LAHAINA - A few years back, Colton Florian was a young Lahaina teenager headed down an ominously dark road. He got busted, booked and sent to the Koolau Youth Facility on Oahu for two years as the shadows of his wayward existence closed in on him.
But during his incarceration at Koolau, Florian, who will turn 18 on the 18th of this month, was inspired by MMA (mixed martial arts) and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) programs he and other inmates watched on television.
Upon his release from Koolau, the lean and lanky teen sought out, and found, a pathway out of the darkness.
Colton Florian won the Blue Belt title at the World Grappling Challenge American National Jiu Jitsu Championships.
That was 2008 as Christian Grandi was opening up the Carlson Gracie Team 808 Jiu-Jitsu school at the Emerald Plaza in Lahaina.
With the support of his mom, Georgina Florian, Colton immersed himself in Grandi Sensei's jiu-jitsu program and, three years later, the bright light of success and self-esteem has parted the clouds.
"He (Florian) would come in two times a day, every day, to practice," Grandi pointed out at mat-side of his facility last week.
"He took the training very seriously, and it seemed to give him some positive direction for his life. It was a life-changing involvement for him, and he became a good citizen in my eyes... this was very rewarding for me."
"I wanted to mentor him to be a good man first, then a good martial artist," Grandi explained. "I think he's on the right road now."
Indeed, Florian seems to be on the pathway to success as both a martial artist and as a man.
Two years ago, Florian won a championship belt at the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) Championships, and last month Florian used 12 submission techniques on his way to the Blue Belt title at the World Grappling Challenge American National Jiu-Jitsu Championships at Cal State Dominguez Hills University in Southern California.
"This has been very exciting and rewarding for Colton and for us here in Lahaina," said Grandi. "He's been in California training at a Carlson Gracie school there and also at the American Kickboxing Academy. He has dreams of becoming a professional MMA competitor, and I think he has the talent and the drive to train to make it.
"He must have the self-discipline to train hard and eat properly, find a good coach, live a healthy life and overcome temptation. I want to guide him in the right direction, and we're happy that he is having success. I hope he stays on this path."
Next up for Florian and all of Grandi Sensei's protgs at 808 Jiu-Jitsu is the 2011 NAGA Championships at Radford High School on Oahu on Oct. 22.
This tournament - one of the largest in the United States - features over 100 championship belts and Samurai swords as title trophies.