Makai HR Hawaii Business Owner Spotlight: Sapateiro Jiu-Jitsu Academy

November 27, 2019 Written by Oralie Chapman

One of the best things about providing outsourced human resources services on Oahu is getting to know the local business owners and managers who run companies. Hawaii’s diverse business community is close knit and teeming with talent. We hope you find their insights as interesting as we do!

For this Hawaii business owner spotlight, we interviewed Edmund Li, owner and head instructor at Sapateiro Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Here is the Q & A:


Q. How did you expand on the vision of Sapateiro Jiu-Jitsu Academy?

A. “A group of us got together to start training for Jiu-Jitsu competitions and to get more experience practicing. Eventually, we wanted to make it grow and offer classes to others, which led to the idea of an academy.”


Q. Who are your classes for?

A. “We offer kids classes for boys and girls as well as co-ed adult classes for beginners and advanced practitioners. In addition to group classes, private and semi-private classes are available by appointment for those tight on time or for those who need more personal attention.”


Q. What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

A. “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ, is a grappling-based martial art that focuses on chokes and joint locks in lieu of strikes. Known as “the gentle art,” BJJ was designed to allow a smaller practitioner to subdue a larger opponent by utilizing leverage, strategy, and superior technique. In addition to being one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, it is widely considered to be the most effective form of self-defense.”


Q. What is your educational or work background?

A. “I have been training for over 10 years, having competed in boxing, kickboxing, MMA, and grappling competitions as a teenager. It wasn’t until I came across Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that I found my true passion and dedicated my life to the art. I began coaching children’s classes five years ago, and started to assist with adult classes shortly after. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Science, which has helped me to understand correct body mechanics, periodization, and teaching methods for athletes and practitioners of all levels. In addition to teaching, I am an active competitor and have medaled in some of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.”


Q. What are your goals for the next year?

A. “We’ve been open for about a year and it’s been slowly growing. Our goal is to grow the student base and increase both the kids’ and adults’ programs and grow the student base. I want to help more people get started and to help them realize that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a lifestyle activity that can help improve their health, confidence, and longevity by providing benefits that go beyond the mat.”


Q. What are the benefits and challenges of owning a Jiu-Jitsu business in Hawaii?

A. Benefits: “The greatest benefits to owning Sapateiro are the satisfaction I get in seeing my vision play out and the progress that each new student makes as they try something new, struggle and ultimately succeed. I’ve found that a lot of people start Jiu-Jitsu because they want to get in shape or because their friends tell them about our school. I never push students to compete but I have found a lot of people are quite naturally competitive and end up wanting to compete. If a student wishes to compete, I always support them. When they meet their goal, it makes me very happy and proud.”


Challenge: “The greatest challenge to running a Jiu-Jitsu school in Honolulu is that the business is quite saturated with several schools within one mile or two of each other and we’re also competing with a huge range of outdoor recreation and sports options. It can be a challenge to attract and retain students.”


Q. Do you have a personal or professional motto?

A. “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It’s okay to do it wrong, and try again.”


Q. Are you born and raised in Hawaii? 

A. “I was born and raised in Honolulu. It was all I knew and I took it for granted when I was young. Once I started traveling for Jiu-Jitsu competitions at the age of 21, I realized how special Honolulu is. It’s the perfect mix of laid-back attitude and big city with a thriving business community. I appreciate how people are motivated to take on challenges here.”


Q. What is your greatest success and what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your business experiences?

Greatest success: “My greatest success so far is starting this school and setting the foundation on a family-friendly tone. It was important to me to create the right environment so that everyone felt like it was a good place to come and learn and have a good workout.”


Greatest lessons: “Keep an open mind and address challenges right away.”