Brett Philbrick pushed all the air out of his lungs with a guttural “oof” as his body thumped against the clean, white mat laid across the hardwood flooring in Third Way Jiu Jitsu.
Standing above Philbrick, Jordan Ellis paused at the end of his throwing technique to help his fellow combatant arise and repeat the martial arts move.
Three pairs of jiu jitsu students tugged at each other’s gis — lightweight, two-piece garments worn by martial-artists — as railroad cars blasted by the new Brazilian jiu jitsu academy, 211 S. First St.
A quiet figure wearing a black gi tied closed with a brown belt smiled and nodded as each student performed different techniques.
“Brazilian jiu jitsu is pretty low key, so calling me coach is fine,” Third Way Jiu Jitsu owner Rick Ellis said. “I’ve been training Brazilian jiu jitsu for about 12 years. It normally takes about 10 years to earn your black belt, but I got seriously injured a few times.”
While passing by, several people stopped to watch the action through Rick Ellis’ glass store front, but the combatants rolling on the mats didn’t seem to notice.
“I’m from Oregon, and we just moved here,” Rick Ellis said. “I noticed there were no jiu jitsu academies, so I said, ‘I guess I’ll be that man.’”
Considering Brazilian jiu jitsu is one of the nation’s fastest growing martial arts, he was astonished that Laramie didn’t have an academy yet, he said.
But he took it as a good omen.
“When we came to Laramie to investigate if we wanted to move here, I saw this space open,” Rick Ellis said. “I thought maybe this is a sign.”
While he’d spent years teaching others the mixed martial art he’d come to love, Third Way is Rick Ellis’ first attempt at running his own academy.
A computer programmer when he’s not teaching arm bars and choke holds, Rick Ellis said Brazilian jiu jitsu caught his eye in 1993.
“What first sparked my interest was watching (Ultimate Fighting Championship No.) 1,” he said. “But at the time, there was nowhere that trained jiu jitsu.”
The mixed martial art was popularized in the new world by the Gracie family, Rick Ellis said pointing to a portrait of Helio Gracie hanging on the academy wall.
“Jiu jitsu was the founding discipline of the (Ultimate Fighting Championship),” he said. “Since then, it’s been adopted by the (U.S.) Army Combatives program and taught to police officers as a hand-to-hand fighting technique.”
At his feet, a student tapped the mat three times, signaling submission to the student’s opponent.
“Jiu jitsu is a hybrid system that incorporates a lot of techniques from other arts,” Rick Ellis said. “Fundamentally, the idea is to get your opponent to the ground.”
Because most fights end on the ground, he said Brazilian jiu jitsu emphasizes a good ground game by relying on throws and potentially joint-splintering submission holds.
“We teach a curriculum with about 300 techniques — there are thousands in jiu jitsu, but we’ve refined them down to about 300,” Rick Ellis said. “We start with fundamental movements, and the first step is to learn how to escape.”
Currently, Third Way classes are open to anyone 16 or older, he said.
“Most of our students are white belts with no experience,” Rick Ellis explained.
But the academy is planning to start a youth program open to children aged 11-15 before the end of the year.
Opening about six weeks ago, he said his class slots have steadily filled.
“We’ve had a really good response from the community,” Rick Ellis said. “I think we’ll grow out of this space by the time my two-year lease is up.”
Although the sport was born from competitive spirit, competitions are not crucial to his training program.
“If I have students that want to compete, I will work with that,” Rick Ellis said. “But, I don’t push competitions.”
Going forward, he said he would like to see the academy grow. But at the end of the day, jiu jitsu is more about sharing his passion than earning a profit.
“I would love it if this academy got big,” Rick Ellis said. “But, I don’t need it to.”
Email Rick Ellis at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.