Rebuilding a life with Jiu Jitsu as the foundation

Posted: Jun 11 2015

ASHLAND — Rolling along in his new chair, Shannon Kitchen does not look like a martial artist, even though he wears the traditional uniform.

Appearances, however, are certainly deceiving as the 26-year-old from Argillite hits the mats with his instructor at Phil Clark’s Martial Arts Academy in Ashland.

A dozen years have passed since the moment that forever altered Kitchen’s life, and he has no doubts in his voice as he explains his pursuit of Jiu Jitsu gives him reasons to keep pushing on.

“I was asleep at the time of the wreck. They pronounced me dead three times,” Kitchen said last week as he prepared for a private lesson in the Gracie Jiu Jitsu style with instructor Phil Clark. Kitchen explained he lost the use of his legs when doctors had to repair his aorta, which had been torn during the car wreck, leaving him with a spinal cord injury as a side effect of the surgery.

“When I woke up, I sort of knew what happened,” he said, describing his reaction to finding himself on life support and unable to see. Kitchen said his vision did return while he was in rehabilitation, although he remains legally blind.

He credits his family, as well as a rigid “military style” rehabilitation program, for helping him learn to live with the new rules, noting he was determined to defy at least one person who predicted he would commit suicide within five years.

“It was basically ‘You are never going to walk again’ —that kind of thing,” he said, chuckling as he explained it wasn’t long before he was discharged from physical therapy for being too healthy.

Searching for a way to keep himself healthy and active, Kitchen said he got online and searched for “Gracie Jiu Jitsu” and discovered the style was offered by Phil Clark’s Martial Arts Academy in Ashland. Clark didn’t hesitate to work with him, Kitchen said, noting they initially worked on self-defense techniques specifically for people in wheelchairs before getting into the advanced jiu jitsu training.

“I have to give big props to Phil, too. He was willing to take a guy with half a body into something that requires the whole body,” Kitchen said.

The work isn’t easy, although Kitchen says he savors the rewards he receives from training time.

“It’s almost an escape for me — where I’m not in my chair,” he said, citing benefits including increased hip movement, improved balance and overall health. “I’m always getting more out of it. It’s not a question of when I will quit. When do I get to train again, is the only question.”

Citing the frustration of his life with a wheelchair, Kitchen said he finds jiu jitsu gives him an inner strength to help handle things like crowded places, or people who treat him as if he were mentally handicapped.

“They don’t know I could just choke them out,” he said with a grin.

Clark said he continues to be impressed with Kitchen’s dedication, as well as his skills. Kitchen still had large shards of glass in his face when he first began to study, Clark recalled, noting the student was eager to get back into training long before his doctors approved.

“He shows up early. He is all smiles and inviting people to roll with him,” Clark said with a grin, explaining he’s seen Kitchen humble several opponents who underestimated his skills.

“He has submitted several of them,” he said, explaining a submission is when an opponent indicates they have given up the contest by “tapping out” either physically or verbally. “I’ve seen him put a few guys to sleep.”

Clark smiled as he noted Kitchen will often show up for his lessons saying “Hey man, I’ve got a new move I want to try on you.” He adds that he and others, including grandmaster Relson Gracie, have come to respect and admire Kitchen.

“Shannon is not just a student. Shannon is a friend of mine,” Clark said.

Shannon a close friend of the Deus Family wore his Gi just for this. The actual article can be found here. Thanks so much Shannon, you are an inspiration!!

TIM PRESTON can be reached at or (606) 326-2651.

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