Changing lives with grit

Josh Whalen (left), Joel Jacquard (right).

When Josh Whalen and Joel Jacquard were setting up the Halifax Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Society, their motivations were simple. “We just wanted our own mat space,” says Whalen. For practitioners of jiu-jitsu in Halifax, there are limited opportunities for them to train as the gyms that offer lessons also share spaces with other martial arts. Whalen thought about setting the operation up inside his home, but there wasn’t enough room, so they ended up renting space on Cornwallis Street in North End Halifax, which opened late last year.

Another thing that was important was how to set up the gym’s business structure. “A lot of people are in the martial art business to make money and I saw how that could create problems because once it becomes a money thing, it’s not about the student’s progression so much as it’s about the overhead and making a living,” says Whalen. “You’re more worried about getting a dollar out of a student than enriching their lives.”

As a result, the business was set up as a non-profit society, meaning that any profits get poured back into it and its directors can’t touch a penny. Whalen and Jacquard bear any cost overruns. In exchange for some mats to train on, they say they’re happy to cover any deficits. But so far, the society has been generating a profit. (Spryfield Judo Kai is another local non-profit martial-arts group).


Instructor Christine Fader (in front, wearing black).

For Whalen and Jacquard, running the gym is a hobby. Whalen works with the defence department and Jacquard is a sheriff at Halifax provincial court. Jacquard says his co-workers think he’ll leave his job because of the gym. “And they’re like, ‘Why are you doing it?’” says Jacquard. “Because I love it.”

Jocelyn Little, 13, has been doing jiu-jitsu for 5.5 years. When the Halifax Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Society opened up, she started training there as she’d worked with some of the trainers before. In particular, she names one of the female instructors, Christine Fader, as being a big influence on her. “It’s somebody I can look up to, relate to, have a lot of conversations about our problems that we face and she’s older and more experienced, I can ask her about how I can experience the same thing she did,” says Little, who trains six days a week.

Little has high praise for the gym, noting its cleanliness and organization. She says that as a female, practising jiu-jitsu is tough because it’s a male-dominated sport. “Whereas I’m one of the younger ones, well, the youngest one there and I’m really small, I thought at the start a lot of people wouldn’t want to go [train] with me, the coaches are very protective and treat me like another adult, which is really cool.”   

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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