SPEARFISH —  Nate Tilley of Spearfish competed at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu American Nationals Tournament held June 27-28 in Las Vegas, Nev. 

He earned runner-up honors in the Nogi division and also competed in the Gi division.

Jiu-jitsu is a martial arts discipline based on wrestling. 

“What we practice is using body mechanics and leverage against weaker joints in the body, as well as chokes,” Tilley said.

He described it as a refined science of isolating opponents’ weaker body parts. Mass body units like the upper torso are used on an isolated elbow.

“It’s an even playing field when it comes to size and strength,” Tilley said. “Because we’re talking about leverage and technique, it is a game of who knows more.”

Tilley wanted to give it his all at nationals and enjoy the experience. The 21-year-old decided at the last minute to sign up.

He began martial arts as a young boy and competed in high school wrestling. His journey into jiu-jitsu began two years ago, when he moved from Rapid City to Spearfish.

Tilley started training in mixed martial arts. He said it did not feel quite right to him, but the aspect carried a lot of appeal.

Spearfish martial arts instructor Jordan Thomas invited Tilley to class. Tilley recalled classmates knew something he did not, so he signed up for jiu-jitsu.

Tilley also teaches youth classes at Spearfish Martial Arts. 

“I love to see these kids learn,” Tilley said of teaching. He added it is beautiful to watch a person overcome adversity and increase self-confidence.

“In jiu-jitsu, there are so many principles of life that are compiled with it. It forces you into a growth mindset,” Tilley said.

Learning the basics was fairly easy for Tilley because of his wrestling background. He fell in love with the sport and trained four to six times per week.

“I do every seminar I can. I compete a lot, watch videos, read books about jiu-jitsu,” he said.

The silver medal was a nationals highlight, but Tilley also enjoyed meeting others in the jiu-jitsu community. 

“This is one of the three biggest jiu-jitsu tournaments in the country,” Tilley said. “A lot of people come from Brazil.”

What does Tilley enjoy most about competing?

“When I sign up for that tournament, I know that I have a deadline,” he said. “I have this pressure on me to become somebody that’s going to be a champion.”

He loves the preparation process that includes stretching the body during yoga, going on the runs, and doing extra training. That includes a lot of mental preparation.

Entering unchartered territory challenges Tilley the most. 

He works on not letting negative inner voices stop him.

“Competing forces me to face those things squarely and overcome them in order to be successful,” he said. 

He trains five to six days a week for a tournament. The process includes yoga and crossfit activity, and he carefully watches his diet. 

Dietary staples include oatmeal for breakfast. A large salad serves as the afternoon meal. He eats as many vegetables, fruits, and greens as he can while also ingesting protein.

Organic food provides the best fuel for Tilley. 

“I don’t feel anything when it’s the day of a tournament,” Tilley said. “I know the preparation I put into it; I know the work that goes behind the scenes.”

Tilley keeps things as calm as possible on tournament day. He aims to stay focused and aware.

He is working to organize his life situation so he can attend one tournament a month. Future plans include the Nogi World Championship in December and next year’s National Championships.

Tilley discussed what drives him to complete jiu-jitsu dedication.

He encountered a lot of trouble during his early years. Finding the gym, and taking care of his body, helped him start to exit.

“When I found jiu-jitsu, it was a vessel of growth for me,” he said. “It was a way for me to actually focus on something that was going to make me better.”

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