Plano’s Sharpen Iron Academy (SIA) continues to grow, but don’t expect to see a full house at their youth classes on the weekends. There’s a good chance that those kids will be away competing in national or even international level events. The gym’s kids program continues turning out medal, sword and belt winners at an impressive pace.
While a recent move will allow Sharpen Iron Academy to expand its offerings, the primary focus at the gym remains teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu self defense. According to co-owner Tammy Swetnam, the sport differs from many other martial arts because the lessons that are practiced every day can be applied in real world self-defense situations.
The sport is a way for smaller people to learn to defend themselves against bigger, stronger opponents. Students are taught how to get an opponent to the ground and then use ground techniques.
Jiu-Jitsu Benefits for Children
“The coolest part is that this art tends to favor the highly intelligent,” Tammy said. “So parents who have children that cannot do other sports because of where their talents lie are extremely happy to find Brazilian jiu-jitsu.” Akin to a game or puzzle, jiu-jitsu fascinates kids and adults who are stimulated by its chess-like moves.
For kids, the curriculum teaches them how to get and maintain dominant positions that will not get them into trouble at school when faced with a bully. “It’s not just about training the same techniques” Tammy said. “These kids are constantly tested in situations that could happen to them, God forbid.”
SIA believes all kids should know how to protect themselves, so the gym will offer free, anti-bully programs for the public every Saturday in September to prepare children for back-to-school.
One of SIA’s young students reached the impressive 100-medal mark this past year, after competing for the past two years. Tammy feels competitions are important for students to sharpen their skills.
“Competition prepares them for the ‘fight or flight’ instincts that kick in during a real situation. And the more they compete, the calmer they become at dealing with everyday issues that require quick thinking. I expect these kids to be very successful in the future, as they are learning skills on the mat that will make them focused, creative, quick thinkers,” she said.
Sharpen Iron Academy Boasts the Best Instructors
Sharpen Iron Academy has invested heavily in instructors in order to achieve the best coach-to-kid ratio of any academy. The gym boasts one coach for every nine students ages six and up, as well as one coach for every four students under age six. This means that a class of 16 preschoolers will have four fully trained coaches on the mat with them.
They teach classes for students as young as three years old. According to Tammy, since mixed martial arts are now among the world’s fastest growing sports, it’s only natural for children to begin at an early age. SIA will soon also offer “Mom and Me” classes.
Tammy first became acquainted with the sport in 2012 when her children took classes at what was then known as Gracie Gym. The following year, she took her own self-defense class there and was quickly hooked. Not long after, she and her husband, Dean – who already had a background in karate – became owners of Gracie Gym. The business recently change its name to Sharpen Iron Academy, but the staff and mission remain virtually unchanged.
Gracie Family Connections
Those familiar with the sport’s history know the Gracie name is Brazilian jiu-jitsu royalty. Carlos Gracie modified the sport in 1925, creating the Brazilian form of jiu-jitsu. His grandson, Roger Gracie, was head instructor at the London gym, and gave Sharpen Iron Academy’s head instructor, Alex Faria, his black belt.
Alex is a third-degree black belt who has won multiple International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) championships, and has taught seminars worldwide. He leads a staff of 12 coaches and athletes who work at the Plano and Allen locations, including black belt Professor Ricardo Garone Silveira, who heads up the Allen location.
The gym prides itself on only hiring instructors who have attained the highest level of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the world. They have competed in European and World international tournaments, earning various titles and accolades.
“We demand, in order to employ them, the highest level of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the world,” Tammy said. “Those are the only people who can qualify for the type of work VISAs we seek for them.”
The academy recently moved into a 5,600-square-foot space that will allow it to offer more programs and accommodate larger classes. Lucky for current students, they won’t have far to go. The new facility is only a couple of doors down from the previous location in Lakeside Market.
One of the most important things to Tammy is ensuring that everyone who comes in, no matter their background or skill level, experiences a positive and encouraging environment in which they can learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu and become part of a diverse community.
“We want people to leave better than they were when they walked in,” Tammy said. “That is why we call ourselves Sharpen Iron Academy: As iron sharpens iron, we make each other better.”
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