When Staff Sgt. Dominick Williams joined the Army, one of his goals was to make master sergeant since that would put him one rank above his father, who retired as a sergeant first class.
That drive and competitive fire led to a successful jiu jitsu career for Williams, who earned his black belt last September. He regularly trains 35 hours a week in addition to fulfilling his duties as a religious affairs NCO with First Army’s 174th Infantry Brigade. He competes in elite tournaments and recently took second place in the Master 1 Ultra-Heavyweight black belt category in the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Open Championship.
Williams got interested in the martial arts sport about eight years ago while teaching Army combatives. During that time, he met a jiu jitsu practitioner who thought Williams had potential. Also feeling that way was 1st Sgt. Curtis Mosley, who Williams served with in the 10th Mountain Division.
“He was my first jiu jitsu coach and my main influence,” Williams recalled. “I don’t know what he saw in me but he kept pushing me to come to practice and go to my first few competitions.”
Williams has justified that early belief in his abilities, earning his black belt in eight years, two years faster than the normal time of most who attain the rank.
According to Williams, jiu jitsu is more akin to wrestling than boxing: “There is no striking, it’s mostly ground techniques.”
His military and martial arts career blossomed at the same time, and Williams cites Army discipline as one reason he rose through the jiu jitsu ranks.
“There is the physical aspect to it as well as having the discipline to wake up at a certain time, to eat a certain way, and maintain fitness and weight,” he said.
And while some opponents have their own studios and can dedicate almost their entire lives to it, Williams competes against them while fulfilling the obligations of an active duty Soldier. But he knows that's required to succeed at a high level.
“Sometimes you get beat up, sometimes you’re the one doing the beating, but either way, you have to get up the next morning and do that day after day,” he said. “This requires dedication, patience, and hard work. You’re not going to get a black belt by doing the minimum.”
While staying motivated is a constant challenge, Williams is hard-pressed to imagine his life without the sport.
“This is my getaway and my therapy,” he said, adding that jiu-jitsu is a great stress reliever for him.
Williams has entered about 50 competitions and two “super fights,” which he describes as consisting of “only you and one other person on a big stage and it’s televised. Those were some of my favorite ones because they are high-profile fights.” He also counts among his career highlights taking down the No. 3-ranked brown belt when Williams was ranked No. 7 in that division.
He credits his coaches and nutritionists at the Studio 84 Martial Arts Academy for helping him prepare for his matches and getting him ready both physically and mentally.
“They build my confidence and you have to have that confidence in yourself,” Williams said. “If you walk in there scared, you’re more likely to lose.”
And always, he feels the drive and fire.
“It’s like the Army,” he said. “You only get out of it what you put in.”