Competitors who wind up on a mat with Joe Bruchac soon find out he’s not to be taken lightly.
The 71-year-old Greenfield Center resident has been practicing the Indonesian martial art of pentjak silat since the 1970s and is a fifth-degree black belt. He also holds a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“His energy puts me to shame sometimes,” admitted his son, James, who was inspired by his father to become involved in martial arts and now teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu. “There’s only a couple of guys in his rank that can actually beat him in our school and we have a lot of 20-year-olds that he, on a regular basis, can submit in class, which is kind of amazing.”
Bruchac reluctantly confirmed that he can take down opponents young enough to be his grandkids and said it’s hard to find people his own age to compete against.
“I had to drop down 25 years and go up a weight class to find an opponent — who beat me — but nonetheless, it was kind of cool,” he said, regarding last year’s competition at the New York Open, where he took second place.
BRUCE LEE FAn
Martial artist and movie star Bruce Lee was Bruchac’s inspiration. Curious to see if he could do the things he saw Lee do on the big screen, he gave martial arts a try. He soon discovered there is more to it than spectacular kicks and karate chops. He calls it “the martial arts way.”
“It’s a way of looking at yourself and the world around you that requires discipline and dedication and that feeling that your body requires your attention,” he explained. “If you want your body to give you everything it can, you have to give it the proper attention.”
Eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising are all part of that, but so is maintaining good mental health.
“None of these martial arts, at heart, are about doing violence to other people,” Bruchac pointed out. “Their real basis is self-growth and self-protection and actually protection of others.”
The two disciplines of martial arts he practices differ somewhat from the more commonly known varieties. Pentjak silat is an Indonesian form of kung fu that involves everything from striking and kicking to grappling and throws.
Bruchac described Brazilian jiu-jitsu as “basically wrestling with submission holes.” Participants tap the ground or their opponent to signal that they are ready to give up.
“You can either choke someone to unconsciousness or until they tap, or you can apply joint locks until they tap,” he explained.
Bruchac teaches pentjak silat and is an assistant Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor.
“He is very patient and very technical. He has a great attention to detail,” his son said.
Bruchac and his family also run the Ndakinna Education Center in Greenfield Center, a nonprofit organization that teaches wilderness survival skills, Adirondack and Native American culture, and nature studies.
Of Native American descent, Bruchac makes some of the same crafts his ancestors did, including jewelry, flutes and rattles.
“My real artistic side is expressed through my writing,” he noted.
Bruchac has written for all age levels and is in the middle of seven projects right now, ranging from poetry books to a novel about Ely Parker, a Seneca man who became Ulysses S. Grant’s friend and military secretary during the Civil War.