Those interested in a healthy workout and a lesson in self-defense will be excited to learn that Fairfield has a thriving school of mixed martial arts.
The school is known as Ground Zero Jiu Jitsu, and it’s on the east end of the SunnyBrook Living Care Center. Instructors teach a variety of martial arts classes, and in particular Brazilian jiu jitsu, a grappling form of fighting first developed in Japan and later refined into a uniquely Brazilian style. Practitioners of jiu jitsu learn how to defeat a larger opponent by taking him to the ground and placing him in a hold.
The club was started by Nick Ulin and Danny Qualters about seven years ago in Boom Fitness.
At the time, Qualters’s brother-in-law James Keiper was doing mixed martial arts, and wanted big guys to wrestle with.
A black belt named Devin Miller moved to town and started a jiu jitsu program with the MMA guys. The wrestlers continued to hone their skills even after Miller left town. About five years ago, they lined up an affiliation with John Gutta, who owns Tipping Point Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Cedar Rapids and who visits the club several times a year to teach seminars.
A few of the club’s more advanced members take turns giving instruction. Black belt George King teaches at the club, and has opened his own club in Ottumwa called Guardian Jiujitsu and Judo.
Last year, Qualters, who owned the club, had too many things on his plate and turned the club over to Dyllon Muniz. Muniz has expanded the class offerings, which now include a sparring class, one for kids, one for women, and one for both men and women.
“We have come a long way from the beginning,” Qualters said. “It’s all about us loving jiu jitsu and not giving up even with all the disadvantages we had as a small town.”
Fairfield is unique among small towns in its ability to support a jiu-jitsu program. Club members commented that the other schools in the state are all in cities that are much larger, such as Des Moines and Davenport.
Muniz has sought to increase the club’s exposure to grow its membership and perhaps move into a bigger space. The club has about 25 members now.
Muniz joined the club because he was performing in mixed martial arts. Mixed martial arts refers to a bout in which multiple fighting styles are allowed, which can include punches, kicks, takedowns and holds. Knowledge of jiu jitsu is helpful in navigating the “ground game” of pins and joint locks, and how to avoid them.
“In any given fight, I’m almost certain to use jiu jitsu,” Muniz said. “The two biggest martial arts in MMA are jiu jitsu and Muay Thai [Thai boxing], which is a stand-up striking technique.”
Knowledge of jiu jitsu doesn’t just help Muniz in the ring. He is a bouncer at a bar, so he often has to deal with unpleasant customers. Luckily, he’s never had to fight a bar patron, but he said knowing jiu jitsu gives him confidence he could defend himself.
“Even if you don’t use it, knowing that you can takes away any hesitation, worry or negativity in your body,” he said. “Jiu jitsu teaches us that you can disable even the biggest or strongest person. That is the art of it.”
Jessica Hays leads the women’s class at the club, and teaches a class on jiu jitsu to Fairfield Middle School students. She learned Brazilian jiu jitsu mostly in South Korea while working at a flight school. She became skilled enough in the martial art that she began teaching the classes, and before long her class had ballooned to 80 members. The flight school even added it as a course for the security students, so they could use elements of Brazilian jiu jitsu to control unruly passengers and for self-defense.
“Brazilian jiu jitsu is called the ‘gentle art,’ and is highly effective as a self-defense system, but is also a wildly popular sport,” Hays said. “BJJ employs takedowns, sweeps, joint locks and chokes.”
Hays, who has studied jiu jitsu for eight years, said the key to mastering the moves is to repeat them often enough that they are engrained into one’s muscle memory without having to consciously think.
The middle school students Hays teaches will have to stick with the sport a long time before they can become masters. Earning a black belt, the highest degree, takes about 10 years. Nevertheless, even with just 30 minutes of instruction per day, the middle school students are able to learn the basics of the martial art, and can get themselves out of a bad situation.
The students learn how to defend themselves from someone sitting on top of them trying to punch them, or if they are in a headlock. They learn how to execute holds such as an arm bar, triangle choke and kimura, a kind of shoulder lock.
“I think the students are having fun, learning to avoid conflicts, and hopefully will never have to use what they’ve learned,” Hays said.
Nick Broz is one of the club’s instructors as an upper belt. Broz has a brown belt, which is one below black belt, the highest degree. He’s had great success at jiu jitsu competitions, even winning twice in his belt class at the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation Championship in Chicago.
Broz has been performing martial arts nearly his entire adult life. He did judo for a few years, which is similar to jiu jitsu except it emphasizes throws. Hitting the mat time and again was taking a toll on Broz’s body, so he had to take a break.
“When I was able to start doing martial arts again, I wanted to find one I could do for a long time, until I was 50,” said Broz, who is 39. “Jiu jitsu is broad enough that you can play it different ways. If you’re young and athletic, you can be explosive. If you’re smaller or a bit older, you can play in a more controlled way.”
Broz said he has not had to use his skills in a real fight. In fact, based on what he’s learned in the training room, he has realized just how chaotic a real fight can be, and does all he can to avoid them.
“You feel it’s going to be like in a movie, but it’s not. You can hit your head on the curb and die,” he said. “Learning jiu jitsu for self-defense has taught me that, even though I could defend myself, it’s almost never worth it because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Broz said that a lot of fights are started by people who feel they have something to prove.
“I don’t feel I need to prove anything,” he said. “If my home is being invaded, that’s one thing, but if someone cuts me off in traffic, it’s not worth fighting over.”
Club member Ashley Doe became interested in the sport a little over four years ago when she attended a jiu jitsu tournament with Broz in Colorado. She was struck by the palpable adrenaline in the room.
“I had never seen people move that way,” she said. “I texted a friend who knows jiu jitsu and asked, ‘Can you teach me?’”
Doe has been taking classes at Ground Zero for 3.5 years. Among the benefits of learning jiu jitsu are a great workout and knowledge of self-defense.
“But the biggest reason I train is that it’s fun,” she said. “We are put in these uncomfortable situations a lot, and we learn how to get out of them, which is really empowering.”
In addition to teaching students about grappling techniques, the club’s instructors also review how to avoid conflicts by being aware of the people around them. Doe recalled one instance where she used this knowledge to elude a person trying to put his hands on her.
“It teaches you about space, about how not to let someone get close enough to grab you, or if they do, how to get their hands off you,” she said. “And you can do it without hurting them. That’s why it’s known as the ‘gentle martial art.’ If someone is attacking you, or even in cases of rape, you can stop them just by knowing how to use your body.”