Some folks say that a person is born into their destiny. Some say we control our own lives through the choices we make. It’s been my experience that the latter are usually the ones who get things done. Sure, there are some people who literally seem born to do what they do. Child prodigies come to mind as good examples. But for every three-year-old cellist who brings tears to jaded symphony fans with his brilliant renditions, there are 100 self-made successes that bucked the odds.

You can keep your prodigies; I’ll take the odds-beater every day.



Brandon Ryan was born prematurely. As a result, there was internal bleeding and damage to his brain and nervous system. He was born with Cerebral Palsy, or CP for short. Like Autism, there is a spectrum to the disease. There are some who cannot control their bodies—they cannot walk or control their hands to write. There are others who might walk with a slight limp or have a little difficulty with finger dexterity. Ryan falls somewhere near the middle of the spectrum.

Despite spending most of his life in painful foot braces and a wheelchair, Ryan is an enthusiastic practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and other martial arts.

“Larry Hartsell was teaching a seminar on grappling, BJJ, judo, shoot wrestling and more, and being a little boy in a wheelchair, I realized that I could that,” Ryan recalled in an interview with The MMA Corner. “You don’t have to stand up to grapple. With his connection to Bruce Lee and his philosophy of not putting limitations on techniques or on the body’s limitations, I knew from the beginning that this was what I wanted to do. They say you never forget your first love.”

From that point on, Ryan trained with his father, who had a history with the same fighters as Hartsell. In fact, Ryan’s father taught martial arts all through his youth, until he got sick. Then, they both took a 10-year hiatus from the martial arts.

“One night I got sick of not using what I know, so I picked it back up,” Ryan explained. “I’ve been at it again for five years, and my dad is back into the martial arts, too. He has a small class in the basement—eight students with no ties to a certain system or the political BS that can go with martial arts.”

Not only does Ryan train jiu-jitsu at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu under Sensei Derek Stuart, but he also helps train kids at the dojo. Ryan is also a full-time college student, and he has begun teaching jiu-jitsu to one of his friends who has severe CP.

“I plan on owning my own dojo while practicing psychology and counseling. I want to adapt grappling for CP. Well, adapt a system in general for people who are in chairs. A form of grappling that will be able to bring the opponent close to you, really, more self-defense,” stated Ryan. “My friend with CP, his spasticity and muscle stiffness is some of the worst I have seen. I have gotten him out of his chair and am teaching him mounts, chokes, side control. He is using his limbs, which he wasn’t able to do, and [he] could care less if he is the next legend.

“Sometimes I dread going on Facebook because I see the posts—‘Oh, I have to win this next tourney or else I’m a failure.’ Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be fun, but so many people are sore losers. They can’t accept loss. The hyper-competitiveness just isn’t right. For example, Master Eddie [Bravo] and Royler Gracie recently fought to a draw [at Metamoris III], and I think Master Eddie won the fight, but still, Royce [Gracie] threatened Master Eddie and said disrespectful things. That kind of stuff just isn’t needed in the sport.”

When not in school or the dojo, Ryan can be found in the gym pushing his body past his limits.

Ryan (L) works for a submission)

Ryan (L) works for a submission)

“I love being in the gym,” he admitted. “I could care less about what other people think there. I am there to push myself. I do modified Crossfit exercises—burpees, pull-ups, push-ups, planks—and I will do one-minute sprints on the bike. Stephanie Hammerman, the world’s first adaptive athlete in Crossfit Challenge, has come up with lots of ways to do everything that normal Crossfit athletes do.”

On top of everything else Ryan does, he is a published and prolific writer. He has two books out now, “The Emotional Struggle” and “Hunger for Touch,” that detail his coming to terms with his body and how others treat him because of his differences.

“Writing is cathartic to me. Actually, my mom pushed me into writing when I was younger. I wasn’t always academically successful, so my mom told me I could either go to school or write a book. I took the second option. I didn’t expect to sell so many,” confessed Ryan. “I am working on my third book now, on jiu-jitsu and how it’s affected my life and how it’s beneficial to special-needs people in general.

“I think jiu-jitsu is the best option, especially with a teacher who can learn to adapt. You use your entire body; you use your mind, and [you] are pushing your body to do things. I just can’t say enough good things about the sport. Sure, there are lots of days that I want to quit. People are faster and stronger. But it’s a gift.”

Not one to sit on his laurels, Ryan is constantly challenging himself to new limits.

“Next year, I get to compete in New York at a jiu-jitsu tournament. It’s going to be Gi and No Gi. So I am saving money, looking for sponsors and hoping to do everything I need to do to win my division,” Ryan said optimistically.

Ryan is committed to growth, to making himself a better man in every way. Whether it be his walk with God, inspiring others to push themselves past their known limits or even in spreading the love of martial arts and especially jiu-jitsu, he is committed to making the world a better place and changing the limits to the limitless.

Brandon would like to thank Master Eddie Bravo, Sensei Derek Stewart and his teammates. He would also like to thank his sponsor, Follow Ryan on Twitter: @brandonryan or his blog at

About The Author

Staff Writer

Amber currently resides in Tampa, Fla., a hotbed of MMA. She was introduced to the sport Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and quickly became addicted. Amber loves the fact that the biggest and strongest don’t always win, the respect the competitors show and that women are finally getting their shot. She also writes a blog for Fight It Out gear. When not watching MMA, Amber can be found at the beach playing volleyball, in the gym learning from Tampa’s only female BJJ Black Belt, cheering on her eight-year-old daughter in tae kwon do, or at her day job. She has a girlfriend, daughter, too many dogs and a cat who lives in the attic. Communication highly encouraged at amber at fightitout dot com.