LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --
As students bow to the instructor, all stresses from the day fade away as Airmen and civilians from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, channel their troubles into gentle but deliberate movements of precision as they begin a Brazilian Jjujitsu class.
Brazilian jiujitsu, or BJJ, is a submission-based martial art focused on groundwork and grappling, both of which are forms of wrestling. While it can be challenging, it can also lead to a sense of mental and physical confidence.
“Airmen can come here to get a sense of community so they’re not stuck in the dorms,” said Letia Eclavea, military spouse and University of Maryland University College student. “Getting out more can help them be more resilient for the military lifestyle.”
The class is taught by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Peter Beyer, 19th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, and his wife, Eclavea. They share a passion for Brazilian jiujitsu and host free training sessions Monday through Thursday at the Fitness Center on Little Rock Air Force Base.
“When we came to Little Rock, there weren’t a lot of people who did BJJ and there wasn’t availability on base,” Eclavea said. “There was a need, so I thought we could fill it.“
To the students, the class could be the difference between succumbing to the stress of day or coming to the mat and grappling troubles away.
“No matter if I’m having a bad day or not, I can’t wait to go to BJJ,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Audrey Schaad, 19th Airlift Wing Postal Service Center apprentice.” I feel comfortable in my own skin here and am able to be myself. If I’m having a hard day, I can have a good roll on the mat and unwind from the day.”
BJJ helps stimulate the mind, body and spirit while creating social bonds, which strengthen the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness. CAF is a program built to sustain a thriving and resilient Air Force community through mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness.
“The last eight months of BJJ have made me more confident, and because of that I feel like a better person, and I’ve met a lot of amazing people here,” Schaad said.
The pillars don’t just apply to Airmen. One of the class’s youngest students, Marshall Thorn, 8, also benefits from learning control through the martial arts.
“Martial arts are always a good way to instill confidence and discipline in children,” said Marshall’s father, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Nathan Thorn, Arkansas U.S. Air Force Reserve recruiter. “It’s good for him because he’s always going to be a little smaller [because of genetics]. BJJ is geared toward technique versus being bigger and stronger. It’s right for him because it instills confidence so he doesn’t feel like he’s going to get bullied and be afraid.”
Students of BJJ learn how to remain calm in high-pressure and physically uncomfortable situations. This is especially useful to military families who may be without their member for long periods.
“Not everyone’s ready for a violent attack,” Eclavea said. “The class gives individuals the knowledge to know how to defend themselves, giving the military member peace of mind knowing their families are doing something productive that won’t leave them defenseless.”
No matter the background or personal struggles, Airmen and their families can find solace and confidence on the classroom mat or in the competition ring.
“I want to improve here, which makes me want to improve in life; I feel like I’m not as shy as I was before BJJ,“ Schaad said. “It helped me not miss my family as much and reminded me I could have a life by coming here and talking to people. It’s kept me going.”
(Editor's Note: The 19th Force Support Squadron does not sponsor the Brazilian jiujitsu sessions. These are currently free but is subject to change.)