Olive Branch takes different spin on self defense

Olive Branch Ju Jitsu owner Joe Lestina poses with medals he and the club's competition team have won over the past four years. Lestina moved the studio from the YMCA to 802 Avenue G in Fort Madison's Main Street District last month. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – Humans have a reaction when an assault seems imminent, it’s flight or fight.

Joe Lestina just moved his Olive Branch Jiu Jitsu out of digs at the Fort Madison YMCA into Fort Madison’s Main Street district. As part of his ministry programs, he teaches the former…and then he teaches the latter.

“There’s two phases of self-defense. No. 1 is distance, if I can get away and run, I should run, but what happens if you lose the ability to run?” he said Thursday as his new studio was being installed with new ceiling lights.

“You have to be able to defend yourself. If someone grabs you, you have to be able to break the grip. You have to be able to fight to the point of not wearing yourself completely out. You also have to feign compliance to be able to get a tactical advantage and then unleash everything you possibly can.”

Lestina has a full-time job and has a background in military and law enforcement and, at 41, brings philosophy to his teachings that incorporates faith, awareness, and confidence.

He said the studio is a way for him to give back to the community he grew up in, while at the same time helping people keep themselves out of physical situations, including bullying. All for the price of about three cups of premium coffee a month for the kids and women’s classes and about five cups for the men.

“This is a ministry for us and although it is a business we are not seeking financial gain, we give everything back to the club, to include spending more than $10,000 for the mats. This gives us a platform and opportunity to help people. I like to help people gain confidence and learn to defend themselves and then I talk about Jesus with them.”

The studio is a new location, but Olive Branch has been holding classes at the YMCA in Fort Madison for three and half years. Lestina said he started working out of the Lee County Boxing club four a couple months before moving into a space at the Y. He offers classes each day at different times with separate classes for men, women, and children.

He gives instruction in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as well as grappling, judo, and self-defense. With the kids classes, Lestina puts an emphasis on “bullyproofing” the kids.

“The number one rule is to avoid the fight at all costs. Keep yourself out of situations where you need to use jiu jitsu and, if you can do that, your jiu jitsu will be great because you never have to use it,” he said.

“But if you find you have to use it, rule No. 2 if you’re physically attacked is you have the right to defend yourself. Nobody should have to stand there and let somebody punch them without being able to do something in response to that.”

His response technique doesn’t necessarily involve punching or kicking, but he said he teaches through jiu jitsu how to control the situation with grappling and de-escalating the situation, allowing a student to remove themselves from a physical situation without throwing kicks or punches.

He also teaches women’s classes and those focus on keeping an awareness of your surroundings first and not allowing yourself to get in a compromised position. He then teaches how to get out of those situations in the event a woman is caught off guard.

“In our adult classes we teach women practical applications of jiu jitsu and self defense. Everything from situational awareness to how to keep yourself out of a bad situation. If that doesn’t work and you find yourself in a bad situation either due to lack of awareness or someone caught you off guard, then you will be able to at least defend yourself,” Lestina said.

Lestina poses outside with the new window signage on his Olive Branch Jiu Jitsu studio on Avenue G. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC

He said sports physiology indicates that true self defense can’t really be executed until you develop muscle memory, and data shows that it takes about 1,000 repetitions in sports to create muscle memory.

“If you come to one class a week for an entire year, you might have reached that 1,000 repetitions and you”ll have a little proficiency in the sport,” Lestina said. “If you plan on coming in once a week for a month or two, you may have an increase in your awareness so you recognize situations you shouldn’t be in, but you won’t have proficiency in the martial art,” he said.

Another part of the instruction is called “stress inoculation”. Lestina said law enforcement and military personnel are trained to deal with real time stress in the field.

“Law enforcement trains us that we don’t know how we’ll respond when the real stress like bullets flying or bombs going off happens, unless you are trained to react a certain way. We want to help people learn what those reactions should be. It’s getting comfortable with the uncomfortableness. If someone gets you in a choke or is making hard for you to breathe, we can teach you to find a way to deal with that.”

He said his passion grew out of wrestling when he was younger and then realized how martial arts can take that to the next level.

“For me personally, I grew up wrestling and had a passion for grappling. But when physical confrontations end up on the ground, jiu jitsu is where it’s at. Wrestling is the physical aspect of it, it’s like the cat playing with the mouse. In wrestling you grab the mouse, and you hold the mouse, but you don’t finish the mouse. In jiu jitsu you eat the mouse.”

Olive Branch is working in conjunction with the YMCA and has discounted rates for members of the Fort Madison YMCA. Lestina said the two organizations have some of the same visions so its a good partnership. The YMCA is planning on adding gymnastics classes on-site at the downtown location in October.

“The YMCA has the same vision as far as bringing health and wellness to the community and we obviously share that same passion and offer it through martial arts,” Lestina said.

Introduction classes are held Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. with a ladies class from 6 to 7 p.m. and Teens/Men class from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday has Teens/Mens classes from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday is a daytime men’s class from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thursday is a Teens/Mens class from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and Friday starts with 6-8 year olds from 4:30 to 5:10 p.m. 9 to 13 year olds from 5:15 p.m. to 5:55 p.m., a mixed jiu jitsu class from 6 to 7 p.m. and open mat from 7 to 8 p.m.

For more information on the club, Lestina can be reached during business hours at the club, by email at olivebranchjj@gmail.com, and by sending a message to Olive Branch Jiu Jitsu on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/olivebranchjiujitsu/

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