By Matheus Veloso de Brito
Warren, Michigan parents beamed with pride as their two sons, six-year-old Brennon and eight-year-old Triston were awarded medals on the podium at the Modern Flow X Jiu Jitsu competition in Detroit on Saturday, February 23. Jiu Jitsu is a martial art form of sports wrestling practiced for recreation and competition. Just minutes before the round, six-year-old Brennon felt the butterflies in his stomach multiply as he began to think twice about stepping onto the mat where his opponent anxiously awaited his competition.
Parents Michele and Richard exchanged worried glances as they wondered whether Brennon was ready for the martial arts competition, which brought kids from around the region to compete in Detroit. Brennon’s coach, Matheus Veloso Brito, kneeled beside him as he assured the six-year-old of his own confidence in his skills. Winning aside, he conveyed to Brennon that he had what it takes to engage in the martial arts he loves in a competitive setting. Validating his anxiety that athletes of every sport have felt, Coach Matheus reminded Brennon of his success in practice, recalling the underlying principles of martial arts, including seeing new challenges as an opportunity for growth.
Brennon not only worked up the courage to finish the match, but he won the round, earning a silver medal that his father explains “now sits on his bedroom dresser as his most prized possession.” More than earning a medal too large to fit in the palm of the boy’s hand, Brennon’s mother, Michele, describes: “Martial arts class has brought my sons unprecedented confidence, a brotherly bond between each other, and a greater zest for life.”
Eight-year old Triston, who won a bronze medal at the Modern Flow X Competition, has autism, a developmental disorder that challenges his ability to socialize and interact with others. After having struggled to find an after-school activity for their two sons for quite some time, Michele, a Michigan-native, explains that nothing gives her boys the rewarding experience of martial arts. Since Jiu Jitsu is a grappling (wrestling) martial art, practicing allowed Tristan to get used to making physical contact with others, which his parents explain can be uncomfortable for those with autism. Michele describes: “Even Triston’s doctors are astounded at the progress he’s made since he started martial arts. Practicing Jiu Jitsu has improved his ability to socialize, adapt to new situations, and tolerate things outside his control, like loud noises, which autistic individuals are often sensitive to.”
Head martial arts coach of Allegiance Gym, Matheus “Matt” Veloso de Brito, explains his belief that “martial arts bring out the best in people, and can be used as a tool for positive social change.” Matheus, a Brazilian native, began practicing judo, a martial art with Japanese roots, at only 4 years old. He explains: “my parents enrolled me in judo after hearing that the martial art could help symptoms of bronchitis, an inflammation of the tubes that carry air to the lungs, which I suffered from as a child.” After seeing improvements in his symptoms, and developing a passion for the sport that became a life-long dedication, he also took up Jiu Jitsu at 6 years old. At the age of 17, Matheus was invited to the Junior Brazilian National Judo Team, where he competed and won multiple state, national, and international championships. Now teaching at Allegiance Gym in Warren, Matheus explains: “When students with different developmental challenges attend my class, I aim to use martial arts as an opportunity for integration.”
“He instills in them a sense of calm and confidence that continues to amaze me,” says Richard, whose sons practice martial arts at Allegiance Gym multiple days a week after school. “More than mastering takedowns and wrestling submissions training martial arts under Coach Matheus taught my sons to face fears and step outside their comfort zone,” describes the father.
Raymond Stratos, a Marine Corps veteran, says he also receives numerous benefits from training Jiu Jitsu at Allegiance Gym, far beyond improved health. Nonetheless, the physical transformation Mr. Stratos explains he achieved is impressive, losing 50 pounds in little over 2 years of martial arts practice. He describes: “I drive an hour to practice Jiu Jitsu at Allegiance Gym, and based on the bond I formed with other students and coaches, I wouldn’t train anywhere else.” Having struggled with PTSD, Mr. Stratos explains: “Jiu Jitsu gave me a rewarding challenge that has helped me make great strides in regaining my sense of self and connecting to others as I adjusted back to civilian life.”
Another parent, Julianne, whose 15-year old son has been practicing martial arts at Allegiance Gym for around 2 years, explains that after her son suffered from depression for years, she enrolled him in martial arts. She explains her belief that martial arts provided therapeutic benefits to her son, whose doctors subsequently found he no longer required medication.
Coach Matheus explains: “As a coach, I enjoy encountering people with different personalities, experiences, and backgrounds, and uniting them towards the common goal of experiencing the underlying values of martial arts. To him, “Jiu Jitsu is about teamwork, overcoming challenges, and becoming your best self.” While watching his students earn medals on competition podiums is gratifying, Matheus explains, “The true reward is seeing how their lives improve through Jiu Jitsu.” He explains his mission of “using martial arts to bring people into a better place, physically, mentally, and emotionally.”