By RICH CASSONE
Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
Jason Riordan calls his wife, Lisa, “the wind at my back.” Together they are the owners of Riordan’s MMA Club in Running Springs.
“There’s something in her personality that disarms my shyness, that puts me at ease, leaving no room for social awkwardness,” Jason said.
Jason is a powerful figure, so when he speaks about weakness, it gets your attention. “Jiu-Jitsu has a tendency to make people who feel really weak realize how strong they are and the people who are really strong, it makes them realize how weak they are.”
Jiu-Jitsu is the grappling component of the many disciplines that make up MMA (mixed martial arts), which also includes stand-up punching and kicking (think Muay Thai and boxing) and take-downs. Riordan’s MMA has expert instructors in all three.
Jason has been practicing martial arts since 1998, when he first met Dartanian Bagby in North Hollywood. “Dartanian is by far the best Jiu-Jitsu practitioner I’ve ever met. He’s really good at teaching how to teach. He’s humble and honest and is the best kept secret in the industry.”
Dartanian Bagby is a sixth-degree black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. He is one of the “Dirty Dozen,” the first 12 non-Brazilians in the world to achieve the rank of black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).
Jason’s martial arts lineage is Carlos Gracie to Reylson Gracie to Ken Gabrielson (Dirty Dozen) to Dartanian Bagby to Jason Riordan, and Riordan’s MMA Club and BJJ is an affiliate school of Dartanian Jiu Jitsu in North Hollywood, owned by Dartanian Bagby.
For Jason, MMA is more than just fighting, however; it’s spirituality as well. “Spirituality and marital arts were always one and the same and I can see in other schools that spirituality is a byproduct. I wanted to have a place where that’s a focus and deliberate.”
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 70s, he remembers watching the TV series Kung Fu and how winning the fights was an important part of the show, and he “went through a long phase of having to win every match I was ever in.” Over time, he found himself less often in bad positions in a fight. One day, Jason recalls, “I had a guy who got on top of me and I just could not get out. So, I went on a journey. I had to go back, drop my ego and lose for a while. That’s when real growth happened.”
Jason created a place where students are safe to experience that growth. “I believe that the sport of martial arts is a team sport…because of the primal trust that you have to put in your training partners.”
In particular, women have found a safe place at Riordan’s. “The women here are warriors inside, but until now they haven’t had a space to exercise that, amplify it and get it out. Women will come in here and be like ‘Oh my God! this place actually exists’ and that drops their resistance down and gives them an ease to be involved.”
For Lisa, who started her Jiu-Jitsu journey in North Hollywood, that was important. She felt “super intimidated. It was very lopsided with more men in the sport than women. The grappling part felt really intimidating.” But, with a 60/40 female/male split at Riordan’s, there’s plenty of opportunity to pair women together.
Make no mistake though, Riordan’s is in the business of training warriors. Jason sees “the fighter’s spirit here in Running Springs. It’s like this place had a whole bunch of Spartans who just needed a place to be that.”
Jason describes how the community has really embraced them. “Everyone puts their heart into building this place up and asking for nothing. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the community putting it in.”
For example, Riordan’s MMA Club has an octagon that was built entirely by community members. Jason explains: ”An octagon is a place to hold events and host fights, practice cage tactics and host tournaments. It’s like a ring to a boxer, and ours is the only one on the mountain.”
Full-time residents since October of last year, Jason and Lisa have actually owned a house on the mountain for many years, and Lisa fell in love with the mountain the first time Jason brought her up. She discovered “a really special vortex up here and I never wanted to leave. When we’d go back down the mountain, I would dream of the next time I could go up again.”
Lisa eventually spent three years building her dream house in Lake Arrowhead. When she moved in, she realized that her dream wasn’t quite finished yet. “We lived in it for 104 days when I knew I had to sell the house and it helped fulfill this vision because this is what I wanted to be a part of. This was the dream.”
Jason still had his original cabin in Arrowbear and together they moved their entire family from 4000 square feet to 700 square feet.
Lisa gets emotional when she talks about it, “I knew it was so important for me to do. Our whole family needed this, Jason, me, my kids. We were fragments – the teenagers were in their rooms and we were in our rooms and we never saw each other. So, we sold the house and moved into the cabin.” At times that meant that seven of them were sharing one bathroom. But they were a family again.
The dojo, however, is their real home. And they get visibly excited talking about it, laughing and gesturing finishing each other’s sentences: “We’re kids again! It’s not a job, it’s a creation. We’re always here, seven days a week and people take class and then loiter after class. It’s a family.”
As if to hammer home the point, their dog, Brownie, enters the room dressed in a Riordan’s MMA Club gi (traditional martial arts training uniform) that was hand embroidered by a student.
For Jason, opening Riordan’s has been an awesome journey. “It’s like a roller coaster that I had been on has finally evened out, because now I’m responsible for 40 people and I never push them harder than I push myself. It feels like a service to something greater.”
Riordan’s MMA Club is open seven days a week and interested students can stop by any time to watch, talk and meet the community. They offer adult, women and kids classes, as well as specialized classes in striking and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Unlimited memberships are $120/month and private lessons are also available. More information is available on their website, www.riordansmmaclub.com. They can also be found on both Facebook and Instagram.
Ultimately, Jason’s goal for his students is “not to become like me, but to become their own highest self.”
And Lisa is not just co-owner of the studio, she is also one of Jason’s students and is working toward becoming a coach herself. “What I love about Jason’s teaching is that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a gentle art and he has a gentle soul, but make no mistake – he is a badass.”