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    The Gentle Art of Combat

    Below the orange glow of the ship’s nighttime hangar bay lighting, two Sailors stand across from each other atop a padded foam mat, each mentally preparing for the intense physical struggle about to take place.

    Surrounded by contrastingly dormant aircraft and excited shipmates, one puts their knees to the ground, followed by the other. Both parties clap hands and bump fists as if communicating in a second language, signifying the start of an event. Whether best friends or complete strangers, for the next three minutes, the objective is simple: force your opponent into submission.

    Brazilian jiu jitsu (often abbreviated as BJJ) is a grappling-based martial art and combat sport that specializes in chokes, joint locks and ground fighting with the intention of winning a match or “roll” by submission. For a group of Sailors aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68) who actively train in the art, the above scenario isn’t just a hobby or an occasional outlet; it’s a daily commitment to self-improvement.

    Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Joel Castellon, one of the coaches for the Nimitz team, has been a dedicated BJJ practitioner since he was six years old. Introduced to the art by his father, his persistence stems from his desire to continuously learn and improve his craft.

    “I just feel like it’s something that has always stuck with me,” said Castellon. “It’s my second nature. I love being on the mat. I love rolling with my friends and family, especially my father, and I learn from everybody. Though I’ve been training for a while, even when I train with new people, I also learn, so I feel like that kind of kept me in. It keeps me wanting more and more.”

    Fellow coach Personnel Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Jewell was also introduced to jiu jitsu as a child, but with the specific intention of teaching him self-defense.

    “I was actually kind of bullied growing up,” said Jewell. “My parents saw that and were like ‘we’ll start teaching you to do something to protect yourself,’ and I fell in love with it. I started in mixed martial arts, which was a bit of everything, and then I started doing a lot of jiu jitsu tournaments.”

    Both coaches share a lengthy competitive history in the sport, providing a wealth of knowledge that helps them effectively teach skilled practitioners and newcomers alike.

    “My first competition, I think I was about eight years old,” said Castellon. “I was a yellow belt, then I competed as an orange belt, and then as a green belt countless times. My last competition was as a purple belt, but I haven’t competed as a brown belt yet, which I’ve been for a couple of years now.”

    As a state champion wrestler, Jewell takes that expertise and implements it into his jiu jitsu game to become a better-rounded grappler.

    “I competed 10 years straight in wrestling,” said Jewell. “It teaches you things like takedowns, how to stay off your back and how to defend yourself a lot better,” said Jewell. “I’d say a wrestler coming into the sport of jiu jitsu is a lot different from a regular white belt straight off the streets trying it for the first time. It definitely gives you an advantage. For me, I started jiu jitsu, went to wrestling, came back to jiu jitsu, and I did both for a really long time, so that’s definitely helped my game.”

    The group originated with Castellon and has been built from the ground up, but not without the help of the ship’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) department, who supplied the necessary equipment to bring participation to a higher level.

    When the last Fit Boss sent out an email encouraging would-be coaches to start their own classes aboard Nimitz, Castellon volunteered. Jewell followed sometime after.

    Eventually, people across the deckplates started noticing the newly-formed group. What started with only a couple of participants rolling on PRT (physical readiness test) mats has since grown to approximately 20 Sailors and embarked personnel.

    Castellon acknowledged how their training could be perceived as aggressive, but he also encouraged others to try BJJ due to its deceptively peaceful nature.

    “I hope to influence the people who are scared to go out there and try new things,” said Castellon. “It’s a little bit intimidating seeing people go out there wrestling. They’re sweating, using all their strength, but it can also be a very gentle contact sport. You’re also learning new things, so I’d say I’m trying to reach the people who are a little shy or a little scared to come out and try.”

    Jewell recommended the art to anyone wanting to escape their comfort zone or seeking self-improvement, and he personally attributed his self-confidence to his BJJ journey.

    “When I was growing up, I had zero confidence in myself,” said Jewell. “I was very shy, and jiu jitsu really allowed me to open up to the rest of the world and allowed me to figure out who I actually was.

    Not only does Jewell feel that BJJ is beneficial for individual growth, but it also unites people from various backgrounds.

    “You also get people from different rates and from all different walks of life,” said Jewell. “It’s very social, and it allows you to get into shape at the same time, so I would recommend it for pretty much all hands. We’re in a very safe, protected environment, and we have plenty of mat space.”

    Castellon echoed the social element, saying that on top of the physical benefits, the relationships he’s built have made his experience even more rewarding.

    “Honestly, it’s fun, you know?” said Castellon. “It’s something that becomes a part of your life. It’s more of a lifestyle, and it keeps you in shape – the constant cardio, the endurance, all that stuff – and you meet a lot of people, so I’d also say the comradery, and all the people you meet, they’re almost like your second family.”

    For Jewell, his drive to train stems from several factors that go well beyond the mats.

    “So personally, it allows me to strive continuously and compete with myself for my own personal health,” said Jewell. “It’s not only just about skill, but it’s also about staying fit, keeping your body in the right state. The second thing jiu jitsu means to me is … my great grandfather is actually a black belt in three different martial arts, so it’s been a tradition throughout my family’s heritage. Thirdly, I think it’s that competitive edge too, knowing that whenever I want to go train to go for a higher belt or compete on a world-class level again, then I’ll actually be able to, which keeps that drive still going. Everybody has their own reasons. Some people train for personal health. Some people do it for a hobby. Some people want to do it competitively. I find sanctum in all of those.”

    In the end, both coaches expressed a distinct love and passion for jiu jitsu that’ll continue long after their naval careers are over.

    “I’m going to be doing this for a while,” said Castellon. “Once I get out of the Navy, once I have my own job, I have my own life set, I will be teaching jiu jitsu as well, whether that’s opening my school or taking after my dad’s school when he’s older. I plan on doing it for the rest of my life.”

    Back in the hangar bay, the three minutes reach a sudden end, and the timer blares on the edge of the mat, which now feels 100 feet away after the grueling and strenuous toil that took place. The two exhausted Sailors take an additional second to collect themselves and perform the exact same clasp and fist bump that initiated the match. Regardless of whether submission was achieved, there’s no true winner or loser – only two former opponents turned friends.



    Date Taken: 12.18.2022
    Date Posted: 12.29.2022 23:21
    Story ID: 436090
    Location: PACIFIC OCEAN

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