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Marcus Trower founded the Brighton Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Exchange. He was a highly experienced martial artist and an exceptional human being.
His passing in June 2019, at the age of 51, left our entire club in mourning. All of us – his students – have been totally inspired by the unique ethos of the club and Marcus’s selfless dedication to us. Following his death, we started talking. We began to open up about what the club had done for us personally. Some told stories of overcoming depression and others of finding a sense of community missing from our lives. What was becoming clear to all was that our mentor and friend Marcus had started something special.
Marcus was kind, warm and passionate. He set up his own BJJ club because he wanted to provide a school where anyone could afford to train and without the politics you find in many martial arts schools. What he called A New Way for BJJ.
He wasn’t interested in turning a profit. It wasn’t pound signs that made Marcus’s eyes light up with every student that walked through the door. It was the opportunity to share his passion for BJJ, with us, the people who motivated him.
This is his story…
Marcus was born in 1967 in Redhill, Surrey. From a very young age, it was clear he was talented and clever. By the age of 10, he was crowned Chess Champion of East Sussex in his age category. He went on to excel at both sport and school work. He won a part-scholarship to Reigate Grammar School where he was promoted to the year above’s school rugby team because he was so good at the sport. He went on to study history at Exeter University but switched to Leeds because the former was too formal and stuffy for his liking.
It was at university that Marcus discovered an intuitive skill – and love – for martial arts. His first love was taekwondo, although he would go on to train in Muay Thai (in Thailand over the course of two years) and Judo, to name a few. Later in life he would travel the world in an epic quest to restore dignity to wrestling . . . but more on that later.
After university, Marcus found work as a sub editor – easy work for a very talented writer. Although the money was decent, Marcus hated the idea of a nine-to-five office job. He couldn’t understand why anyone would want that kind of life, only to end up with a bad back and the regret of a wasted life. It was during his time as a sub-editor that Marcus discovered a slim volume in the British Library called the The Old Art of Wrestling. It was a manual on wrestling techniques collected from around the world – a book that would change his life forever.
Marcus couldn’t put the book down. With the luxury of YouTube, it’s hard to get your head around how anyone could teach themselves to wrestle to the standard attained by Marcus from a book – especially as there were no local schools and few willing training partners. Nevertheless, Marcus achieved this most astonishing feat.
Marcus juggled his grappling obsession with a long and successful sub-editing and writing career. He worked on many well-known publications including music title Record Mirror, Loaded (during its award-winning heyday), film magazine Empire, The Times newspaper and the Mail on Sunday, as well as a host of other freelance newspaper and magazine gigs including working as a sports writer. In his time, Marcus even interviewed Rorion Gracie at UFC 3 (seriously, he didn’t half live a cool life!).
By now though – despite his career successes – grappling had entered his bloodstream and Marcus decided to commit himself to what might seem a mad quest. He was going to travel the world on an epic journey to save wrestling from the damage done by the so-called professional wrestlers seen on TV. Clowns like Big Daddy and Hulk Hogan.
It was a spiritual quest and his goal was simple. He was going to give back wrestling its dignity.
Marcus spent several years travelling the world, living with tribes and communities known for their rich wrestling culture. He spent long stints in India, Mongolia, Nigeria and Brazil learning about the meaning and purpose of grappling in those traditional societies. He poured everything he’d learned into his book The Last Wrestlers which was published by Ebury Press to critical acclaim and the immense pride of his family.
And it wasn’t just the book reviewers in national newspapers that loved it, it received five stars from just about everyone who gave it a review (including from those who knew nothing about wrestling). To this day it is renowned in the wrestling world.
It was during his extended time in Brazil that Marcus met his last love, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Here he came to know the Gracie family and the many Brits who earned their spurs in Rio and returned to England to teach as black belts – many of whom became life-long friends.
Marcus came to settle in Brighton after some years living abroad in Spain and the Maltese island of Gozo. He was now working as a fiction copyeditor, picking up US grammar and punctuation rules with impressive ease. Here, in Brighton, he began training in BJJ. By 2016, while still a blue belt, Marcus founded The Brighton BJJ Exchange around an ethos of affordable prices and zero politics. Marcus didn’t care if you trained somewhere else more than at his school, as long as you were training. It was his blend of kindness, selflessness and passion that gave the school its special atmosphere. Today, as then, there are no cliques and new students tell us how welcome they feel.
Marcus was an original. Marcus was unique. The loss of our mentor has been a blow to us – his students. The best way we can think of honouring him is to continue the club in the spirit he intended. The Brighton BJJ Exchange is alive and well.
Here’s an extract from his book The Last Wrestlers that really speaks to us. It’s from his time in India:
“Qualities of acknowledgement and respect pervade akhara life – acknowledgement and respect for the instructor, senior wrestlers, the god that helps you wrestle, the earth on which you stand. How these feelings can endure is made clear one morning when a man in his eighties enters the akhara and sprinkles flowers on the earth arena. It is deeply moving to watch. This is a wrestling school, a deeply masculine place, yet it welcomes a fragile old man who has bought flowers with which to honour the place where he learnt to wrestle, a debt not forgotten in old age.”
We won’t forget the debt owed to you Marcus.
We miss you brother.
Marcus with his beloved cat Pixi on the Maltese island of Gozo
In the pub after a competition.
Our legendary war face competitions.