A St. Albert athlete has just become a world Brazilian jujitsu champion.
Luke Harris, 46, beat martial arts legend Roberto Godoi in the black belt super-heavyweight Master 4 level, 45-49 age bracket title bout of the World Masters Championships on Sept. 1 in Las Vegas.
Over 10,000 competitors gathered in the massive Las Vegas Convention Center over the four days of the International Brazilian Jujitsu Federation (IBJJF) event. And for every person competing in the four-day event, there were another five in the building to watch.
Harris dominated his competition, taking most of his bouts with submission holds — a toe hold (ankle lock), reverse triangle and wrist-lock.
The real fighting match was in the final, where Harris faced Godoi, a famous Brazilian 10-time world champion.
They were well-matched. Godoi was winning at first, but by the end of the match they were even in points, so it went to the referees’ decision.
“We had 500 people their feet and cheering really loud. It was an exciting time,” Harris recalled.
Hughes came back for the win in a unanimous decision from the three refs.
The bout was unique, as most observers at the tournament had never seen Godoi lose.
“Someone from Canada winning the world championships was a pretty big deal in the jujitsu community,” Harris said.
Harris grew up in St. Albert, graduating from St. Albert High School. Always athletic, he was active with the rugby club.
He started judo at age 8, going on to compete on the Canadian national team, before transitioning to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). He has competed on the professional level for 10 years, and has appeared on The Ultimate Fighter show.
He is now the co-owner of the Hayabusa Training Centre, along with his wife Amy. The couple started Hayabusa 15 years ago in St. Albert.
Harris runs an international tournament, True North Grappling, which is set this year for Sept. 30. He also has a clothing line of fight wear he founded 16 years ago.
Amy Harris, who runs the gym with Luke, has a brown belt in Brazilian jujitsu, and a black belt in judo. The couple’s two daughters train and compete as well.
“It’s a lot of fun because we all compete with this stuff," Luke Harris said. "We travel, we train. It’s a great lifestyle.”
Jujitsu is a martial art, mostly fighting on the ground. The objective is to get a submission on your opponent where they “tap out,” or fighters can win the five-minute match on points.
Willingness to learn is one of the most important prerequisites, Harris said.
He said the benefits of jujitsu include things like fitness, self-defence, and increased confidence.
“The nice thing is you can do this at pretty much any age," he said. "You can come out, compete, exercise. A couple of these guys are 65 years old,” he said.
“Overall, it’s a very fun way to socialize,” he said, gesturing to the fighters of all ages working out on a large floor padded with red and black squares.
“People are starting with zero experience," he said. "You don’t need a background in another martial art.”
“We have people training at the recreational level who are simply doing this for fitness. Some train just for self-defence, and they’re not interested in competing.”
The 5,000-square-foot Hayabusa Training Centre in Campbell Park is the fourth location in St. Albert for his company. The gym offers parent-and-tot classes, then classes sorted by age groupings until 15, when they generally transition to adult classes.
The centre has visitors from around the world stopping by to visit, and train lots of police, firefighters and military, Harris said.
He said he has a deep attachment to his hometown.
“It’s the people over everything, the sense of community — the farmers market, the schools, the parks. It’s well-kept,” he said. “We love being part of St. Albert. It’s an incredible community.”
Harris’s calling may seem a long way from his educational roots.
Harris went to school in landscape architecture, after stints at Grant MacEwan and NAIT, and graduating from the University of Guelph, he earned his masters degree from Penn State.
But he still applies the benefits of that education to his chosen field.
“I’d say a lot of the processes I’ve learned in school are translated over to running my own business,” he said, encouraging young people to get formal training even if they’re unsure of their ultimate career goals.
“Just start,” he said. “The school teaches you the process, it teaches you systems for learning.”