VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Pvt. Braylon Manuel won gold at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s World Jiu-Jitsu No-Gi Championship two years in a row, earning the top spot in both 2021 and 2022. Manuel will be assigned to the Virginia National Guard's 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team following his initial entry training.
“It’s surreal,” Manuel said of the experience. “That’s the best way to describe it.”
Manuel, a recent graduate of Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, developed an interest in jiu-jitsu after watching Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, videos with his brother. He mentioned his interest to his mother, who did some research on what was available in their area and signed him up for classes at a local martial arts studio run by Diego Bispo.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Manuel explained, is a martial art and combat sport focusing on ground fighting and submission holds. The sport centers on gaining a dominant position by using different techniques to bring an opponent to the ground. After training for three months, Manuel’s instructor suggested he compete in the Pan Kids IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
“Pan Kids is the most prestigious kids’ tournament in the world,” Manuel said. There, at the age of 15, Manuel came in second place. The next year, 2019, he placed first and took home the gold.
“The tournament takes all the kids in the same belt and puts them in a bracket,” he said, explaining that kids’ belts begin with gray, and then follow-on with yellow, orange and green. “At the time I was a gray belt when I won the silver and gold medals.”
Following his wins, Manuel earned his blue belt, the first belt for adults. In 2021, he traveled to Texas to compete as an adult for the first time, in the Pan Jiu-Jitsu No-Gi Championship. There, he took home gold and then headed to Atlanta, Georgia, to compete in the IBJJF World Jiu Jitsu No-Gi Championship, again landing the gold in first place.
“It was crazy because I never expected to achieve so much,” he said. “I just wanted to make this more of a hobby and never thought I would take it as far as I have. It’s a great feeling.”
Manuel credits his success to his success to his instructor, Diego Bispo, and his mother.
“My mom encouraged me to do this, she is so supportive, and has gone with me to all my tournaments,” he said. “She’s super proud and encourages me to follow my heart. If it was not for my mom, I would not be world champion right now.”
Amid his Brazilian jiu-jitsu pursuits, Manuel learned about the National Guard when his brother became interested in joining.
“I started talking about it to my mom and my aunt, who retired from the Navy,” he said. They met with a recruiter and Manuel was impressed with the benefits and opportunities he found in the Virginia Army National Guard.
“The healthcare was what impressed me the most,” he said. “Being an athlete can be very risky and knowing how high medical bills can get, the healthcare appealed to me.”
Following his high school graduation, Manuel headed to Basic Combat Training, or BCT. In the future, he plans to use tuition assistance to fund his college degree and wants to continue racking wins in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“I think the National Guard is going to be good for me,” he said. "It’s going to be a unique experience, and since I will be serving one weekend a month, I will have time to continue to train and prepare for my tournaments.”