Evolution BJJ & Muay Thai: Remembrance Day and the Impact Martial Arts Has on the Canadian Armed Forces

Every modern civilization that exists today, and the bones of civilizations past have felt and seen the unimaginable human suffering that is War.  Even in Canada the lands we now call home were once battlegrounds in the Seven Years War and the War of 1812. The 20th century is a period in which Canada’s military history blossomed as the men and women of Canada saw battle in several different theaters and conflicts. From the dusty fields of South Africa in the Boer War to the muddy trenches of France and Belgium in World War 1, the blood-soaked streets of Ortona, Italy in World War 2, into the ridges and hills of the Korean War, and more recently the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Canada has a vast military history, its pages written in the blood of young men and women. The bodies of the fallen pave the streets we walk on today, and their names are forever credited for allowing us to enjoy the freedoms we have today. November 11th marks the day when the guns and cannons fell silent. “We will remember them” passes through the lips of civilian and veteran alike to give thanks to those who died. What then, is to be said of the warriors who came back with their shields and spears? What of those who bear the scars, both seen and unseen, of the unapologetic horror of war? What happens to the warrior once there is no enemy to fight?

CFB Petawawa, Ontario is one of the most active military bases in Canada. It’s history dates as far back as the First World War with many of its streets named after it’s many battle honors. Tucked in the corner of the base towards Black Bear Beach stands the Army Fitness Centre (AFC), the home of Evolution Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and Muay Thai. Co-founded by Professor Steve Burgess, an IBJJF certified black belt and Lieutenant-Colonel of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). As a student of the often credited “Father of BJJ in Canada” Marcus Soares, Professor Burgess has a martial arts history of over 30 years with black belts in Karate and Judo as well as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Professor Burgess along with Ricky Godoy, Kru of the Muay Thai program and CAF veteran, have created one of the most skilled, knowledgeable and competitive martial arts clubs in the Ottawa Valley. Despite being situated on the base, Evolution BJJ and Muay Thai has a membership of both civilians and veterans. However, most of its students are active and retired members of the CAF, with many of its senior students and instructors throughout the club’s history being veterans of the War in Afghanistan. As such, it has become home to men and women, civilian or veteran, to come together and share in the love of competition of martial arts and combat sports.

Scott Sanderson is a two-stripe brown belt under Professor Burgess and is a student and assistant instructor at Evolution BJJ and Muay Thai. As a child, Scott began his martial arts journey with Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which he did briefly for around 5 years. In 1998 his family moved to Pembroke, Ontario where he also attended High School, and joined the army after graduation.  Along with being an incredibly knowledgeable instructor and practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Scott Sanderson is a Sergeant with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment (1RCR). Scott applied to join the military in November of 2007, and after months of interviews, training, and battle school, he was posted to Petawawa upon graduating. From there he immediately began training for deployment to Afghanistan, which he did in April 2010 and did an arduous 9-month tour of duty. “It was when I got back from Afghanistan, I was looking for something that I could do to physically exert myself and something that would be beneficial to my job as well.”  “I had a stress injury coming back from Afghanistan. I was very stressed out and I couldn’t switch it out. I was hypervigilant, I was always on, very aware and very focused, stuff like that.” Despite these struggles, the positive impact Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has left in Scott’s life has helped with his own coping mechanisms. “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gave me the opportunity and the ability to work through some of the anxiety issues I was dealing with. I’m a very different person to what I was beforehand. It’s given me a lot of benefits in regard to stress management, problem solving, and letting things go.”

With most of the club’s membership consisting of active CAF members, some of which being veterans of Afghanistan, I asked Scott if Evolution Brazilian Jiu Jitsu had a similar effect on them as it did for him. “Definitely, definitely. I’ve talked with other members who have been dealing with stress injuries and full-fledged disorders. They’ve found that Evolution BJJ and Muay Thai has given them a space to safely work through high stress environments. It builds resiliency and endurance in regard to distress. It’s also given them a place where they can turn off the day-to-day stresses.” When asked about the difficulties veterans face when discussing their struggles, he responded “It’s not that veterans feel they can’t talk about it, or they aren’t allowed. A lot of people just want to focus on the negative. It’s like going to Disney land and someone asks, ‘How long did you wait in line?’ or ‘How dirty were the toilets?’ another part of it, is its sore spot.  If you have a broken ankle, you don’t want to walk on that foot because it’s sore. I didn’t go over there to come back and talk about the bad things that happened, but that’s all anyone wants to ask about. They don’t want to hear about the times we went through a town and the kids would come and say hi to us. They want to hear if I shot my gun, or if I saw anyone blow up. I went over there to help people, I wanted to make a difference.”

As November 11th quickly approaches, we as Canadians must remember and honor the sacrifices our armed forces made in the line of duty. Scott knows of these sacrifices all too well and uses Remembrance Day to think of friends and family members who lost their lives or served in CAF. “I’ve lost several friends over the years; I think about them regularly. I also think about what went on during the First and Second World Wars. My great-great grandfathers fought in the First World War, so I reflect on some of the battles and the hardships they would have gone through.” As our interview came to a close, Scott spoke on the importance of Remembrance Day and why Canadians even now must remember our fallen heroes. “The willingness to close your mind to things you don’t like causes those things to return. War is a terrible thing. It should never happen, but we must remember what caused it. We must remember the sacrifices, and the people we lost, to reaffirm our focus to not make those mistakes again. We cannot allow our world to fall back into those horrific events.”



  • Dominic
    November 10, 2022 at 2:12 pm

    We will remember.

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