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Pandemic puts pressure on local martial arts instructor

Marcelo Lopes, left, with sons Vitor, centre, and Lucas at their newly-rebranded Blenheim gym. Photo: Peter Jones.

The sign on Marcelo Lopes’ Blenheim gym wall says “Built Under Pressure”.

The slogan refers to the diamond, symbol of the SJJA Jiu Jitsu Academy, but could just as well apply to the latest ventures of the Marlborough martial arts instructor and his family.

Marcelo has recently joined forces with the Australian SJJA, spearheaded by multiple world champion Bruno Alves, a fellow Brazilian who is based in Sydney and now oversees 13 teaching bases across that country.

The Blenheim SJJA is the first in this country, with Marcelo re-branding his Stuart St-based martial arts organisation in line with the hugely successful Australian model.

Marcelo met Bruno two years ago and felt they were on the same wavelength regarding the type of programmes they could offer.

So, earlier this year they decided to join forces. Marcelo and his son Vitor were training in Australia, then competed at the Brisbane and

South East Queensland Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championships, where they both picked up multiple gold and silver medals representing SJJA.

At the same time, Marcelo and Bruno were in the process of setting up another SJJA facility, this time on the Gold Coast. They had fitted out the gym when COVID-19 struck, leaving them high and dry. Fortunately they had not finalised their lease, so were able to put the project on hold without a crippling cost.

Most of the Lopes family remained in Australia during lockdown on the Gold Coast while elder son Lucas ran the Blenheim business until it was forced to close as the Kiwi lockdown kicked in.

Marcelo had plans to continue with on-line instruction, charging a small fee to keep some income flowing in. However, the company that organised on-going payments at the gym shut down completely, meaning he was unable to follow that plan through.

Undaunted, he and Vitor set up some instructional videos which they put on-line for free for five weeks. The Zoom classes had a large following, in both Australia and New Zealand.

As the effect of the virus lessened on both sides of the Tasman, Marcelo and Vitor were able to return home and re-opened their Blenheim gym in mid-May.

They closely followed spacing, sanitising and cleaning protocol for the first two weeks, but are now back to full-contact training.
Marcelo says class numbers are still not back to previous levels, suggesting some parents are not yet totally comfortable with close-contact work.

But he is confident numbers will grow, especially with the additional programmes and benefits gained through the Blenheim business’s association with their Aussie partners.

He plans to journey back to the Gold Coast when border restrictions are lifted and finish the work needed to open the new gym there.

“We have come back to New Zealand to regroup,” explained Marcelo, “[the virus] came at the worst possible time for us. It affected both our Gold Coast plans and the exciting new association with SJJA we have back in Blenheim. Things are picking up quickly though … diamonds are definitely built under pressure.”

Next up for Marcelo and his sons is the NZ national champs, their date yet to be confirmed.

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