Local jiu-jitsu academy fights to unite Exeter community

(Kenny Goodman)

The lifestyle of jiu-jitsu leads Checkmat Exeter in teaching locals to strategically fight for themselves while building community

EXETER – The same way jiu-jitsu brought Sarah and Fabricio Machado together, the couple opened their martial arts academy in Exeter to build community and hold on to the values and discipline that has changed their lives.

Owners of Exeter’s first jiu-jitsu academy, Checkmat, shared the journeys that inspired them to open academy doors in November 2022. The values, tradition and sense of community fuel their desire to share the jiu-jitsu lifestyle with the Central Valley.

“Jiu-jitsu is my life,” the owner and main instructor of Checkmat Fabricio Machado said. “Community is the best part about it. You make really good friends with people.”

As of now, half of Checkmat’s academy is still under construction. However, the academy is still open and offers classes at varying times throughout the week, which can be found at Checkmat’s website at checkmatexeter.com.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is anticipated to celebrate the academy’s official opening sometime this fall, when construction is wrapping up. The facility is thoughtfully designed and being furnished in all black and white to represent balance while giving students an aesthetically clean environment to learn their jiu-jitsu in.

“We’re a strong community — and we’re growing,” Fabricio said in regards to the martial arts practice. “Jiu-jitsu builds confidence. It builds respect for each other.”

Fabricio explained one of the ways jiu-jitsu builds community is due to the commitment required to achieve the different belts that signify skill level. Every belt requires that students spend a certain number of years working on their skills. The belts range from white being the lowest level, to red being the highest. A red belt can take 48 to 60 years to achieve.

He also said the disciplined routine of a person building their skills through intense training with other participants, as well as sparring with them over a period of years, builds closed bonds throughout the academy.

Checkmat’s second owner Sarah Machado, who is also Fabricio’s wife, explained why they chose to open their academy in Exeter.

“The Central Valley’s got a lot of opportunities,” Sarah said. “It just made sense. We were looking in Visalia, then this space opened up in Exeter and I was working here already and I grew up here.”

Fabricio’s continuous training started in Brazil. It eventually took him to Manhattan, New York and Southern California to learn under respected masters of jiu-jitsu.

Fabricio said he was drawn to California from the beginning due to the beauty, sun and opportunities. At the time, he was living in a gym that taught martial arts in Orange County to further his training. To some degree, it was Fabricio’s love of jiu-jitsu that first brought Sarah and Fabricio together.

“In Orange County, I made a friend where we used to train together,” Fabricio said. “That’s how I met Sarah, through a mutual friend.”

Sarah and Fabricio opened their own academy in Exeter in November 2022 so far teaching 40 to 50 students jiu jitsu. They hope to eventually grow to teach up to 500 students and possibly open more locations.

More on Checkmat’s teachings

The name of the academy “Checkmat” is a play on “checkmate” to describe the strategic nature of what they teach. Checkmat teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu, also referred to as Gracie jiu-jitsu, which is a form of jiu-jitsu that was refined in Brazil by martial artist Helio Gracie.

The Machados explained that Gracie was smaller in stature and developed new techniques of jiu-jitsu to gain advantage as someone who could easily be pushed to the ground and put in what previous martial artists considered vulnerable positions. This is why Brazilian jiu-jitsu is considered an ideal form of self-defense for women who would have to defend themselves against larger opponents.

“You will learn a lot of tools where you have your back on the floor and what to do from there,” Fabricio said. “You can still choke while you’re in a vulnerable state.”

Checkmat recently started a women’s class on Tuesday nights to help women get into the sport and learn self-defense. The academy offers a variety of adult and kids classes throughout the week as well as private lessons. Private lessons cost $100 per class. The academy also has membership packages with different price ranges as well as a punch card to get five $60 classes so students can try Jiu Jitsu at a discounted rate.

Checkmat jiu jitsu academy welcomes people of all ages to join whether they want to compete in tournaments or take classes for the health benefits. Further information on the scheduling and membership plans can also be found on the academy’s website.

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