Bert Sutcliffe resident Hans van Ess, who is recognised as the country’s founding father of jiu-jitsu, has been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
“It was a surprise and an honour to be nominated by members of the Black Belt Technical Council,” says Hans.
Immigrating from The Netherlands in 1961, Hans went on to open the New Zealand Judo College the following year, where he taught both jiu-jitsu and judo.
“New Zealand only knew rugby, cricket and rugby league here, so I introduced jiu-jitsu. It was good to have another option of a sport to play.”
It proved to be popular, sparked by movies with actors such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, seeing martial arts on screen inspired people around the county to take it up. Subsequently, it took off.
“I had over 300 students across 15 classes at any one time.
“I had seniors, juniors, and senior girls. It was very popular back then.
Women’s classes were equally popular. Mainly thanks to actresses Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman bringing the sport to light for women on television.
“The women’s classes were very popular at one stage as well. I had 40 girls at one time in one class.”
Hans even met his wife at his school in Auckland, although they had a rocky start.
“I had already told her off twice for being disruptive, and the third time I sent her out.
“She didn’t like it very much.
“We ended up getting married and she went on to become a New Zealand Judo Champion twice, after five years of training and gaining her Black Belt.”
In response to more ju-jitsu clubs opening nationwide, in 1968 he co-founded the New Zealand Jiu-Jitsu Association (NZJJA) to oversee the teaching of ju-jitsu and maintain standards for students.
In 1974 he became Match Controller for the fledgling tournament scene, establishing a referees’ and judges’ course the following year.
Hans went on to be graded to an 8th dan black belt by the NZJJA Technical Council in 2014.
An instructor, administrator and ambassador for the sport, Hans retired the same year in 2014, after being awarded a lifetime member of the NZJJA.