Brazilian jiu jitsu brings positive change in AOK

Brazilian jujitsu students pose with instructors Professor Richard Nanco of Sudbury and Darren Madahbee of Aundeck Omni Kaning during a recent seminar on the sport held at the Aundeck Omni Kaning community recreation centre.

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—White-clad forms fly through the air to execute controlled landings on the dark blue mats laid out in the Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) community centre. Richard Nanco, a professor of Brazilian jiu jitsu is delivering a seminar on the martial art—it is a very hands-on discussion.

“I got into martial arts when I was much younger,” smile Mr. Nanco ruefully as he rubbed his shoulder during a break in the action. “Let’s just say I was headed down a very dark path in life at the time.” Involvement in formal martial arts training took him off that negative trail and placed him onto a more positive trajectory.

After an initial foray into the forms, Mr. Nanco stepped away from the sport for a while as life went on. “I found myself needing to get back into something,” he said. He was living in Toronto at the time. “I started getting into mixed martial arts,” said Mr. Nanco. “I was fighting MMA before it was legal in Montreal.” He had his first match in 1997.

Despite his sore muscles, Mr. Nanco said that Brazilian Jujitsu is ideal for any age group and he highly recommends it as a positive activity for youth.

“Martial arts helped save my life,” he said, and he wasn’t talking about fending off attackers in the dark of a deserted alleyway. He laughs off the question.

“The emphasis on martial arts is that it is an art,” said Mr. Nanco. The structure and discipline play an important role in helping young people make better decisions in their life all around. “Like any art, you have to know the basics—even Picasso had to know basic drawing.”

“In learning the basics of martial arts, you learn a lot about yourself,” he said.

Darren Madahbee of AOK set up the local program. A social worker focussed on creating a healthy minds and bodies in First Nations communities and a longtime enthusiastic student of the martial arts, Mr. Madahbee said that he began the local program convinced that it would have the same positive impact on youth that it has had in his own life and that of Mr. Nanco.

Tributes and accolades from parents in the community seem to bear that initial belief out in spades.

“Our kids absolutely love the kids program and count down the days to the next event,” said Mary-Anne McGregor. “It has allowed my son to find common ground with other band members and (he) has built relationships that have transferred from the mats to school. The kids practice at home daily. Jiu jitsu has changed our lifestyle as a family; we are more active, eating better and are very happy with the rewards this program has brought to our family as a whole. I cannot thank you enough for bringing this program to the community.”

“I am so happy to have this program in the community,” agreed Rachel M. Goodfellow. “It has given my son something to look forward to and he has finally found something he can become actively involved in—otherwise he was going down a bad path. He is eating better and is more concerned about his health and wellness. I cannot wait to see him compete.”

Mr. Nanco and Mr. Madahbee both point to their love of the sport and their commitment to their students as a positive reward. “I care for my guys,” said Mr. Nanco of his students. “I tell them the sky is the limit.”

It is a sentiment echoed by Mr. Madahbee. “People need to know that it is possible, you can make positive changes in your life,” he said. “From positive energy flows positive energy and things tend to work out a lot better for you when you face life with a positive position.”

Behind Mr. Nanco, students are going through a routine where one student is on the ground being attacked by another student looming over him, push of the foot, a strategic placement of hands and feet and the student on the ground is suddenly back on his feet, illustrating an interesting metaphor for life. “If you have the right moves, you can turn your situation around,” said Mr. Madahbee.

Classes are held every Wednesday evening, from 6 pm, at the Aundeck Omni Kaning community centre. Those interested in learning more about the sport can contact Mr. Madahbee at 705-368-3171.