Martial arts accomplish more than what kids see happening on the mat.
The practice teaches trust, responsibility and positive relationships – with self and others, according to Edward Sanchez, founder and coach of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and fitness academy New Era Sports Training (NEST) in Wailuku.
“Some kids don’t trust anybody,” he said. “That’s where I see a lot of their growth. Once they start trusting other kids in the gym, then they start making friends. And the vine starts growing. Soon, they’re trying different clubs, different food, experiencing different cultures. That’s what I see from the program.”
The “life-changing” benefits of martial arts are why Sanchez is teaming up with the Guardian Project to offer free Brazilian jiu-jitsu training and supplies to underserved Maui kids.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Guardian Project provides kids with free access to jiu-jitsu training. With academies in California, Maryland, Connecticut, Peru and Mongolia, the program recently launched its first Hawai’i location — at the NEST in Wailuku.
Calder Powers, Guardian Project executive director who was on island this week, said he’s looking forward to seeing Guardian Maui take flight at the NEST.
“I’m very excited to see this program grow and help youth have access to martial arts, mentors and a team who otherwise would be priced out,” he said.
The Guardian Project on Maui aims to expand to 10 to 20 youngsters over the next year. Once a child is selected, the nonprofit covers a year of free training, a free uniform and free afternoon snacks at the NEST.
That’s where the Maui community comes in.
Sanchez said Guardian Maui is seeking nominations for underserved youngsters ages 4 to 18 who may be a good fit for the program. The only requirement is that students must attend classes, or they will lose the spot. For nominations, email Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Guardian Project is supported by tax-deductible donations. Already, $12,000 has been raised for the Maui program. Powers said that 100% of donations via Guardian Maui project website go to the Maui program. The more money raised, the more kids can come off the waiting list, he added.
Powers met Sanchez during a visit to Maui in 2018. What stood out to Powers was Sanchez’s generosity and care for the community, he said. Sanchez had already been working on free youth events, gym donations and other social outreach efforts.
“As we began our expansion by bringing Guardian into reputable BJJ academies, The NEST with Edward came to my mind immediately as somebody who genuinely had a strong passion to see his community thrive,” Powers said.
The NEST has been open for nearly a decade off Mill Street in Wailuku. It has more than 100 members comprising adults and children.
Originally from Arizona, Sanchez has a fourth degree blackbelt and is a two-time national champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Also, he competed in the invite-only Abu Dhabi Combat Club, the most prestigious tournament in the world, in 2007.
Beyond that, though, Sanchez said he sees the benefits of teaching martial arts to kids because it can turn their lives around.
“There are a lot of kids out there who need structure and need positive role models, and this program could really change their lives,” he said. “I was one of those kids.”