It’s Friday evening, but the men and women on the mats inside Art of War are not in the mood to socialize and unwind.
Far from that, they are being put through their paces by Art of War owner and head coach Jason Georgianna, learning escape moves in a jiu jitsu class, a grappling-based martial art. Georgianna provides quick instruction and demonstrations with assistant coaches. Then the class, in pairs, works to refine the moves at roughly 25-percent intensity.
Later in the class the same moves are practiced at a faster pace in what Georgianna calls “offense-defense rounds” that last a minute each, and the brisk hour-long class ends with a pair of five-minute rounds that are at competitive intensity and covers the evening’s session. There’s a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie in the class, but there is no small talk. It’s time to work.
Art of War, which Georgianna founded in 2009, offers classes in jiu jitsu, muay Thai (a combat sport that uses stand-up striking along with clinching techniques and is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins) and mixed martial arts (MMA, which combines jiu jitsu and muay Thai) as well as boxing and wrestling. From beginners to advanced students, all are welcome. Georgianna estimates that 150 to 200 people take classes at Art of War, depending on the season.
“It’s interesting the cross section of people we have,” Georgianna says, which include University of Oregon students, lawyers, doctors and professors. “There’s not any gyms in Eugene that do this.”
This will also be a busy fall season for Art of War outside of its walls in downtown Eugene. Already Gerardo Bibian won a MMA fight by decision Sept. 9 in Portland, and on Sept. 16 Sophie Lang lost a MMA bout in Clackamas to a rear choke move. Other advanced students will be in competitions throughout the Northwest, and even Georgianna, at age 50, will walk into the MMA cage and into the fury of the sport for the first time in more than a decade Sept. 22 for a professional bout against Brandon Sly in Tacoma, Washington.
MMA, Georgianna says, is the combination of the other sports he and staff coach, emphasizing that the whole of MMA is greater than the sum of the parts of the other disciplines.
Also on that card Sept. 22 at Muckleshoot Casino will be Art of War students Carsten MacKillop, Rachael Collins and Dev Craigen (“Superman”). On Oct. 14 in Portland’s Roseland Theater, Morgan Fegan will fight a MMA amateur bout, and on Oct. 28, Damon Campbell will participate in the Eugene Jiu Jitsu Championships at the Eugene Events Center.
It is Georgianna’s return to the cage, though, that has drawn double takes.
“My fighters will be over the moon if I win,” he says.
Georgianna last fought in 2010 and “retired” with a 9-7 professional record over five years and an 8-1-1 amateur record. He got married, had children, and he notes that it isn’t uncommon for fighters to give up the training grind when that happens. He also has a master’s degree in physical education from Southern Oregon State University in Ashland. Opening Art of War and teaching was a natural outlet after competing, he explains.
So why come back to the grind? There were many factors in the decision, Georgianna says, notably the death early this year of his brother of a fentanyl overdose in southern Oregon. He dismissed, for at least one fight, the notion that he is too old to get back in the cage.
“I just felt that if you have the chance, you should do this,” he says.
On fight day itself, Georgianna will wake up early for an hour-plus shake-out workout that, he explains, will “wake up the nervous system.” There’s a run, some weight lifting and a fight walk-through at what he says will be at 50-percent intensity.
After an afternoon nap and dinner, it’s off to the venue and a mandatory fighters meeting. Then it’s time to put on the gloves, calm the nerves and wait.
Georgianna began MMA fighting in the early 2000s and turned pro in 2006. He notes, thankfully, how the sport has matured over the years.
“It was a very unrefined, barbaric setup,” he says of the sport’s early years. “There were circus-type matches. Sometimes, the results were catastrophic. It was a car wreck situation.”
For most people, simply staying fit and learning the sports Georgianna and his coaching staff teach at Art of War is reward enough, he says.
“There are only a small percentage who are crazy and who want to get in a cage,” he says. “It can be daunting and intimidating. This shit is not for everyone.”