Gerbil blog: How Connection Rio led to me opening my own gym

Many of you read about my adventures in Brazil while living at Connection Rio, where I spent 15 months over two extended trips to Rio. As one of the early guests at CR I chronicled my experiences as a gringo training in Rio in a blog you can still find on As you might expect, the experiences that I had while living in Brazil were life changing. Since my return to the states nearly 3 years ago I’ve opened my academy Great Grappling, gotten married and bought a house. All of these things were made possible because of my training trips to Brazil.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is my passion in life. I’ve devoted my time, money and health to this martial art. Although my love for BJJ has never diminished, my goals have changed. At first I started training because I had aspirations of being a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. When I went to train at Gordo’s I wanted to be a BJJ world champion. Now that I’ve made teaching BJJ my full time job I’ve decided that I want to introduce as many people to training as I can.

Jeremy 'Gerbil' Arel

Jeremy ‘Gerbil’ Arel

The relationships that I’ve made on the mats are beyond words. I played sports while growing up, I was involved in different activities throughout college, and I served in the military. The only relationships that compare to the friendships I’ve made in BJJ are the ones that I made while in the military, especially during deployment. The closeness, camaraderie, and trust that I have with my training partners is what drove me to open my own academy. I realized that many people go their whole lives without ever having this type of relationship. My hope was, and still is, to impact people’s lives through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in such a positive way.

When I returned home in January of 2010 I started scouting locations and making the initial steps towards opening an academy. To say this was a lot of work would be an understatement. It was my first foray into the business world, and dealing with the red tape of the government was extremely frustrating. Thankfully during this time I had places that I could train. All of the academies in the Charlotte area graciously opened their doors to me, and having the ability to choke people often mitigated the frustration of opening the business. I spent my days working towards opening my academy, Great Grappling Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and my nights traveling around to any school that would have me.

After five months of hard work I opened Great Grappling. We had a grand opening and I invited everyone that I knew. The chamber of commerce came and we had a ribbon cutting ceremony. My mother and father were there as well as most of my friends and my fiance. I invited students and instructors from all of the neighboring schools and we made it a great event with several hundred people in attendance. Thankfully people believed in my vision for Great Grappling and signed up to train, some writing checks before the doors even opened.

Great Grappling, Gordo black belt Jeremy Arel's BJJ gym in the USA

Great Grappling, Gordo black belt Jeremy Arel’s BJJ gym in the USA

GGBJJ started with 13 members. Although that seems like a small number it was enough kindling to ignite the fire. Some of those students that were on the mats for the first time in their lives for our first classes are still training with me today. The academy has grown substantially over the last 2.5 years and continues to grow every month. We’ve started competing (and winning) and held our first in-house tournament last month. We have our first World Champion, as of this most recent IBJJF Masters Worlds Competition. We are looking forward to our third annual Christmas party, we get together to watch the UFC fights, and eat dinner as a group frequently. As I looked out at our guests on my wedding day I counted so many friendships I’ve built on the mats at my academy. We are building more than a team, we’re building a family.

From training and accommodation to academy visits and special tours, and even small group classes with the best teachers Rio has to offer, Connection Rio offers everything you need for the perfect jiu-jitsu holiday!

Take a look at our brochure – our amazing house has a pool and huge garden right next to a mountain covered in stunning rainforest, and close to top BJJ gyms in Rio!

Connection Rio is the best combination of accommodation and BJJ training in Rio de Janeiro. Contact us today and plan your trip to train BJJ in Rio!

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