'It keeps me alive': Guelph, Ont. senior earns black belt in jiu-jitsu

A Guelph man isn’t letting his age get in the way.

Jim Stevenson, 66, has been promoted to black belt in jiu-jitsu, making him the oldest person in his dojo to receive the belt.

Stevenson got into martial arts 17 years ago after a health scare.

“I was a rather fat person, diabetic. The doctor told me unless I become an athlete, I would die a horrible death,” he told CTV News.

Having no athletic activity in his past, Stevenson took up running, but quickly realized he didn’t enjoy it.

Then he found the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Dojo in Guelph.

“[Jiu-jitsu] is the most strenuous thing my high school coach spoke of,” he said. “You attack someone and you carefully don’t kill them.”

He lost 77 pounds in six weeks and was on a healthy path forward.

However, in 2016, his past caught up to him. He underwent a quadruple bypass surgery for four clogged arteries.

After an eight-week recovery, Stevenson was back on the mat. He credits jiu-jitsu for saving his life.

“It keeps me alive and it keeps the blood sugar levels down,” he said.

After years of training and progressing through the various belt colours, two weeks ago, Stevenson was promoted to black belt.

He now stands at the front of the class with the coloured belts behind him and is a mentor for other students.

“It’s a great honour,” he said.

Rob Veltman, Stevenson’s professor said he is the oldest person in his dojo to earn a black belt.

“It’s a tough sport and it’s a sport where even a lot of young guys will quit, but Jim stuck through it the entire time,” Veltman said.

Veltman said it typically takes about ten years to get a black belt, but for Stevenson it took 17.

“He’s put in the time,” Veltman said. “[Seventeen] years is a long time to be waiting and because he didn’t have those natural athletic skills, it took him longer than most people would. But he stuck with it the entire time, so he deserves it.”

Stevenson said he’s not slowing down anytime soon.