Jiu-jitsu enterprise strikes into former Ferrari storefront | Los Gatan

Inside the building with the curved façade along South Main Street, assistant instructor Bruce G. Nardone looks out over the “no-gi” jiu-jitsu class, where a couple of students are practicing various techniques.

Leading the Jan. 25 session, Sean Whitmore indicates fulcrum points on the body and walks the learners through the grappling rhythm.

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Demonstrating techniques. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

As Heroes Martial Arts expands into the space that once hawked top-tier cars (there’s still a stone slab with the Aston Martin logo outside), you get the feeling it won’t be this empty for long.

“There’s no striking,” said Nardone, describing the type of class underway. “It’s more body control.”

Nardone is a sponsored athlete who has won major championships around the world, such as a gold in the open category at the IBJJF fights in Rome in 2019.

He came to martial arts after a rough upbringing in New Jersey and New York.

“I was always getting jumped,” he said. “I needed self-defense.”

For Nardone, there was the physical element that was alluring. But he found there was a beauty to the mental game, too.

“There’s a lot of give-and-take,” he said. “It’s like playing chess.”

Heroes has three locations in the South Bay, including one in Campbell.

This will be their fourth.

“I love this location,” Nardone said, pointing out how close it is to a popular trail. “Everyone’s walking to the loop and hiking.”

And students now have another physical activity option right near the Los Gatos High School campus, he notes.

“It keeps your mind off of anything that’s negative,” he said. “Any kind of a good distraction is better than a bad one.”

It’s also an opportunity to spread his love of jiu-jitsu to a new audience.

“They have the option to condition their body here with jiu-jitsu,” he said. “It’s just rewarding to see new faces.”

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Bruce Nardone. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

At the same time, the company founder, Alan Marques—who everyone calls Gumby—was teaching a different class on the other side of the South Bay.

Marques, 50, says he did judo as a kid after being bullied.

But it was the buying decision of a roommate that cemented his future career path: his housemate decided to purchase UFC#1 on pay-per-view.

So when Ralph Gracie, of the preeminent ultimate fighting Gracie clan, opened a gym in the South Bay, he was one of the first students to sign up.

Gumby. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

“I was one of the first American black belts in the area,” he said. “It was a huge opportunity. I kinda knew it’d be big. But I didn’t know how big.”

As ultimate fighting and jiu-jitsu took off like a rocket, Marques was along for the ride, working as a reporter for the website.

“I was a journalist for years in that space,” he said. “I was considered at one point to be the voice of jiu-jitsu in America.”

The site was revolutionary, he explains, because they were uploading videos before YouTube became a thing.

He recalls how he’d download content overnight via a dial-up modem, compress the file to the Quicktime standard and then send it out to their growing legion of UFC fans.

Over time the site ran its course, as more platforms got on the streaming bandwagon, and Marques put more emphasis on his work at the dojo.

“It was kind of time to branch out and do my own thing,” he said, of the decision to start his own gym. “It was a natural progression.”

That was a decade-and-a-half ago now.

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Nardone shows a photo from a competition in Tokyo. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

“We just celebrated our 15th anniversary,” he said. “Last year I took over a gym in Campbell.”

Marques says it’s great to have the two West Valley locations so close to each other.

“It’s close enough that there’s a synergy,” he said. “They’re different cities, they’re different demographics.”

It’s not that Marques was chomping at the bit to get into the former Ferrari location.

California Strength—which Heroes now shares a building with—reached out, he explains.

“An opportunity came up in Los Gatos that was such a good deal—I couldn’t refuse it,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to open multiple gyms…During Covid I wasn’t sure I was going to have one gym.”

Whitmore, the instructor, is also a part-owner in the gym, too.

Marques says jiu-jitsu isn’t just a way to pass the time in the evenings, it’s a lifestyle.

“This is part of your identity, like you surf or you golf; jiu-jitsu’s along the same lines,” he said. “You’re part of a larger community.”

Heroes Martial Arts will hold a free introductory workshop on Saturday, Feb. 3, at 66 E. Main St. in Los Gatos. No experience is necessary, but participants are asked to bring comfortable workout clothes.

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