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Local Jiu-jitsu athletes win big at world championships

Hayabusa Training Centre teammates Luke Harris, Shaun Holmstrom, BJ Hennessey, and AJ Timm combine for massive medal haul at elite international competition.
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Luke Harris goes for the pin on Cristiano Ribeiro da Costa in their championship bout at the World Masters Jiu-Jitsu event in Las Vegas on Nov. 13, 2021. Last moonth, Harris and three other local athletes travelled to California to compete at the international Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) 2022 NoGi World Championships. GISELLE VILLASENOR/Photo

Hayabusa Training Centre teammates Luke Harris, Shaun Holmstrom, BJ Hennessey, and AJ Timm combine for massive medal haul at elite international competition.

Alongside some of the most experienced martial artists on the planet, four local jiu-jitsu practitioners travelled to Anaheim, California from December 8th -11th for the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) 2022 NoGi World Championships.

Luke Harris, Shaun Holmstrom, BJ Hennessey, and AJ Timm — all of whom hone their skills out of St. Albert’s own Hayabusa Training Centre — won medals at the annual tournament, the final event of the IBJJF’s 2022 season.

“No gi”, the format of this particular tournament, refers to a variation of the BJJ that involves the participants wearing more elastic, form-fitting clothing rather than the distinctive kimono-style gi.

Hennessey, a purple belt, and Timm, a brown belt, both came home from California with bronze medals.

“I have been taught to go in and expect to be going against the best,” Timm said, reflecting on the long slate of top-tier competitors at the event. “By the time you are a brown belt, there are no easy matches anymore, so you train and prepare as if you are getting the best in the world.”

“At Hayabusa, I am consistently getting high-level training partners who push me to be better all the time.”

Holmstrom, a black belt in the Master 7 age group (60+) won gold and bronze medals in the open weight class for that division —- in which he is currently the top-ranked athlete in the world.

Harris, a black belt who is also Hayabusa’s owner and head trainer, won silver in the super-heavy division for the Master 3 age group (41-45). He also ended the season ranked first in the world for both NoGi and BJJ as a black belt in Master 3, a feat never before achieved by a Canadian athlete.

Given that the podium at BJJ competitions is typically crowded out by athletes from the United States and the sport’s eponymous Amazonian birthplace, Harris notes that there’s a special honour that comes with representing Canada on the world stage.

“Brazil and the US are powerhouses in the sport, so it’s great to achieve success as a Canadian as we only have 10 per cent of their population. Being ranked number one out of close to 1000 athletes is a bit surreal. It shows we have the resources, even in a small gym in St. Albert to compete with the best in the world and come out on top.”

December’s competition was not the only success Harris tasted throughout 2022, All totalled, Harris finished last year with 40 international medals.

“The US Olympic Gold medal wrestler Dan Gable has a quote: ‘Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.’ It’s very much the truth,” said Harris. “Medals are a nice memento but the process, the experiences and hard training are what I cherish. Travelling to other countries, meeting and competing against like-minded athletes with similar goals and having the support of my family, friends, and students is what it’s all about.”

As has been the case for many athletes looking to compete at the highest level throughout the past two years, grappling with borders and travel advisories has been an unavoidable fact of life for Harris — one that intensifies and animates an already exciting sporting endeavour.

“I’d say competing in Rome at the Europeans was one of the highlights this year,” reflected Harris. “International travel is always an adventure, but even more so when trying to navigate pandemic restrictions. I was able to bring home medals in both my division and the Open class despite having an injury while also visiting the Colosseum in Rome, where you can’t help but imagine what it was like being a gladiator two thousand years ago.”

And yet, despite being a fiercely individualistic sport, there’s an undeniable element of cooperation and camaraderie infused in BJJ training that Harris celebrates and seeks to foster in his gym.

“We depend greatly on one another. We’re there for each other on a daily basis like a family. My students and training partners are the reason I am able to succeed at this level of competition. They motivate me, and watching them grow and accomplish their goals outweighs any medal or award that I have ever won.”