Jujitsu world champ visits SuperiorIt’s not every day that one has the chance to learn jujitsu from a fourth-degree black belt, but local martial arts enthusiasts had that opportunity recently at Inner Strength Martial Arts.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
It’s not every day that one has the chance to learn jujitsu from a fourth-degree black belt, but local martial arts enthusiasts had that opportunity recently at Inner Strength Martial Arts.
Five students from the Superior martial arts studio tested for and were awarded their blue belts in Gracie Jujitsu March 20 by Cleber Luciano, who has won multiple world championships in jujitsu and has served as a coach on UFC Ultimate Fighter.
Inner Strength Martial Arts studio owner Robert Mrotek said students normally have to train for one to three years before being allowed to test for their blue belts.
Jujitsu uses takedowns, submission holds and a variety of defensive moves to neutralize opponents. The sport has garnered more interest in recent years as mixed martial arts (MMA) contests have grown in popularity. All five of the Mrotek’s most recent blue belt students, in fact, are active in MMA.
Nick Spina, one of the students awarded his blue belt on March 20, said the belt exam with Luciano was very relaxed. He and the other students had met the fourth-degree black belt before and described him as very down to earth.
“We still wanted to impress him, though, because he is who he is,” Spina said.
Students testing for their blue belts had to demonstrate a basic mastery of jujitsu skills. Spina said Luciano sat calmly along one wall and called out orders over the roughly two-hour long exam.
After the belt ceremony March 20, Luciano also offered a seminar at Inner Strength Martial Arts.
Zach Litchke, who been training with Mrotek for about five years now, earned a stripe on his blue belt during the seminar. He was among the inaugural group from Inner Strength Martial Arts to earn a blue belt in February of 2010. Litchke has put in many hours of mat time, so appreciates the time commitment needed to improve in jujitsu.
“If I had been doing tae kwon do for the amount of time I’ve done this, I’d be a black belt,” Litchke said.
Every martial art has its own challenges, but in jujitsu requires its practitioners to be just as sharp mentally as they are physically. When sparring, Litchke said jujitsu students need to think five to seven moves ahead of their opponents.
“It’s like chess,” he said. “Move, counter move, then move again.”
On the other end of the spectrum is 10-year-old Jayla Follett. As a relative newcomer to jujitsu, Jayla has many years of work ahead of her before she even thinks about reaching the ultimate goal of a black belt. She earned her first stripe on her yellow belt from Luciano at the March 20 seminar and will need to advance through her orange and green belts before reaching blue belt status.
Still, Jayla can claim an accomplishment of which few others can boast — runner-up in a world championship competition.
Jayla entered the event, held in California, when she was just a nine-year-old. Most of her competitors were 10 or 11, and Jayla was the only girl competing.
“I thought I was going to do bad because it was my first competition,” Jayla said.
Jayla wasn’t intimidated, though, and finished in second place. She said she plans to continue competitive sparring as she develops her jujistsu skills and hopes one day to claim the world championship title herself.
For Mrotek, a black belt in jujitsu is next on his to-do list.
Mrotek has trained in martial arts for almost two decades and has instructed others in jujitsu since teaching a number of martial arts courses at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and serving as president of the school’s martial arts club. He earned his black belt in karate in 1998 and was awarded his brown belt in Gracie jujitsu — one step below black belt status — this year under Cleber Luciano.
“Usually, to test for your brown belt you’re training for 10-plus years,” Mrotek said. Earning his brown belt was the culmination of hundreds of hours in training, so Mrotek chose to hold the ceremony in Superior where all his friends and family could attend.
“I wanted to get it here in front of all my students,” Mrotek said. “It meant more to me getting it here.”