MMA fighter Terry Brazier made his Bellator series debut this month against Chris Bungard at the Metro Arena in Newcastle. Brazier, a former two-division BAMMA champion, is enjoying a rich vein of form, riding a nine-fight winning streak and earning nickname ‘The Dominator’ from his all-conquering fight technique.
But behind the big fight bravado there lies a unique story. Brazier is a former British Army Paratrooper and recently featured in an exhibition about veterans who have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of their time in the armed forces. When RSNG spoke to him at his training camp in Thailand, Brazier revealed the mental scars left by his time as a machine gunner in Afghanistan and how MMA helps him to cope with them…
RSNG How is the overseas training camp going?
TERRY BRAZIER, MMA FIGHTER ‘It’s going really well. There are many advantages to training in Thailand at Phuket Top Team; both mental and physical reasons. When I’m in Thailand, I’m away from home and the everyday jobs that come with it, like making the school run and worrying about everything else on a daily basis. Over here, all I really have to worry about is training and resting. I also get the positive effects of the weather, which really helps with recovery and takes away the aches and pains. I’m lucky enough to have my wife and my son over in Thailand too, which means I’ve got everything I need and it’s perfect.’
‘My objective is to win – in the army you’re set a mission and objectives and that’s how I see a fight’
RSNG You’re on a great run of form right now – how do you stay focused and ensure you don’t get over-confident ahead of your next challenge?
TB ‘My coaches really keep me grounded. I’m not in an environment where I’m winning every time I spar. I’m training with some really high-class fighters and if you get a little bit complacent you’re going to run into trouble. Training at Phuket Top Team certainly keeps you in check. I know I’ve achieved a lot in the last few years and winning two BAMMA World Titles is brilliant, but you have to live in the moment.’
RSNG You recently featured in the art exhibition featuring veterans who have suffered with PTSD, how do you feel that helps such a vital cause?
TB ‘I was contacted by someone who was helping to run the event and he mentioned to the exhibitionist that I was an ex-serviceman who had suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). They asked whether I would be interested in attending the exhibition to give a speech and I accepted. Before the art exhibition I had never really talked much about my illness apart from to family and close friends. But I wanted to give it a go.’
‘I realised that speaking about it really helped me and it was nice to know that it was helping other people. Obviously I’d much rather talk about something else but it’s such a big part of my life and if it’s helping other people then why wouldn’t I want to share my story? The reality is that it happened and if people benefit from hearing then I’ll talk about it.’
‘The Taliban’s intention was that the IED would be triggered by one of my team but unfortunately one of the children stepped on it’
RSNG Are there elements of your training now that you can look at and say 'I learnt that while I was in The Army’?
TB ‘A huge part of my training is fitness based and I don’t think there are many people out there that are fitter than a Paratrooper. When I was in the Forces I was running most days and that has transferred across to MMA. I’ve got quite a grinding, hard style and I tend to set the pace of the fight from the start. That’s because of the level of fitness I’ve had over the years. Then there’s also the mental side of it. My objective is to win and carrying out objectives is what happens in the army. You’re set a mission and objectives and that’s what you need to achieve. That’s how I see a fight.’
RSNG Looking at your training and the discipline of MMA, how do you feel that helps in your management of PTSD?
TB ‘MMA is an outlet for me. Both the physical and mental nature of the sport tires me out. If I don’t train, I feel like I’ve got too much energy and space in my head. It drives me mad. That’s when I think my PTSD is at its worst, when I’ve got too much time to think.’
RSNG Can you pin down the trigger for your condition to specific events?‘
TB ‘There were a couple of children that had stepped on an IED that had been set by the Taliban. The intention was that it would be triggered by one of my team but unfortunately one of the children stepped on it. We tried desperately to keep these two children alive. Unfortunately, we lost one of them on site and the other needed to get a helicopter out of the area to the nearest hospital. The children were the same age as my children at the time, so that really hit home for me.’
‘I was a machine gunner during my time in The Army and a good friend of mine was also a machine gunner. The Taliban always aim for the machine gunner because that’s where the most fire power is coming from. Me and my colleague actually changed positions one day and he ended up getting shot.’
RSNG How do you process the feeling that leaves behind?
TB ‘Those moments make you really think. You have the ‘what ifs, buts and maybes’ running through your mind and you just wonder what could have happened if things were different. It really makes you think about your life. MMA really helps me cope with the emotions. I do try and avoid talking about everything that happened during my times in the Forces in depth. Nobody really asks either.’
‘I believe that training and putting my mind to something that drains me mentally and physically is the best thing for me. When I don’t train it plays on my mind massively. I have to keep myself busy and MMA helps with that. I’m also improving myself and trying to achieve something. Rather than sitting around thinking about It, I’m using it to fuel me and channel some good in my life.’
‘It’s just not something people in the Armed Services are open to speaking about – it’s still a very manly environment’
RSNG Do you speak to other former servicemen about the damage their experiences may have done? If so do you find there's a reluctance to open up about PTSD?
TB ‘It’s the unwritten rule in The Army that you don’t speak about what happens on duty. If I tried to speak with one of the other boys about it they would just laugh. It’s just one of those things that you don’t really talk about it, especially with the people that are still serving in the Forces. It’s just not something people in the Armed Services are open to speaking about. It’s still a very manly environment and many people in The Army don’t show their emotions.’
RSNG Can you tell us why you feel it’s important in addressing this, in speaking up and helping to remove the stigma attached to PTSD?
TB ‘I can only speak for myself, but I’d tell anyone to open up and speak about their problems. I tried getting help through The Army and it wasn’t for me. But then I got involved in MMA and through MMA I’ve been given a platform to speak about my PTSD. For me, speaking about those experiences to people has helped me a lot. It certainly helped me deal with my thoughts in the last six months. Talking about it worked for me so that’s why I’d tell people to open up.’
RSNG ‘How do you feel the military has changed in its approach to this condition since your time in service?
TB ‘I would like to see a lot more help for servicemen and women going through similar experiences. I’d certainly like to see a lot more financial help. All I initially got was a very small payoff that puts you on your way but after that there isn’t much out there to help you.’
RSNG What do you feel society as a whole can do to help the plight of service men and women who go through what you have experienced?
TB ‘People in the UK seem to be very proud of serving soldiers but I think people should be prouder of the veterans and what they’ve gone through. It seems to be a case of when you leave the army, you’re forgotten about and you lose a lot of gratification from people. People need to recognise what everyone in The Army has been through. The reality is that you might be out of The Army, but those experiences you had during your time serving the country still affect you. In 10 or 20-years’ time, the experiences I had in the army are still going to affect me. It’s forever lasting and people need to recognise that.’
RSNG ‘What are your immediate and your long-term goals now in your sport?’
TB ‘I’m happy to be fighting in Bellator and now I’m going to try and climb the ranks in the division. I’m looking to put in a lot of work and build myself up to the fight in Newcastle. There are going to be wins and there might be losses but as long as I give 100%, then that’s all I can do and I honestly believe it can take me all the way.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Terry Brazier winning the Welterweight BMMA Championship in April 2018.
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