Eli Feyen, 7, faced his opponent at the recent Twin Cities Grappling Tournament and quickly realized the other child was younger, less experienced, and new to competing. During the brief match, Eli showed his control and superior technique to win via points. It may seem like a small thing, but this type of consideration happens on the mat often, especially with the younger kids.

During training, you’ll see the older, bigger kids often smiling and guiding the younger ones through positions, or even letting the little ones gain dominant positions for practice. It’s part of the learning process and also a function of the community ethos that arises out of martial arts.

“Eli knew he didn’t need to go full force,” said his father Grant Feyen. “He noticed it right away because he’s very aware of his level and how hard he has to go with someone, or if he’s hurting someone of not.

This type of awareness is one of the things Grant has seen develop in his son since they first became members at the Cellar gym in 2016. Eli was four years old at the time. When The Cellar Gym added a Youth Brazilian Jiu Jitsu program, Eli was one of the first to join. The Cellar offers a youth unlimited membership, which means kids can train in both striking and grappling classes, instead of having to pay for both programs.

There are several other things Grant has noticed in the three years since his sons, Eli and now his younger brother Trent, have been training at the Cellar.

“He has so much more confidence, his body awareness is much better,” Grant said. “His physical abilities carry over into other sports and onto the playground too.”

“And now when I look at him,” he added, laughing. “He’s got these muscles!”

The Cellar Gym’s youth program offers classes in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing. The BJJ classes are taught by BJJ Black Belt Mauricio Carra and BJJ brown belt Kenn Glenn. The Muay Thai classes are lead by Katie Locken and Chris Cichon

Eli has been focusing on BJJ for the past few weeks, in preparation for a tournament coming up, but he also trains Muay Thai. Grant said he’d let Eli take a break after the tournament, then see what he wants to do, Muay Thai or BJJ.

“I’m glad they’ve got both,” Grant said. “The kids like to have a choice from time to time, so they don’t get bored. Eli usually picks one and sticks with it for a while, and then switches back.”

Grant’s younger son, Trent, has already started BJJ and will most likely get into Muay Thai as time goes on. The family – Grant, his wife Emily and their two sons – have been mainstays of the gym for three years and they don’t have plans to leave anytime soon. The gym is close to their home, it’s affordable to have the boys in the class, and the community has become a part of their lives. But they are doing this for the kids, and seeing the boys progress and become more confident is really the biggest incentive.

“Eli is one of the smallest kids out there,” his father said. “But he doesn’t get bullied. It’s not his size, it’s his confidence. You can feel it and I’ve seen it grow here at the gym. He also doesn’t bully or brag about BJJ ever, at least not that I know of. In fact, his teachers constantly tell us he’s a conflict resolver, and that he has this really good sense of fairness and justice.”

“I chalk a lot of that up to the martial arts, and training here with a bunch of other kids – boys and girls of all age groups – and the role models he sees here. Especially at this point in time, it’s really important for him to see positive male role models and positive masculinity.”

For more information about the Cellar’s children’s programs, contact Katie at The Cellar Gym or visit the website.
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