HYANNIS, Mass. — Tucked away just off main street, Juniko Hyannis offers Brazilian jiujitsu classes to children and adults, creating a place on Cape Cod for lovers of this martial art.
Owner and head instructor Juliano Coutinho first found the sport while growing up in Brazil.
“Living in Brazil, it’s easy to create a wrong path for yourself,” said Coutinho in his white Gi, the traditional martial arts uniform. “Jiujitsu kept me focused and healthy.”
Coutinho sees some of the kids he teaches in similar situations.
“Hyannis is a town where you see a lot of younger kids who don’t have anything to look up to,” he said. “Jiujitsu is not only saving kids’ lives, it’s building confidence and character.”
Brazilian jiujitsu is a grappling-based martial art developed in the early 20th century. It originated from the Japanese martial art judo, which immigrants brought to the South American country.
“(Jiujitsu) uses submissive holds and body leverage so smaller people can defend themselves,” said Coutinho.
In both sports, the goal is to take your opponent to the ground. However, judo emphasizes throwing your opponent to the ground while on your feet. Brazilian jiujitsu focuses on submissions, pins and the battle once both competitors are down.
Jiujitsu is gaining popularity in the U.S. largely due to its inclusion in mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting. Some of MMA’s most popular competitors, like Brazilian Anderson Silva and Conor McGregor of Ireland, who is in talks to face boxing champion Floyd Mayweather this year, were trained in Brazilian jiujitsu.
At workouts at Juniko Hyannis, members pair up by size and practice techniques. They start standing before taking each other to the mat, using their legs to pin down their opponent.
The Hyannis dojo has paintings of multicolored, intertwined circles on the wall along the mat. Coutinho believes they symbolize how people around the world gravitate toward Brazilian jiujitsu.
Juniko Hyannis opened in 2014. There is another Juniko branch in Hanover. Coutinho trained under Daniel Gracie, whose family is credited with developing Brazilian jiujitsu.
The name Juniko refers to the 12 lakes of the same name in the north of Japan’s largest and most populous island, Honshu. The lakes formed after a devastating earthquake in the early 18th century.
“They were called a sanctuary,” Coutinho said. “People went there to become a better version of themselves.”
Henrique Tatara, 12, of Hyannis, believes Brazilian jiujitsu has helped him to improve on and off the mat, as it did for his instructor years ago.
“It disciplines you mentally,” Henrique said. “It helps me in school to pay attention to the teacher, and get along with my brothers and parents.”
Kaike Maia, 10, also of Hyannis, likes that jiujitsu is teaching him to defend himself.
“My favorite move is the guillotine,” said Kaike. “It’s like a choke. You grab the neck and pull up.” Luckily, he said he has never been in a real life fight.
During the kids’ classes, many parents are on hand to watch the youngsters practice. Last Christmas, Owen Flood bought his 8-year-old son, Colin, a gi and a membership to Juniko Hyannis, and said the experience has been positive.
“Absolutely! He has a sense of self-confidence now,” said Flood.
In February, the younger Flood, Kaike, Henrique and others from Juniko Hyannis traveled to California to compete in the Pan Kids International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship.
The sport can also have a similar effect on adults.
“I was always that shy kid,” said Scottie Kemp, who is both a student and an assistant instructor at Juniko Hyannis. A restaurant worker when he’s not practicing, he trains more in the winter when the Cape’s restaurant industry slows.
“To see a shy kid go from being scared to opening up and training other kids, it’s really rewarding,” Kemp said.
“Life’s not only about making money. Jiujitsu is about mental health,” said Rodrigo Souza, another instructor. “It keeps us in balance in life.”
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