Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about Redemption gym.
The venue has all the makings of a bad Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. Off the beaten path, warehouse building and I’m pretty sure the sidings have been painted over more times than an auctioned police vehicle. Sure, it might lack in outside aesthetic, but clearly that’s not its purpose.
Mrs. Johnson, my second-grade teacher, said it best: “Never judge a book by its cover.” That sentiment never rang more true than at Redemption gym.
Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Jordan Smythe and Elias McConnell — two 16-year-olds — who’ve been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at Redemption for over two years now. During our time together we talked at great length about the gym, founder Isaac Kolesar and the impact Redemption has had on their lives.
It took all of 45 seconds before both Jordan and Elias opened up to me like I was Barbara Walters. I’m glad they did. Their passion for both Redemption and Isaac was palpable. Before finishing my first question Jordan chimed in: “I was socially awkward when I came here. Now, I’ve really opened up! Redemption, this gym, has created another family for me and I know they look out for me constantly.”
Elias was right behind Jordan with his assessment.
“I was struggling with confidence but when I came into the gym I gained more of it,” he said. “Isaac has helped me focus and he’s helped me stay humble. Humility is something I’ve learned from the beginning here at Redemption.”
I was blown away by their maturity and their ability to articulate the impact Redemption has made on their lives. When asked about their beloved coach, Kolesar, both Jordan and Elias fought — figuratively — for a chance to speak.
“He keeps us close,” Jordan said of Kolesar. “He’s always looking out for us and so dedicated to both the gym and his students.”
Jordan then gave some examples.
“He picks me up from school and takes me home every day,” he said. “I trust him and my family trusts him. He’s a man of his word. If it comes out of his mouth I know I can trust it.”
Elias, vying to get a word in, said, “Isaac has a passion for both mixed martial arts and his students. He’s always encouraging me to do well, first in school and then the gym. With Isaac education is really important. If I’m behind in school or homework he gives me time to do it in the gym. If I’m not doing well in school then he won’t let me train until my grades are up.”
Both students were proud to sport the gym’s “R” logo on their shirts. They do so whenever they can, especially when teaching the Redemption kids class.
The class at Redemption has upwards of 30 kids and is held Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings from 4 to 5 p.m. The children benefit from a high-energy, fast-paced and — from my experience — extremely fun workout. Yet, it’s Jordan and Elias who feel they’re gaining the most from it.
They both said the opportunity to teach has made them better students of jiu-jitsu, better leaders and much more confident. They also like the fact that Kolesar trusts them to teach the kids, thus showing faith and confidence in the ability of Jordan and Elias.
When asked to give one final comment before we were done — as their class was starting — they both echoed the same request.
They want more people from the Kenai Peninsula to come and try out MMA and jiu-jitsu, adding that it would be nice to have more women giving jiu-jitsu a try.
We, as sports fans, fall victim to our own need for entertainment. MMA, in general, fits that category. The majority of MMA fans only see the finished product, when all the work is done and it’s lights, camera and action.
However, beyond the cage lies an even more compelling story. One in which, at the center of it all, is more compelling than any Van Damme movie ever made.
For more information about Redemption BJJ visit their website at www.redemptionbjj.com.
Scott Levesque writes a weekly column for the Clarion on mixed martial arts. He will cover MMA at the local, state and national levels. His handle on Twitter is @scottlevesque.