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Redding Jiu Jitsu gym owner defies California's stay-at-home orders

Redding Record Searchlight logo Redding Record Searchlight 4/28/2020 Ethan Hanson, Redding Record Searchlight
a young man in a black shirt: Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu Jitsu owner Tanner Rice looks on during a class after deciding to reopen his gym on Monday, April 27, 2020. © Ethan Hanson/Record Searchlight Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu Jitsu owner Tanner Rice looks on during a class after deciding to reopen his gym on Monday, April 27, 2020.

Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu Jitsu owner Tanner Rice shouted at the top of his lungs as grapplers followed his commands Monday morning.

Sixteen people — each paired with a partner — wrestled and tangled in each other's gi. Hands and arms wrapped around arms and ankles, as is routine in the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The sport exemplifies the opposite of what it means to socially distance. Under Gov. Newsom's coronavirus orders, gyms and fitness studios are not supposed to be open.

The tone of Rice's words was one of pride and joy after he decided to restart his Redding gym following more than a month's layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rice reopened despite the governor's orders, which remain in effect.

"(My group) thinks the virus is on the downscale and there are studies that came out that show most of us have had coronavirus anyway," Rice said. "We need to operate and we need to pay rent. It's either we go broke and file bankruptcy or we operate business."

Shasta County public health spokeswoman Kerri Schuette said via email that reopening the gym "is a violation of the governor's order."

Rice says he feels the response by state and county officials has been "an overreaction" given the amount of cases in Shasta County. There have been 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Shasta County as of Monday morning and four people have died.

Some Shasta County residents anxiously wonder: Why aren't more people wearing face masks?

"I understand that people get sick and people need to get better," Rice said. "But I think it's an overreaction and that's just my opinion. I think we need to start bringing life back to normal."  

a man sitting in a room: Grappling student Isaia Faumui, 32, and 40-year-old Travis Nicolay clinch each other's gi during a class at Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Redding on Monday, April 27, 2020. © Ethan Hanson/Record Searchlight Grappling student Isaia Faumui, 32, and 40-year-old Travis Nicolay clinch each other's gi during a class at Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Redding on Monday, April 27, 2020.

While Rice has decided to reopen his gym in Redding, martial arts studio owner Blain Cort, who owns Blain Cort's Total Self Defense in Anderson, has continued his operations using Facebook.

Cort teaches Wu Ying Tao — a kung fu-based style martial art — and modern arnise — a stick-and-sword fighting martial art. He conducts classes using training videos he produces. The videos are uploaded to the studio's private group called Total Self Defense Virtual Training Group, which students use to train.

"We've had some difficulties because we are a self-defense school not a traditional martial arts school," Cort said. "All of our training is hands on. We've had a lot of good feedback from some of the students who have been able to train with their parents. We've also got a pocket of students who train together in their small groups."

a man and a woman looking at the camera: Grappler Chase Boontjer looks up while holding a plank at Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu on Monday, April 27, 2020. © Ethan Hanson/Record Searchlight Grappler Chase Boontjer looks up while holding a plank at Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu on Monday, April 27, 2020.

Rice isn't going to conduct online classes and remains adamant about allowing his grapplers to train at his gym. Rice says he is making his students follow proper sanitation guidelines by having them wear only freshly-cleaned gis and his staff is washing down the mats before and after each training session.

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"We used to wash the mats once a day but now we are doing it before and after each class," Rice said. "We are wiping down the handles every class and we are taking every precaution to ensure that people don't get sick."

Rice BJJ student Chase Bootnjer, 27, who works as a personal trainer and membership coordinator at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness, believes Rice's gym has support despite mandated stay-at-home orders.

"We know that the perceived threat level in the North State is very low and right now we have the spirit that wants to support our friend and coach," Bootnjer said. "I think (Tanner) is a fearless leader, a general and we support the guy."

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Bootnjer was a standout wrestler at Foothill High School and he hopes the community will understand and allow grapplers to continue their training at Rice BJJ.

"My challenge for people who have an issue with us is to come talk to us," Bootnjer said. "It's not like we are grunts who walk into a room and demand a workout. We sterilize the mats every day and we do everything we can to stay sanitized. At the end of the day, we are fighters and we are born and bred to push ourselves to get better every day."

Grapplers Christian Fisher (center) and Austin Kische (right) tangle during a session at Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Redding on Monday, April 27, 2020. © Ethan Hanson/Record Searchlight Grapplers Christian Fisher (center) and Austin Kische (right) tangle during a session at Rice Brothers Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Redding on Monday, April 27, 2020.

Ethan Hanson started working for the Redding Record Searchlight after four years with the Los Angeles Daily News as a freelancer. His coverage includes working the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, and writing about the St. Louis Rams' move to Los Angeles with the Ventura County Star. He began his career as a play-by-play broadcaster for LA Pierce College from 2011-2017. Follow him on Twitter at @EthanAHanson_RS.

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Redding Jiu Jitsu gym owner defies California's stay-at-home orders

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