HARWICH ─ Monomoy jiu jitsu teacher John Herring won't do anything he wouldn't expect his students to do, which is why on Saturday Herring, a brown belt, took to the mats of the Sapateiro Invitational against black belt opponent Matt Arroyo in Herring's first-ever pay-per-view event.
Though Herring fell to Arroyo during a transition in which Arroyo seized an opportunity to put him in a choke hold, he learned much from the match and plans to put what he learned to use not only in his upcoming superfight in Atlantic City, but also in his jiu jitsu instruction at Monomoy Regional High School.
Herring, who previously trained with Gracie Fitness in Hyannis and now works with Mike DeLuca in Middleboro, started the jiu jitsu club at Monomoy last fall in the hopes of attracting kids not interested in playing organized athletics who were still looking to compete. Though his initial numbers were small, word of mouth helped the club gain popularity, especially as his original half-dozen students talked with friends about how much fun the club was and about how much they were learning.
Eventually, Herring saw enough improvement in his students that he felt they were ready for tournament action. Overall, they've now competed in three tournaments in which five athletes earned nine first-place finishes, three second-place finishes, and six third-place finishes.
“They're cleaning up pretty well,” said Herring.
While winning is definitely exciting for the students, what makes them stick with the sport is about more than just awards.
Lance Manning is one of Herring's original group, and since taking up jiu jitsu has earned two first-place finishes in tournaments and has greatly improved his life off the mats.
“Every time I come in here I feel so much better,” Manning said. “I get the enjoyment of training and learning with my friends and having the social experience, and then the seriousness with it, too.”
Though Manning said his coach is “a lot more laid back as an instructor” than others might be, Herring encourages his crew to take the sport seriously by wearing the traditional gi in practices, bowing when stepping on or off the mats, and striving to get better each time on the floor.
Back when the club started, Herring offered donated gis to the kids, which meant that not everyone matched or wore his or her appropriate size. Grant money from the Art of Charity allowed Herring to purchase gear, including new gis, while sponsorship from Break Point (breakpointfc.com) allowed him to get equipment at a discount, a much-appreciated benefit to Herring and his students.
Herring himself is sponsored by a host of area businesses, including the Land Ho! in Orleans, and Olde Tyme Heating, also in Orleans. Sponsorship, he said, is important as he moves through the competitive ranks.
To compete at Sapateiro, Herring had to submit his name and hope to get chosen.
“I put in my application and was picked for the eight-man submission only bouts,” Herring said. The bracketed tourney involved competing in three 10-minute submission-only matches. Herring's opponent previously fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and is a mixed martial artist.
Though he lost, Herring said the experience was valuable.
“It gives me questions to get answered,” he said. “It shows kids that losing happens, and how you rebound.”
He said several of his students messaged him after the bout to tell him how much they learned just from watching his match, some no doubt recalling their own tournament bouts.
When Manning won his first, he was elated.
“The first thing I did was I came over and hugged John, a big smile on my face,” he said. “It was just the sense not that it was the first time jiu jitsu worked, but it was the first time I made it work for me. This was the first combination of moves he's taught me that I actually got to use efficiently and control the fight a lot more.”
Justin Bourgeois, also one of Herring's original group, plans to stick with the sport, to some degree following in his teacher's footsteps.
“I like training. It keeps me fit,” Bourgeois said. “Also, everyone here are great friends. It's very healthy. There's a lot of integrity in the sport, too. A lot of respect.”
“I just like that I have training partners that like to come and have fun,” said Herring. “I like that teachers are starting to get involved. They email me and ask me about it and talk to the kids about it.”
The kids, too, are benefiting in big ways.
“Their grades are better. Their attitudes are better. We have a lot of trust in each other so people will talk with me about things they need to talk about,” said Herring. “They have better handling of their emotions. Better decision making. Kids have to learn that they can be respectful and ask for a break instead of blowing out of a classroom.”
As the summer winds down, Herring continues to work with his students and prep for his own upcoming bouts, the aforementioned Atlantic City tourney, and another in Texas in October. He'll also continue to helm the club at Monomoy and extends an open invitation to anyone interested.
“Anybody that's in the Monomoy district can do this,” he said. “We don't turn anyone away.”