Changing of belts

Some of Minot’s more adept jiu-jitsu practitioners were recognized by Rener Gracie, who delivered a seminar April 17, at Minot’s ATA Martial Arts Academy.

Gracie’s Brazilian grandfather Helio had co-developed Gracie Jiu-Jitsu with his brother, a discipline also commonly called Brazilian jiu-jitsu that is actually closer to judo than traditional Japanese jujitsu. As a form of unarmed combat, greater emphasis is put on ground grappling than in maintaining formal standing positions.

Dan Merck decided to include the program at his academy after meeting Gracie, of Torrance, Calif., at a seminar in Minneapolis two years ago. One of his first students was Jesse Ward, now age 13, of Minot, a third-level black belt in taekwondo. Ward was presented with his junior-level yellow belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu by Gracie at a ceremony held April 17. Were it not for his age, Merck expects Ward would already have his blue belt in the discipline.

Angie Ward, Jesse’s mother, likes that her son is involved in the program. “It’s real positive,” she said. “Yeah, there is a defense mechanism,” but “mainly it’s for fitness. It gives him some self-discipline.”

A straight-A student, Ward is involved in other character-building programs such as the scouts.

Unusual for his age, Ward is “also a certified level-one trainer in taekwondo,” explained Merck. “You might get some older teenagers, but I don’t know anybody” Ward’s age who also instructs, he said. He describes Ward as being “very capable as an instructor.”

“He started when he was 6 or 7,” Angie Ward said, explaining that his older sister’s involvement in the program got him interested. After earning his first couple of belts in taekwondo, young Ward was hooked. An avid fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Mixed Martial Arts fighting, which prominently feature the Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighting style, he was excited when his academy added the discipline as a program.

Tyronne Bess, an instructor at the academy and an Air Force officer currently stationed at Minot Air Force Base, was also recognized for his acheivements, earning a second of four stripes for his blue belt. Bess has been an instructor of GJJ since 2011.

Additional information on Gracie Jiu-Jitsu can be found at (, and a list of ATA Martial Arts Academy’s other programs can be found on its site at (