Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has emerged as a powerhouse in Iowa City’s martial arts scene, and one institution that stands as a testament to this growth is Citadel BJJ. Founded by Matt Leighton and James Kelly, the academy has redefined the standards for BJJ instruction in the Iowa City community. Today, we journey through the ascent of BJJ in Iowa City and explore the unique story of Citadel BJJ.
How It All Began: The University of Iowa BJJ Club Connection
The Unviersity of Iowa BJJ club started in the mid 2000’s. As Iowa City is known for its wrestling, BJJ started to gain traction at the university club. Perhaps the most interesting chapter in the Citadel BJJ story is how its co-founders, Matt Leighton and James Kelly, first crossed paths. Both were part of the University of Iowa’s BJJ program and met in 2017. Their shared passion for grappling led them to combine their unique skill sets:
Matt Leighton: A BJJ black belt hailing from Chicago, Leighton brought his deep technical knowledge and Brown belt No-Gi World Champion experience.
James Kelly: With his BJJ black belt and wrestling pedigree, Kelly infused the program with a comprehensive approach to grappling. Long-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & wrestling Kids coach.
Recognizing the synergy, the duo decided to channel their collective expertise into building something that could contribute to the local BJJ community in Iowa city thus, Citadel BJJ was born in 2019.
The Early Days of BJJ in Iowa City
The BJJ community in Iowa City has its roots dating back to the early 2000s, with MMA as a significant catalyst. BJJ in Iowa City took off more when the University of Iowa BJJ club was formed. This was in the mid-2000s and Iowa City BJJ was booming with all of the college students & grappling fanatics.
- Early to Mid-2000s: BJJ begins to garner attention via MMA schools.
- Late 2000s: the University of Iowa BJJ clubs gain more & more members.
- 2010s: There was a notable increase in female and child participants along with the student population grew. Coach Matt Leighton got his black belt in 2017 & took over the University of Iowa BJJ club. Citadel BJJ opens up in 2019 making waves across the state of Iowa
- 2020: In 2024, Citadel BJJ plans to open up a new training facility to accommodate the continuing growth of the gym & the Iowa City BJJ scene.
Citadel BJJ: A Legacy in the Making
Opening its doors in 2019, Citadel BJJ immediately set a new precedent for BJJ instruction in Iowa City.
Citadel BJJ Milestones:
- 2019: Citadel BJJ’s inaugural year.
- Google Reviews: The highest-rated BJJ academy on Google in Iowa City with over 230 Five star reviews
- 2024: Citadel BJJ is building a new academy in Iowa City
Competitive and Educational Milestones of Citadel BJJ:
Tournament Victories: Citadel BJJ’s competition team has consistently emerged victorious at the largest BJJ tournaments in Iowa, solidifying its reputation as a formidable competitor in the state’s martial arts scene. They have won the biggest tournament in Iowa 5 times!! Winning Sub-Spectrum is no easy accomplishment.
Expert Coaching: Under the mentorship of co-founders Matt Leighton and James Kelly, the team has achieved a high level of technical prowess and strategic acumen.
Community Impact: These tournament wins have not only elevated Citadel’s profile but have also inspired a new generation of martial artists in Iowa City.
World Champion Seminars: Citadel BJJ has hosted seminars featuring world champion BJJ athletes from Bernado Faira to other top-level competitors. They offer students the opportunity to learn from the very best in the sport.
The evolution of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Iowa City is a tale rich with dedication, innovation, and community involvement. Citadel BJJ, steered by Matt Leighton and James Kelly, encapsulates these values. With its exceptional Google rating and diverse array of programs, Citadel BJJ is setting the stage for the next generation of martial artists in Iowa City.
If you are in the Iowa City area & want to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu visit Citadel BJJ. They offer the best BJJ training in Iowa City
View our other blogs: Citadel BJJ Blog