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2010 St. Bede graduate Jake Franklin’s first foray into the sport of ju-jitsu began with a short trip “right outside” the Western Illinois University campus to the Western Illinios Shotokan Karate dojo in Macomb shortly after starting college.
Now, after a win in his division at the U.S Ju-Jitsu Federation National tournament in Niagara Falls, N.Y., this June, Franklin’s new-found sporting love is taking him all the way to the Ju-Jitsu World Championships in Vienna, Austria in late November. There, the current jiu-jitsu blue belt will compete up in class for the U.S. National team in the age 16-20 187 pound black-belt division.
Franklin was introduced to the grappling arts when he tried out for the Bruins’ prep wrestling team his senior year at the Academy, and it didn’t take long before he was hooked.
Currently a criminal justice major at Western Illinois University, Franklin has transitioned from that prep wrestling base to excel at a similar sport in ju-jitsu. He hopes that the martial arts lessons, tactics and discipline he learned from both sporting endeavors will help him with a future career in law enforcement.
“I had never really had a whole lot of fun in high school sports up until cross country and then a lot more in wrestling. I just tried to think to myself ‘Why do I enjoy this so much?’ and I think part of it was the practical applications of wrestling and having a sport that you could use so regularly outside of the sport itself. With me going into law enforcement, I had to start thinking about what’s going to help me get a job later,” Franklin said.
He explained that ju-jitsu is “very similar to wrestling” but adds the inclusion of submission techniques and judo-style take downs not allowed under traditional U.S. folkstyle wrestling guidelines.
“Some of the main differences are chokes, bars — like an arm-bar or joint lock — and throws without going down with the opponent are allowed,” said Franklin. “Another aspect that’s way different is that in wrestling if you go on your back it’s a pin. But in ju-jitsu a lot of guys want to be on their backs to work toward an armbar or choke.”
Training and competing in ju-jitsu has had a big impact on his life — and not only in terms of his travel itinerary.
“It’s really changed a lot of aspects of my life. I love working on this, and it’s helped me physically with a new dimension of training. Four days a week it’s my second workout. I love it, I love every minute of it,” Franklin said.
While amateur athletes in the relatively small competitive ju-jitsu scene in the United States don’t enjoy all the perks of their foreign competitors, Franklin is looking forward to to challenging himself against some of the worlds’ best competitors.
“In Europe, ju-jitsu and martial arts in general have a lot bigger following. Their competitors actually get paid to win tournaments. Unfortunately, it’s not like that here yet, so I had to pay my own airfare and room and board while I’m over there, but it’s still absolutely worth it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Franklin said. “I’ve never even been out of the country, so that in and of itself is going to be a whole new experience for me. Competing at a world level with some of the best guys in the sport is just going on another level I haven’t experienced yet. But if my coach thinks I’m ready then I trust him and his judgement.”
U.S. Ju-Jitsu National coach Edward Kuras, who trains Franklin at WISK and has led U.S. contingents in both ji-jitsu and karate to international competition in the past, believes that Franklin is ready to compete.
“He’s got desire on his side and he’s got a work ethic like you can’t believe. You’ve got to have both of them to be a winner, and he is a winner,” Kuras said.
“We asked him to step up to the black belt division, and if you are able to get momentum with a couple of fighters and get the luck of the draw a little bit there’s no telling how far he can go. He’s going to be against the best of the world.”
Kuras, who has helped law enforcement agencies train hand-to-hand combat, said Franklin’s physical attributes should help aid his chances of success at worlds.
“Jake’s a very strong young man, there’s going to be nobody stronger than he is in his division as far as aerobic conditioning and being able to push weights and that sort of thing. What Jake is going to have to really watch is his strategy and implementation. Some of the guys he’s going against will have been on their national team several times.”
While wrestling, ju-jitsu and karate (which he also trains at WISK) are three of the many martial arts disciplines combined in the growing sport of mixed martial arts featured by organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Franklin said he doesn’t plan to pursue a pro fighting career.
“I’ve thought about it. This is really the basis for a lot of guys mixed martial arts, but I enjoy doing this in and of itself. If I were to go do mixed martial arts that would have to be my career. This is something I can do on the side with the training and have a job in law enforcement. But if were to go into mixed martial arts, I would just get beat up so bad that I wouldn’t really able to do anything else — that’s got to be you job.
“I feel like I could do a lot more good to society as a member of something like a federal law enforcement agency than being an MMA fighter. I think that if I have the ability to do better, it’s my obligation to do so,” Franklin said.