News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 8, 2011

HUGHES NEWS AND VIEWS: Chokeholds hurt, especially when applied by McVicker

David Hughes
Tribune-Star Correspondent

TERRE HAUTE — After learning that martial-arts expert Jack McVicker took a team to Irvine, Calif., on the weekend of March 24-27 to compete in the Pan Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships, I arranged for interviews Wednesday at his Terre Haute academy on South Seventh Street.

Feeling adventurous lately, I asked the 5-foot-11, 162-pound McVicker to put me in a rear naked choke before I asked questions about the tournament.

For those of you unfamiliar with martial arts, this hold is frequently used in matches to make an opponent quit or “tap out.” Just so you know, it has nothing to do with the removal of clothes by either competitor.

Anyway, he clamped his arms around my neck and head from behind in a standing position. He applied gentle pressure at first (or as gentle as a chokehold can be), then increased it until my pain threshold couldn’t take it any longer.

Not dead yet, I suggested he do it one more time from a seated position. He obliged, again cranking up the pressure as I tried to delay the inevitable result. In a few seconds, I tapped his right leg before I risked the possibility of passing out and missing the interviews I had planned.

Once I staggered back to my feet and cleared my throat a few times, I realized I’m not the only person McVicker humbles.

“Jack does that to me all the time,” said 40-year-old Chris Howe, one of his students at McVicker’s Martial Arts Academy. “I pay good money to drive here [from Zionsville] to get tapped out by him. He’ll tap me out, then show me what I did wrong.”

Howe is no slouch either. In fact, he took third place in the Brown Belt Senior 2 heavyweight division, then took first in the Brown Belt Senior 2 open class after winning five matches during the Pan Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships.

Howe credits McVicker for helping him become as good as he is today after 5 1/2 years of training.

“Jack makes it a team atmosphere here,” explained Howe, who competed in wrestling and baseball when he was younger. “Everybody can come in and train … and everybody gets along and helps each other.”

Howe said he could drive to Indianapolis for martial-arts lessons, but he chooses Terre Haute instead.

“I get a private lesson with Jack every week,” he pointed out. “I drive here from Zionsville every week. He’s famous in the jiu-jitsu world. So if you want to be a competitor in jiu-jitsu, you come to Jack McVicker.”

And why is McVicker famous in the jiu-jitsu world? Probably because he wins his division in some of the most difficult tournaments in the world, including the above-mentioned Pan Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships.

McVicker, 38, captured the gold medal in the Black Belt Senior 1 lightweight division for men. He defeated Chris Mah with a collar choke in the first round, decisioned Sammy Garcia 2-0 with a takedown in the second round and outpointed Alfred Vasconcelos Barum 5-2 in the final match, thanks to what he described as a takedown and a guard pass.

“These were top-level guys,” McVicker emphasized. “Last year, I ended up taking second place in this tournament. It was nice to get back the gold medal. I had three fights, all against tough guys. The final guy was prepared … and he had also beaten my nemesis in the other side of the bracket — a guy I’m like 0-3 against — to get to the championship match.”

McVicker admitted that it wasn’t easy to stay focused on competing Saturday, March 26, when he also was trying keep his team members prepared for their matches that weekend. But he’s accumulated enough experience over the years to know how to make it work.

“It wasn’t bad,” he said. “On Thursday, Friday and Sunday, I was there just coaching. But on Saturday, you gotta be a little bit selfish and kinda focus on yourself. A couple of our guys were fighting on the same day.”

All but one teenager on the team was an adult, so they could look after themselves even when McVicker wasn’t around to help.

“There were always a good number of guys from the team around to help out,” McVicker noted. “So if one guy wasn’t there, another would try to help out — yell for the guy competing, coach him on the time [remaining] and stuff like that.”

Considering 10 other members of his team earned awards two weekends ago, McVicker genuinely appreciated the camaraderie he experienced with this larger-than-usual group.

“Even when I competed in Portugal [for the European Jiu-Jitsu Championships in January],” he recalled, “I had a really good fight over there and I got up after it ended and went ‘Yeah!’

“But then I looked around and none of my guys were there. It was terrible. I was by myself. You work hard, you win and you’re excited when you get up, then nobody’s there to share the moment. So it’s kinda rough.

“Here [in the United States], you have all your guys rooting for you and for this tournament there were videos streamlining two of my matches on the Internet. So a lot of people from back in the Midwest got to see my fights and texted me afterward.”

Besides McVicker and Howe, others representing McVicker’s team in men’s divisions were Joshua McKinney of St. Louis (first in Blue Belt Juvenile 2 medium heavyweight), Mark Huls of Champaign, Ill. (first in White Belt Senior 1 featherweight), Marty Nunn of Champaign (first in Blue Belt Senior 1 light featherweight), Steve McKinney of St. Louis (second in Blue Belt Senior 3 medium heavyweight), Joshua Webb of Danville, Ill. (second in Purple Belt Masters open), Mike Kondracki of Denton, Texas (second in Purple Belt Senior 3 lightweight), Shaun Antrim of Peoria, Ill. (third in Purple Belt Senior 1 middleweight), Nick Pollaro of Plainfield (third in Purple Belt Senior 3 middleweight) and James Salamanca of Peoria (third in Black Belt Senior 2 lightweight).

The Pan Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships, which featured roughly 3,000 competitors overall, were sanctioned by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation.

McVicker thinks his next meet will be the Master Senior World Championships of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in late July at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He’s won this title twice in the past.

David Hughes can be reached by phone after 4 p.m. at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.