It takes mere moments to realize how passionate professor Marco and Joanna Vieira are about Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The Pemberton couple is currently instructing Marco Vieira Jiu-Jitsu classes in Whistler, Pemberton and Mount Currie and plans to send club members to their first-ever tournament in the Lower Mainland against roughly 10 other clubs this Saturday, March 24.
Approximately 40 of the club's 150 members are planning to go compete for the first time.
Marco said he charges less for the Mount Currie sessions to allow more children to attend the classes.
"I have a mindset that I don't let money to be in the way of someone who wants to train," he said.
Joanna, meanwhile, is heartened by two traits of the Mount Currie group—firstly, their enthusiasm and secondly, that a higher-than-normal proportion of the group is girls.
"It's normally a male-dominated sport and that (ratio) says a lot about them wanting to change something in their community," she said. "Put the girls first and make sure that they're confident and taking care of themselves."
Marco explained how the Brazilian spin on jiu-jitsu places an added emphasis on technique, as one member of the pioneering Gracie family was not physically strong. Instead, focusing on leverage and technicality so smaller, weaker people can adequately defend themselves.
"It's empowering for children, for women, for people who seem like they're not strong, but if they have the skill and have the technique, they are able to control and submit the person," Joanna said.
Marco said he came to the sport, albeit somewhat reluctantly, when he was younger and lacking direction.
"I was a teenager that needed a path. I had too much energy. I didn't have a lot of discipline. I found through the practice of jiu-jitsu my life changed through the path," he said. "Someone invited me to train. I was overweight and I had health problems. I had bad habits that I developed—I ate too much sugar."
Though he declined initially, after bristling at the idea of a contact sport, Marco opted to attend a class when he was feeling unwell. It was a great idea.
"I fell in love right away because of the efficiency, with controlling someone without making them hurt," he said.
Though he loved the sport itself, the club culture wasn't one that Marco wanted to replicate when he branched out. He found there was some meanness or exclusivity in the training, which caused many people to stop doing the sport.
"I saw that and thought 'I want to do the opposite. I want 80 per cent of people to stay because of the environment,'" Marco said.
"Our goal is to create a place where anyone can come, have a great time and have a positive experience. It doesn't matter if you're a boy or girl, want to be a world champ competitor or if you want to get some fitness in," Joanna added.
Marco started teaching while still in his intermediate purple and brown belts before receiving his black belt five years ago. He and Joanna started their classes in Pemberton two years ago.
Joanna, who met Marco in Edmonton when he was completing an internship, lived with him in Brazil for seven months and saw the sport's impact firsthand. Currently a purple belt, she fell in love with Brazilian jiu-jitsu and after her own study, has been teaching for over three years herself.
"It was so beautiful the way it really brought people together and created this sense of community. I thought, 'We really need this in Canada. We need more activities like this,'" she said. "I felt like 'Yes, I'm finally doing something that I can see I'm making an impact.' I'm so grateful for the chance to work with these kids."
The Vieiras also hope to help improve the quality of instruction in Mount Currie by providing high-quality mats and uniforms (gi). Marco plans to start an online fundraiser later this month to raise the roughly $18,000 to pay for the upgrades.
"By the beginning of the next winter, they are going to have uniforms," Marco said. "We have mats there, but they need good mats. We're getting there.
"The mats were leftover in the storage room."
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/whistlerbjj.