The warrior spirit
DurangoĆ¢??s Mixed Martial Artists head to the big ring

Chris Jones, part-owner of Durango Martial Arts, oversees a match between two students last week. Jones is off to compete in the Rocky Mountain Nationals in Mixed Martial Arts this weekend. The fighting style combines kick boxing, Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Shawna Bethell

• the shade of towering pines on a cool summer morning, five young men move between workout stations encouraging and challenging one another through agility drills and strength training. They swing sledgehammers into tractor tires, lift free weights and sprint up the dusty hills around Electra Lake. They consider themselves warriors, likening themselves to the heroes they read about as kids: Hercules or the Samurai.

Chris Jones, part owner of Durango Martial Arts, and his students, Caden Rezek, Jeremy Osheim, Steve Hana and Joe Hammons are training as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) competitors. Jones, who has been practicing MMA for 10 years, will be competing Aug. 28 in the Rocky Mountain Nationals at Magnes Arena in Denver. His students will be competing at SunRay Casino in Farmington on Sept. 5.

“We don’t fight out of anger,” explains Jones after a workout that has left the men tired but

exhilarated. “We fight to compete. We fight to be like the heroes we watched as kids, like Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris.”

For those unfamiliar with MMA, it is exactly as you would imagine. It is a blend of all fighting techniques of the martial arts including but not limited to: kick boxing, Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In 1993, the masters of all varieties of the martial arts held a competition to decide which was the most effective. Though the fighters who employed Brazilian Jiu Jitsu were the most successful in the competition, they also felt that the most effective overall fighting technique would be one that blended all practices. Competitors who could employ both striking techniques (for competitors on their feet) and the wrestling type techniques (for those on the mat) would be the best fighters.

“Most of us come from some type of martial arts or competitive background,” says Jones. “But we each have different strengths. That’s great when it comes to training because we challenge each other’s strengths and weaknesses.4

It helps us learn to defend against things we may not be as good at.”

Jones feels that some people are just born with a warrior spirit within them and says once he was taught Jiu Jitsu, he never wanted to stop. It was 1999 and he had just graduated from high school in Centerville, Ohio, and was starting down that path of drinking and partying. Then he watched Royce Gracie win the Ultimate Fighting Championship and began to wonder if he could do the same.

“I walked into a martial arts school that I had passed by probably a million times. Once I started, I decided I wasn’t going to quit.”

Jones began training with Jorge Gurgel, a Brazillian Jiu Jitsu teacher, and found he could compete. “I won my first tournament, and it was like a domino effect. Seven years later, I visited Durango. It was beautiful here, and I decided to open my own gym.”

Jones says a lot of people have a curiosity about martial arts, but few follow through. He stresses the amount of dedication and hard work it takes to become a MMA competitor, and his students speak of the discipline and lifestyle they must adhere to in order to be successful competitors.

“The hard work applies to all areas of my life,” says Jeremy Osheim, who has trained with Jones for two years. “I look around and see others slacking, and it makes me just work harder. I feel better about what I’m doing. My life is more in tune.”

Steve Hanna agrees. “Other things that happen just seem less important. I don’t get upset about them. I have more confidence.”

“No one has taught kids how to be successful,” adds Jones. “People always say you can be anything you want, but who’s going to help you? We don’t care if you are the coolest kid in school or the nerdiest. We welcome anyone to come join.”

Jones says everyone from grandparents to children use the Durango Martial Arts gym, and they are willing to tailor a program to fit the needs of the students. He explains that some are looking to be competitors, while others are just looking to lose a bit of weight or become fitter. “We all have different reasons for starting martial arts,” says Jones, but the competitive team that has come together Jones considers family. “We’re friends. We hang out. We want to see each other do well. It’s like we are family.”

Each of the young men in the circle agrees that there is more to their training than fighting. Though they have won more competitions than they’ve lost, it’s also the camaraderie, discipline and pride of accomplishment – both in the ring alone and on the team helping one another succeed. “I couldn’t walk away from this now,” says Jeremy Osheim.

Jones concurs. “I don’t want to live my life like I haven’t done enough. I want to just keep working for the next thing.” •