Ex-nat'l guardsman balances Brazilian jiu-jitsu with lab research

BY CARLOS SOSA | JULY 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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Jason Clarke is a former member of the National Guard who now makes his living in a very different field of work: He's a lab manager for University of Iowa Associate Professor of pediatrics Patrick Brophy.

And he also teaches Brazilian jiu jitsu in Iowa City.

"What I did in the military has nothing to do with what I do now," he said. "A guy in my National Guard unit worked at the University of Michigan. I was working construction trying to get through school. [My friend] worked at a lab and got me an interview."

Clarke started off as a dishwasher but moved his way up to lab assistant. Brophy, one of the scientists in the lab, had ties to the UI and chose to move his work to Iowa City in 2007. He brought Clarke along as his assistant. The two specialize in kidney diseases and renal birth defects.

Clarke's time after work, however, is spent doing something very different.

He spends hours every day in his Iowa City gym, Fit2Live, teaching and training in martial arts.

Clarke became enamored with the sport after watching the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, and he wanted to try something similar.

"I saw the first Ultimate Fighting and saw some skinny dude kicking everyone's butt," he said. "I was a kick-boxer at the time and had been doing martial arts since I was 7, but then I saw Royce Gracie and Ultimate Fighting."

Clarke was stationed in Hawaii with the National Guard at the time. There were only a few places in the 1990s with Brazilian jiu jitsu schools. Luckily for Clarke, Hawaii happened to be one of them.

He learned the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu in Hawaii from such legends as Carlos Gracie Jr., founder of the Gracie Barra School, and six-time world champion Saulo Ribeiro. Ribeiro founded the Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu Association in 1995.

"My first class, some white belt dislocated my elbow with an arm lock while we sparred," Clarke said. "I was blown away. I'm sadistic, and I thought I was tough, but I didn't know anything; it was my first class. I fell in love with the sport and how it's not just a martial art, it's a lifestyle."

The dedication to a jiu jistu lifestyle is what Clarke tries to instill in all of his students.

"Jason has been big on the philosophy," Clarke's training assistant Aaron Henderson said. "Learning the philosophy of jiu jitsu and overcoming obstacles in life as well. You may not beat everybody, but you survive, and that's the key."

After Clarke moved to Iowa City with Brophy, he wanted to continue training in jiu jitsu, but there were too few local programs that fit his needs. Clarke opened up a few trial gyms in Coralville before landing in Iowa City. He opened up a second location in 2010 with ICOR Boxing and Dinsdale Muay Thai.

"When I moved [to Iowa City], my attendance shot through the roof," Clarke said. "It took about two years before I was guaranteed a student base. Now, I'd say I have about 50 students."

One of his students is current Iowa student Zach Manders.

"I've learned everything from Jason," Manders said. "I honestly never wrestled in high school. So anything grappling-wise I learned from Jason … Hopefully, I can learn some judo from him too."

Clarke's ties with combat run deep. In the National Guard, he was a hand-to-hand combat instructor. Among other accomplishments, he also has a black belt in judo.

Even with his involvement in science and martial arts, he finds a way to balance them.

"The military, the research, and the jiu jitsu — they all tie together," Clarke said. "It's all about being able to pay attention to details and being consistent in what you do."

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