Jiu-jitsu club trains real live ninjas

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In high school, he didn’t suit up on Friday nights to play football against opposing schools. Instead, he proudly marched onto the field at halftime with his trumpet in hand. But if challenged on the street, this 130-pound musician is prepared to break bones and tear ligaments.

Josh Coffey, a junior trumpet major from Atlanta, never imagined he would enjoy any combat sports until he was introduced to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu club a couple years ago. He said no one expected he would ever get involved in a sport like jiu-jitsu, but he tried it anyway.

“I was awful, just terrible, terrible, terrible,” Coffey said. “But I just kept going, and sometime in the first six months I was hooked.”

With a little more than a year of training, Coffey is a Utah submission champion, a title he earned a few months ago at a grappling tournament. He is known as the Red-Headed Stranger, the nickname referring to his flaming red hair.

Alex Pehrson, an advertising major from Atlanta and Coffey’s best friend, is known as “the Ninja” or “Fierce Pierce.” He claimed Josh is tougher than he looks.

“Josh, as scrawny as he is, can pretty much take on anyone in the state in his weight class,” Pehrson said. “Even the super strong kids.”

The club is ranked No. 1 in Utah, an accomplishment worthy of notice because the team is comprised of students from all walks of life.

Pehrson said he believes the club skips all the fluff and is a place where one actually learns how to fight.

“There are plenty of places you can yell ‘hiya’ and kick the air, but if you come with us we will actually have you grappling and wrestling against people,” he said. “No one usually knows what to do on the ground and that is where we live.”

Allie Murdock, a sophomore pre-3D animation major from Blackfoot, Idaho, is also a member of the club. Murdock said the skills she learns in the sport give her greater confidence she could protect herself if needed.

“I wish other girls would learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu because it is important for girls to be able to defend themselves,” she said. “Jiu-jitsu is not about out-muscling your opponent, it is about using technique against their weight and power. You turn their weight and power against them.”

Murdock and the other women in the club practice with the male members to improve their technique, a tactic which seems to have paid off as the women generally clean house at any tournament they enter.

“Practicing with guys is not an awkward thing for me because I’ve been doing it for a while and it helps my technique grow,” she said. “I have to perfect it when I train with someone bigger and stronger.”

Occasionally she’ll fight against Pehrson, who said if he doesn’t give it his all she wins the fight.

“If I don’t go 100 percent, she would choke me out every time,” Pehrson said.

Apart from the practical self-defense aspect of it, the club offers a friendly environment in which to have fun.

Ty Nielson, a sophomore petroleum engineering major from Atlanta, has recently started attending the club just to get mat time.

“I was a serious wrestler in high school. So I just miss being on the mat,” he said. “Plus, I like how I am learning to apply what I learned in wrestling to actually do some serious damage if needed.”

Pehrson pointed out the strange bond between members of the club.

“We roll around, we choke each other and then we go home and hang out,” he said.

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