Martial-arts studio offers powerful tools |

Martial-arts studio offers powerful tools

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
Aspen MMA owner Ernesto Mendez instructs a self-defense class.
Erica Robbie/The Aspen Times |


More than anything, what the class enabled me with was an unparalleled sense of empowerment.

Sexual assaults were frequently reported at my college, which isn’t very big to begin. The more I educated myself and spoke with people on the issue, the more I realized it really can happen to anyone – including myself.

At 5 foot 3 inches, I recognize the limitations of size. While this is something I think about, it is not something I’ll ever let stop me from doing the things I want to do.

And as Ernesto said, “it’s not about size, it’s about technique” – and the feeling of empowerment that comes with having the knowledge and technique to escape an attacker is indescribable.

“Double tap the mat or myself when it’s too much,” Aspen MMA studio owner Ernesto Mendez told 22-year-old Alexandra George as he tightened his grasp around her neck.

Lying beneath Mendez in what he called a “victim pose,” George slammed a sweaty, tired palm on the mat and swiftly maneuvered her body away from him.

“Wow,” George said, breathing heavily.

“That was a first,” she said in reference to Mendez choking her.

After a career in mixed martial arts, Mendez feels he’s giving back to the valley by teaching people how to fight and defend themselves.

The mixed martial arts that Mendez teaches is a combat sport that blends the disciplines of jiujitsu, Muay Thai, American boxing and wrestling, he said. Jiujitsu is a martial art, combat sport and self-defense system with an emphasis on take-downs, body positions and submission holds, while Muay Thai uses hands, elbows, knees and legs in a number of striking techniques — including kicking, punching, knee strikes and elbow strikes. Boxing involves footwork, striking techniques and defensive strategies such as head movements, and also deals heavily with body mechanics, such as how to move to create power and how to best position your opponent, Mendez said.

Mendez’s martial-arts career goes back 30 years, when he began karate school in 1984. A few years later, he began training with professional mixed-martial-arts fighters and eventually began his personal-training career.

Mendez opened Aspen MMA eight years ago and has operated at the Snowmass Recreation Center for most of this time. Four months ago, he opened his own space in Basalt, where he instructs 14 classes per week, Monday through Saturday.

“Our teachings are built around technique, self-awareness and strategy for self-defense situations,” Mendez said.

One of the points he emphasizes most to his clients — both men and women alike — is utilizing one’s technique over strength.

“What happens is, every time you move your body, you’re creating an angle. … The reason you get strength and power is because of the angles, and then you have leverage to be able to move people,” he said, adding that a person’s size doesn’t determine their skill.

Mendez said these fundamental movements of mixed martial arts can allow anyone to escape an attacker and that any move can be modified to one’s size, length or width.

“Never think like you can’t move. There’s always an escape,” he said. “There’s always something you can do.”