t help but reflect on the role his late brother, John played in introducing him to Jiu Jitsu.
“Liz has always a great support,” said Bernard. “And my late brother, John Smith, who’s probably better known as Jake was also fully behind me.
“John passed away recently and if we was still here he definitely would have been there last Tuesday night at the grading.
“He was a special brother. He was a boxer and he was a big influence on me.
“I’d also like to acknowledge Jim Toland, Mark Sproule, William Ferry, Ciaran McMenamin, Kyle Harper, Paul Kelly, John McDermott and all the teachers who all turned up on the night.”
So at the age of 75 Bernard’s love for the sport burns as bright as ever and in the New Year he’s expected to be enrolled on the Grandmaster Council of the world and receive his Grandmaster status.