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jiu jitsu

By Meagan Russell
In Center Block
Jan 28th, 2021

The increasingly popular sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has come to Northeast Louisiana. Kron Gracie Jiu Jitsu West Monroe & Vital Fitness are enthusiastic about training people of all ages.

Photographer Kelly Moore Clark | Article by Nils Borquist

Besides being well-known celebrities, what surprising connection links comedian and podcaster Joe Rogan, actors Ed O’Neill, Ashton Kutcher, Keanu Reeves, and Mel Gibson, British director Guy Ritchie, surfer Kelly Slater, rapper Wiz Khalifa, singer Demi Lovato, the late chef and writer Anthony Bourdain, as well as martial arts and meme superstar Chuck Norris? Each of them practice or practiced the increasingly popular sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). From its beginnings and formation decades ago in Brazil as molded by the Gracie family, BJJ, after being introduced to Americans through the earliest UFC competitions 25 years ago, has steadily grown in popularity. Today, various schools function in essentially every major city in this country, and for those of us who live in the Monroe-West Monroe region, we are fortunate to have access to a tremendous school, Kron Gracie Jiu Jitsu West Monroe & Vital Fitness, with knowledgeable and dedicated teachers enthusiastic about training people of all ages in the art of BJJ.

Located at 1412 Natchitoches Street in West Monroe, the school delivers a well-rounded training regimen to all members. Combining BJJ with weight training, Ginastica, plyometrics, flexibility enhancement, and diet and nutrition advice, the gym provides taxing workouts that are extraordinarily different than those offered by most other facilities available. Owners and operators Jonathan Brantley and Kylie Berry, who purchased the gym just over a year ago, have crafted workouts that promise to force participants to give maximum effort, and while the physical transformations that definitely occur for those who consistently attend and work are undeniable, the gains one can expect exceed the strength and stamina realms by also sharpening mental acuity, creating new friendships, and, perhaps most of all, heightening self-confidence beyond any level one has previously known.

Brantley’s background in martial arts began when he was 22 and, with no prior training, he started taking BJJ. He was immediately taken in with the physicality, competitiveness, and beauty of the art. Along with desiring to get better at Jiu-Jitsu, Brantley also realized that the integral components of diet, training, and focus, in essence an entire lifestyle overhaul, would be needed to reach his long-term goals. He relished the changes, and today, 15 years later and having earned his black belt, he passes along that he feels so lucky to have been introduced to BJJ at that point in his life. Berry’s life as an athlete has taken her from playing what she calls “normal sports” in high school, softball and tennis, in Franklin Parish to earning her purple belt in BJJ as well as becoming a certified trainer of Ginastica, an art that blends aspects of stretching, Hatha yoga, and Jiu-Jitsu. Both owners recognize how instrumental the training has been in transforming their lives, and their desire to pass along, to teach, current members and those wishing to become members can be easily seen by watching them work with young children, teenagers, and adults alike.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, while complex physically, mentally, and strategically in practice, can be easily defined as a martial art reliant on grappling skills, one where size and strength become secondary to leverage and dexterity. Certainly, in terms of real world self-defense skills, it may possibly be unparalleled in terms of usefulness. Beyond that, for those looking for training that surpasses running miles or lifting weights, BJJ provides an intense full-body workout. Constant tension combined with flexibility and a need to be consistently thinking can exhaust even the most ardently devout athlete in minutes. Gracie West Monroe/Vital Fitness (GWMVF) offers a high number of sessions every week, and the trainers (Brantley, Berry, Chris Hill, Dillon Fraley, and Jesse Butler) devote a tremendous amount of time and energy for their students. Additionally, for many members of the club at the adult and teen levels, supplemental workouts utilizing weights, kettlebells, ropes, plyometrics, and sled-pulling, along with stretching, are also an integral part of the membership. The physical changes are evident for those who stay consistent with their training, and Brantley and Berry both pointed out that they see several members go from completely out of shape to possessing leaner bodies, increased energy, a passion for the sport, and mental and emotional benefits to boot.

While many outsiders would likely assume that a great many members come from the adult ranks, they may be surprised to know that kids, both teenagers and children even as young as four years old, comprise the majority of the students. Increasingly, too, young girls and adult women pursue Jiu-Jitsu skills. All of the members, young and old, male and female, have varied reasons for wanting to be involved, but three huge benefits jump out. First, the sport prepares people for the undesired and rare situation of finding themselves in a dangerous physical situation requiring fighting back. In essence, the high-level real world self-defense application separates BJJ from many other martial arts. Berry pointed out that she strongly believes that girls and women should definitely consider joining and learning self-defense as BJJ’s core principle states that an overpowering attacker, when taken to the ground, which is where most physical confrontations end up, can be overwhelmed by smaller and lighter individuals. 

A second benefit is BJJ training can enhance skills for those in other sports. As many of the students are of high school age and younger, and many of those play other sports, their hand-eye coordination, strength, flexibility, power, speed, and focus grows and can be tapped into for the other endeavors. Additionally, and Brantley attests to this bonus, for those out of high school sports but who hunt or engage in other sports or even undertake outdoor tasks such as mowing enormous lawns, the aid provided by BJJ should not be underestimated. In fact, Joe Rogan may be one of the most prominent figures to endorse BJJ for its positive effect on overall conditioning for bow hunting and hiking in the wilderness.

Third, and perhaps most importantly for all students and practitioners alike, one’s self-confidence and self-control can be expected to be improved. Confidence building seems an integral piece of the gym’s core concepts. In fact, Brantley and Berry speak of that particular aspect with great pride and joy, and their own self-confidence and self-assuredness, traits they claim have been positively impacted by their own lives in BJJ, exudes from them. When students see that their hard work, practice, and consistency results in obvious advancement, and when understanding that such gains come as an outcome of their individual efforts, they invariably gain poise. 

One of the other most important consequences I’ve personally noticed in my interactions with Brantley, Berry, and Fraley in particular is kindness. One cannot help but notice that they incessantly smile, even after a taxing morning BJJ session with several members, and that happiness is contagious. Although it may seem odd when considering that the result of martial arts would be one of more kindness, it actually should not be surprising. With those benefits of self-confidence and an increased skill set, recognizing that one can defend him or herself in many situations can relieve one of a certain amount of stress. Being more relaxed, more patient, calmer, and happier understandably then follow. When combining all of those elements, how one treats others inevitably softens, and kindness and understanding ensue. As a parent with a child who is a student, I can undeniably admit that my own daughter sees and feels the changes, and her excitement for her classes can barely be contained. It is quite a humbling sight to behold.

Of course, in 2020 and moving forward into the coming year, one of most pertinent and reasonable concerns for parents wishing to register their children as students, or even those adults who want to join themselves, is the coronavirus. With the rampant nature with which the virus has spread, prevention becomes a viable measure for students and teachers both. On the student side, some have quit simply to avoid coming into potential contact with anyone contaminated or potential surfaces that have been compromised. Fortunately, Brantley and Berry reacted in a proactive fashion very early on in the year. While promoting physical fitness in conjunction with a consistent vitamin and mineral regimen (Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium in particular), in addition to utilizing hospital grade disinfectant on the mats between every class along with sanitizer stations for the students, they’ve held Covid at bay. Certainly, it is impossible to entirely keep it away as the owners cannot possibly know where every single member is at all times. However, with only a couple of cases occurring over the year, they’ve done an overwhelmingly tremendous job, especially when one considers the close contact required of participants. The safety of their students, both regarding Covid as well as overall physical well-being, remains priority one for the teachers and owners. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not easy. It is difficult, takes patience and time, and it requires one to adapt an overall healthier lifestyle in order to grow. However, it is precisely these aspects that make it so productive for people. Brantley bluntly stated that doing something hard takes dedication, but the results will be greater mental health, emotional health, physical health, and creates a bond between students and teachers that can last years, if not forever. People become kinder, gain self-confidence, and work to achieve goals. That is why BJJ is special. In fact, former longtime Navy SEAL commander and current writer, podcaster, and business consultant Jocko Willink relayed a story wherein his son asked him, after watching the movie The Incredibles, if there was such a thing as a real superpower. He thought for a moment, and replied, “Jiu-Jitsu.” With the humility that comes with it, and the prowess, the constant work, the getting beaten over and again, the getting back up and trying, the perpetual learning, and the realization that success and failure are fleeting, only lasting until the next contest, a student is tapping into a primal skill of sorts, one that almost perfectly blends physical, mental, and emotional output at a high level. Jonathan Brantley and Kylie Berry know this. The trainers and students at their gym know it, too. In fact, it appears that anyone who spends time training in BJJ knows and understands it. They all relish the opportunity to learn, to get better in all three components, not necessarily to win a fight, but instead to be the best person they can possibly be for themselves and for those around them. BJJ is an art, a wide-ranging set of skills that is difficult or even impossible to master, but one cannot grow until they get on the mat. Brantley, Berry, and their team at Kron Gracie Jiu Jitsu West Monroe & Vital Fitness can help you, and they want to help you, get to that point and beyond. When weight lifting and jogging cease to provide you an exhilarating adventure or a sense of achieving personal growth, immediately go and visit Brantley and Berry. Not only will you not be disappointed, you will have given yourself the gift of testing your own limits, and you will love it.

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