Community trumps competition at Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy

Nov. 3—On Labor Day weekend, Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy members Christine Gould and Richelle Takemoto came home with gold medals from the Masters World Championships in Las Vegas.

They're the latest in a long line of victories that members of the OJJA have taken home.

In fact, they competed at least once a month all over the East Coast and were the top team in the world for Grappling Industries in 2018 and 2019.

Competing is a big part of what they do at the Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy, but it's not all that they do.

"We have a pretty big competition team, but it's not everything," co-owner Matt Martindale said. "The other side is we have a lot of families here, families where mom and dad train and take the adult classes, the kids take the kids classes and while the adults are training the kids are either on the playground or watching movies so it's like a whole family atmosphere. There's a lot of families that train together."

Christel Little, who won a gold medal at the Masters World Championships in 2022, is an example of this; her five children as well as her husband are also taking classes at the OJJA.

In addition to the family atmosphere, there are several advantages to having a place like the Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy within the community.

Martindale and Wyatt Green, both black belts, opened the Academy together in 2012. It's the area's only authentic Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy, but that wasn't a part of their plan.

"It's pretty surreal," Martindale said of what the Academy has become. "It was by accident; I had a full-time day job and likewise with Wyatt. It was something nobody expected. I just really enjoy training Jiu Jitsu and I enjoy the people that are here, there are really awesome people here."

Martindale works for Oneonta City Schools at Valleyview Elementary as the physical education teacher, where they are one of the only schools in the country to teach Jiu Jitsu as part of the public school program.

Martindale and Green each teach classes and run the program together. There are about a dozen instructors that help out with adult classes and run kids classes, including Gould and Little.

There are four different kinds of kids classes: beginner vipers and advanced vipers, starting at age five, pythons for the bigger kids and teen classes, as well as the adult classes.

In addition to the family aspect of the program, law enforcement plays a large part, with more than 35 law enforcement officers having joined from Oneonta PD, Delhi PD, state troopers and more.

"Jiu Jitsu is huge for law enforcement now because it allows them to control people without having to hit them or hurt them," Martindale said. "They don't have to tase them, they can just gently hold them down and wait for help. Jiu Jitsu is a really compassionate and gentle way to be able to control somebody."

"All the current law enforcement curriculum for their academies is actually Jiu Jitsu based and it's a lot of black belts who run these police academies now, so it's cool to see how many law enforcement are taking to that," he added.

Another large segment of the population of the Oneonta Jiu Jitsu Academy is retired military members.

"A lot of Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy," Martindale said. "Jiu Jitsu is big in that community too, especially people with PTSD, or people that leave the military and they don't have a community like they used to have."

One thing that stands out about the OJJA is the number of female members it has.

Martindale said they have a few dozen that train there regularly, which is more than the typical Jiu Jitsu gym, although Jiu Jitsu is gaining popularity among women.

"Every Saturday we have a women's only class from 10:30-11:30 a.m.," Martindale said. "Monthly we have a free women's self defense class. The first Friday of every month at 5:30 p.m. That's open to anyone in the community. It's free, they can just show up and take a singular women's self defense class. Those are usually pretty highly attended."

Between the families, service members, retired military women's classes and much more, the OJJA has something to offer for people of various backgrounds.

There is also another branch in Delhi, the OJJA Delhi, run by Ben Dixon and Heather Knapp.

"One of the unique things about Jiu Jitsu is it can be a lifelong sport," Martindale said. "We have people that are training right now that are in their 60s and they can do it safely and with the rest of the group. I don't think there are a lot of activities like that for adults now. Like in high school you play football, well once you're an adult if you're not in college or the NFL, your career is over.

"For Jiu Jitsu, it's nice, you can start and you can have a path to do it your whole life. It's constantly evolving and giving you chances to attain new goals and to strive toward something. I think a lot of adults, that's kind of what we're looking for. I don't think we have a great outlet for that for adults."

"I think most of the people here are probably here less for the Jiu Jitsu and more for the community," he added. "I think the majority just enjoys that there's some really cool, kind, compassionate people that actually care about each other here and the community I think is probably what's the most important aspect.

"We've got people here that have been here for 10 years or more. Once people come in and they get it in their blood a little bit and they make a couple friends, they realize it's not a basement fight club, it's actually pretty cool, laid back and safe. A lot of them stick it out for the long term."

What the OJJA is now was never planned. But it's safe to say it's a good thing it came together this way.

"I kind of see it now as I'm more of a consumer of the thing than I am an instructor or an owner. I really just enjoy it. Jiu Jitsu has quite a bit of power and it's a very special thing to me," Martindale said.

"To me, and I think Wyatt would say the same, it's cool, but mostly cool because now we have lots of good training partners and people to hang out with," he added about what the OJJA has become. "That's kind of why I was in this to begin with. The only reason I started teaching any classes was because I wanted more training partners. It was a worthwhile endeavor, that's for sure."