Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Student learns Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to control Tourette’s


ELIOT KELLY, 28, of Folsom, right, owner of El Dorado Hills Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, helps his student Nico Libby, 12, of El Dorado Hills, practice the Flying Arm Bar at the facility. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

By Julie Samrick

When Nico Libby was 10, debilitating seizures disrupted his life every day. The Libby family, living overseas at the time, then got the diagnosis: Tourette’s Syndrome.

They got on the first plane back to the United States. “We knew the United States would have the best care for Nico,” said Nico’s father Fritz Libby. ”We just wanted to come home.”

Yet it wasn’t so easy once the family moved to El Dorado Hills. Last year Nico still suffered anxiety attacks at Marina Village Middle School so severe his parents were called every school day for 52 straight days to help calm him down.

“It was a very stressful time,” said Nico’s mother Christine. “I never left the house during the day for fear the school would call.”

Doctors suggested rigorous exercise five to six days a week could help ease Nico’s anxiety and Tourette’s syndrome, but it was hard to find the right fit. “We tried every sport there is, but it wasn’t until last April we stumbled upon something that finally helped Nico start to get better,” said Fritz and Christine.

Now the Libbys want others to know about El Dorado Hills Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, something they call “the hidden gem of El Dorado Hills.”

Under the guidance of Eliot Kelly, El Dorado Hills Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has operated out of West Coast Martial Arts in the Business Park since 2010. Kelly, 28, who first learned jiu jitsu while growing up in Japan and wrestled at UC Davis, said jiu jitsu is “a grappling, self-defense martial art. There is no striking in jiu jitsu, but the fighting is taken to the mat.”

Nico signed up for a free 30-day trial last spring but wanted to quit after three sessions. His parents said they’d allow it if Nico told Eliot Kelly himself — that conversation changed everything.

“I’d still like you to come for the rest of the 30 days and watch class; you don’t have to take part,” Kelly told Nico at the time. “You (Nico) looked me in the eye when you signed up for the trial and you shook my hand. Honoring your commitment is part of being a man.”

Used to others letting him off the hook because of his challenges, Kelly’s words started to help Nico get stronger mentally and helped raise his self-esteem. From that day forward he has become one of Kelly’s best students, and the school hasn’t called his parents once so far this year.

Nico has learned to master his moods under the guidance of Kelly and has also grown stronger from taking on the responsibility of helping others, a major tenet of jiu jitsu, said his parents. This, in turn, has helped with the physical symptoms of Tourette’s and anxiety. His parents said they believe the transformation they’ve seen in Nico is nothing short of a miracle.

“Jiu jitsu is a lifestyle approach,” said Kelly. “We focus on the whole person.”

At the end of every class Kelly spends a few minutes talking about issues beyond the mat.  Sometimes it’s bullying, other times it’s a charity opportunity in which he’d like his students participate.

It takes six to 10 years to go from beginner to earning a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt.

And what has Brazilian jiu jitsu meant to Nico thus far? The 12-year-old sums it up in one sentence: “It’s made me a better person.”

For more information about enrolling in El Dorado Hills Brazilian Jiu Jitsu call 916-595-4064 or visit

Special to the Democrat


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