Nonprofit using Jiu-Jitsu to improve mental health of veterans and law enforcement

A former UFC fighter and current Green Beret is organizing the campaign.
Former UFC fighter Timothy Kennedy is helping veterans and officers improve how they deal with mental health incidents.
Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 9:35 PM EST
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INDIAN LAND, S.C. (WBTV) - A Charlotte-based nonprofit is working to improve the mental health of veterans and their encounters with law enforcement through martial arts.

Former UFC fighter and current Green Beret, Timothy Kennedy is helping with that campaign by teaching police officers how to deal with mental health incidents better and showing veterans how to live a healthy life through Jiu-Jitsu.

“This is such a superpower for your brain, for the body and for the skills,” Kennedy said.

“It goes back to having that family environment to where you can train, and everybody wants you to improve,” Brittney Spencer, an Army veteran practicing Jiu-Jitsu, said.

Along with Kennedy, the Independence Fund is training police officers on not only de-escalation, but also how to do it, and how to properly work with veterans dealing with mental health issues.

“It’s our attempt to really help bring decriminalization to our mental health issues that our veterans are experiencing,” Clark Pennington, the Chief Programs Officer for the Independence Fund, said.

“They speak different, they view the world different, their perspective is definitely different,” Kennedy said of veterans who may be struggling. “I come from both of those worlds, so I care about this world.”

Organizers said Jiu-Jitsu is an art of controlling yourself, emotions, position and using your opponents’ actions to gain an upper hand.

“That’s really what resiliency within our veteran community and our police community is pushing for, is to get our veterans and police officers to remain in control, to understand what their environment is and then just Jiu-Jitsu to help hone those skills towards their everyday life,” Pennington said.

“It’s not something out here to harm somebody, it’s actually something out here to inflect the least amount of pain or damage to someone, if possible, in order to handle a situation,” Matthew Morrison, an Army veteran, and current K-9 Patrolman for Town of Lexington Police in South Carolina, said

The initiative by the Independence Fund also targets all aspects of health for veterans and officers, including physical and mental health.

“Coming here for my mental health, it gives me a place to detach, detach from the craziness of the world, you don’t really think about too much when you’re training and you have that confidence when you’re going back out, just for overall self-defense awareness,” Spencer said.

Since its creation, the Independence Fund has trained about 800 officers across North Carolina.

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