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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Jui-jitsu ace Ricky Lundell gives instructions to two of his students, Sawyer Sink, left, and Keola Kalama.

OREM — Utah Valley State College student Ricky Lundell, who is said to be the youngest American ever to receive a special type of jiu-jitsu black belt, can topple a man three times his size.

Should be no surprise, then, to hear that in September he won third place at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu World Championships in Torrance, Calif.

The bronze medal is an impressive prize for the 147-pound, 20-year-old, who fought competitors of all weights at the championship. He is the youngest to ever earn a medal at this event.

Lundell, who is ranked No. 1 in the world in his weight class, regularly travels the country for jiu-jitsu matches and has competed in Brazil, as well.

Lundell's jiu-jitsu career began with a humiliating defeat he has yet to forget. When he was 6, an Orem studio owner came to his elementary school and did a demonstration.

As part of the presentation, the owner of the studio, Pedro Sauer, asked for a volunteer to wrestle his 5-year-old daughter.

"I was like, 'I'll wrestle her, she's just a girl,'" Lundell said.

What he didn't know, though, was that she had been trained in jiu-jitsu, a martial art derived from judo and developed in Brazil.

"I tried to get her, and she put a choke hold on me and forced me to (ask for release)," Lundell said. "It was pretty devastating as a kid."

That afternoon, Lundell's father told him he was taking him to a jiu-jitsu academy — the same one that had been at his school earlier that day.

At 15, Lundell became seriously involved in jiu-jitsu, training a minimum of six hours per day. Lundell earned his black belt at 19 — 14 years younger than the average age to receive a jiu-jitsu black belt.

In order to receive this ranking, jiu-jitsu fighters must train with an instructor who has a black belt level for more than 3,000 hours and be able to consistently beat others who have already earned a black belt.

Fighting has turned into a career for Lundell, who not only competes professionally but also teaches at a jiu-jitsu academy: Family Martial Arts, Pedro Sauer Gracie Jiu-Jitsu at 194 W. Center in Orem. The martial art form has contributed to his character, said his mom, Michelle Lundell.

"It teaches the kind of concepts that you need to be successful in life, such as integrity, respect and an indomitable spirit," she said.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, which was perfected on the streets of Rio de Janeiro by the Gracie family, was first introduced to the United States in 1989. The martial art focuses on groundwork and choke holds and participants use their body weight to force larger opponents into submission.

Lundell, who has trained members of the CIA, FBI, Marines, Navy Seals, SWAT teams and local fire and police departments, said the technique allows people to control a situation without hurting their opponent, unlike other martial arts.

"If a girl was being raped, she could put a choke hold on (her attacker) and in 3 to 7 seconds he'd be asleep," said Lundell, who studies recreation management at UVSC.

Jiu-jitsu choke holds block off the carotid arteries on the side of the neck, cutting off the blood flow to the brain. As a result, the person in the choke hold quickly falls asleep.

Brandon Guzzo, Lundell's coach, trains with the jiu-jitsu champion every morning for two hours.

"The ability with which he learns is incredible," said Guzzo, who has been training wrestlers for 26 years and helps Lundell incorporate wrestling moves into his technique. "I've never seen a talent like him."

E-mail: rwestenskow@desnews.com