But entering the home dojo of the Maui Jiu-Jitsu (MJJ) Academy in Ha‘ikū recently, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a school deep-rooted in traditional BJJ—a martial art, combat sport and self-defense system where smarts and techniques overcome ego and brawn any day, and commitment to yourself and the art dominate any victory on the mat.
The mixed martial arts (MMA) U.S. promotion company, UFC, helped put BJJ in the spotlight since many of its disciplines are showcased, but the modern sport’s origin traces back to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the eminent Gracie family.
Building on knowledge from Japanese Kodokan Judo—a derivative of Jujutsu (or Jiu-Jitsu)—Brazilian Carlos Gracie, along with brother Hélio, founded the art of “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” or modern Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Maui Jiu-Jitsu Academy. “The Chief,” Professor Luis Heredia, encourages students to join his “strategic and physical, but nonviolent, traditional school of learning” to not only “sweat it out,” and release toxins, but also leave the world’s frustrations behind and renew your life energy. “It’s like playing with a lion cub—wild energy, yet little or no damage, and calming at the same time,” he said.
The Gracie art focuses on self-defense, with principles that smaller, weaker individuals can effectively defend themselves against a bigger, stronger assailants by using leverage and proper techniques, such as applying joint-locks to make opponents submit. It’s nonviolent in nature—no striking—and relies more on discipline rather than force.
Hidden in the Ha‘ikū Cannery Mall lies the epicenter of traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu education of Hawai‘i at MJJ, where over 200 students of all ages, sizes, skill levels and walks of life learn from “The Man”—five-time Pan Am Champion and 5th Degree Black Belt, Professor Luis “Limao” Heredia.
At a young age, “The Man” or “The Chief”—as his students refer to him—became part of the “first family of Jiu-Jitsu” in his hometown Rio. He was the right-hand man of Hélio’s son, Rickson Gracie, traveling to America to spread the art. In his 32 years of practicing BJJ, Luis has earned many honors, continually fine-tuning his “unparalleled technical knowledge.” He still teaches globally today, insisting Jiu-Jitsu can improve every aspect of life.
Unimpressed by the Mainland, Luis moved to harmonious Maui nine years ago to fulfill his dream of spreading Jiu-Jitsu to Hawai‘i, and brought along devoted student Christian Diaz. “I believed in him so deeply and felt his heart, so I quit seeing my other teachers to join him in this quantum leap,” Diaz said.
Local music great Vince Esquire was seeking a new outlet and exercise regimen when he discovered the academy. “It’s been the deepest, most meaningful thing I’ve been involved with besides music,” he said. Vince even moved Upcountry to be closer to the school, training up to six times a week with his “brothers and sisters” during the last year-and-a-half.
Unlike some martial arts, students have found advantages in Jiu-Jitsu’s safety—i.e., hands are safe while “rolling,” and focus is on techniques, maneuvers and counters applied while grappling, particularly ground-fighting. Luis calls it a “healthy, human chess game.”
Luis frequently uses the terms “respect,” “commitment” and “loyalty” when describing Jiu-Jitsu—in fact, “loyalty” is tattooed on his arm.
“I’ve developed more confidence—trust in myself—in this amazing environment,” said Vince.
“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is an invisible life tool,” said Luis. “Everyone has an opportunity to grow here.”
A Pedro Sauer Jiu-Jitsu Association member, MJJ specializes in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Street Self-Defense, and No-Gi Training (ground techniques without a kimono), with very affordable classes for ages 7 and up in all levels, and convenient time slots.
“We’re very focused on safety, a sense of family and tradition,” said Luis.
MJJ is gearing up for its 7th Annual Maui Jiu-Jitsu Open Tournament on Saturday, July 17, at War Memorial Gymnasium at 10 a.m. For registration or more information, call 575-9930.
Maui Jiu Jitsu Academy, located at 810 Ha‘ikū Road, #230, also has satellite schools in Wailuku and Kahului.