Parkite readies to take on jiu jitsu’s best
Almost seven years ago, Park City’s Nick Howlett finally made up his mind — he wanted to give Brazilian jiu jitsu a try. Like many who come to the sport these days, his introduction was through mixed martial arts.
"I always had a fascination with the guys on the ground, doing the ground work," he said.
The only trouble was, Park City did not have a jiu jitsu school. Howlett tried to convince a friend or two to sign up for classes at a school in Salt Lake City to save on the commute, but no one took him up on it. The journey might have ended there were it not for a walk down Main Street.
"Not six months later, I happened to be walking up Main Street and saw a flyer for Park City Jiu Jitsu," he said. "I called the next day, two days after that I was in the gym, and the rest is history. I fell in love from the very first class."
Professor Mike Diaz had just opened the doors to Park City Jiu Jitsu when Howlett called and became one of his very first students. He was also the most consistent, training five to six days a week.
"He got a lot of private sessions in the beginning, just me and him, because I was so new to Park City," Diaz said.
Six years prior, Howlett had never grappled before, nor had he done any kind of martial art. But he was a natural athlete, and Diaz said he could see immediately that Howlett could be special.
"He pays attention to the details," Diaz said. "I can talk a lot and explain things, but really if a guy watches what I do and watches how the move is performed, they can see all the little details of the move. And Nick always pays attention. He is always looking for those little details."
Howlett said when he first started training it was all about learning a new skill. And what appealed to him most is that with jiu jitsu, you are always learning.
"You’ll hear, the guys who have been doing jiu jitsu for 75 years, they say every time they step onto a mat they learn something new," he said. "It might be a minor, little itty bitty thing, but they are still learning. That’s what I find so amazing about it."
Early on, fewer than 10 classes into his training, a competition came up, and Howlett decided to give it a try.
"I got my butt whupped, but it was fun," he said.
He realized jiu jitsu competition was a new way to apply what he’d learned and to learn by fighting guys who were better than him. Now, six years later, Howlett is going to learn by fighting the very best.
With his win at the Northwest Submission Challenge in Idaho April 23, Howlett qualified for a spot in the World Jiu Jitsu Championship, otherwise known as the Mundials, to be held June 1-5 in Long Beach, California.
"Qualifying was a huge weight off my shoulders," he said. "It’s been a goal of mine for three or four years and I really wanted to put it together this year. I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of getting my mind right."
Howlett said he is excited for Mundials primarily for two reasons — one, to represent his school on the world stage and show everyone the caliber of competitor Park City Jiu Jitsu can produce.
"I started to look at it as my role here at the school since I’ve been here the longest," he said. "I look at competing as my duty to this academy to show that we have some tough guys here. I take that on my shoulders.
"And I’m trying to put my stamp out there. These are the best in the world, and I want to know if I’m at that level. I feel like I could be. But you never know."
Howlett added that he is also psyched to watch the best jiu jitsu practitioners in the world go through their routines, to learn everything he can by watching them.
"We’re in Park City. Most of the big competitions are in Las Vegas or California," he said. "I have a family. I don’t often have the opportunity to travel to those. So the Mundials are my chance to see all these guys. It’s like, the Michael Jordan of the sport is there and I can go talk to him."
Howlett said the next couple of weeks are all about eating clean and focusing even harder during his training sessions. Diaz said he is proud to see how far his first student has come.
"That’s my job," he said. "My job is to show him everything I know and to not hold back. If he can go out there and have great success, then I feel I’ve done my job and I feel a part of that success, too.
"I’m real proud of him. Nick is a tough guy."
For more information on the World Jiu Jitsu Championship, visit http://www.IBJJF.org . Park City Jiu Jitsu is located at 1792 Bonanza Dr. #C-100. For more information visit http://www.ParkCityBJJ.com.
The Youth Sports Alliance will host a team scramble golf tournament on June 3 at Victory Ranch in hopes of raising funds for its scholarships and youth programs.