Siddharth Singh is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athlete who is the only Indian BJJ brown belt World Championship medalist (with four medals). Earlier this month, he won a Silver medal in Asian Continental Jiu-Jitsu Championship against some of the best fighters in the world and is now aiming for a gold medal at some of the most prestigious tournaments. If that’s not all, he is the Highest Ranked Competitive Grappler, the only Indian in history to be a 4 Time World medalist, India’s only ADCC Taiwan and British BJJ Champion, Rank 2 in AJP Asia Rankings 2022 and 9 times Indian BJJ and Submission Grappling Champion.
In this exclusive interview, Siddharth Singh speaks about his journey so far, experience at the AJP Jiu-Jitsu Championship, competing at the Asian Continental Jiu-Jitsu Championship, overcoming challenges, raising the standard of Jiu-Jitsu in India and his future goals as an athlete and a teacher.
Q 1) When were you first introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and how do you feel about being India’s only BJJ brown belt world championship medalist?
I actually started with combat sports when I was 12 years of age. I was introduced to boxing at the Doon School in Dehradun where I studied. I did boxing for about 6 years and after finishing my undergraduate studies from Delhi University, I went to the UK for further studies which is where I got introduced to my 2nd Martial art which is Muay Thai which is Thailand's national sport. In boxing, you just throw punches but in Muay Thai there are punches, kicks, elbows and knees. In London there was a seminar on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which I was intrigued by. I had been doing combat sports for about 10 years and then got introduced to this new form. It was ground fighting and a little weird to look at initially because I was a punching and kicking guy. Jiu-Jitsu is a completely different martial art as it is a grappling sport. It is a combination of wrestling and judo so it was interesting.
I didn't want to pursue it initially but then I saw some people doing it and enjoying watching them and my coach encouraged me to try it. That was my introduction to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and after that I started watching the UFC which is the world's biggest MMA competition. It made me realise the importance of ground fighting. Once I started training, I sparred with a girl who was 30 kgs lighter than me. I thought that I'm much bigger, much stronger and I'd be able to control her but in about 10 seconds she choked me unconscious. That is when I realised that someone smaller can beat someone larger with the right technique. I was 75 kg and I thought that if I learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I should be able to beat someone who is 105/110 kgs. I was in the UK but I thought that when I come back to India I can teach it to our sisters and mothers to defend themselves against attackers. That is how it all started for me in Jiu-Jitsu.
Q 2) Tell us about your experience at the AJP Jiu-Jitsu Championship where you won three silver and one bronze medal.
I had been competing in Jiu-Jitsu since 2014-15 and after winning the national championship 9 times, I thought about going abroad and testing how good my team and I are. Our team is called Crosstrain Fight Club and we are all homegrown as we learn ourselves and train together. There are no foreigners coming and helping us out. We do have seminars where we call black belts but for the most part, in the last 10 years, it's been just us. It was a test for me to go out as we were working in India without any support and without any infrastructure. It was just to see how we compete with the foreigners who have all the best facilities. I competed a little bit but after that contracted COVID and I was hospitalised. I just thought to myself that if I make it out of here, I just want to go around the world, compete and show the world that what we are doing in India is good.
We don't have investors and people helping us out, we have struggled a lot but now it's time for us to show that we also can do something. AJP is one of the most prestigious Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, it usually happens in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. My goal was to go there and compete against the best fighters in the world. I really wanted to put India on the map and win medals for my country. I wanted to let people know that there is Jiu-Jitsu in India because people abroad think that Indians only play cricket. I didn't just want to take part, I wanted to win medals. When people saw me walking around they thought that I'm Brazilian or Columbian but I said that I'm from India and I wear an Indian flag on my sleeve. It's fun for me to go abroad as people look at me and that’s when they realise that Jiu-Jitsu is present in India as well. They ask me about my coach and I reply that I teach myself. It's a lot of fun to watch people's shocked faces. Until I won silver at the AJP, India hadn't won a single medal at the tournament and two of my students Anvesha and Krish got bronze medals.
Q 3) How challenging was it to compete at the Asian Continental Jiu-Jitsu Championship against some of the world's best BJJ fighters.
Honestly it's difficult to explain how tough it is. For example, there were fighters in my weight class from Britain, Columbia, UAE and they are from a set-up where they have so much help and support with hundreds of coaches. When we go abroad we look at the infrastructure and facilities there. They have Brazilian and American coaches, physios, dieticians and we have nothing. It's just me who is teaching beginners who know nothing. First I learned by myself and then I taught my students. Then I got students to a level where they can give me enough resistance, so I can then go out to compete against the best in the world. It's as difficult as practising with a tennis ball at home and playing a Test match the next day. When I was going to the Asian Championship, not many people gave us a chance but to win a silver medal was a huge achievement.
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Q 4) What are some of the biggest challenges that you have faced as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. How did you overcome them?
The first challenge I would say is that there aren’t any proper training facilities, equipment, or students to train and it ultimately took us 10 years to professionally train these fighters. I would say the main challenge for us was to maintain sustainability in India. We as a whole tend to generate funds and send teams as well as players aboard to compete. Our main goal is to bring general awareness about the sport through seminars and advertisement as the overall goal is to help grow the sport of Jiu-Jitsu in India. Medals for us is just the cherry on top as it shows the hardwork and dedication we put in our athletes.
Q 5) According to you, how can the level of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu be raised in India? How do you motivate your students to pursue excellence?
My philosophy is to lead by example by trying to compete in international tournaments as my students tend to follow me and I motivate them by winning international medals. When I’m teaching my class, the priority is not me but my students as I make sure they learn from me and when they see their teacher representing India and winning international medals. In the recently concluded Asian Championship, they released the brackets where all the UAE Jiu-Jitsu athletes were given a bye in the first round but for me I had an extra fight. I fought in the qualifying rounds in the brown belt category and I won my first fight but I had literally 5 minutes break between the first fight and the main tournament fight.
I faced a fighter who fought for the Commandos, who are hired by the UAE government as soldiers. The fight was extremely tough but I noticed a certain bias from the referee but when I saw my team's enthusiasm, I got even more charged up and confident. With 30 seconds remaining I was trailing by 2 points but I did a manoeuvre called the collar drag which made me win the match but unfortunately while doing that move I tore my groin. I was taken to the medics who ruled me out but I still competed in the tournament. Although I lost, I helped inspire my students. The sport can grow if the right sponsors are brought and also support from the government.
Q 6) What are your future goals as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter? How do you plan to accomplish them?
My goal for a long time was to win a lot of medals for India because we never won a World Championship medal. I have one bronze and three silver medals but the World Championship gold medal eludes me and I am working hard to achieve that. As a coach I have this student called Anshul and he is India’s only contracted UFC fighter in India, so as a coach my goal is to make him win his first UFC fight and I also want to make sure my students win medals for India.