Jordan Gomez wanted to hang up his jiu-jitsu gi for good. Despite submitting seven of his eight opponents, placing second in his division and first in the open weight division at the 2012 Polynesian International tournament, the 27-year-old Kauaʻi product was growing unenthusiastic about the grappling art. But now, with the help of Professor Aldo Caveirinha Januario and Caveirinha Jiu-Jitsu Family (CJJF), the black belt featherweight is hungrier than ever to make a name for himself.
As a young teen, Gomez was harassed and picked on because of his scrawny shape and shy personality, which accounted for his low outlook on life. In his senior year of high school, Gomez took his first step onto a jiu-jitsu mat and in less than a minute was tapped out via arm bar performed by a much younger boy. Nevertheless, he was hooked. The martial art, sometimes referred to as arte suave (the gentle art), relies not on size and strength, but on technique and leverage, which was perfect for him. Since then, jiu jitsu has played an immense role in transforming his confidence while also instilling humility.
“You can’t get big headed about it,” says Gomez of his progression. “You get choked out on the mat every single day. You have to leave your ego at the door and there’s no pride in jiu-jitsu. You can’t come to the school thinking you’re gonna beat on everyone—it’s just not the way it goes.”
In 2008, when everyone was on the MMA (mixed martial arts) bandwagon, Gomez took the plunge into the popular sport and moved to Los Angeles. After a year of missing home and not focusing purely on jiu-jitsu, he left the City of Angels and relocated to Honolulu where he set up his own gym. It just so happened that his gym was the same location as his house garage. While there were no required gym fees and he was able to train with his friends everyday, the space lacked guidance and consistent motivation.
Still, the talent was there and he entered in the Polynesian International tournament. One of the referees, Professor Caveirinha, noticed Gomez’s performance and invited him to a seminar at his gym in Kaka‘ako.
“[Caveirinha] came up to me after the tournament and told me he saw a lot of potential,” says Gomez, “but I needed a teacher to push myself. That was probably the changing point and I’d have to say that he definitely saved my jiu-jitsu because I was kind of getting discouraged and over it for a little while when I was a purple belt.”
Caveirinha, a fourth degree black belt, brought him into his class and Gomez never left, eventually helping Caveirniha with instructing students. He believes Gomez is the next big thing in jiu-jitsu to come out of Hawaiʻi.
“I believe he is number one in Hawaiʻi now,” says Caveirinha, “but I told him, if he gets a gold medal in Brazil and California, for sure people from all over the world will respect him of his jiu-jitsu and his style.”
This May, Gomez will be competing in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Long Beach, California to do just that. The only competitors allowed to enter the same tournament that put BJ Penn on the map in 2000 as the first non-Brazilian gold medalist, have medaled in international tournaments or accumulated 50 points. Gomez placed third in the 2014 Asian International Open in Japan, automatically qualifying him for Worlds.
Jiu-jitsu has molded Gomez into a confident, but humble man–its given him a purpose in life. At some point after he earns degrees on his belt and builds a stronger résumé, he wants to open a jiu-jitsu gym under his name and give back to the art/sport that continuously gives him so much. Whether on Oʻahu or Kauaʻi, he’s hopeful the gym will not be in his garage.
*Photography by Jake Ho