Brazilian jiu-jitsu studio offers lessons in self-defense and gives back to the community.
A typical night at Higher Ground Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in White Bear Township starts with a fundamentals class: Students—many of them new to jiu-jitsu—gather around the mat to start with a series of warmups.
“I always say the warmup is like the first obstacle,” says head instructor and co-owner Chris Golv. “We’re practicing getting to the ground safely, moving around on the ground effectively and efficiently and getting up safely.”
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art built on the idea that a smaller or weaker person can defend themselves against a larger or stronger person using techniques and leverage. “It’s really meant for regular people—young, old, athletic or those who are completely new to sports,” Chris says.
The sport has been around since the 1920s, when two Brazilian brothers experienced in judo decided to invent a new fighting style focused on self-defense. In recent years, a rise in Brazilian jiu-jitsu gyms across the country has made it the second-most popular form of martial arts in the country.
Chris and his wife, Anna Golv, opened Higher Ground in August 2021. Anna runs the administrative side of the business while Chris leads teaching and training at the gym. Although Chris has practiced Brazilian jiu-jitsu since college, Anna started the sport when the gym opened.
Already a regular runner and weightlifter, Anna immediately noticed the physical health benefits when she started jiu-jitsu. “I’ve had genetically high cholesterol my entire life,” she says. “But [once] I started jiu-jitsu, I actually have … the lowest cholesterol numbers that I’ve ever had.”
From a health standpoint, jiu-jitsu is an incredibly well-rounded activity—the physical movement strengthens an athlete’s core and provides a hefty cardio workout, and the sport’s technicality can improve mental health.
“Fitness is so attached to our mental health,” Chris says, adding that when he’s practicing jiu-jitsu, “it’s very difficult to think about anything else other than those steps in the moment. It’s an incredible stress reliever.”
Higher Ground offers a variety of classes for all experience levels and ages, whether visitors are looking to learn the fundamentals of self-defense or work toward competing in tournaments.
Anna and Chris also find ways to give back to their local community through the gym. Last year, Higher Ground partnered with the We Defy Foundation, a nonprofit that sponsors disabled veterans for one year of Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes. Although We Defy hasn’t paired Higher Ground with any athletes yet, Chris has volunteered with the nonprofit for several years.
“Those mental and physical components of jiu-jitsu allow these veterans to come back and be a part of a community,” he says.
The biggest takeaway, Chris says, is that jiu-jitsu is for anyone. “If there are people reading this article and they’re like, ‘Oh, no, I couldn’t do jiu-jitsu,’ … show up and let’s have a conversation.”