WASHINGTON D.C. – Farmington native Tadiyah Danforth is currently in the top 10 World Rankings for black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitzu. Danforth, age 25, is now the most decorated BJJ athlete from New England.
It is unusual for American athletes to hold world champion BJJ titles, let alone anyone from New England. Most world-renowned BJJ athletes are Brazilian, and others are from across the globe.
As a child, Danforth attended Mallet and Cascade Brook Schools before moving to Maryland with his family in 2009. He hopes to one day move back to Maine, perhaps after becoming the world champion, to open a gym and focus on coaching.
“I miss it a lot,” Danforth said, recalling his childhood in Farmington. “I feel like growing up in Farmington was something really special.”
Tadiyah Danforth’s father and coach, Noel Danforth, is one of the founders of the Foundry, Farmington’s BJJ academy. Born and raised in Farmington, Noel began practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 2001. Instantly hooked, Noel tried to establish a club at the University of Maine Farmington. Unfortunately, no one knew what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was so he had little success. But he persisted and started training in a garage, later graduating to a place on Broadway in Farmington and then a renovated barn on Perham Street. Thus, the Foundry was born.
At the time, over 20 years ago, the Foundry was the second Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy in the state of Maine and it is currently the longest standing one. Now, there are at least 100 in the state. Where the Danforths currently live in the Washington D.C. area, there are the same amount of BJJ academies in just a 20 mile radius. At their academy in Maryland, both Noel and Tadiyah Danforth currently teach over 400 students.
Although Tadiyah Danforth’s father made him practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu throughout his childhood, it was never his priority. He felt the pressure of his father’s own passion for the sport, but never fell in love with it himself.
“Back 10 years ago, nobody knew what it was,” he said, recalling his reasons for resisting his father’s coaching. “There was no recognition.”
In high school, Danforth joined the wrestling team instead. He thrived, loving the aspect of camaraderie in the wrestling room. It had more appeal for him than BJJ, which was still niche and unknown to most people.
When he went to college he decided to leave the world of martial arts behind and study to become a high school teacher. But when he got the opportunity to attend a camp with 6-time BJJ world champion Lucas Lepri in Charlotte, North Carolina, he couldn’t pass it up. At this camp, he experienced the teamwork aspect he had valued in wrestling.
“That was the first time I’d ever been introduced to a camp of Jiu Jitsu athletes all with the same goal,” he said. “Before that, I came from a very small gym in Farmington Maine so the people there were just people with real lives, jobs, families. Jiu Jitsu wasn’t their main focus.”
This experience inspired Danforth to pursue the sport seriously. Later that same year, he was able to make it to the quarter finals of the world championship. He ultimately lost, but it was a narrow match.
“I was one match away from placing in the world championship, and this was just sort of training very casually, not taking it seriously, only training once a day, not thinking about Jiu Jitsu, not studying,” Danforth said. After that match, he realized if he started to take this sport seriously, he might be able to find some success.
Although he went on to finish his degree, he skipped his graduation ceremony for another training camp. Since then, he has earned the Top 10 black belt world ranking in just a few short years, along with many other titles: bronze medalist at the European Championships, three-time International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) Pan American Champion, and silver medalist at the IBJJF World Championships, among others.
Danforth attributes his success to his dedication to the sport. He trains twice a day, six times a week, and teaches at his father’s academy. Ultimately, he hopes to become the number one world champion black belt in BJJ which, based on his track record, is a possibility within reach. Danforth underlines how accessible BJJ is for everyone, at any age.
“I’m just some kid who grew up in Farmington,” he said. “If I can perform okay at a world class level in Jiu Jitsu, I think just about anyone can.”