In this ongoing series, ArtRat Gallery Social Media Manager Maddy Visscher explores the people, places and things that make our neighborhood great. Email Maddy with feedback and suggestions about the topics you want to see us cover!
The Gracie name is legendary among fans of combat sports such as jiu-jitsu, wrestling and MMA: Daniel Gracie’s grandfather, Hélio, was a founder of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and pioneered the UFC in the ‘90s to demonstrate its power.
Cody Hier is a black-belt student of Daniel’s who lived and trained with the master for 10 years. Now he’s the owner and head coach of Daniel Gracie Grand Rapids, which he opened in our Heartside neighborhood in 2020. “Our lineage is Hélio, Renzo, Daniel … “ Cody told ArtRat. “Hélio and Renzo created the path. We are walking the very same path and encouraging others to do the same: to reach for their goals.
“I’m a Flint native,” Cody said. “I’ve done combat sports my whole life, wrestling for Davidson under Roy Hall and eventually at EMU. I left Michigan in 2011 to pursue training because I couldn’t find it here. That’s where I met [fellow coach] Miguel [Diaz]. Now, 13 years later, I’m back in Michigan and striving to make sure no one will have to leave their hometown to train under credible lineage.”
Cody said he was determined to create his academy on South Division Avenue. “When we came back to Michigan all the way from Philly, I knew this would be the spot where we would open our gym.
“We had to be on this street — we know it’s going to pop off. Division is rich with potential and accessibility, and Heartside is home to so many young people. Young people are what makes a city vibrant — they are the lifeblood of Grand Rapids.”
Daniel Gracie GR is home to a total of 250 students and growing, with five purple belts and more than 30 blue belts. Student Hannah Schmidt, a purple belt, has trained hard with Team CoHi and is pursuing BJJ professionally as DGGR’s featured fighter — and student Ashley Green is ranked #1 blue belt in the world through the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation and is currently fighting in Europe.
“We are fair and honest and don’t play games,” Cody said. “The level of authenticity in our training is unmatched, and our lineage is legitimate. Our students find so much success here. Team CoHi — now Team Michigan — is the dominant team in the West.”
Classes for every body
Cody and fellow DGGR coaches John Leark and Miguel Diaz teach gi and no gi jiu jitsu (wearing a traditional martial-arts uniform or regular gym clothes) as well as MMA striking (which includes techniques from boxing, muay thai and taekwondo) and regular boxing classes.
DGGR has classes for younger students as well, including kids’ jiu-jitsu and youth wrestling.
“It’s a great way to start kids out, and teaches confidence as well as discipline — plus it’s tons of fun! These classes are the breadcrumbs leading to a healthier lifestyle,” Cody said.
And on the therapeutic side of fitness, massage therapist Brandon Riley runs Stable Hands Massage at DGGR and offers special deals to DGGR students.
Brandon received his license at Blue Heron in 2019 (a school with a highly reputed medical massage program) and worked at local chiropractic practices for several years. Stable Hands concentrates on medical and sports massage.
“I focus on the areas that help the athlete excel by implementing more stretching, deeper pressure and joint therapy into my sessions,” Brandon told ArtRat. “My father is a disabled vet, and he made me very passionate about my practice. I strive to help people keep up their active lifestyles.
Brandon’s a DGGR student himself. “I came here for the Gracie name — I had been looking for a Gracie gym for years — and I’ve kept coming back because the training and the teachers are amazing, and they have credible lineage.”
According to Cody, “Jiu-jitsu is for every person. It will make both your mind and body stronger. Renzo has this quote: ‘The mats reveal your true self.’ There is more philosophy on these mats than anywhere else in the world.”
Inspired by defeat
Coach Miguel Diaz’s love for BJJ started with his own defeat. “The first time I tried jiu-jistu, I was submitted three times by a 100-pound, 16-year-old girl,” he recalled. “It was after that that I knew I had to learn more. Now I’ve found myself in a world where there’s nothing I’d rather do than be around this sport.”
Now retired from pro fighting, Miguel helps lead students along the very path he followed. “He just never left,” Cody laughed. “There is such a sense of kinship within our community - you forge bonds unlike any others. Life-long friendships, even marriage is born here,” Miguel told us.
DGGR isn’t like other gyms that require contractual commitments from trainees. “No contracts or start-up fees! You pay, you play.” Cody told ArtRat.
“We are dedicated to the Brazilian style of Jiu Jitsu — we’ve even received compliments from a native Brazilian student as the ‘first academy in America to feel truly like a gym from home.’ That’s when we were like, ‘Awww, man, we’re really doing it!’
“The hardest step is the first one; don’t let something as easy as walking in the door stand between you and changing your life,” Cody urged.
“A person’s true character is revealed through challenges and uphill battles. Jiu-jitsu and combat sports give people the confidence to attack life and not tap out.”
Daniel Gracie Grand Rapids is located at 131 Division Ave S, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. It’s open Monday through Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday 11am-8pm, and Sunday 9am-9pm.