CBS7 SPECIAL REPORT: Blind Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion sees success on the mat

Dean Ritter recently won an SJJIF World Championship in June.
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 10:04 PM CDT
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MIDLAND, Texas (KOSA) - While most people like to run or lift for a workout, there’s a small group of people who prefer something a tad more physical, which is why Brazilian jiu-jitsu has seen an increase in popularity.

“It’s like kinetic chess,” said Brad Barnes, black belt and owner of Midland BJJ.

Jiu-jitsu as its currently known has been around for more than 100 years, but its popularity surge is recent.

“When I first started out, we had to look up techniques in Grappling Magazine that there was no context for,” Barnes said. “You didn’t know what it was supposed to feel like. So, you just kind of figured it out.”

With the rise of mixed martial arts and the internet, BJJ has boomed in popularity in West Texas.

One of those world champions and black belts is 56-year-old Dean Ritter.

“I train six days per week, mainly because I’ve gotten to the age that if I stop coming, I might stop permanently,” Ritter said.

Ritter is a financial counselor who teaches the morning class at Midland BJJ. He also deals with something nobody else at Midland BJJ does: he’s blind.

But don’t let that fool you.

“If you walk into a room with him, that’s gonna be the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” Barnes warned. “It’s also going to be the guy who tries to kill you at some point.”

“When the bell rings and it’s time to go, he isn’t giving me an inch,” said brown belt Banaise Blake.

Others frame it more bluntly.

“Why is this guy trying to kill me?” joked student Josh Hartung.

“I have a very low threshold for weakness,” Ritter said.

Ritter isn’t a sob story. He’s spent his life working hard to overcome his inherent disadvantages to become one of the most well-respected people in the West Texas BJJ community.

“Dean is one of the most technical grapplers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of rolling with,” Blake said.

“Whatever the excuse is, we’ve all got those things built in,” Barnes said. “He’s got a built-in built in excuse, and he chooses not to use it.”

“If you don’t play, I will make you play,” Ritter added.

He’s fresh off a Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation World Championship in late June, winning the male senior heavyweight category.

Coming up on a decade into his jiu-jitsu career, his goal is to roll until at least age 70.

“I’m just trying to carve a niche for me to live in,” Ritter said. “I’m just trying to be the best that I can be.”

A vision clearly in his line of sight.

“If I had 20 Deans, I’d always be happy,” Barnes said. “I’d always be injured, but I’d always be happy.”