Elite Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Redmond offers martial arts options to students

An Elite Brazilian Jui-Jitsu student and Mika Elo spar during a class at the new Elite campus in Redmond. Mika, a ranger for the state of Washington, says the exercises help him maintain the level of fitness his job requires. - Amanda Austin, For the Reporter
An Elite Brazilian Jui-Jitsu student and Mika Elo spar during a class at the new Elite campus in Redmond. Mika, a ranger for the state of Washington, says the exercises help him maintain the level of fitness his job requires.
— image credit: Amanda Austin, For the Reporter

They came to Redmond for the job opportunities, but they stayed for the jiu-jitsu.

Mika and Minna Elo, a couple who recently moved to the Pacific Northwest from Finland, practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu five to six times a week.

Mika, a ranger for the state of Washington, appreciates that the exercises help him maintain his fitness for work. Mika just loves to sweat.

They have been coming to Elite Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Family Fitness Center of Redmond since it opened at 17725 N.E. 65th St., Suite A-175 on Jan. 2, because of the "great people and the excellent atmosphere,” Minna says.

We are so blessed by the diversity of our clients,” Elite’s co-owner Rachel Manchester says. Her students represent at least eight different native languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Finnish, Japanese, Korean, Cantonese and French.

Rapidly gaining popularity in the U.S., Brazilian jiu-jitsu is what Manchester calls the “gentle martial art.” It involves no striking or punching, but it demands great strength and burns an average of 600 calories per hour, she says.

Nodding to the fatigued yet fearsome robed figures on the mat behind her, she adds, “It may not look as fierce, with jabs and punches like cardio kickboxing, but it’s constant work [and] pressure. It’s about using leverage and technique to put your opponent in the most uncomfortable position possible.”

At the end of an hour-long session, Professor Miriam Cardoso, as her students refer to her, begins directing them in an abdominal workout. Her compact, 5-foot-2 frame defies gravity each time she springs up from a push-up position. Her voice stays calm but firm with every command.

Afterward, Cardoso looks like no one looks after a work out: clean. Her even-toned skin and enviable cheekbones are untouched by even the faintest drop of sweat, her posture perfect. Nearly everybody else in the room is either dripping sweat, hunched over or both.

It was always Cardoso’s dream to own her own school, Manchester explains. So when Manchester and her husband, Scott Manchester, weren’t satisfied with the local offerings for their kids, they decided to partner with Cardoso and her husband, Justin Butler, to create the environment they were looking for.

Says Manchester: “My husband and I decided to partner with Miriam because we believed in her commitment to the sport and we loved how she treated her students.”

Cardoso’s commitment to jiu-jitsu dates back to 2001, when the Brazilian native began training at age 15. After three months of training, Cardoso won Nationals for the first time. In 2002, seven more national titles later, Cardoso began competing at the international level, and placed second in her first appearance.

Five first-place world titles after that, she earned her first-degree black belt and launched Elite Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of Redmond in 2011.

The two husband-wife teams have assembled a haven for martial arts—a gym that offers instruction in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and wrestling by internationally acclaimed teachers.

They also offer zumba classes, pee-wee jiu-jitsu classes for kids ages 3 to 6, and year-round wrestling training. Manchester says that their gym was the first to offer a female-only jiu-jitsu course focused primarily on self-defense.

Now, Cardoso, 26, works full time at the Redmond gym where she teaches 12 classes a week. On top of that, the mother of two is training for an upcoming world competition to be held in Long Beach, Calif., in June.

Cardoso says teaching has helped improve her own skills because she learns the finer details she knew only innately and never explicitly.

It is great to see students use techniques I taught them,” Cardoso says, noting that watching her students succeed makes her feel very proud of her work.

Cardoso teaches alongside a team of easily recognizable names in the martial arts world.

Head wrestling instructor Seungmun An has “so many accolades, it’s incredible,” Manchester says. The Bronze-certified wrestling coach has more than 30 years of experience teaching and practicing the sport, a master’s degree in education, and served as the head coach for the Korean National Olympic Team and as the director of the Korean Wrestling Federation.

June Encarnacion, Elite’s Head Judo sensei, is a fourth-degree black belt, certified by the International Judo Federation and has more than 25 years of coaching experience.

Andrew Solheim began his martial arts training with Shito-Ryu Karate at age 10 before he took an interest in wrestling and judo, and eventually jiu-jitsu. He earned his black belt in February of 2009 and now he oversees Elite’s other location in Everett, which originally opened in October of 2009 as an independent school. Last December, the two gyms co-founded the Elite name brand. Elite clients’ memberships extend to services from either gym.

Seattle resident Tony Thome has two sons who take jiu-jitsu and judo classes, and he echoes Manchester’s praises about Elite’s staff.

The staff is really world class, Thome says, referring to the coaches’ international stature. “If you want to be nationally competitive, you have that option. However, it’s just as easy to do it for exercise.”

Thome says he likes that it is a family-run operation. He explains that, as parents themselves, the owners are “very attentive to the needs of other working parents.”

Manchester says the facility is very family-friendly and she points out that it’s set up with wireless Internet connection, free coffee and a comfortable seating area to accommodate parents and families while children are in class. The gym is also equipped with a web cam so that parents who are not able to witness firsthand won’t miss out on any of the live action.

They just get it,” Thome says.

He adds that the independent ownership of the gym is also great because there are “no right or wrong answers” there. “[The owners] welcome lots of feedback and they are really open to and responsive to other parents.”

As soon as all the pieces were in place, the team started producing results at local tournaments. After just three weeks of training, the Redmond team placed sixth out of 71 total teams at a regional competition, Manchester says.

The Everett team performs well in competitions around the area too, most recently in the Arlington Submission Challenge where they took home the first-place team trophy in both the gi and no gi categories.

Elite Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu of Redmond will host an open house event on Sunday, April 1 beginning at 1 p.m. at their gym.

Representatives from the Redmond Chamber of Commerce will be present for a ribbon- cutting ceremony, followed by demonstrations by the jiu-jitsu, wrestling and judo teams and the zumba group.

Throughout the event, Neil Rogers, a student of the Everett School, will be serving up pulled-pork sliders. The sandwiches will accompany a spread of potluck-style dishes provided by the gym’s culturally diverse and friendly clientele.

For additional information and class schedules, visit and find other news and events on the club’s Facebook page at:

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