AUSTIN, Texas — A Black man with a black belt is uncommon, but Tyrus Cox is hoping to help change that.  

It’s been 15 years since Cox’s life-changing visit to a kickboxing class in Jackson, Mississippi. His instructor asked him to stick around for the Jiu-Jitsu class, to which Tyrus responded with confusion. 

“I said, ‘What’s that?’” he recalled. “He was like, ‘Wrestling,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ They paired me up with this dude who had to have been 5-foot-seven, maybe 130 pounds. [He] just had me all in knots, and I was just mind-blown.”

“So, this journey, which really started to lose a couple pounds, ended up merging into this whole martial arts plan and journey that I now share with my students at Centex Combatives,” Cox said. 

The former football player found the same excitement competing as a martial artist and had early success. 

In 2009, Cox finished second in two events at the Mississippi State Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Then placed second in the Texas Judo Championships in 2014. 

“Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn’t, but it was just getting out there to see what you have,” Tyrus explained. “It doesn’t matter if you place or not. It’s saying ‘I set a goal, I reached for that goal, and I achieved that goal.’” 

That determination inspired Cox to start Centex Combatives and Fitness six years ago, inviting people with little to no experience, just like an instructor once did for him. 

It also drives how he welcomes other Black people to join him. 

“Every time I see someone that looks like me come in, it’s great. I love it,” Cox said. “We train everybody. I love all of my students equally, but I always love when someone that looks like me is interested and has an open mind. Being Black and teaching martial arts is a beautiful thing, because there’s not a lot of us that train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.” 

Small numbers of Black martial arts instructors drew members like Carl Hunter to learn from Cox.

The 59-year-old has practiced varying martial arts since 1996, and talks about some of his experiences not having teachers who look like him. 

“I look for highly skilled men of color to train with,” Hunter explained. “I’ve trained in a lot of situations, but a few of the situations I was always the assailant, so I always look to train with people who look like me.”

Cox welcomes that responsibility and actively looks for ways to bring more participation. 

“No one is going to judge you for coming in here, rolling around and hitting a bag. It’s all about self-improvement,” Tyrus said. “I think the exposer is there, and I can see it taking off more. I talk to a lot of other black belts that are Black across the United States, trying to find a way to steer in more people that look like us to train.”