Travelling Teams :Kevin Cunningham Checkmat South Shields
Proudly representing the North East, as well as his team, during his travels, blue belt Kevin
Cunningham has so far had a short, but extraordinary Jiu-Jitsu journey.
The thirty-six year old has been training for around eighteen months and within four weeks of taking
his first official class, he unknowingly entered one of the biggest competitions in the world and
found himself at the top of the podium at the end of his bracket.
Prior to Jiu-Jitsu, Kevin was told by doctors that an active lifestyle would be a struggle and something
they wouldn’t predict to happen, but his perseverance and attitude towards success defied what
medical professionals believed. Furthermore, he has overcome two serious road traffic collisions to
continue to training and competing as much as he can.
Kevin spoke with BJJ247 at the Birmingham Open and told us a little about himself and his story:
“My name is Kevin Cunningham from Checkmat South Shields, I train under Scott Ramsey, my black
belt coach. I’ve been training for about eighteen months and I’m currently a blue belt.” Kevin
“I’ve been competing as long as I’ve been training, my first ever competition was the PanAms. I
dived in at the deep end and I won it.
You read that correctly, Kevin found himself competing at the PanAms in California a month into his
training, winning every single fight and securing himself not only his first gold medal, but one of the
most prestigious gold medals in Jiu-Jitsu.
“As a white belt I’d only been training about a month, a month and a half. I think going over there
and doing that, not knowing exactly what it meant was quite naïve, but now I know more and more
about what I achieved it’s helped my strategy, my game, having the confidence to go in. It’s
becoming a bit more normal. Obviously, I started a little bit later on in life. I’m now 36.”
Few white belts had competed more than Kevin and he has since become a regular face at blue belt
too, commonly seen at BJJ247 events, the only events he will compete at outside of the IBJJF; but
“I’ve only been doing IBJJF competitions for the last eighteen months and the lads at the mentioned
it. The only one I ever used to do outside of the IBJJF was the British Open and the Scottish Open.
This year, when I saw how the BJJ247 Scottish Open was ran, it was excellent, well organised,
everything’s to a tee. You have the timers, the mats, the judges seem to get it right all the time …
and that’s difficult to do. It’s very well ran.
It’s easy to commit to competing a little bit more when you have consistency. Don’t get me wrong,
I’ve had bad decisions before and those types of decisions can knock you back big time, especially
when you’re fighting for a gold medal. The way the referee does his job makes a difference, but here
they bring that professionalism. Each time I’ve competed with BJJ247, they’ve got it spot on. The
judges have been well too.”
Kevin is a business man, both on and off the mats and that helps him compete around the world but
it was starting in the first place that has been his most valuable piece of business.
“In my personal life I run my own business or two and I enjoy travelling a lot around the world,
competing too and enjoying nice holidays with my partner.
A few of my friends were doing a bit of nogi training and trying to get fit. I’ve been through a lot of
surgeries in the last seven to ten years after retiring from the prison service and I took ill health, until
I found Jiu-Jitsu.
It has given me a new lease of life and a lot of motivation. When you have the hospital telling you
that you’ll be in a wheelchair by the age of forty and I’ve come along and I’ve achieved something I
never thought I’d achieve in my life time.”