When Christina Barry talks about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it’s unusual for her to make it through a sentence without using the word "fun."
Whether she’s talking about her own experience in the sport or her teaching style at Academy 64, the school she opened with partner Garry Sawatzky in St. James in June, Barry can’t help but use that three-letter word.
The 31-year-old earned her black belt in September — she says she’s the only female in Manitoba to do so — and has fought in two professional mixed martial arts bouts. But right now her focus is on spreading her joy to as many students as possible.
"It’s a sport that’s good for everyone," she said.
When Barry teaches kids, there’s an anti-bullying element to the classes. When she teaches women, self-defence is covered. But no matter who she’s teaching, her main focus is, you guessed it…
"The main thing about what we do is fun. People come when they want to change their lifestyle in a positive way. They lose weight, build good relationships, all of the above."
Cal Cowieson, a 35-year-old St. James resident, stumbled upon the school in August.
He’d been diagnosed with diabetes three years earlier, and no matter what sort of exercise he tried he couldn’t get his blood-sugar level to the level his doctor wanted.
"I tried all sorts of different things," he said. "I started here in August and I was 205 pounds. Yesterday I was 192 pounds, and my (blood-sugar level) was 6.0 for the first time."
Cowieson said the only change in his life was coming to Academy 64 three or four times a week.
"I feel great," he said. "I’ve always wanted to do this, but I never had a place to go to do it. Here it’s very much about treating the entire school like it’s a family."
That’s the type of story that makes Barry spend her evenings and weekends at the school after working full-time as a scientist during the day. The former University of Winnipeg hockey player and provincial level soccer player doesn’t do anything half-heartedly.
"Pretty much anything I do I become serious right away," said Barry, who went from beginner to black belt in five years. "I’ve always wanted to test myself."
Barry’s classes are a test for her students. They leave the gym physically and mentally exhausted.
"It’s a full body and mind workout," Barry said. "It becomes a lifestyle. People really get what they’re looking for out of it, and we find that they stick with it."
Academy 64 offers Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes for kids, women only and the whole family Monday through Thursday evenings, and on Saturday afternoons. For a complete schedule, and more info, visit www.academy64.com.