New in town: Te Manawa Jiu Jitsu Academy instructor Rodrigo Teixeira, centre, with owners Paula and Brent Te Kawa


When Brent and Paula Te Kawa put out the feelers for a Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) instructor for their new Queenstown academy, they got a flood of high-calibre applicants from overseas.

So they were surprised when the strongest application came from Matamata, of all places.

Rodrigo Teixeira, who arrived in the resort last week to take up the role at Te Manawa Jiu  Jitsu Academy, is a fifth-degree black belt.

That makes him the highest-graded exponent of the martial art in the country.

‘‘It’s similar to having the likes of Michael Jordan teach you if you were into basketball,’’ Brent says.

The 41-year-old Brazilian, who’s worked as an instructor throughout the world including in the United States, India and Russia, followed his Hawaiian partner to New Zealand nine months ago after she was offered a job here.

He says his goal is simply to help students ‘‘have more fun doing jiu-jitsu’’.

‘‘I want them to have a good time on the mat.’’

He thinks of BJJ as ‘‘very much like a chess game that you use your body to play’’.

As well as forcing you to live a healthy lifestyle, ‘‘it surrounds you with amazing people’’, he says.

The Te Kawas are both BJJ world champions at masters level who took up the sport in their late 30s.

Pre-Covid, they often travelled overseas to train with world-class instructors, Brent says.

‘‘When Covid hit, we decided to bring someone of that level to Queenstown so that anybody could do it.

‘‘We don’t see this as a business — it’s a passion and a way of helping the community, through jiu-jitsu.’’

While living off and on in the resort since 1994, the couple expanded their fire protection business nationwide before selling a majority shareholding three years ago to step back from its day-to-day running.

They opened the academy in November, and since then have transformed its premises in a former building company depot in Glenda Drive into a state-of-the-art, 150 square metre training space that also offers pilates and yoga classes.

It already has about 50 kids as members and nearly the same number of adults, he says.

They’re offering scholarships for residents who’ve been impacted by Covid-19, as well as for young people who may not be able to afford training fees or to travel to tournaments.