CHATHAM ─ On a Friday night on Cape Cod, John Herring is where most people would expect to find him: teaching jiu jitsu moves to a growing group of enthusiasts at the Chatham Community Center. Borne of Herring's club at Monomoy Regional High School, the Friday night extension class is now in its fifth month and Herring can't imagine spending his Friday nights any other way.
Herring, a longtime jiu jitsu enthusiast who not only teaches, but also competes, first brought the sport to Monomoy three years ago, securing a small but dedicated student following. When interest about the program grew beyond the space at the high school, Herring looked into an expansion.
“Matt Barnes was teaching karate there already, so I thought it would be a nice extension,” Herring said. “A fun way to build up the group for the kids outside of the school.”
Herring said initial participants in the Friday group, which meets weekly from 6 to 8 p.m., were from MRHS, but that through word of mouth there is now an average of 15 to 18 people joining in every Friday.
Alyssa Lomba is a recent newcomer and, so far, loves the sport.
“I've gone through some serious things in my life that have made me insecure about myself but when you come here, you feel like family,” she said. “I've gone through a lot that has made me a better person, but at the same time has made me aware of my surroundings. Jiu Jitsu makes me feel like I can protect myself.”
Max Hall, who attends both the Monomoy club and the Friday sessions, said it's helping him manage his stress levels. He appreciates learning new moves each week, as well.
“My favorite is the arm bar because it helps me feel strong,” Hall said.
Herring, who also teaches special education at Monomoy, said one of his favorite aspects of jiu jitsu is that it can be a powerful means of learning one's strengths physically and personally.
“You have to fight out of positions, and that teaches you about yourself,” he said, adding that with jiu jitsu comes an air of confidence. “You initially get the moves from your teachers, but it's something you have to make your own.”
Herring is especially grateful to those within MRHS, including Principal Bill Burkhead, and those in the local and extended community, such as the Art of Charity, attorney James Sexton of New York, Mark Ferron of Old Tyme Heating, Chris Virgin of Virgin Automotive, and Cape Cod Nutrition Corner, that have strengthened the program through their support
Herring, who works with Middleboro instructor Mike DeLuca, said a key tenet of jiu jitsu is respect, which means respect for oneself, respect for the sport, and respect for one's opponent. Herring said he strives to emphasize this in his teaching, infusing his classes with regular reminders that jiu jitsu is more about strength and strategy and less about fighting.
“The goal of my teaching has always been to become a better member of society,” he said.
The bonds that are forming between classmates are also heartwarming for Herring.
“A week or two ago one of my adults had to miss a week,” Herring said. “When he came back I saw kids go up and give him a hug because they missed him.”
He appreciates the moments when what he preaches becomes practice.
“It's nice to see older kids mentor the younger kids in the club now,” Herring said. “I've seen better grades from students. Better behavior. It's teaching me that kids are going to make mistakes, but at the same time we've just got to keep pushing.”
The club is open to new members, and Herring invites those interested to come by the Chatham Community Center on Friday evenings between 6 and 8 p.m. for more information.