By the time I walked into Gracie Maryland, I’d been training in martial arts for about fifteen years or so. I’d trained many places and I’d seen many different class and instruction models. Watching the kids classes at Gracie Maryland was eye opening to me. Kids classes were divided into two groups, ages 4-7 and 7+. The kids started their training standing and when they sparred, they were allowed to actually try to throw each other. This was highly unusual for me because I’d trained places where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu started on the ground and stayed on the ground. It was fun, but not very realistic, in my opinion. These kids were training for an actual fight (or an actual competition) where the fight starts standing. They were doing good technique, very good! When on the ground, these kids did not want to stay there. They fought to get back to their feet. “This,” I thought, “this is what real self defense training looks like!” In that moment, I was hooked.
Watching the kids train at Gracie Maryland, I had the thought, “This is where I would want my daughter to train. In fact, this is where I’d want my wife to train.” Then it struck me, like I’d just walked into a wall while texting on my iPhone. “If this is the quality of training I want for my daughter and my wife, why would I not want the same for myself?” Then, I watched Mike Johnson teach the adult class. I knew Gracie Maryland was where I wanted to be. I knew Mike and Jordan Stewart’s school was what I wanted to emulate in my own. My partner, Dwayne Bowie, as well, was highly impressed with the quality, the generosity, and the openness of these folks. We left very excited for the future.
Later that week, I met with Mike Stewart for a business consultation. A strange thing happened in that meeting. Less than a minute into our conversation, I blurted out, “I know I’m here for a business consultation, but I’ve realized that I don’t just want a consultation. I want to do business with you. I want to be a part of Gracie Maryland. This is the association I want to be a part of.” Hesitantly, Mike said, “We can talk about it. Let’s see how things go.” We sat down. Just like his brother Jordan, Mike was open, honest, and forthright. Whatever I asked him, he answered. It was as if Mike truly believed, and I think he does, that there was enough success to go around and that the best way to ensure his own success was to help others along the way.
Shortly after our meeting, I started training at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Maryland and Mike occasionally came to my home, to Seiya Dojo, to train with us and to get to know our group. Eventually, Bowie started traveling with me to Columbia to train with Mike and his guys also. We wanted to learn and be able to teach traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu self defense and Gracie Maryland is where we found that opportunity. Now, Kogen Dojo is open and we are able to pass on what Relson Gracie learned from Helio Gracie and what the folks at Gracie Maryland have learned from Relson. Every one of the instructors at Kogen Dojo in Severna Park is required to know and teach the Gracie Self Defense curriculum the way it is taught by Relson Gracie himself so that you and your children can experience what I experienced at Mike and Jordan Stewart’s school: Real self defense that works in real life situations.
We built Kogen Dojo in Severna Park, Maryland to fill a need in Anne Arundel County. Real Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Self Defense was not being taught in our area. At first, we were meeting a need for ourselves and our own training goals, but it wasn’t long before Bowie and I realized that we were creating something much bigger than ourselves, something for people like us who wanted to learn how to defend themselves in a friendly, respectful, and clean environment free of politics and egoism. Out of that, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu for Kids and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu for Adults at Kogen Dojo was born.
Robert Van Valkenburgh, Co-Founder of Kogen Dojo and Taikyoku Mind and Body
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