Quincy athlete wins a world crown in jiu-jitsu

Jay N. Miller

When Quincy’s Jeff Hsu and his brothers and cousins get together, they don’t waste their time playing checkers, or even a friendly backyard game of softball.

They tend to end up wrestling, because the Hsu family includes a long line of outstanding high school grapplers who’ve left their mark on the competitive history of both of the city’s high schools.

Last month Jeff Hsu went them all one better. He entered his first Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament – no less than a world championship in Long Beach, Calif. – and came away with the gold medal in the middleweight division among white-belt competitors. Hsu, who turned 21 on July 8, had five matches and won them all, four by submission.

It was a major feather in the cap of Hsu’s team, the Kimura Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu studio of Watertown, but it was also a bit of an upset, since Hsu has been studying there for only six months.

“People say it was amazing because it was my first-ever jiu-jitsu tournament,” Hsu said, “but they forget all the tournaments I wrestled as a high school wrestler. My wrestling background definitely helped me, because I was used to tournament pressure, and I knew how to deal with it.”

Hsu graduated from North Quincy High School in 2005, after an All-Scholastic wrestling career that had ended somewhat sourly, when he tore a ligament and tendons in his elbow while competing in the Division 2 state semifinals as a senior.

After that he enrolled at Newbury College, and since the school has no wrestling team, he figured his future action would be limited to those friendly family matches, or goofing around with old school buddies like his fellow North Quincy co-captain, Eric Tso.

Somewhere along the line a friend brought Hsu to a jiu-jitsu studio and he was fascinated. He began trying different gyms, searching for that right atmosphere. When another pal brought him to Kimura, he knew he’d found a home.

“What I love about this gym is that it is all a team thing,” Hsu said. “We all help each other. It’s not like that at other gyms I tried, which is why I’d only last a week or so. When I won this tourney, I must have had 70 text messages congratulating me from everyone else on our team that was still home in Massachusetts. When we travel to tournaments around New England, or New York or New Jersey, you have 30 or 40 people with you and it feels like everyone’s behind you.”

That team aspect had its benefits when Hsu arrived in Long Beach to compete in the white-belt category, which is for new jiu-jitsu students, analogous to a novice division. Brazilian jiu-jitsu has five belt categories, ascending up the black belt. The World Championships, or The Mundials, lasted from June 5-8.

“I quickly found out that the guys I’d been wrestling in practice were better than the opponents I faced in California,” Hsu said. “Up here they had me wrestling all blue belts, purple belts and other really good, accomplished veterans. They prepared me so well, and my instructors taught me so many new moves before I went to California, I was ready for anything. I realized what a great group of guys we have, and how well they had prepared me.”

“He’s a natural,” said teammate Jeremy O’Kasick, a spokesman for the gym. “Jeff made us all proud. This is a major tournament, with athletes from Brazil there, and many, many Brazilians who now live in the United States and make their living teaching this discipline. It’s a little more than a national tourney, because there are people from all over in it, and Jeff’s good showing was a really big deal.”

The Brazilian style of jiu-jitsu, believing that size and strength advantages can be negated through efficient ground wrestling, emphasizing submission moves like chokes or joint locks.

The joint locks seek to use leverage to over-extend joints like knees or elbows, while the best choke holds involve shutting off the carotid arteries and inducing quick loss of consciousness. (Chokes that involve the airways are discouraged as being too dangerous and less effective.)

The Kimura Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu School is headed by Master Jean Kleber, a multiple Brazilian national champion who opened his Watertown gym in 2003.

Hsu works at the Newton CVS store while he also attends Newbury, so his time is precious, and he’s found that his training for the jiu-jitsu is not so different than from standard wrestling.

Since wrestling in the 160-pound weight class at North Quincy he’s grown into a 170-pounder, which pits him in the middleweight class in his sport.

“I’m probably in the gym four or five days a week to work with weights, I swim a lot, and I run,” said Hsu. “I’ll run laps, and also do suicide sprints for my wind. It’s mostly the same conditioning I did for wrestling.”

The widespread popularity of MMA, and it’s reliance on so many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu principles, has also caught Hsu’s attention.

“I didn’t really watch mixed martial arts, ultimate fighting, in high school,” Hsu said. “Last year in fact I saw my first mixed martial arts fight. I decided pretty quickly that’s what I wanted. Every guy in my family – seven of us – wrestles, and my cousins too, so everybody supports my competing. After my graduation from college, I would like to try MMA.

“Right now, this summer, I’ve joined a wrestling club in Quincy, The Dungeon – located right in the center –, to help prep myself for MMA.”

Hsu will continue to tackle his new sport’s challenges, and continue to enjoy staying in touch, and also frequently wrestling with his Quincy family and friends.

“I want to win the Worlds again, and my goal is to compete and win at every belt level,” said Hsu. “With the training I’m getting at my school I think I can get there. The next big target is a New England tournament in November.”

“Quincy is really a small place, or at least feels that way because you see everybody all the time,” Hsu added. “Eric Tso – my co-captain from high school – is still my best friend and I see him nearly every day. I still see a lot of my old friends from high school, and they all love the idea of the new stuff I’m doing. We’ll all watch the MMA fights on TV together. And, we’ll still wrestle each other for fun, too.”

The Patriot Ledger