From the outside, grappling martial arts like Jiu Jitsu look a lot like rough-play and intense hugging — but insiders experienced with the sport know that it’s an inclusive community that bonds athletes at all levels through mutual empowerment.
First Light Academy, a fitness center that offers training in self-defense, combat sports, primal fitness and yoga, brings that sense of community and individual empowerment to Mosier, having moved there from Hood River last month.
The Dalles and Hood River have both grown a lot in the last few years as their respective downtowns have been revitalized by new businesses settling in the Gorge, and it appears that Mosier, having already begun work towards enacting an ambitious transportation system plan, is on the same revitalization route.
Alex Evans, one of the gym’s founders and coaches, has developed a comaraderie with many of Mosier’s business-owners since First Light relocated to the small town, as, Evans said, many of them are roughly the same age and have the same landlord. Local business owners have been attending classes at First Light Academy and, afterwards, classes will go hang out at the local restaurants, Evans said. “Everyone in the community is really excited” to have new businesses here, Evans said.
First Light began as a small group of friends training in the backroom of a Crossfit club in Hood River. “It was just a small group of guys who wanted to train and it just grew more and more,” said Robert Rose, longtime member and one of the gym’s coaches, relating the gym to a community who trains each other how to fight. “That’s probably what kept us together for so long,” Rose said, “[athletes] come for the Jiu Jitsu, stay for the people.”
“We climbed our way from local friend group to gym,” said Evans. “It’s a club that’s also a gym,” he said.
Evans wants the gym to maintain that small clubhouse feel despite its growth.
“The mission statement for us from the very start was to be a community oriented place,” he said, stressing that the community takes a higher priority than even the sport.
So, when the club-like vibe of the gym began to get lost in the bustle of Hood River, which had a population of 7,702 at the time of the last census (2016), Evans felt First Light needed to move somewhere smaller. Mosier, with a population of 451, was the obvious choice, especially since First Light has a lot of students coming from The Dalles and Evans wanted the gym to be more centrally located to service their students in both cities.
Mosier was also an ideal environment for Evans to maintain First Light’s community-oriented mission. “We wanted to find our own dedicated space so the club could breathe and really take shape,” said Evans.
After years bouncing around Hood River looking for a space that fit Evans’ vision for First Light, he finally found a small building with a fireplace and a kitchen on Main Street in Mosier that fit the gym perfectly.
Everything from Mosier’s location between Hood River and The Dalles to Mosier’s motto, “small enough to make a difference,” appealed strongly to Evans and the rest of First Light’s community.
In the few weeks First Academy has been in Mosier, Rose has already seen the gym reinvigorated. “We got that tribal feeling back,” he said.
Evans and his staff make a conscious effort to maintain the integrity of that community while opening it up to everyone. Part of that is hosting a teen queer social club, opening the gym up to queer teens to train and connect with each other. “We’re going to make a stand and say we’re a welcoming place,” Evans said, adding that it would be hypocritical of them to teach individual empowerment without empowering the community. “Standing up for everyone is community empowerment,” he said.
First Light offers Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, MMA (mixed-martial arts), primal fitness and yoga for all ages and skill levels. “It’s kind of fun that we’re specific [in the trainings we offer] but we do them to the fullest,” Evans said.
The children’s classes are noncompetitive in nature, with a focus on discouraging violence and encouraging rough-play, Evans said. “[It’s a space] for children to feel connected to movement and their teammates,” he said. For adolescents, the courses maintain the same atmosphere but begin adding competitiveness, athleticism and strategy to the training, Evans said.
First Light’s adult classes cater to all skill levels and focuses, from hobbyists to hardcore competitors.
They also offer a drop-in women’s-only combat conditioning class, which teaches introductory self-defense.
First Light is located at 208 Main Street, Mosier. For more information or to sign up for classes, go to www.firstlighthoodriver.com.