At age 16, Houston Cottrell is the youngest certified instructor with the Gracie Academy of jiu-jitsu and head of Mississippi's only Gracie Academy-certified training center, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Madison (360 Industrial Drive S., Madison, 601-898-1144).
Cottrell has worked toward the honor of being a Gracie instructor, one of the most respected names in the martial art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, since childhood.
His family moved from Flowood to Charleston, S.C., shortly after he was born. His first introduction to the world of martial arts came through a birthday party for a friend he attended at age 4, held at Master's Studio in James Island, S.C. Cottrell began studying Shaolin Kempo karate there. By age 9, he was helping teach classes, and by age 11, he became one of the youngest students to receive a black belt from the Master's Studio franchise. His family moved back to Mississippi in 2009.
After an unsuccessful search for a Shaolin Kempo school in Jackson, Cottrell saw a bumper sticker advertising Gracie South (46 Northtown Drive, 601-715-8775) and trained there for two years.
After an almost two-year process, Cottrell became a Gracie Academy-certified instructor in July 2014 and opened his own training center, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Madison (360 Industrial Drive S., Madison, 601-898-1144) in January.
Cottrell also works to make children safer through the Gracie Bully-Proof Program, which teaches students how to defuse confrontations with words, avoid physical aggression and use jiu-jitsu techniques to non-violently neutralize a threat if attacked.
"Our program teaches kids physical self-defense and how to defend themselves verbally," Cottrell says.
"When you know you can defend yourself physically if necessary, you can focus on defending yourself verbally first. You can tell the bully not to do that again and stand up to them without hurting the bully."
Cottrell said that his class roster includes a number of families all learning jiu-jitsu together. His own parents practice at the studio, as well. "Taking courses together gives families something to do together and have in common, and that's something that's needed today," Cottrell says.
Gracie Jiu-jitsu Madison hosts adult classes for ages 14 and up, Little Champs classes for 5 to 7 year olds, and Junior Grapplers classes for 8 to 13 year olds Tuesday. The studio also offers private lessons by appointment. Gracie students can access the online curriculum for Gracie University and can train at certified centers around the world for no additional charge. Gracie Madison offers all new students a free 10-day trial that includes a loaner uniform and unlimited access to all beginner group classes.
For more information or to see the schedule, visit graciejiujitsumadison.com.