As lots of gyms do, Gracie Barra San Clemente has a very diverse population at its school. One reason for this is because Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base is basically in their backyard.
As you look out across the school, you can see the green, rolling hills that serve as Camp Pendleton’s military training area. In fact, you can often hear bombs going off and gun fire around the area as the Marines prepare for war. San Clemente residents are used to the echoing sounds and reverberating rumblings of the war games, but actually feel quite comforted by their presence. You always know the Marines “have your back” should anything bad happen in this low-key, serene, seaside town of San Clemente.
One very good thing that’s happening here is that GB BJJ is changing lives. More specifically, it’s changing the lives of the gallant Marines who so selflessly serve our nation. Charles Gomes, Program Director at GBSC is helping deliver a BJJ program to these same courageous Marines, by bringing out the GB team to train them in the art of ground fighting and grappling. Gomes says, “We have a lot of marines training at our school. One day one of them asked if we would go to the base to train them in BJJ. Professor Flavio (Almeida) agreed that this would be a good thing for the community, so we set it up.”
Joe Saenz is a Warrant Officer for the Marine Corps. He is based at Camp Pendleton. He’s a 2nd degree black belt in the Marine Corps’ Martial Arts Program. He is also the Chief Trainer for the Maintenance Battalion. He trains other marines to be instructors, “I asked if GB would mind coming out to train my graduating class of Marines,” Saenz says, “Our martial arts program is weapons-based, but we do teach ground fighting as part of our curriculum. It’s the most popular amongst the guys.”
The first time the GBSC team went to train the Marines was in November 2009. The second time was in February 2010. About 20 marines were present. Gomes says when they got there, the Marines were in their uniforms, “One of the guys gave them directions and said they were going to be there for a few hours, so they took their boots off and lined up on the mats. They rolled in their camis.”
Gomes says they started with an hour of conditioning, “One of our coaches, Kanai Brown-Tagle, taught it. We tried to work on their cores with double leg pick-ups, sit up sweep set-ups and the medicine ball. They had to sit up and toss it about 5 feet to their partners. You could see the fatigue setting in after the 3rd round, but being marines, they just kept pushing forward without stopping. That’s what makes them so good at what they do. They never give up.”
After the hour of conditioning, Gomes taught the techniques part of the class, “We started with a double leg takedown, into a guillotine attack, and then its defense. Then we hit the ground and showed them a sweep and why the guard position is so important for us. We performed a counter to the kimura and worked on a traditional armbar. We finished with a triangle. One of the younger marines asked me to use Warrant Officer Joe as my instructional partner for the triangle so they could see him tap for once.” Once the class was completed, the coaches lead them through a guard rotation for 45 minutes.
Eric Fugate, a corporal in the Marine Corps is a 1st degree black belt in their martial arts program. He was present at both GB sessions on base. He says that, in his program, he is the one of the best, but in this case, he was definitely not, “When we sparred during the guard rotation, I had no chance against the coaches, but I tried. When GB first came out last November, we all wanted to go against Professor Flavio. We wanted to roll with the black belt, but we quickly realized that there was no way! So, then we moved to Coach Felipe’s (Guedes) line, the 4 stripe purple belt…no again. Then we moved to Coach Charles who’s a 4 stripe blue belt and none of us could beat him either. At the end of the day we were all down at Coach Kanai’s line trying to beat him!”
Even though these marines face life and death challenges more than most of us will ever experience in our lives, they still maintain their upbeat sense of humor and great attitude. Corporal Fugate was about to leave for Afghanistan in 3 weeks for 7 months, but he was already talking about training at GBSC upon his return, “It was so fun learning new techniques. It keeps me educated so I can continue to raise the bar for my students. I can’t wait to start training at GBSC when I get back.”
Warrant Officer Saenz says the marines loved the experience so much, he wants to have the GB team come out to the base once a month, “BJJ enhances our existing martial arts program. It builds morale and confidence for the younger marines. It offers great conditioning and switches it up from just running. After the class, all the guys talked about “almost” getting the coaches with some technique and “almost” getting each other. It was funny. Since then, six marines have come up to GBSC with me to try out a class.” Saenz says it was so popular, they might have upwards of 30 or 40 marines at the next session in March.
Gomes certainly enjoyed the experience, “Kanai and I are always the smaller guys at the school, so the marines were amazed at how they couldn’t submit us or open our guards. We choked them out with their own collars and they were all twice our size. One of them asked, ’what the hell did you just do to me?’ I had so much fun rolling with these guys.”
But it wasn’t just the fun and games that had Gomes feeling good. It was the opportunity to give back to the men and women who do so much for our country, “When we finished class we thanked them for their military service. It brought me back to my days in the Navy, when I was surrounded by people supporting each other and cheering each other on. These are awesome men and women of the community; they are the true heroes in life.”
Gomes says he wants to continue to show the marines why Jiu-Jitsu is so important in their lives, “It’s not about beating others up. It’s about sustaining a healthy lifestyle, eating healthy, exercising, making friends, along with an extended family. It’s dedication to the art and living the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle. These guys are under so much stress in their daily lives. Every day, they’re either yelling at people or getting yelled at. Jiu-Jitsu is such a stress reliever. When they come here, they just train. They don’t have to think about anything else. My goal is to one day have 100 marines on the mats training with us. What a great way to give back to them for all they do for us.”