Rohnert Park gym seeing wave of interest in Brazilian jiujitsu – The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

With the easing of pandemic restrictions, practitioners of Brazilian jiujitsu — a staple in the world of mixed martial arts — say the sport has increased in popularity.
Such is the case at Rohnert Park’s Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where membership and interest has soared to the tune of over 300 members since mask mandates were lifted. It’s not slowing down, either, according to owner and head instructor Rich Henderson.
“It’s kind of like the New Year’s resolution rush, the ‘Oh, this is a good excuse for me to get out and do something,’” Henderson said. “It’s that times 10. It hasn’t stopped.”
Like many businesses, the pandemic hit the gym hard. Henderson and his team were forced to go virtual in a sport that is notoriously personal and active. Membership dropped from 250 members to 50 at the height of the pandemic, while revenue dropped by 80%, he said.
At Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Rohnert Park, total participation is just north of 300 members. That’s the highest it’s been since before the pandemic, where the numbers wavered between 225-250 members.
One of the things that Henderson has been impressed with, however, is the number of new members who have joined.
“It’s not just that the people who left came back, but they were replaced by new people,” Henderson said. “The majority of the people who have joined in the past, let’s say, nine months, have never been here before.”
Brazilian jiujitsu is a ground combat sport that focuses on grappling techniques, including takedowns, joint locks and other submissions. Its primary goal is to teach self-defense.
In a contest, one participant will start standing and try to bring the opponent to the ground using a variety of takedowns. Positioning earns you points, as do submissions.
Mitchell Quintanilla, one of Henderson’s newest students, never imagined the sport as something he would take part in.
“I’ve never been an active guy or an athlete in any way, but I had a daughter, and I was into the fact that I need to learn self-defense,” Quintanilla said.
Quintanilla, who lives right around the corner from the gym, had driven by multiple times before he stopped to give it a shot. Immediately, he was hooked.
“I like the fact that you’re able to defend yourself without hurting somebody,” Quintanilla said. “You’re able to take someone down, control them and not actually have to get into a serious fight.”
A normally shy individual, Quintanilla said he was blown away by the welcoming he received and the community feel that the sport brings.
“That’s the best part of it,” Quintanilla said. “They’re so inviting and so friendly that they make it comfortable to come here.”
Another member of the Gracie Barra gym is Travers Collins, deputy fire chief with the Santa Rosa Fire Department. Collins has been training in the martial art since the late 1990s and has seen the sport grow in popularity throughout Northern California. He’s particularly aware of the recent interest in the sport — known as BJJ for short — from younger generations.
“It’s on a world stage now,” Collins said. “When jiujitsu came on board, everybody knew that this is what works. People want their kids to be safe, people want their kids to be able to defend themselves, and I think that’s why there’s a resurgence with the younger group.”
The Rohnert Park gym is part of the Gracie Barra network that includes more than 800 schools on six continents.
The network is the largest Brazilian jiujitsu school in the world and was founded by Carlos Gracie Jr., whose father was of the primary creators of the sport. In 2002, Carlos Jr. founded the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, which holds tournaments all over the world.
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