Here are a few of our Gracie Barra Success Stories
Click on one of our success stories' picture to find out more about them.
In ‘The Great Good Place’, sociologist Ray Oldenberg defines The Third Place as those spaces where people congregate outside of home and work, alternative meeting places which foster a healthy civil society. Places such as cafes, pubs, general stores, community centres, and for Erin Kenny, her jiu-jitsu gym, Gracie Barra Vancouver.
Erin decided to try out Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Gracie Barra after seeing her husband, Josh, and two small children enjoy the benefits of the gentle art. “It wasn’t love at first class, though,” Erin says. “That first month was a struggle.” But then she began to appreciate the more cerebral, algorithmic nature of the sport. Then, the intense exertion and physicality, and eventually the competitive aspect of it all. “I’ve always been competitive,” Erin confirms, recalling her high school track and field exploits. Her best girlfriend then was six feet tall and into competitive hurdles, so Erin, at 5’5”, followed suit. If her friend did it, so would she. Now, she joins her husband at this Third Place and at jiu-jitsu competitions throughout the Pacific Northwest, knowing that when she’s on the mats for her fights, he’s there on the sidelines, supporting her, and vice versa.
“I had no idea this sport would stick,” Erin says happily. And she recognizes her jiu-jitsu journey as endless. Her training as a physician lends itself to a systematic approach to improvement, such as with her endurance. “I want to learn how not to lose steam too quickly,” she says. And she looks forward to solving future issues with her game down the road, to one day even becoming a black belt. Jiu-jitsu for life, indeed.
Erin’s First Place family at her Third Place gym. And her Third Place sport in her First Place living room, the coffee table pushed aside and the mats down on the floor. She’s overjoyed with the overlap, to having many spaces to enjoy the company of family and friends, to learn new skills and expand her community. Places that foster a sense of belonging and connection: for Erin, Gracie Barra Vancouver is one such place.
Occupations: Emergency Room Physician
Month/ Year joined GB Vancouver: December 2015
Belt Level: White Belt, Three Strips
Emiliano Bolanos and Family
Emiliano Bolanos and Family
Chris and Inti Bolanos know the value of physical exercise. They’ve seen it at work with their five-year-old son, Emiliano, ever since he started practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Gracie Barra Vancouver eight months ago. His endurance and confidence have noticeably improved, along with his language skills and ability to interact with others. “It’s just amazing what he’s learned in such a short period of time,” says Chris. He and Inti clearly see how the gentle art has enhanced their son’s discipline, social circle, and overall character. And they’ve realized that no matter a child’s background, whether Mexican or Canadian-born, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has the power to transform. Now, while their son is on the mats learning techniques and playing jiu-jitsu games, Chris practices stand-up boxing with Professor Manny, and Inti takes part in the Gracie Barra fitness program. “Ever since I started stand-up at Gracie Barra I’ve been able to reconnect with what I love,” says Chris. The whole family is together, putting fitness first.
On the day of the most recent Gracie Barra Vancouver in-house tournament, Emiliano showed up at the gym with his parents, and wondered why there were so many people. When told it was a competition, Emi said he would only be watching, unaware that his father had already signed him up. Always ready to give it his all, Emiliano didn’t hesitate, fought hard, and ended up with a silver medal. To encourage other kids thinking of taking jiu-jitsu, Emi says he would “give them a medal, and tell them ‘good job’!”
Although Emiliano says he wants to be the classic ‘Fireman’ or ‘Police Officer’ when he grows up, he also recently shared with his parents and Coaches his wish to be a Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion. What an admirable goal for a five-year-old. We wish Emiliano well in his jiu-jitsu journey!
Month/ Year joined GB Vancouver: Chris: December, 2015 | Inti: February, 2016 | Emiliano: October, 2015
Emiliano's Belt Level: Grey and White
Jessica Santos is getting comfortable with failure. The pick yourself up, dust yourself off kind. And although this new approach to challenging situations began in a neighbourhood gym, on the mats, learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Jessica has begun to apply it to everyday life. Within a few months of beginning her practice of the gentle art, Jessica decided to apply for a job outside of her comfort zone, to go for it despite the risk of being rejected. She admits she wouldn’t have taken such a step before jiu-jitsu entered her life.
In November of last year, Jessica decided to sign up for a free, four-week, women’s only self defense course offered by Gracie Barra Vancouver. “My husband is Brazilian, so anything Brazilian interests me,” she says with a laugh. “I thought it would be a great way to learn a valuable skill, meet interesting people, and get a great workout. By the end of the self defense program I had signed up for jiu-jitsu classes!” One thing leads to another. In following her interest in fitness and all-things-Brazilian, Jessica is now following a path that will test and strengthen her mind, body and spirit. She has already set short- and long-term goals. To lose 30 pounds. To do full push-ups in the jiu-jitsu warmup. To pass guard. To get more comfortable with the intensity of sparring. “It’s hard, but fun at the same time,” she says. “Every class is a challenge but I always learn something new that builds on the previous class.”
Jessica also tried other classes at Gracie Barra Vancouver, specifically the muay thai and boxing classes, but felt the greatest connection with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, especially with the other women committed to their own jiu-jitsu journeys. And she appreciates the jiu-jitsu striped belt system that serves to motivate her and recognize her efforts. “It’s amazing how a little piece of tape can make you feel so good,” she says with a smile. So a curiosity of fitness led to becoming a novice jiu-jitsuka, who now does full push-ups in warmup. And that job she applied for despite her trepidation? Check out next month’s Gracie Barra Vancouver Success Story to find out…!
Date started at Gracie Barra Vancouver: November 2015
Weight loss Goal: 30 lbs
Current Age: 31
Occupation: eDiscovery Specialist hopeful
Josh Caplan has overcome his fear of competing by competing, by making the uncomfortable comfortable. He realized the extent of his apprehension with intense sparring in a regular jiu-jitsu class at Gracie Barra Vancouver. Instead of one-on-one sparring, the class played ‘King of the Hill,’ in which anyone who loses is out, and the one left ‘standing’ is the ‘King.’ “I was anxious and really felt the adrenalin dump,” Josh says. “I realized I was really reluctant to complete, I was so scared of it.” But instead of backing away from competition and giving up on that aspect of the sport, Josh decided to embrace it, to normalize the experience, to learn from it and improve.
Both Josh’s habit of goal-setting and his improvement have been incremental. He sets mini-goals for himself before each competition: to win his first match, to nail a sweep, not to tap out, and so on. Little by little, his game has progressed. And he has witnessed how the smallest adjustments can result in the greatest changes to his technique. Something as simple as switching lapel grips in closed guard means that intended sweep will actually happen. “I’ve made success a priority in jiu-jitsu,” Josh says. “Now, that’s how I train.”
Josh has four competitions under his belt, and each has both challenged and rewarded him. As a white belt, Josh fought in a Gracie Barra in-house comp and lost all his matches. “That felt like a low point,” Josh says. But he didn’t give up, and decided to compete as a blue belt, at Roots in Richmond last summer. His intense fear of competing returned with a vengeance, and again he lost all his matches. However, Josh realized that each match had been an improvement on the last. He decided to try again, despite his fear. In Las Vegas this past September Josh won his first two matches and lost his third. Then in October at the IBJJF Seattle Open, he won silver. He’s now confident to compete and offers up the following advice: “sometimes it feels like you’re regressing,” he says, “but over time you’re always improving.”
Date started at Gracie Barra Vancouver: February 2013
Weight loss: 20 lbs
Current Age: 38
Occupation: Client Adviser in Greenhouse Gas Management. “I help companies measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.”
Try, try again. So did Christian Latschislaw when he returned to Gracie Barra Vancouver in October of 2014. Christian had joined GB Vancouver seven years ago, in large part motivated by unfavorable medical tests confirming he was heading towards a lifetime of bad health. So, Christian stopped his 19-year old smoking habit, and decided to take up the gentle art. However, a debilitating neck injury after only three months defeated his purpose. Then, a doctor treating his injury called him old and a ‘weekend warrior’ and discouraged any further martial arts training. Christian was devestated. But he didn’t give up. In the fall of 2014 he happened to watch an Austrailian documentary of a man in his seventies receiving his purple belt, and Christian thought, Why not me?
The next day he signed up again at GB Vancouver, both to his benefit and ours. Now, instead of gassing out after five minutes, Christian is able to roll for over an hour non-stop. He’s gained 10 pounds of muscle and his mindset has changed. “I hope it’s humbling me,” he says. His increased confidence has come in handy at his challenging job as psychiatric nurse. As such, Christian has often been an easy target of violent outbursts. Now he feels he is in more control of such situations, and that through jiu-jitsu he has conqured his fear and put his health back on track. Christian also admits that his jiu-jitsu journey has raised awareness of the power of women in the sport. “Before I started,” Christian says, “I would never have thought a woman could have tapped me out. But now I know it’s true, that women can be fierce. I’m better able to accept people as they are.”
Inspired early on by Helio Gracie, whose approach he admires, and whose body type matches his own, Christian now tries to get a little bit better everyday. One short-term goal is to compete for the first time while still a white belt. His tenacity now inspires others. “If I can do it, anybody can…!” Jiu-jitsu for life.
Occupation: Psychiatric Nurse
Month/Year joined GB Vancouver: October, 2014
Weight loss / gain: Gained 10 lbs, from 150 to 160
Belt: 3 stripe white belt
Two years after playing his final football game for the UBC Varsity team and at his office job desk, Serge Kaminsky had become complacent, and yearned for more. Although highly athletic for much of his life, his football-related injuries, especially to his back, had taken their toll. “I felt like an old man,” Serge says. “My spine was misaligned, I had multiple pinched nerves, and my hips couldn’t rotate.” Luckily, his interest in MMA, especially jiu-jitsu, was strong enough to motivate him to join Gracie Barra Vancouver and start practicing the gentle art. That was a year and a half ago. “I’m so much more flexible now, and no morning back pain,” Serge explains. “Jiu-jitsu made me take control of my body and my healing. It gave me goals to strive for in and out of the gym.” ...
Goals feature prominently in Serge’s approach to athletics and to life in general. “Set smaller goals that you can reach, so that the larger goals seem that much more possible,” he says. Some of Serge’s current goals are to do ten hand stand pushups and the splits before the year is out, to train BJJ in Brazil, become BJJ world champion, and to one day pass his Professor’s guard. Achieving the smaller goals fuels his motivation to attain the larger ones. And this approach appears to be working: he’s won gold in his weight class at both the IBJJF Vegas Open in 2014 as a white belt, and at NAGA Portland in 2015 as a blue belt. He’s taken control of his health and life. He’s becoming the person he wants to be, pushing himself to his limits, physically and mentally. No more hesitation. Every day has purpose again, and Serge is happier for it.
Not that his jiu jitsu journey is without obstacles and frustrations. Serge understands the need to keep an open mind when training with someone new, as everybody has something new to share. “No matter how much you learn and how good you get, there will always be someone with a technique or counter that you haven’t seen,” he says. And he’s happy to pay it forward. “Strive everyday to get better while helping those around you get better too. What you put into the sport is what you get out of it,” Serge says with a smile.
Occupation: Geotechnical Engineer
Month/Year joined GB Vancouver: November 2013
Weight loss / gain: Lost 5 pounds (“I can eat a lot more food now without getting fat.”)
Body Fat%: Unknown (“I’m in the best shape of my life!”)
“Competition is a fight with your past self,” says Jacquie Spence, describing her recent experiences in BJJ tournaments. She knew competing would be demanding, physically and psychologically, but found that “competing pushed me towards being the best version of myself possible.” Jacquie competed as a teenager, both in karate as a brown belt and in synchronized swimming, and soon realized she should try to compete in jiu-jitsu, despite her fears and concerns. She’s now thrilled to have followed through, as the boost in self-confidence has been palpable. She also acknowledges feeling more relaxed and calm in stressful situations, a common positive side-effect to fighting on the mats.
Psychological benefits aside, Jacquie has also benefited physically since starting to practice jiu-jitsu at Gracie Barra Vancouver eight months ago: she has lost over 20 pounds and has built up her endurance and strength. Her diet has also changed due to the demands of the sport: “I eat more daily protein, and have more frequent, smaller meals to keep my energy levels consistent,” she explains.
After moving to the West Coast from Ontario, Jacquie knew she wanted to explore another martial art, and was immediately drawn to the family atmosphere at Gracie Barra Vancouver. “Although it may be perceived as an individual sport, there is a strong social circle to help me reach my goals,” she says. One such goal is the upcoming IBJJF Worlds competition in California next month. Jacquie is on track with preparing for this demanding competition, with the intention of dropping down one weight class and further building up her cardio and power.
What is one jiu-jitsu lesson Jacquie has learned since starting to practice the gentle art? “Sometimes it’s OK not to succeed immediately: it’s better to relax, understand what went wrong, and learn from it,” Jacquie says. Never win or lose, always win or learn.
Occupation: Special Education Assistant
Starting Weight (Agust 2014): 190 lbs
Current Weight: 168 lbs
Ryan Galli knows who he wants to be, thanks to jiu-jitsu. Walking away from a tough existence in Ontario wasn’t easy, but Ryan found strength in the teachings of jiu-jitsu and the jiu-jitsu community he integrated with at Gracie Barra Vancouver. “I realize now that a smile goes farther than anger does in a confrontation,” he says. “Jiu-jitsu changed everything.”
Ryan has a family history of combat sports, achieving a brown belt in Judo in his youth, whereas his father was a successful competetive wrestler on the national level. Wanting to continue this family tradition, Ryan enrolled his two young sons, Kingson and Redding, at Gracie Barra Vancouver in the summer of 2013. Ryan signed up himself a few days later. “My boys and I were welcomed on the first day. We were happy to find such a strong family atmosphere,” he says. To date, young Kingston has won ten golds, and Ryan received silver at the 2014 Worlds in Long Beach as a white belt, after only ten months of training. “I’m much calmer and more confident,” Ryan says, “and the time spent at tournaments has brought our family closer together.”
The gentle art has also inspired Ryan and family to radically improve their diet. Only grass fed beef, organic free range poultry, organic vegetables and no dairy other than eggs. His kids have adapted well to their new no-sugar, no-cheese diet, with only the occasional complaint. Ryan enjoys challenging himself in order to improve his game, most recently by cutting his weight down to 157 lbs for the Abu Dhabi qualifiers. He has incorporated stretching and weight training to build flexibility and strength. “Yoga is next on my list,” he says.
The biggest lesson learned so far? “Your ego is your enemy in BJJ and in life,” Ryan says. “Control your ego and change will come.”
Occupation: Painting Contractor
Starting Weight: 184 lbs
Current Weight: 157 lbs
% Body Fat: unknown but “lean for an old man”
Carla Elm Clement
Carla Elm Clement
After ten years of failed fertility, Carla Elm Clement decided to give up the dream of having a child. “I needed to redefine myself. I decided to treat myself as my own child.” Carla enrolled herself in Kempo Kung Fu, then joined Gracie Barra Vancouver after her first sample Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. “I fell in love with it on the first go,” Carla says with a smile. After almost two years of practicing the gentle art, Carla has started to compete, and assists with the Kids classes throughout the week. “Brazilian jiu-jitsu has given me a true purpose,” she says.
The benefits of practicing jiu-jitsu go beyond simple weight loss and muscle gain. “Brazilian jiu-jitsu challenges you on every level,” Carla says. “It’s an endless education on the limits and potential of your body, mind, and spirit. And the biggest benefit is that I’m part of a community of like-minded, intelligent people.” Carla recognizes the need to study the impacts of nutrition on performance as well. “Essentially, every person needs to find the diet that works for their own body and their own goals. Jiu-jitsu has trained me to respect my body and my instinct, so I know better what to embrace and what to avoid.” Her diet consists of high protein and greens, limited carbs and lots and lots of water. And omega-3 oil for the knees, hips and shoulders, essential for those over 40.
Carla’s advice to those seeking fitness: “Find your activity or sport, try whatever interests you, try Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Don’t stop looking! Find what will last you a lifetime.” Jiu-jitsu has taught her to work on her weaknesses, one day at a time. Her future goals? “To do hand stand push-ups!” she says, laughing. “And to one day bring home gold.”
Occupation: Director of Operations in corporate SR&ED
Started BJJ at GB Vancouver: April,2013
Heaviest weight: 172 lbs (in 2010)
Current weight: 125 pounds
Ten years ago Randy Teranishi suffered a car accident that left him with neck, shoulder, back and wrist injuries and compromised his strength and flexibility. Needless to say his fitness level dropped and he put on weight as a result. But a lifelong interest in the teachings of Bruce Lee, the rise of MMA, and a curiosity for self-defense, especially ground grappling, triggered Randy’s decision to explore Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At the start of 2014 he began his search for a gym that would meet his needs. He soon chose Gracie Barra Vancouver for its family atmosphere and inclusion of students of all ages. Randy found his fitness home.
Practicing the gentle art over the past year has both relaxed and invigorated Randy. “I find I have more energy,” he says. “Better cardio. I’ve become stronger and more flexible, over all more athletic.” A changed man.
Aside from the physical benefits and leaner physique (Randy has lost 30 pounds), jiu-jitsu has impacted his psychology as well. “I’m more confident and calmer,” he says. And my thinking is clearer.” Randy found he needed to modify his diet as well, to accommodate his recent efforts. He now eats very little sugar or salt, and very little red meat, replacing it with fish and poultry. For many, a true jiu-jitsu lifestyle involves a complete exploration of body, mind and spirit.
His goals motivate him to maintain his training and healthy ways. He hopes to achieve his purple belt one day soon, and has yet to envision what his greatest fitness achievement will be. Randy’s words of inspiration to others interested in the gentle art? “Train hard, train safe, and in the words of Bruce Lee, ‘Be water, my friend.'”
Occupation: Shipper and Lead Hand in Rebar Fabrication
Started BJJ at GB Vancouver: January, 2014
Starting weight: 205 pounds
Current weight: 175 pounds
After almost twelve years practicing stand-up at Gracie Barra Vancouver (Muay Thai, Boxing, Fitness), Linda Lai knows it’s not just about training the body, it’s also about training the mind. And she appreciates the ‘partner’ aspect of the sport, in learning how to react to -- and with -- an opponent’s actions. This appreciation was fostered by various invaluable instructors over the years. “Each and every one of my trainers has pushed and inspired me,” she says.
Linda fell in love with the sport on Day One, back in 2005, when she first joined Gracie Barra Vancouver. Having a strong background in ballet, she grew to appreciate the appeal of stand-up: “The technical aspect is the same,” she says. “That’s what fascinated me.”
Linda also recognizes how stand-up has influenced other aspects of her life. As an Interior Designer in Food & Beverage and other retail spaces, Linda saw how the benefits of stand-up directly affected her job performance: increased endurance, stamina and confidence, reduced stress, and enhanced decision-making abilities. Most amazingly, Linda recognizes how stand-up helped to heal her chronic wrist and elbow pain resulting from repetitive design work, at times so severe she had difficulty carrying groceries. Now, she says, “I definitely feel younger than I actually am. I feel strong.”
Gracie Barra Vancouver supports Linda’s fitness and martial arts journey, and our instructors dream of such profound student success. Now, the student has become the teacher: Linda has developed enough confidence in her skills and abilities to teach others. “To stay young is to stay strong,” she says. “Living a fit lifestyle should be everyone’s priority.”
Occupation: Senior Interior Designer
Month/Year joined GB Vancouver: July, 2005
Fitness Accomplishment: 100 burpees in under 4 minutes 30 seconds
A note on Desserts: "I train hard, thus I treat myself without guilt!"