A lone woman in cheetah print tights defends herself off her back from a man trying to get past her legs, all the while remaining utterly calm. He searches and searches for a way around her feet and shins, but is unable to find one.
She’s using Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ), a martial art that focuses on grappling and submissions via chokes and joint locks. Two forms are practiced, gi and no-gi. The only difference may seem to be attire, but each form possesses a unique set of techniques and strategies. BJJ is known for relying on technique instead of strength and size, reducing the disadvantage smaller practitioners would otherwise have.
Between New Paltz and Wappingers Falls, New Paltz resident Magnolia Neel has been training at Black Hole jiu jitsu for six months. Stemming from an interest in martial arts, Neel found the women’s self defense course in New Paltz and stuck with Black Hole ever since.
“It’s grounding and focusing for me,” she said. “It’s good to be active because I don’t really do any other active things and didn’t before this. I immediately felt in shape and my head’s more focused.”
Neel is just one of many students who has sought self-improvement in various forms through BJJ at the New Paltz branch of Black Hole since it opened a year ago in the New Paltz Plaza.
The original Black Hole was located in the basement of head instructor Mike Wacker’s parents’ home. At 17 years old, Wacker instructed a small group of friends in the discipline he had already been studying for five years. He continued to train full-time alongside working and being a student full-time. Now a second-degree black belt in BJJ, Wacker owns two schools well attended by a wide variety of people.
“I didn’t know whether or not I’d turn it into a living, but once you have a passion for something you just go with it,” he said. “Through it all, it was something that I always loved, so I took it one step at a time and now here we are.”
Wacker said he decided to open a second school in New Paltz because there was nothing like it in the area. It helped that Black Hole New Paltz head coach Aaron Harris already lived nearby.
Harris is a skilled martial artist in several respects: BJJ, in which he has won several gold medals in tournaments and still actively competes, boxing and muay thai. He even holds a positive record of 1-0 in Mixed Martial Arts. While focusing primarily on BJJ, Harris teaches boxing, kickboxing and wrestling as well.
Black Hole New Paltz offers classes for children and adults, mixing the two groups on Fridays when Wacker pays a visit.
When talking about what he likes to teach the most, Harris said BJJ takes it.
“I think it’s important to be grounded in all forms of martial arts,” he said. “With jiu jitsu, my favorite thing is taking something in your head that you’re comfortable with and passing it to someone else and seeing them use it live; it’s giving them the ability to beat someone physically when they couldn’t before with this small piece of knowledge.”
While stating a preference for teaching adults because of their competitiveness, one would be hard pressed not to wonder about this statement after seeing Harris sit on a medicine ball, intently watching a pair of young girls roll while enthusiastically instructing them through every position and offering heaps of praise. Either way, he clearly enjoys being able to dole lessons out on the mat himself, one imanari roll and heel hook at a time.
Membership prices at Black Hole New Paltz are discussed upon visit.