Jed Foo looks as fit and tough as you would imagine a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) champion would be. He has won multiple BJJ championships and defeated established opponents from Singapore and beyond. However, what makes his achievements even more impressive is his determination to pursue his passion for BJJ even though he lives with an eye disorder.
Jed was born with aniridia, a condition where one’s irises are absent in both eyes. He compares living with this condition to being “very, very short-sighted”.
The reality of having a visual disability never truly sank in until he was in secondary school. “As a teenager, I started getting very conscious of my condition, and I developed low self-esteem,” he says. Making friends was a struggle, and it took him a great deal of courage to approach his schoolmates.
(Photo by Type A)
Although he was an avid fan of sports, Jed’s visual impairment, coupled with a self-proclaimed “hate” for exercise, made it difficult for him to get into sports in his early years. “I used to play football in school, but I couldn’t see the ball until it was really close. I felt like a burden especially when the opponent runs off with it!” he recalls with a laugh.
Jed saw the start of his polytechnic studies in social work as an opportunity to “reinvent” himself. “I told myself that I was going to be more cheerful and outgoing – to not care about what others thought of me and to try to make friends. I think that’s where it all sparked off.”
After completing his polytechnic studies, Jed entered university with a newfound sense of confidence. This was when he decided to give sports another try. Inspired by his older brother who had picked up Muay Thai a year before him, coupled with a lifelong love for martial art films, he joined his school’s Muay Thai Club. “Over time, I grew to like the sport, and I found it a lot more enjoyable than just lifting weights, for example.”
While trying out other forms of martial arts, he discovered BJJ in 2017. With a slew of martial art skills already under his belt, Jed had no trouble picking up BJJ – and within a year, he was ready to compete.
Grappling to the top
Since 2018, Jed has taken part in nine competitions and won medals at seven – most recently, he clinched a gold medal at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) Singapore Open in December 2022. This, he says, is his most memorable competition so far, as it was “one of the highest levels of competition” that he has fought in.
(Photo by Type A)
Jed talks about being extremely nervous before every competition, “I feel very pressured whenever I compete, because I feel like I have to meet the expectations of many people – my coaches, my friends, and even those I train or compete with.” But the completion of every match brings a sense of relief and achievement to Jed.
“The weight is finally off my shoulders, and I proved that I could win, despite living with an eye disorder.”
Working around his condition
What Jed lacks in sight, he makes up for in lightning-quick reflexes and sheer determination. One could even say that his visual disability has helped him sharpen his reflexes even more. “I can only see when the opponent comes really close to me, so I really need to react fast to any moves they make,” he says.
To improve, Jed also works hard on the tactical aspect of BJJ, which is important for a sport that requires complex manoeuvres. Jed’s training partners occasionally serve as his extra pair of eyes, highlighting details that he might have trouble noticing during his training sessions – something he is grateful for.
Jed also had to manage his parents’ worries about his pursuit of BJJ. “They were a bit hesitant at first. They only knew that I was training in martial arts and didn’t really know what Jiu-Jitsu was! However, after inviting them to watch one of my matches, they were more willing to let me compete.”
(Photo by Type A)
Jed spends an average of six days a week training and coaching BJJ, on top of managing his day job. When he’s not grappling on the mats, he dedicates his time to “advancing the practice standards of the social service sector” through organising capability-building events, dialogues and engagement sessions for social workers.
– Jed Foo, 28, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion