Roll with it

New black-belt instructor brings a fresh approach to Island Jiu Jitsu.


Island Jiu Jitsu has a new Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) instructor. Black belt Eric Cady taught jiu jitsu in Rochester, N.Y., for more than 13 years before moving to the Vineyard to work for South Mountain Co. “A few weeks after I moved here, I stopped by Island Jiu Jitsu to check it out, and brown belt Neila Silva said their black belt instructor had moved, and asked if I wanted to teach,” Cady laughed. “It wasn’t what I’d planned, but as I got to know some of the students and saw how excited they were to learn, it was pretty hard to resist. It’s been really fun getting to know people and watching them grow.”

But wait, what exactly is Brazilian jiu jitsu? BJJ is a ground grappling-based martial art the central theme of which is to control opponents in ways that force them to submit. A major element of the sport is to overcome greater size, strength, and aggression with lesser size and strength, using leverage, grips, and positions.

Cady began learning BJJ in 2002. “I’d been involved in a couple of martial arts over the years, and I was being promoted quickly, but I didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing. I watched some early UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships), and was impressed by Royce Gracie, who is a small guy like me, and his ability to beat everyone. Years later, when I moved to Rochester, a BJJ instructor who had trained with Carlos Machado [cousin of the famous Gracie jiu jitsu family] moved to Rochester, and I started training with him. I’ve been doing it ever since,” Cady said.

BJJ is beneficial in a number of ways; people build strong bonds when they struggle and overcome obstacles together. You meet people from all walks of life and build friendships with those you might normally never cross paths with. “It’s also great exercise,” Cady shared. “You sweat, exert energy, tire out, but you get so caught up in the process, you forget you’re exercising. Also, since this martial art doesn’t rely so heavily on size and strength, BJJ is a really effective form of self-defense, especially for women and kids.”

Suzie Dias and Andressa Fressatti Datrindade were among the oldest in the Island Jiu Jitsu kids’ BJJ class, and simply didn’t have enough peers to practice with to reach the next level. Though kids aren’t normally mixed into adult classes, Cady says Suzie and Andressa are mature and quick learners. And since there are a number of women in class, they have access to strong role models, and advanced students to learn from.

“As a female and a white belt, it’s really intimidating and a lot of the time scary to walk into a gym or dojo and keep up with the boys. I’ve dealt with egos, guys who need to prove themselves, and some who just can’t stand a woman getting even a decent position on them. Island Jiu Jitsu is not that. It’s the most welcoming, safe, and open environment I’ve come across,” said Emily Mizer, a dedicated Island Jiu Jitsu student.

In some ways, BJJ is a Zen kind of thing. You need to be present while you’re rolling, and that focus keeps you from rehashing your past or worrying about next week. Jiu Jitsu also helps people find their humility. “You realize you’re never the best out there. Sometimes you’re the worst, and other times you’re crushing it. I’ve witnessed 250-pound guys come in with something to prove, and then watch as they lose repeatedly to smaller people. They’re shocked. At that point they’re either amazed and want to learn more, or they quit because they can’t handle the fact that a 155-pound IT specialist just wiped the floor clean with them,” Cady said.

Sounds aggressive, but BJJ can be a powerful de-escalating tool. Cady has trained a number of police officers and FBI agents interested in learning how to de-escalate a situation without having to use Mace, Tasers, or guns. Done properly, BJJ provides the skills necessary to handle a noncompliant person without severely injuring or killing them.

When asked what BJJ has taught Cady, a couple of things came to mind: “It’s taught me to be more flexible. While doing jiu jitsu, you can only control so much. The rest is adapting to what you have to do next to be effective. Because the art of BJJ is so complex in movements and techniques, it pushes you to problem-solve. Every time you roll with someone, they’re different — different size, age, or speed — and that means you have to think quickly and change strategy in the moment. As I’ve aged, I’ve changed my style, which has made me more patient, calculated, and efficient.”

If you’re into competitions, you can take your BJJ training seriously and try to make a career out of it, or you can simply go to class, burn off some stress, and learn new things. “When you’re in the flow-state of rolling, you can see it and feel it. Sometimes that’s hard to describe, but it’s pretty awesome. Because BJJ is so nuanced, it takes a long time to learn it. But because it takes so long to learn it, once you’ve got it, you’ve got it,” Cady said. “It takes time, perseverance, patience, humility, and a willingness to keep trying. Just like life.”

The vibe at Island Jiu Jitsu is welcoming and friendly, and though it’s a small school (numbers can fluctuate with drop-ins), there are some big benefits to training in a small studio. “I have met, trained with, and learned from so many amazing people along the way, many who have become like family to me. In a small class, we all play a critical role in the growth of the program and our skills. There is a sense of respect and equality between us, whether you’re two weeks into your white belt or years into your black belt,” shared Ryan Shea, a brown belt and longtime student of Island Jiu Jitsu. Last, because Martha’s Vineyard is such a popular destination, people from all over the world stop in to roll.

Island Jiu Jitsu classes run Monday and Thursday evenings from 7 to 8:30 pm at Blitz Fitness in Vineyard Haven. Once a month there is an open roll on Saturday (no instruction). Kids’ classes, taught by Neila Silva, are also available. To sign up, email Eric Cady at or message him through Island Jiu Jitsu Facebook and Instagram pages: island_jiu_jitsumv.