Mixing It Up

vance Pascua pioneered mma on kaua‘i, but now leaves the fighting to younger men

Vance Pascua took a chance in 2005 by staging the first MMA event on Kaua’i. Now it’s become major entertainment while offering young men an opportunity to compete. The next event happens Saturday at ‘The Mansion’

Vance Pascua took a chance on MMA on Kaua’i in 2005, and now the bouts are highly popular events. The next one happens Saturday at ‘The Mansion’

It is better to fight one fight for 1,000 than to fight 1,000 fights, says martial arts aficionado Vance Pascua.

Keeping kamaaina off the streets and getting them into the gym is the goal Pascua had in mind when he established Kaua’i’s first mixed martial arts event in 2005.

“These guys fighting in the bars, fighting on the beach, unnecessarily getting themselves thrown in jail, what are they getting out of that?” asks Pascua, who is gearing up for his 11th show, “Mayhem at the Mansion III,” this Saturday.

A combination of traditional martial art styles like karate and jiujitsu, mixed martial arts takes out some of the superfluous moves and places the others in a more condensed, practical form.

The rigorous training involved has not only steered most participants away from public brawls, it has led them toward a healthier lifestyle.

The dedication turns lives around.

“If you’re training seriously for a fight, you’re not going to do drugs, you’re not going to be drinking alcohol. You’re not going to be anything that’s going to destroy all of your hard work to get to that point,” says Pascua, whose day job is technician for Hawaiian Tel. “And if you are serious enough, you will cut that out of your life.”

(from left) Randy Ortiz, Kaua‘i fighter Eben Kaneshiro and Vance Pascua in February. Photos from Vance Pascua

Participants train five days a week up to two hours a day prior to an event.

“You’ve really got to love this to add this into your lifestyle,” says Pascua.

The shows are what give competitors an opportunity for recognition of their hard work.

“Some of them need their self-confidence built up. Some of them feel like they’re actually shooting for a goal rather than just wasting their lives away,” says Pascua, a 1984 Kaua’i High School graduate.

During this week’s event, 30 competitors will fight for the championship. They will be paired up for 15 fights occurring within a cage as spectators watch.

“We packed the place the first time we did it,” says Pascua.

The inaugural event drew such a large crowd to the Kapa’a High School gym that the next show was moved to Hanapepe Stadium, where some 3,000 individuals were in attendance. Now the alcohol-free events typically take place at Kilohana Mansion, where the last show brought in 1,500 people from around the island.

Giving kamaaina a purpose and encouraging keiki to participate in traditional martial arts (mixed martial arts is only for those age 18 and older) is Pascua’s aim.

“I don’t know if I’m changing a culture, but I’m changing the way people don’t have to be stuck in a rut by giving them an opportunity and have fun in the process,” he says.

Born and raised on Kaua’i, Pascua is well aware of the dearth of activities for residents.

“When I was growing up, there wasn’t much going on. I told myself that if I ever had an opportunity to do something different on this island, I will,” says Pascua. “If I can do something to help out, even just a little bit with what I like to do, it helps.”

After witnessing a show on Oahu, Pascua immediately had the urge to bring a mixed martial arts showcase to Kaua’i.

“I just took a chance and rolled the dice,” he says.

Practicing martial arts since the age of 13, Pascua has earned his black belt, and he continues his practice voluntarily by assisting classes for children and adults using traditional methods Tuesday evenings at Lihue Neighborhood Center.

The action in the octagon was fast and furious in February

“I like the traditional side because it brings out the discipline and the basics of why we do this,” he says of the form he primarily practices and teaches. “Mixed martial arts is a mixture of everything, but it’s a quick learning, like CliffsNotes.

“I love both sides of it because I like the evolution of how martial arts have come to be,” he adds, “but yet I love the traditional side where it shows the discipline, respect, honor and just having people adhere to that.”

The initial style Pascua began studying as a child, kajukenbo, was the first martial arts form actually created in America. It is a combination of styles like karate and judo, all stemming from Asia and synthesized by instructors in Hawaii.

Even though each style has a unique origin, they were all created as some form of self-defense. For example, Tae Kwon Do originated from Korea and was a result of individuals learning how to kick warriors off their horses.

Learning these self-defense methods brings about physical and mental discipline, which is an asset for kamaaina.

“You’ve got to put yourself through pain, and you’ve got to push that pain aside and do what you need to do to do the moves, getting over that pain threshold,” says Pascua. “The strongest part of the human body is the mind. The body will follow whatever you tell it to.”

Teaching this knowledge by conducting a summer program for youths and by offering women’s self-defense seminars are just a few of the many activities Pascua also has accomplished voluntarily.

And when he isn’t organizing an event, taking classes or teaching, the overly ambitious Pascua is running his clothing brand business, Ainofea.

“I didn’t want that saying for the kids,” he says of the popular Ainokea slogan. “I wanted to change it to something positive.”

What many people don’t know is that Pascua is a self-proclaimed “computer geek.”

“I could rip apart a computer and put it together with my eyes closed and program it,” says Pascua, who graduated from the Electronics Institute on Oahu.

The Hanapepe resident designs the many different Ainofea shirts frequently spotted on individuals across the island.

“I think I was really a rascal kid when I was young, and really there was so much energy inside of me that I had to express it somehow,” says Pascua when asked how he finds the time and drive to do so much for the community. “If I didn’t do it positively, it would probably have been negative.”

Pascua with fighter BJ Penn

The father of three girls – Dominique (19), Kiana (18) and McKenna (12) – and husband of Roxanne, an employee at Hair Razors, Pascua says none of his success would be possible without the help of his family and friends.

But the biggest challenge he continues to face personally is overcoming the stereotypes associated with mixed martial arts. In fact, there have been many roadblocks along the way in organizing events because of the persona of MMA.

“I really got a lot of bad feedback from the community in the beginning,” he says.

Many people assume the fighters are criminals and are affiliated with gang members, but a lot of them are doctors, lifeguards and lawyers.

“They’re community people,” he says.

And anyone can get involved.

To learn mixed martial arts, Pascua recommends contacting establishments such as Kaua’i Technical Institute.

“That will set them in the right direction,” says Pascua, who now leaves mixed martial arts fighting “to the young boys.”

While it takes a lot of “blood, sweat and tears and a big chunk of change” to produce events, Pascua says he plans to continue the new tradition on Kaua’i.

“I’m having fun doing it and the people seem to enjoy it,” he says.

Mayhem at the Mansion III starts at 6 p.m. June 25. General admission tickets cost $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Ringside tickets are $35/$40. Tickets can be purchased at Pono Market, Deli and Bread Connection, Richie’s Bar and Grill, Kaua’i Harley, Wong’s Restaurant and Hair Razors. Visit ainofea.com for more information.