Warilla martial arts exponent Sam Dignam has become the first home-grown Illawarra resident to be presented with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Dignam and Craig Sinclair run Groundworks MMA Centre in Warilla and have trained together for the past 12 years.
"I have had guys win state and national titles but in this sport there is no higher accolade than a black belt, which is huge and has taken Sam 13 years of hard work to achieve," Sinclair said yesterday.
"This is great for the sport here in the Illawarra, to have a coach at such a high level now."
On a huge weekend at Groundworks MMA Centre, the founder of Machado BJJ in Australia, John Will, travelled from Melbourne to the gymnasium for a seminar and presented Dignam with his black belt which is the highest level one can reach.
It was one of eight belts that were awarded, the others being blue, purple and brown which was an indication of the growth of BJJ.
"We used to give one belt out a year. This year we had eight including Sam's black belt," Sinclair said.
"He goes up to Sydney, all over the place, getting more skills. He does a lot of work.
"In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu it takes roughly about three to four years to get a blue belt, the purple belt five to six years, the brown belt eight to nine years, then the black belt 12 to 13 years."
For now, Sam Dignam has created his own special place in the recent history of BJJ in Illawarra.