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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2008

Brazilian-style jiu-jitsu works out body, mind

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By Catherine E. Toth
Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Honolulu Academy owner Todd Tanaka, bottom, and assistant instructor Andrew Marshall demonstrate a move.

Photos by ANDREW SHIMABUKU | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Jan. 4: One-person canoeing

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Honolulu Academy manager Todd Tanaka, front, and assistant instructor Lee Sakai practice.

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Like most martial arts, jiu-jitsu works the mind and body and hard. "It's an all-body workout, like swimming," said instructor Todd Tanaka. "There's no part of the body you're not going to work."

Where jiu-jitsu really works the body is the hips, legs, shoulders, arms and back.

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What Brazilians did to jiu-jitsu is like what Americans did to British punk rock:

They adopted it, tweaked it, then mainstreamed it. And it's never been the same.

Brazilian-style jiu-jitsu turned the traditional Judo-based martial art into more of a combat sport that focuses on grappling and ground-fighting with the goal of getting the opponent to submit.

But thanks to the popularity of mixed martial arts competitions and the Ultimate Fighting Championships interest in this style of jiu-jitsu has exploded worldwide, with thousands of people participating in the sport today.

The widely televised, no-holds-barred contests are what attracted 22-year-old Russell Saito of Liliha to pick up Brazilian jiu-jitsu six months ago.

He's not looking to compete in the next MMA match, but he is a big fan of the sport and wanted to see for himself what it was like.

So he browsed the Internet for a school that met his criteria near the University of Hawai'i campus, where he was a student, and affordable. He signed up with Relson Gracie's academy at University Square in Mo'ili'ili, which offered the cheapest rate at $40 a month for four classes.

(The only gear needed is a gi, or kimono, which can cost between $60 and $300. Saito spent $150.)

"I really didn't know what to expect," said Saito, who graduated last month with a degree in art. "But I knew it was going to be tough."

Saito, who surfs but has never participated in any other martial art, was surprised at just how tough it actually was.

"After that first day of class, my body was super sore," he said, laughing. "You're using a whole bunch of muscles you don't always use ... I was pretty much dead."

For many especially women the attraction to the sport centers on the philosophy that size doesn't matter.

"Because it's ground-based, (the sport) is based on leverage and technique, not strength," said Todd Tanaka, 31, a Relson Gracie jiu-jitsu instructor who picked up the sport 17 years ago. "That was the appeal to me, that a smaller, less physical person could defend himself against a larger opponent."

Not all schools including Relson Gracie train people to fight in MMA competitions. This style of jiu-jitsu is often taught for self-defense and sport grappling tournaments.

Still, most come for the physical workout, feeling the burn in their legs, hips, shoulders and back.

"If you want to get in shape before taking your first class, that's a plus," Saito said, laughing. "Having your cardio up a bit would help."

And, like other martial arts, jiu-jitsu requires self-discipline, focus and dedication. It works out your mind just as much as your body, Tanaka said.

"It gives you confidence and you get mentally tougher," Tanaka said. "It's as physical as you want it to be. And sometimes it takes your heart to pull you through."

• • •


Where to learn

There are dozens of different schools that teach various forms of jiu-jitsu, usually offering the first class for free. For Brazilian-style training, here are some suggestions:

• Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu: This school teaches Brazilian-style jiu-jitsu and submission grappling — but without the striking. Average cost is about $50 a month for four classes, with discounts for students and public safety officers such as firefighters and police officers. Single classes cost around $15. Main Academy, 844 Queen St., 2nd floor, 589-2524, www.graciehi.com. (The school also has academies in Mo'ili'ili, Kane'ohe, 'Aiea and Kapa'a.)

• Icon Fitness: Monthly membership ranges from $50 (to take the turbo kickboxing class) to $150 for unlimited training (but it's a special for January). There's also a $100 start-up fee to join. Icon offers classes in jiu-jitsu, yoga and turbo kickboxing. And members can take advantage of the school's pool, Jacuzzi and weight room. Niu Valley Shopping Center, 5730 Kalanianaole Highway, 373-ICON, www.myspace.com/iconmma.

• The Studio: Started by former Superbrawl champion and professional racquetball player Egan Inoue, this school has classes in jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, boxing and self-defense. Monthly membership is $150 for unlimited classes, with discounted rates for students, seniors and families. Or you can purchase a 10-class card for $200. Manoa Marketplace, 2754 Woodlawn Drive, No. 7-103A, 988-6200, www.thestudiohawaii.com.

• Brazilian Freestyle Jiu-Jitsu: This school is part of the Rickson Gracie International Jiu-Jitsu. Cost ranges from $50 to $70 a month, with a $35 annual association fee. Discounts are given to University of Hawai'i students, military and law enforcement. UH's Athletics Complex, Studio 2, 392-8330, www.brazilian-freestyle.com.

Learn More

Adrenaline Konceptz: www.adrenalinekonceptz.com

Blood Line: www.bloodlineclothing.com

Fighter's Corner: www.fighterscorner.net

Hawaii Martial Arts Supply: www.hawaiimartialartssupply.com

On The Mat: www.onthemat.com

Ultimate Fighting Championship: www.ufc.com

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.