By Evelyn Sutton
Photos submitted by Black Force MMA
One of the largest gyms in SC is the host of 2022 ChickJitsu. Meet the 20 Jiujiteiras from BFMMA who are competing.
Professor Dwight Decker is a man on mission to protect and empower others to be able to protect themselves. And he’s got some big dreams. Decker has been working hard all of his life—as a police officer, in the military, a family man and in martial arts—to fulfill his mission and make his dreams come to fruition. Not just for himself, but for his family, his students and his community.
Decker is the owner and head coach of Black Force MMA, or BFMMA as the locals affectionately call it. Black Force is home to one of the country’s leading MMA management teams. Decker has almost 30 years of martial arts experience and before opening BFMMA, served as a police officer and in the navy.
Located in a comfortable 10,000 sq ft facility in the heart of Summerville, a short drive from the beautiful and historical city of Charleston, the gym offers a wide array of classes including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Cardio Kickboxing from dedicated coaches who are passionate about teaching and encouraging students to reach their goals.
In a family-oriented environment with kids, women’s-only classes and programs tailored for those who would like to take their training to the next level and become professional fighters, BFMMA is the epicenter for all who love martial arts. The academy has recently joined Team Chitwood as an affiliate (teamchitwood.com). The Chitwood brothers, Shawn, Neil and Craig are all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black-belts under Grandmaster Relson Gracie.
The Professor brings his experience in the military, law enforcement, three decades of martial arts training and three black-belts to his teaching. That certainly gives him an advantage. Decker is well versed to train and instruct on very real-life situations such as in a self-defense scenario, for instance, from a martial arts standpoint, military tactical strategy and a law enforcement perspective. Who benefits the most from his wealth of knowledge and life experiences? His students, of course.
Meet the “Mat Monsters” of BFMMA
Martial arts became a huge part of Decker’s life early on. He started training in 1992 under Grandmaster Kevin Cullen. Cullen has dedicated his life to the study and instruction of traditional Japanese fighting arts achieving black-belts in Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and Okinawan Kempo, White Crane Kempo and Sei Roku Zen Yo combat Karate. Mr. Cullen also received his Bachelor Degree in Japanese Language and Culture and trained, worked and lived in Japan. Decker flourished under Cullen’s instruction, who was also his seventh grade wrestling coach.
“Not having a lot of money and getting picked on, bullied to an extreme, coach Cullen, a master of so many forms of martial arts took me under his wing and started training me. I was hooked! I always wanted to be able to protect people around me and myself. Soon after, I was introduced to another martial arts mentor, David Young, who is a second degree black-belt in Aikido. I started training with him and he then introduced me to my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Professor Sean Chitwood.”
From Wrestling to Karate to Jiu-Jitsu, Decker excelled in all. By 1997, he was training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Professor Shawn Chitwood who is still currently his Professor. Shawn achieved six different black-belts in his martial arts career, three national titles, and one world championship title. In BJJ, Shawn trained directly under Relson Gracie and is one of the very first Americans to receive a black-belt from the Brazilian Grandmaster.
In 2006, a week before joining the military. Decker received his black-belts. He joined the US Navy as part of the Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection unit. Before the military, Decker who served as a police officer was also part of the SWAT team.
“I see myself as the protector of people around me. It’s in my blood. Growing up, I had a brother who was adopted, and his biological grandparents actually tried to kidnap him. I was in second grade at the time and I had to grow up really quick. That’s a pretty young age to already have to be “street smart”. My brother was faster than me, and I knew I could take a beating so most times, if there was trouble, I would tell him to run and go get my dad to come pick us up, call the cops, get away from the situation. We would run in different directions and we would have a place where we would meet up and from there go home together. It was pretty crazy.”
Fast-forward to 2019. Professor Dwight Decker is inducted into the prestigious Martial Arts Hall of Fame for the first time. He’s invited back the following year, 2020, and more recently again in 2022, making him a 3 times Martial Arts Hall of Famer. That’s an impressive accolade.
During childhood, a strong work ethic was instilled in Dwight by his father and that is something the Professor still values to this day.
“From a young age I learned that everything you want, you have to earn. I get up early every day and I’m at my gym putting in the work when no one is around, you know, always trying to make Black Force the best it can be and my teaching the best it can be. Constantly growing and moving forward.”
“The greatest reward for me is seeing a kid come into the gym who has been going through a hard time maybe with bullying, someone who has low self-confidence, low self-esteem and in just a few months of training you see the transformation. They grow mentally and you see him or her start picking their head up, walking tall, making eye contact with people. They’re talking rather than just staring at the floor. I love seeing that growth. That is the reward for me. Truly.”
Once Decker was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, he immediately began searching for a gym to train at but couldn’t find anything that would accommodate his demanding military schedule. Work shifts would last anywhere from 12 to 16 hours guarding nukes. A very high-speed, high-stress job.
“During shifts, we had a lot of time. I still worked out regularly, even did a few power lifting events in the Navy but I was really missing my martial arts training. I started asking some of the security guys who got off work the same time I did, if they wanted to roll. They were like, ‘what are you talking about?’ I would tell them, I’ll teach you wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu and striking if you let me beat you around for a couple of rounds. That’s how things got started.”
After Professor Decker and his family moved to a new house, the training sessions started taking place in their small single-car garage. And it quickly grew from a handful of security guards to more and more people coming over. “My wife would be walking the dog and our neighbors would stop her and ask ‘aren’t you the wife of the guy that puts the big truck tire down the road?”
With cars parked all over their road of students attending Decker’s garage classes, it was just a matter of time before the HOA got involved. Decker’s wife, Alicia was the one who suggested he should open up a gym.
Once Black Force was officially a business, they experienced phenomenal growth starting first in a 1300 sq ft location, from there expanding to 4,000 sq ft and now enjoying a 10,000 sq ft gym which makes them one of the largest and fastest growing martial arts schools in SC.
Decker gives credit to his business partner Scott Bartkus for helping him get started. The two have been in business together for 11 years. When it comes to business mentors Decker is grateful for his Professor Shawn Chitwood’s guidance and also speaks highly of Steve Hindman’s advice, friendship and encouragement.
“Steve never let me lose sight of the main goal and the main goal is to be successful at running the gym. To do that, you have to stick to the blueprint. In 2014, Steve had 70% of his liver compromised due to cancer. That year, I won the NAGA men’s expert black-belt division and I brought my championship belt to the hospital. He saw me come in and said, ‘what’s up champ?’ Regardless of what he was going through, he would always encourage me. I looked at him in that hospital bed and I said, “hey brother, I got this one for you.” I laid the championship belt on his hospital bed and that gave me a purpose. That was one of the last times I saw him and I’m so grateful that I was able to spend time with him. Two weeks later, Steve ended up passing away. It’s amazing all he did for me in my life.”
Black Force has a large female presence at their gym. Being the father of a daughter, himself, Professor Decker takes the self-defense training of his ladies very seriously. He wants to make sure they are ready to face any opponent on the mats but also in real-life and can effectively protect themselves in any situation.
“Some of our young ladies compete in wrestling. Many of them end up going all the way to State. I call them “Mat Monsters”, because they look sweet and innocent until they put their hands on you and the beast comes out.”
Understanding that Jiu-Jitsu is a close contact form of martial art, one of the main goals of the gym is to assure the ladies have a safe place to train where they feel comfortable with their coaches and teammates, as well as empowered and motivated to learn and reach their goals.
For the women who aren’t quite ready yet to roll and drill with men, Black Force offers women’s only classes to help these new students get acclimated with Jiu-Jitsu, build up their confidence and give them a chance to train with other women, before deciding to attend co-ed classes.
The first installment of ChickJitsu took place last year in Tampa, Florida. Professor Decker took a small portion of his women’s competition team to attend and they ended up placing second overall, outperforming almost all of the other schools who brought larger teams.
Decker was contacted by the event organizers, who were asking if he
knew anywhere in South Carolina where they could host the second installment of ChickJitsu.
Black Force’s 10,000 sq ft location came to mind and once the event organizers stopped by for a visit, they were certain Black Force was the perfect choice. A great supporter of women’s Jiu-Jitsu, Professor Decker hopes to give ChickJitsu a permanent home in BFMMA for their competitions in South Carolina.
Ready, Set, Go
When getting his team ready for competitions, Decker emphasizes that mindset is everything. From his military background, he has developed a training strategy focused on building up mental toughness.
“If you beat yourself up mentally and you doubt yourself, you’re never going to achieve your goals. Fear has killed more dreams than anything else. My priority is to first prepare them mentally to compete and then move on to technique and game plan.”
With the mental strategy in place, solid technique is next on the list. Drilling, repetition, and taking an hour class to focus on one position or one submission is part of the process.
“We prepare for everything. Military style mind and body conditioning. We work on defense, attacks and counter-attacks. We work until we can’t work anymore. All the ladies show up ready to put in the work. We go through every possible scenario, get everything out in the open. As a team, we over prepare, and over deliver. Our opponents never see us coming once we hit the mats.”
An equal-opportunity Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school, most BFMMA ladies cross train with the men, especially those in their competition team. “If you train with somebody bigger, heavier, stronger or better than you, you’re going to perform at a much higher level than you normally would if you only train with people who match you in weight, size, strength and skill. You really have to push the envelope and get out of your comfort zone. The uncomfortable realm of Jiu-Jitsu is where you experience the most growth.”
Decker’s law enforcement perspective and military background provides him with insight that significantly impact the level of self-defense instruction his students receive.
“When it comes to self-defense training, we need to prepare for reality, not some fantasy. The truth is that you don’t get to pick who attacks you out on the street. I think it’s important particularly for women to train with as many different people as possible at the gym. Learn how to apply Jiu-Jitsu techniques to different body types.
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Q&A with Dwight Decker
JM: What are some of the most useful BJJ submissions women should master?
DD: Cross Collar: it’s close contact and it’s a very effective choke when done correctly. Most guys wear a hoodie, a jacket or a t-shirt, considering in a self-defense situation the attacker is most likely a man. The same technique used to apply the choke on the gi, you use to apply the choke to what they are wearing. Armbars: If a choke isn’t available, go for an arm. Train yourself to see armbars everywhere. They are available from most positions if you know how to look. RNC: A classic. If you can get to it, a good old rear naked choke gets the job done. Get away from the situation: In my women self-defense class I teach them first and foremost, if they can, get away from a dangerous situation as fast as possible. Hit a hip escape and get out of there instead of re-engaging and risking taking a punch to the face from a stronger attacker and being knocked out. If you stay, you might be winning the fight but at any moment, things can turn, you might get tired, your cardio might give out or the attacker might overpower you. You don’t really know how your body will react to the adrenaline dump. In a self-defense situation, your goal is not to win the fight but to get away from the danger as quickly as possible. The best defense is to escape.
JM: What if you can’t escape?
DD: If you can’t escape or get away from the attacker, keep attacking. Chokes are your best friends. Choke them unconscious and call the police. When you talk to the police, the first thing you want to say, because it’s on a recorded line is “I was in fear for my life”. All the calls that come through 911 are recorded and will be replayed over and over again. Many times, the calls decide if someone gets charged or walks away. It’s usually the first thing the jury will hear. Regardless of what happened, “I was in fear for my life”, is the number one thing you want to establish in a self-defense case. An attacker is not going to tap out there on the streets. They are there for one purpose and one purpose only. If you can’t escape the situation, violence will quickly escalate and if you don’t establish self-defense from the beginning, there’s a very real possibility that the jury might no longer see you as a victim but as the aggressor. I was in law enforcement for a very long time and I understand the ins-and-outs of law. There’s a fine line between attacked and attacker. The police has to be able to clearly differentiate between the two. You don’t want to go from victim to attacker.
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