Building a better community, one grappler at a time

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By Chris Ferguson

As young students tangle and contort on a floor of wall-to-wall mats, jui-jitsu instructor Steve Hordinski watches and gently corrects the young combatants.


Hordinski, owner of Relson Gracie Colorado, is in the business of molding youngsters into more confident people, one technique at a time.

“We want to make an impact on the community in a positive way,” Hordinski said. “We want to teach leaders here.”

As one child loses a dominant position on her opponent, Hordinski barks for her to “pass the guard” — a process in which a combatant who sits astride his or her opponent transitions into a more dominant position.

Hordinski was born and raised in Colorado and studied martial arts as a kid. When he turned 18, he joined the Navy, and he began training with an instructor who had gained a black belt from 22-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu national champion Relson Gracie. Relson (pronounced “Hell-sohn”) is the second oldest son of Hélio Gracie, creator of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His brothers include Rorion, a co-founder of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Rickson, Royler, and three-time UFC champion Royce.

After Hordinski's time in the Navy, he began training in a Relson Gracie satellite school. In 1997, he began entering — and winning — competitions. This drew the attention of Relson, who invited Hordinski to begin a training regimen in Hawaii. By the time he left Hawaii, he had earned his brown belt, and upon leaving the Navy, he began realizing his dream of opening his own jiu-jitsu academy.

In 2010, Hordinski brought Relson Gracie satellite schools to Colorado, opening the Littleton location in March of that year. The academy has two other locations in Federal Heights and Brighton. In addition to Hordinski, the Littleton location has three kids coaches, a day instructor and several advanced students who assist with teaching.

The dozens of medals lining the walls of the lobby shine a light on Hordinski's fighting prowess in the ring. Flags from Brazil, Hawaii and Colorado adorn the walls, and a solitary photograph of Hélio keeps sentinel over the academy.

“The spirit of Hélio Gracie is here, and we try to honor his art and all that he created,” Hordinski said.

The academy offers programs for adults, as well as for women’s self-defense. The school also offers a range of classes for children, including bullying prevention and self-defense courses.

Hordinski tries to maintain the techniques exactly how he learned them. “The same standards I was brought up under, I enforce that here,” he said. “Belts come when you've earned it rather than how much money you've paid me or classes (students have attended).

“It's a long process. It can take 10 to 15 years — sometimes more — to be awarded your black belt from Relson, because he has very high standards.”

The school mostly focuses on self-defense techniques with an emphasis on leverage, timing and natural movements. The basic curriculum shows students where to put their hands and focuses on the fundamentals. The techniques work for smaller individuals who might be attacked by a much larger, stronger person. Unlike boxing, jiu-jitsu doesn't rely on strength or athletic ability.

“Does this technique require us to use too much strength? If so, it isn't the right technique for our system,” Hordinski said. “Our techniques are not based off strength, they are based off leverage.”

Students also learn to deal with adversity.

“When you have a kid who is constantly bullied and doesn't want to go to school because he knows he's going to be bullied, that's all he is thinking about. They're not thinking about their education; they're walking around terrified.

“Bullying has a huge impact on kids' development into adulthood.”

The curriculum helps young people build skills to defuse dangerous situations.

“Gracie jiu-jitsu is one of those ways to arm someone on how to deal with that, because you're confident and you're not worried about this guy hurting you.”


Additional information:

Relson Gracie Colorado

6707 W. Ken Caryl Ave., Littleton