THREE members of a Cork martial arts club compete in a European Championship in Rome next week.
They are Barry Hickey, Yvonne O’Connell and Yuri Malko from the Aontach Jiu-Jitsu club in Ballyvolane.
The trio take to the mat in the IBJJF Euros, the federation considered the most prestigious Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu unit in the world.
The championships in the Italian capital represent the first in Europe since before the Pandemic hit, last competed for in 2019.
The Cork club only came into being a year later with Hickey a co-founder along with Ben Judge and it has been an instant success despite all the difficulties posed by Covid, attracting 40 students to the discipline.
“People from all over the world travel to compete at this competition,” Hickey told the Echo during the week.
“We had hoped to have had a large squad going over to perform, but because of strict regulations currently in Italy it was not possible for everyone to go.”
Hickey will compete in the brown belt middleweight division, O’Connell, who coaches in the kids in the club, goes in the female blue belt lightweight section and Malko tries his luck in the black belt middleweight division.
The trio have plenty of experience and know-how to draw from, Hickey having won silver at the Europeans in 2019 and at the IBJJF World Championships in America the same year.
And he also captured gold from the IBJJF North American Masters last year in addition to many other national and international medals.
O’Connell also took silver from the AJP Portugal Pro and is the Northern Irish Champion in her division as well as being regularly among the medals from other national competitions.
Malko knows well how to cope with pressure and expectation from his time as a former professional MMA fighter with multiple Irish titles as well as being a European Medallist in Jiu-Jitsu.
“We hope to bring home more medals to add to the already massive collection that our members have racked up since we opened,” Hickey added.
“At the start of the month, we brought a team of 10, most of whom were new to competing, to a national ‘grassroots’ tournament in Dublin and as a team we topped the rankings with eight medals, three gold, three silver and two bronze.”
Apart from the sporting benefits of being a student of Jiu-Jitsu, there are obvious social plusses to the club as well as Hickey outlined.
We decided to open up in Ballyvolane with the hope of being able to help youths and young adults in a disadvantaged area.
“Through already working within the local community, our own experiences and struggles, and through coaching sport for years, we both have a deep understanding of the benefits of a sport like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the positive effects both mentally and physically it can have on individuals and in the wider community.
“We are all very close as a team and are always looking to recruit new members, especially those who maybe may slipped through the cracks of mainstreams sports and have endured personal hardships.
“We maintain strong links with local addiction and substance misuse services and through our own life experience can offer a safe, non-judgmental space, informal mentoring and signposting.
“These are all of vital importance for reintegration into the community and personal development.
“Our aim is build our team, build peoples’ confidence and personal resilience through sport and competitions.”
The club trains Monday to Saturday in addition to laying on four kids classes a week on top of running regular beginners’ courses, details from the website www.aontach.com or on social media platforms. All are welcome to give it a go.
Next month marks the return of Jiu Jitsu competition to Leeside with two events planned with Aontach members preparing dilligently for them.
The Cork International Open, which takes place in UCC on March 6 is the next target on returning from the Europeans and the club already has 17 adults and 11 kids registered for the event.