Read Part 1 of our mission to Guatemala!
The team arrived in Xela late on Saturday night, after a long but entertaining taxi ride. After hearing about our mission, the taxi driver, Tony “Chucholoco,” expressed how glad he was that we wanted to bring martial arts to the children of Xela. Tony was an extremely caring and giving man himself, having adopted a son who had been abandoned by his 13-year-old mother. Tony dubbed us his “California Angels” and became a member of the team. He would, after all, be staying with us until Monday since he was our ride to the airport!
Oswaldo and his family welcomed the team into his home, and all went to bed excited for the following day to arrive.
BREAKFAST IN XELA
When the sun cracked the mountainous horizon of Xela Sunday morning, our team headed into town to buy breakfast for Oswaldo’s village, which consisted of xekas, a sweet bread made by the indigenous Mayans of Xela found almost exclusively in the city’s markets.
Once we had all had our fill, it was time for the jiu-jitsu seminar in Oswaldo’s academy. Professor Erik and Coach Oswaldo laid down the mats donated by Professor Lazaro Murcia and invited Oswaldo’s students onto the mat. One by one, the instructors handed out personal uniforms to each of the children.
The excitement in the room was nearly indescribable. The kids were overjoyed at receiving their uniforms, such a fundamental step in what we hope will be long journeys in jiu-jitsu. They stood together and posed for photos, now a team in both attitude and in looks.
After the uniforms were handed out, Professor Erik revealed a special surprise for Coach Oswaldo, who had spent many years teaching jiu-jitsu to children in the United States before returning to Guatemala. Professor Erik presented him with a Kids Instructor Certificate from the Level Up training system, a milestone Oswaldo was only weeks away from receiving before he parted ways with Erik.
With his mother proudly looking on, Oswaldo tearfully accepted the certificate. Back on the mat together again, Professor Erik and Coach Oswaldo then trained with the children of Xela, in their brand new uniforms, on their brand new mats. We could write more about what this meant to the Oswaldo and his community, but we think his words put it perfectly:
When we returned to my house in Xela, it felt like a dream. Professor Erik and the team were gathering and meeting with my family – I have no words to explain how ecstatic I felt. After they met my family, we began teaching the children in my academy. That day, Professor Erik surprised me with a certification to teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to children. He also told me that IJEF was going to donate uniforms and mats to the children of the academy I opened in Xela. Once again, I was so excited and humbled to know the sport I love, that gave me a new perspective on life, that taught me to appreciate and respect others, was giving me the opportunity to help my own people. And when I say my own people, I’m mean the kids, adults, teenagers, men, and women of Xela. I can’t believe I’ll now have the opportunity to impact their life in a positive way.
And we at IJEF are so thrilled to help make this community-drive change happen. Thanks for all your hardwork Oswaldo. We can’t wait to see how your academy grows!
WAIT THERE’S MORE
Check out our incredible galleries, shot by photographer Stephanie Drews, of the seminar in Xela, Guatemala. As a bonus, we also have images of the art created by the kids during Haleh Davoudi’s art class following the jiu-jitsu training!
Our team arrived in Guatemala City on Thursday morning after a non-stop redeye from LAX, weary but ready to get to work. The first order of business was to meet Oswaldo Vasquez, an old friend of our trip leader, 2nd degree Black Belt Erik Klinger. Oswaldo trained under Erik for years in the United States before returning to Guatemala for personal reasons. Now, he teaches jiu-jitsu to the kids of Xela completely free, receiving a monthly stipend from the International Jiu-Jitsu Education Fund to compensate him for his dedication to children’s jiu-jitsu.
Oswaldo took a five-hour bus ride – about as long as the flight from Los Angeles – through the mountains to meet our team in Guatemala City!
It was a joyful reunion for Oswaldo and Erik, a pair who had trained and taught together during Oswaldo’s time in the States. Now, they were together again in pursuit of their shared passion: bringing jiu-jitsu to children.
After meeting Oswaldo, the team linked up with a new friend of IJEF, Marinho. A blue belt in Gracie jiu-jitsu, Marinho uses his talents as a writer to render how “jiu-jitsu is lived in in Guatemala.” For more on the martial arts scene in this Guatemala, check out his fantastic blog, Guate BJJ at www.guatebjj.com.
AT THE CASTILLO ACADEMY
With Oswaldo and Marinho as guides, the team set off for the Castillo Karate School, a beautiful 2,700 sq. ft. martial arts gym in Zona 11 of Guatemala City. Founded by jiu-jitsu purple belt and Kenpo Karate black belt Jorge Castillo, the school is focused on MMA, Kenpo Karate, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training. You can meet the gym over at Guate BJJ!
Professor Castillo and our friends at the Castillo academy were gracious enough to welcome us onto the mat and allow Professor Erik to teach a jiu-jitsu seminar to the students. With 25 training, another 25 looking on, it was a great time for all.
Erik showed some guard passes and submissions from side control before the group broke into open mat. The Castillo gym has a terrific program – our project manager, Ben College, learned that the hard way when he got caught in a rear naked. After open mat, the newly acquainted teams exchanged shirts and rash guards and took plenty of photos for posterity!
But the Castillo academy seminar was not the last chance we would get to train and teach around Guatemala City. On Saturday, the crew headed to Gracie Barra Condado Naranjo Academy in Mixco, a sister city to Guatemala City.
SEMINAR AT GRACIE BARRA GUATEMALA
The Gracie Barra academy is headed by Professor Lazaro Murcia, a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He welcomed Professor Erik to teach a seminar to the academy’s enthusiastic students.
In addition to the fine members of the Gracie Barra academy, our team met Otto Estuardo Schumann, one of the founders of the Guatemalan martial arts community who had heard we were in town and dropped by the Gracie academy to say hello. Based in Westlake, California, Otto teaches basic jiu-jitsu to police forces throughout Southern California, but he preserves his passion for his home country, Guatemala. He shared with us his plan to open a massive 14,000 sq. ft. academy for jiu0jitsu and Kenpo Karate in Guatemala City. We sure hope to stay in touch!
After open mat at Gracie Barra, our team was ready for the next leg of the journey – visiting Oswaldo’s home in Xela (known also as Quetzaltenango) to bring uniforms to the children of his village. They were in for another surprise, however, when Professor Murcia offered to donate stacks of his extra foam mats for us to bring to the kids of Xela.
His contribution was a firm reminder of how much our work relies on the kindness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts communities throughout the world. The difference between training on concrete and training on mats for 20 children was erased with a single generous gift. This is why we love what we do!
The team showered, stuffed the mats and all six passengers into a taxi, and set off on the five-hour drive to Xela.
Read about our time at Oswaldo’s academy in Part 2!