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Instructor Exudes Passion at Atlas Jiu-Jitsu Academy

Joe Zakriski, the Head Instructor of Atlas Jiu-Jitsu in South Glens Falls, has a passion for martial arts that goes back a long, long way.

“One of my best friends took me to his taekwondo dojang (a formal training hall) back when I was in kindergarten or first grade,” recalled the Hudson Falls resident, now 34, in a recent telephone interview, “And I automatically fell in love with it.”

For a while, he tried to continue in, “any kind of martial arts after school program whenever I could.” But other sports — such as soccer, football, hockey, basketball, and primarily, baseball — occupied most of his free time growing up in the Scotia-Glenville area. During his college years however, that love was rekindled when he took up judo after discovering that the Jason Morris center in Burnt Hills was only five minutes from his parents’ house.

And when he was later introduced in 2010 to another martial art in the Albany area by a college friend, his destiny was determined. “Jiu jitsu has been my passion since the first class I ever took with Professor Ed,” Zakriski said of longtime martial arts instructor Edward Anthony and his New York Jiu Jitsu (now Atlas Jiu Jitsu) academy, then on Wolf Road in Colonie. “I knew that the day I took my first class (with him) that I was going to one day run an academy of my own.”

Six years later, Anthony told Zakriski he wanted him to be in charge of the new Atlas branch, that was opening in South Glens Falls, and Zakriski’s conviction became a reality. “It feels like it’s what I was meant to do,” said Zakriski, who was promoted by Anthony to black belt in jiu jitsu in 2021.

The 2,000 square-foot South Glens Falls facility, located in Midtown Plaza on Main Street, includes a grappling area, a mixed-martial arts (MMA) cage, and a fully equipped strength and conditioning zone. Classes at the academy include: adult Brazilian jiu jitsu, cardio kickboxing, strength and conditioning, striking, and the “Tiny Titans” children’s jiu jitsu program. Brazilian jiu jitsu specializes in ground fighting, submissions, and leverage, while Japanese jiu jitsu focuses on takedowns, traumatic blows, and weapons. The academy caters to people seeking to learn self-defense methods as well as to those desiring to learn how to master MMA techniques and train for competition.

With the recent popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship competition, interest in MMA has soared. “MMA takes the striking-based martial arts and the grappling-based martial arts and turns them into a sport, like modern-day gladiators, whereas jiu jitsu is a grappling-based art (in which) we don’t punch, we don’t kick,” said Zakriski.

In 2019, he won double gold medals at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Open in Washington, D.C. “If there’s any striking, it’s purely accidental.”

In his younger days, Zakriski himself wanted to be an MMA fighter and excelled at the combat aspect (punching, kicking, etc.) of it, but not so much at the grappling portion of the equation. That’s when he got an education from Anthony. “He said, ‘If you want to be a good MMA fighter, you still need to learn jiu jitsu. You still need to learn ground work.’ So I was like, ‘OK, I’ll start doing jiu jitsu,’” Zakriski said. “I fell in love with (it). I was still learning martial arts, and I was getting punched in the face a lot less than I was before. That was very nice.”

In sum, “you don’t need to get roughed up when you do jiu jitsu,” said Zakriski. “It’s a physically active way to learn problem solving. Are you going to take this person down or are you going to pull them into your guard (a position in which your legs are in between your upper body and your opponent’s upper body, allowing you to attack)? That could be based on: Is this person the same body type as you? Is this person smaller than you? It’s like human chess.”

Brazilian jiu jitsu, Zakriski’s specialty, “is just an amazing physical workout (and) mental workout because you’re always thinking.”

In addition to Zakriski, an Atlas participant and instructor for 13 years, the Glens Falls staff includes cardio kickboxing and striking coach, Justin Hall, and “Tiny Titans” assistant coaches Sherwyn Iledan, Nicholas Regner, Ashlyn Nowicki, and Zoe Herrick. “Every class is different; every class works your body differently,” explained Zakriski, who has a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s in health education.

No matter which classes patrons participate in, “my goal,” Zakriski said, “is to make sure they understand that even though this is a combative sport, their safety is the number one concern. They’re going to learn martial arts practically (in a way) they will be able to apply in class on a regular basis in a controlled and safe environment.”

For more information, go to www.atlasjiujitsu.com or call 518-391-0891.