Pono Pananganan is the owner and head instructor of the Kaua‘i Technical Institute, a martial arts academy in Lihu‘e, which provides instruction in the Brazilian style of Gracie Relson Jiu-Jitsu. For more information visit the KTI website online at www.relsongraciekti.com.
First, tell our readers a little about your background. When did you first get started with martial arts?
Pono Pananganan: I am a Kapa‘a High School graduate. I have been working under the Kaua‘i Fire Department for almost 12 years now. I got started in martial arts at a young age with Taekwondo and Kali, from the Philippines. But I found my passion in jiu-jitsu 15 years ago.
How has the sport impacted your life?
PP: Jiu-jitsu has brought me all over Hawai‘i and a few cities on the Mainland to compete in various tournaments. It has also allowed me to meet so many great people that also study the art from near and far. Jiu-jitsu has taught me many different disciplines, such as loyalty, respect, integrity, nutrition, self defense and so much more.
Talk a little bit about the Kaua‘i Technical Institute. What sets the Gracie Relson style of jiu-jitsu apart from others?
PP: KTI was founded in 2005 and we started with 15 dedicated students. We have been blessed to still be together and growing. Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu differs from other styles because of Relson’s dedication to a healthy lifestyle and his attention for detail in all his instructors.
What is your mission at KTI? What sort of values do you promote for your students?
PP: Our mission at KTI is to not only teach our students the benefits of jiu-jitsu, but to ingrain the many values of martial arts, including confidence, loyalty, respect, self defense and integrity, to name a few.
With the UFC and MMA today, do you feel like people often misunderstand martial arts?
PP: Some people aren’t educated in martial arts, so when they hear words like jiu-jitsu they immediately link it to mixed martial arts or street fighting, because that’s what they’ve seen on TV. But that’s totally not the case. Students that train in jiu-jitsu don’t use punches or kicks, but rather submission holds.
Is there an ideal age that people should get involved with martial arts or is any time a good time?
PP: I believe a person can never be to old and children as young as 4 should learn martial arts and their values. For an example on age, most Gracie family members start learning jiu-jitsu at the ripe old age of 2, and Helio Gracie —one of the founders of Gracie jiu-jitsu — trained and taught classes even in his 90’s!
Do you use the belt system at KTI? How long does it take to move up the ladder?
PP: Yes, we use the belt system. For starting adults we use white, blue, purple, brown, black, black/red and red belts. For kids we use white, yellow, orange, green.
Being so detailed in techniques, it takes much longer to get promoted in jiu-jitsu than any other martial art. To achieve a black belt under Master Relson takes an average of 16 years.
For someone that is interested in martial arts but has never participated, why do you recommend taking classes?
PP: For people interested in martial arts, I highly recommend trying jiu-jitsu. It is an art form that everyone can enjoy and benefit from.
What is something that most people don’t know about jiu-jitsu that you would like them to?
PP: Jiu-jitsu means the “gentle art.”
When not teaching jiu-jitsu classes, how do you like to spend your time?
PP: When I’m not in class I am enjoying the company of my family and friends.