Dec 28, 2017
This Is How We Roll
In 1997, a handful of Hawaiian shook the world of Jiu Jitsu and did the unthinkable by becoming the first non-Brazilians to close out a division in the World Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships when local boys Kendall Goo and Kelly Matsukawa finished first and second respectively in the Adult Blue Belt Pessidissimo division.
The team, led by legendary Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master Relson Gracie, had been expertly trained. Their prowess in the ring earned the Hawaiian contingency a newfound respect from the outside world and helped usher the Island's reputation and enthusiasm for the sport into a new level. Two decades later and it's clear that Jiu Jitsu now reigns supreme in the Islands. But just how did this martial art become such a mainstay?
As it turns out, Jiu Jitsu traces its origins to feudal Japan, where the earliest forms of the art (first called jujutsu) were created for samurai to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Through pins, joint locks, and throws, techniques were developed around the principle of using an attacker's energy against him. Fast-forward a few centuries, and the martial art evolved into kodokan judo, which Japanese national Geo Omori introduced to Brazil in 1909, referring to the art as Jiu Jitsu. Not long after Omori, another Japanese national, Mitsuyo "Count Koma" Maeda, arrived in Brazil in 1914, met businessman Gastão Gracie, and taught his son, Carlos (as well as Luiz França) what would come to be known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). Carlos passed his knowledge on to his siblings, and from there, the now famous Gracie dynasty of BJJ martial artists was established.
Following half a century of development, popularity, and tournaments in Brazil, Relson Gracie, a nephew of Carlos, brought Gracie Jiu Jitsu to Honolulu in 1988. By 1997 Relson brought the aforementioned team from Hawai'i to the second World Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships, whose performance helped to solidify the sport's popularity in the Islands. Since then, the martial art has grown ten-fold in popularity, with dozens of Jiu Jitsu schools spread across the Islands.
But what is it about Jiu Jitsu that seems to connect so closely to the people of the Islands? Specifically, surfers—many of the world's best including Kelly Slater and Joel Tudor—have become ardent practitioners. So what gives? Why is there such a tight connection between the mat and the lineup?
"There's something about jiu-jitsu that puts you in your place. Even if you're the top guy, you still have to teach little kids," 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater told the website Flograppling. "If you have insecurities, they get worked out on the mat. I just think it's a humbling thing. People think of martial arts, they think that'll make you a badass and you'll kick somebody's butt, but to me it's the opposite. If it's treated right and taught correctly, it's the opposite; it gives people confidence, and I think with that confidence comes less ego and more respect for other people."
"I think there's definitely a common denominator between surfing and Jiu Jitsu. They both begin as individual sports, but then end up really being about connecting with others," says Kekoa Collective co-founder and BJJ black-belt, Aubrey Koenig. Located in Ward Centre, Kekoa Collective operates as a Jiu Jitsu community space / surf shop / yoga studio. To be sure, you won't find a more eclectic and positive group than the team that operates Kekoa Collective. As avid enthusiasts of all three realms, they can speak first hand on the bond that connects Jiu Jitsu and surfing. "As you mature and grow, you advance and evolve in these different passions, and it becomes more about how you can give back. I think here in Hawai'i, all these passions have a certain spirit: Aloha, which is why one of our mottos is 'Roll with Aloha.'"
"Also, yoga, for instance, is all about the breath," adds fellow Kekoa Collective Dewey Doan. "In surfing, your ability to control your breath is critical, and with Jiu Jitsu, keeping yourself calm through your breathing while you're training is imperative. Surfing and Jiu Jitsu are very much like a dance. I think Gerry Lopez said that about surfing. And Jiu Jitsu is very much the same thing with your partner on the mat."
From finding yourself in the moment, to embracing the spirit of aloha, (aloha actually translates to the breath of life), to the dance in the sea and on the mat, the connection that binds them is seamless. They all inspire us to live with aloha. Speaking with Doan and Koenig, you can definitely sense they're on a higher plane. They radiate positivity. Spend a few minutes with either of them and you're left with the profound revelation that they're on to something. And that's definitely something we can roll with.
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