As someone who loves learning about other cultures, it is always a little surprising to realize there has been a little piece of an incredibly interesting one right under your nose for quite some time. For me, this not-so-hidden gem was Gracie Barra, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school located in Urbana on Race Street. After getting the chance to sit down with head instructor coach Josh Cadenbach, I learned quickly that this school offers more than just classes and a place for competitors to train; it also offers a rich history in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“Gracie Barra was founded by a man named Master Carlos Gracie Junior whose father, Carlos Gracie Senior, actually was the one who created Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,” explains coach Josh Cadenbach, “it was created in a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu had started off as a family thing, Master Carlos Gracie Junior used Gracie Barra as a way to involve the rest of the community in it as well.” One of the ways they involved the rest of the community was by helping kids on the streets. “Instead of these kids continuing life on the streets, by becoming involved with Gracie Barra, they were being taught life lessons on the mat. Things like respect and discipline, dedication and challenging yourself—all core aspects of things people need to learn for the real world but sometimes not everyone is put into situations where they will necessarily learn that,” Cadenbach explains.
And with the intent of making Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu something that welcomes others to become involved, it is no surprise that Gracie Barra has flourished. Since the creation of Gracie Barra in 1986, there have been five hundred new schools put up in five different continents. In fact, in the last year there have been over one hundred new schools added. “That’s what is so great about Gracie Barra,” says Cadenbach, “it’s Jiu-Jitsu for everyone; that is our philosophy. It doesn’t matter if you are overweight or in shape, if you’re older or younger, or even what your profession is. We have some people come in here who want to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to help them in their profession, and we also have people who come in here who are doctors or professors. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
Coach James (white) and coach Josh (blue)
As for the classes offered at Gracie Barra, there are enough choices to fit anyone’s Jiu-Jitsu needs. Ranging from kids classes to fundamentals, advanced, and competition-level, Gracie Barra also offers classes called Commando Krav Maga and No Gi. “No Gi is basically wrestling with the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu chokes. It’s called No Gi because a ‘gi’ is what you wear in Jiu-Jitsu and you can also grab onto it normally. But in No Gi, you’re just wearing a rash guard and there is no opportunity to grab onto that gi,” says Cadenbach.
Pictured above: a white Gracie Barra gi
The Commando Krav Maga class is a different story, though. “Commando Krav Maga is a reality based, street self-defense. In normal Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there are lots of punching and kicking based defense moves. But Commando Krav Maga deals with how self-defense should be done in real life. This reality based combat system focuses on moves that are efficient for everyone, regardless of how strong you are. They’re basic moves and if they don’t work, then it doesn’t go into what we teach,” explains Cadenbach, “you can be able to pull off the most beautiful arm bar, but what happens when some guy comes up and kicks you in the head? That’s why we teach Commando Krav Maga. It’s pure self-defense.”
Although Gracie Barra is the number one competition school in the world for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, it may be surprising to learn that their number one concern is not competing. “We only push competition because it challenges you and shows you where your weaknesses are within your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills, but it is not about winning. It’s about personal growth. If you go and win first place and didn’t learn anything, then you’ve lost in my eyes. But if you go out there and lose and think, ‘Oh my God, I need to work on that move some more,’ then you’ve already won,” says Cadenbach, “it is about inner development, not competing because you don’t have to compete. People join for different reasons. Some people want to come in to get in shape, some want to meet new people, and some want to compete. It all depends on your path.”
Despite the prestigious status Gracie Barra holds around the world, the atmosphere in the school was friendly and inviting. “Sometimes the students will stick around for an hour or two after class in the lounge area just talking and enjoying each other’s company. That’s just sort of the atmosphere here; we’re like a big, close-knit family,” says Cadenbach, “we have fun and crack jokes, but when it’s time to work, then it’s time to work.”
Interested in taking classes? Want to learn more about Gracie Barra? Check them out here.