Training with UFC stars & Brazil’s Elite Paratrooper Force

Normally when I post the blog I recount the entire week and go into details about one or two of the days, this week I am going to focus about the amazing day I had this past Friday. As I am writing this I am still soaking it all in. While the week started with me having a bit of a flu bug it ended on a high note with memories I’ll never forget.

This blog is written by Connection Rio team member Torryn Heffelfinger. He’ll be blogging weekly on life and training BJJ in Rio de Janeiro. In the following excerpt from his weekly blog “Training the Dream”, he describes training with UFC fighters and Brazil’s elite paratroopers.

Training with Paratroopers
Friday morning I woke up, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed down the street to meet Brazilian Olympic Wrestler Antoine Jaoude. In addition to being an active competitor Antoine is involved in several training programs. The first project is a youth wresting program with in the UPP (favela pacification program). His program offers free wrestling training to kids in several of the pacified favelas here in Rio, with the hopes and intentions of opening more. Sports programs work hand in hand with the UPP to provide kids with opportunities they would not normally have had and also help strengthen and bolster the community.

Another program is helping train both BOPE and elite military forces in wrestling. As I have said before Brazil is revamping their military training and also creating armed forces sports teams to raise the caliber of both the military and Brazils international athletes. I went with Antoine to Vila Militar to help train members of Brazils Elite Paratrooper Force. Vila Militar is a large military training and housing area for Brazils more seasoned army personnel. The complex is in a beautiful area surrounded by large rolling hills. As we pulled up to the training complex we could see formations of paratroopers, with their red berets, drilling and running through training simulations. The training complex was a large building that was originally used to house the All Military games in 2011. Roughly a third of the floor space was matted off and used for boxing, wrestling, judo, mma, and bjj. When we got there a few guys (all blackbelts) were finishing up some BJJ.

We had over 20 soldiers there ready to learn. Antoine then said to me “They are really excited to have you here, how about you run the warm up and show a couple of moves and then I’ll show a few things.” So I ran the guys through a wrestling warm up consisting of jogging, stance motion, and shot penetration drills. I chose to cover the basic arm drag series.

The wrestling was spirited and everyone having a military mindset was heavily on the attack and always seeking the offense. One of the coolest things about the program is that it is not only for enlisted men and NCOs but the officers as well. You had lieutenants working with sergeants and privates all with the goal of getting better. The great thing about the training this way is that not only are the individuals of the unit getting better, the unit as a whole is developing and growing stronger. This feeling of unity that bonds them together is what will help them should they ever be called to a mission. It was a great honor to be able to work with them, and I hope I will be back there again in the near future to help them.

Wrestling with UFC fighters
On Friday I also had another amazing opportunity. While driving to Vila Militar Antoine got a call from his brother, who is both a member of the navy and an active competitor in wrestling. On Friday’s his brother normally teaches wrestling to Blackhouse MMA at X-Gym, but due to a naval commitment wasn’t able to attend. So he had called Antoine and asked if he could cover for him (which Antoine agreed). Antoine then asked me if I was free and if I would like to go to Blackhouse with him and help/train. With Blackhouse having such a high caliber roster of fighters, I would have been crazy not to accept.

X-gym has phenomenal facilitates and is absolutely beautiful. The weight room and large and modern and in the marital arts area there is a full cage and boxing ring, along with tons of bags and a large mat space. Blackhouse operates on a invitation only basis, and all of their training sessions at X-Gym are closed to the public. We were greeted by MMA coaches Josuel “Distsak” and Rogerio Camoes. As we were walking back to the mats out of the corner of my eye I saw ‘Jacare’ Souza getting ready to hit mitts in preparation of his UFC debut. I also see UFC fighters Paulo Thiago and Erik Silva coming off the mats (along with several other well known fighter). In total there were probably 30-40 guys in training, all in top notch shape. Antoine was introduced and he then introduced me to the class. Antoine then began to teach technique for MMA wrestling.

As everyone broke off to work the technique I had a moment of uncertainty. Here I was on the mat with elite level fighters, some of whom I regularly watch on Pay-Per-View, and to me it was difficult to imaging that I would have something of value to offer these world class athletes. But as I went around and started getting a bit more used to the environment the fan boy in me died off and my mentality as a wrestler and a coach began to take over. At first it was mainly telling guys when they were getting things right, then I started to be able to notice little things and make adjustments in technique where they needed to be made.

For instance at one point I noticed that there was an overall adjustment that the guys needed to make, I relayed my thoughts to Antoine, who then translated it to the group for me. As he did I noticed heads nodding in understanding and appreciation. At this point I felt right at home and in the zone, I was able to give advice and guys were asking me to watch to make sure they were doing it right. Erik Silva then walked up and asked if I could watch him and Paulo to make sure they were doing it right, luckily I was able to keep my jaw from hitting the floor and watch them (they were doing it right).

Antoine then transitioned the guys to live wrestling. Paulo Thiago walks up and asks to wrestle first with me. I had been helping guys with technique and it was warm in the gym (about 80 and humid) so I was loose but far from warmed up; however when a UFC fighter asks to wrestle you, you don’t say no.

The round started and I cautiously stalked forwards we hand fought and I went for a single, which Paulo defended, whizzered and tried to counter with an uchi-mata throw which I was to avoid. Time ran out. We then switched partners, everyone eager to have a go at the American wrestler. Soon I was wrestling Erik Silva, he is fast and strong but I was able to defend his attacks and hit an elbow post to a high crotch, I was in deep on the shot but Erik has great hips and it hard to takedown. At times I was able to score and at other times I got scored on, but every round was competitive.

As we finished we all lined up and I was asked to stand up front with the instructors. Distak, Rogerio, and Antoine spoke to the group and then the guys thanked me for coming in. The practice broke with there ending chant which thundered throughout the gym. Everyone went through the customary bowing and shaking hand and then disbanded. Rogerio personally thanked me and said that he hoped I could make it back in (talk about a feather in my cap!).

I had my camera with me, and wanted a photo with some of the guys, but after working out end helping them I didn’t want to go all fan boy again. Imagine my surprise (and elation) when Erik Silva same up and asked for a photo with Antoine and I. I was in total shock to be asked to be in photo with a UFC star, not the other way around. Needless to say I pulled my camera out as well and made sure to get a photo of us all together. Erik, who doesn’t speak a lot of English, relayed how it was nice to work wrestling with guys who have experience in the sport and hoped we could be back in to help.

As I got home I was still on cloud nine. Not only did I have a great time training with both the paratroopers and Blackhouse, but it I was able to feel like I genuinely contributed to making them better. Situations like this past Friday serve as a confidence booster. It showed me that I do have the knowledge to be able to give instruction at an elite level. Most importantly it showed me that I deserve to be on the mat and training with high level athletes. I am excited to keep moving forward and growing in my training and see what new opportunities will arise.

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