Island Top Team instructor Robert Biernacki, left, works with students including Jeremy Rooke during jiu-jitsu training last week at the club’s new facility on McCullough Road. (GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin)

Jiu-jitsu club, undaunted by fire, moves into new home

Island Top Team, which used to train at Nanaimo Athletic Club, moves to McCullough Road location

Island Top Team has a facility it can call its own.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts club was forced from its former home at the Nanaimo Athletic Club due to a fire there, and is now up and running at a new location on McCullough Road.

Robert Biernacki, Island Top Team instructor, said the club was comfortable at its previous location, though there were limitations.

“We were having trouble growing in that space,” he said. “I didn’t want to get my own space primarily because I try to focus just on teaching, I don’t really enjoy the running a business side … I knew eventually we needed either our own space or a bigger space.”

The fire at the athletic club at the beginning of March caused some structural and smoke damage to the building, and the fitness centre hasn’t reopened.

“We actually were extremely lucky. Our mats were not damaged and most importantly, we’ve still got all our medals, all our newspaper clippings; we have a wall of fame,” Biernacki said.

The club’s athletes didn’t even miss a day of training after the fire and a day later, it had found a temporary location at a small martial arts gym on Stewart Avenue.

At the end of June, Island Top Team held its official opening at its new home and Biernacki said athletes love the new space. It has sprung floors throughout, more mat space, showers, space for weights and cardio machines and a second level from which parents, for example, will be able to watch youth classes below.

“Several students have commented that we finally have a place that sort of lives up to the level of our instruction, the level of our training, the level of our competition success,” said Biernacki.

Cal McDonald, a Top Team athlete and assistant instructor, said the fire was a “blessing in disguise” in a way and said the new location befits the level of teaching and training Biernacki provides.

“Rob’s passion is some next-level stuff,” McDonald said. “The way he teaches, the way he’s involved, the quality of the instruction, the depth of knowledge … It’s very evident when you ask a question when you’re in any class that he knows what he’s talking about.”

Rory van Vliet, another Top Team athlete, said it’s fantastic to have a full-size, “awesome club” and it has members looking forward to continuing to train and learn there. What will make the location work, he said, is what goes on inside.

“When the [old] place first burnt up, there was that surreal [sense] that we had lost a place that we had called home,” van Vliet said. “But it’s just a place. What makes Island Top Team are the people. The students. Because we’re a team.”

For information about Island Top Team and its jiu-jitsu and kickboxing programs, visit or search for the club on Facebook.

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