by Greg Halsor
In 1994, I first witnessed UFC via videotape. Almost shaking, I viewed the first "real" fights ever aired on television. There was one fighter I readily identified with – Royce Gracie. Not only did Gracie utilize takedowns similar to those I knew from wrestling, but he combined chokes and armlocks my father had shown me from his years of experience practicing Judo while in the military. I knew Gracie Jiu Jitsu and my path would cross in the future.
After graduating from college in 1997, I was looking for a new challenge that would offer me contact wrestling along with the cerebral challenge I desired. I was fortunate to find a group of individuals curious about what jiu jitsu entailed and eagerly I began attending Cedar Valley Pro Fitness and Martial Arts to learn what Royce Gracie displayed in the cage four years prior.
Technically, Cedar Valley Jiu Jitsu was formed by several individuals with a desire to learn this mysterious new martial art. Mark Jaquith, Noah Youngs, Jason Miller, and Brian Mayfield paved the way for those to follow. I eagerly attended every practice I could and fell in love with the sport instantly.
Because of life’s circumstances, I moved to Crystal Lake, Illinois allowing my wife to finish her clinical fellowship year in the field of speech language pathology. I searched for jiu jitsu schools in the area; however, I found nothing and was relegated with the realization that learning jiu jitsu was a pipe dream which would never come to fruition. By chance, while signing up for a health club membership, I found a small jiu jitsu academy located within Powerhouse Gym. Two members, Matt Strack and Pat Pyko, were welcoming and encouraged me to return to meet their instructor Jeff the next night. I was beyond excited and eagerly awaited the next day to continue with my Jiu Jitsu journey. The following evening, I walked into class with my ragged second hand judo gi ready to learn from a seasoned expert. I was a bit thrown off when a young 21 year old named Jeff walked into the room and began teaching class. I was expecting a man at least in his 30’s, but I would listen to what he had to say. The first night, I was paired with a teenager who I was able to throttle because of my wrestling ability and strength. Not liking this, Jeff pulled me aside and asked to roll. Because of the size and strength difference, I was sure I would make a go of this, if not even be promoted to instructor myself! 10 minutes and 8 submissions later, I realized this man possessed incredible skills. I was graciously humbled leaving the gym, but hungry to learn more. By the way, the 16 year old kid who was my first opponent turned out to be future UFC veteran Bart Palazewski.
Over the next eight months, Jeff taught me technique, but more importantly he taught me how to learn jiu jitsu. I would need to give up my wrestling base to learn the guard and rely more on technique and strategy rather than speed and strength. He built the foundation I needed to build my game to this day.
Once again life changed and my family moved back to Cedar Falls. I promised to keep in touch with Jeff and possibly become an affiliate. I am sure when I left Jeff assumed that was the last time he would ever see me, but I was determined to keep my skills progressing and bring Curran’s teachings to the Cedar Valley. When I returned, there was a new crop of students at Cedar Valley Pro Fitness and Marital Arts including Shanon Phillips and Greg Erie.
The first few years were shaky as I would often make up answers to questions I did not know along with making the gi mandatory. Unthinkable now, there was a great deal of controversy surrounding this decision; however, I held fast and was convinced of the benefits gi training provided. Over much time, hundreds of students, several locations, and many theoretical shifts, Cedar Valley Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has grown to what it is today.
This journey would not be possible without the help of individuals like Mark Jaquith, Shanon Phillips, Greg Erie, Mike Drahaus, Neal Titus, and of course Jeff Curran.
I am looking forward to the future and I challenge every one of you to make your mark on our history. Won’t you come join us?