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Building camaraderie through 'art' Vance Airmen gain discipline, resiliency skills through Jiu Jitsu

Senior Airman Justin Fisher throws Senior Airman Oscar Felix, both with the 71st Operations Support Squadron, to the ground during Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice Nov. 19 at the Community Chapel Activities Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. In class this throw was used to counter the attacker, Felix, who was grabbing or touching the upper body of the victim, Fisher. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, was bought to Vance nearly two years ago by Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea, a chaplain assistant with the 71st Flying Training Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

Senior Airman Justin Fisher throws Senior Airman Oscar Felix, both with the 71st Operations Support Squadron, to the ground during Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice Nov. 19 at the Community Chapel Activities Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. In class this throw was used to counter the attacker, Felix, who was grabbing or touching the upper body of the victim, Fisher. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, was bought to Vance nearly two years ago by Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea, a chaplain assistant with the 71st Flying Training Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

Senior Airman Oscar Felix, an air traffic controller with the 71st Operations Support Squadron, grapples with retired Army Col. Paul Bischoff Nov. 19 at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, was bought to Vance nearly two years ago by Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea, a chaplain assistant with the 71st Flying Training Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

Senior Airman Oscar Felix, an air traffic controller with the 71st Operations Support Squadron, grapples with retired Army Col. Paul Bischoff Nov. 19 at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, was bought to Vance nearly two years ago by Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea, a chaplain assistant with the 71st Flying Training Wing. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea, a chaplain assistant with the 71st Flying Training Wing, instructs a Jiu Jitsu class at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, is offered twice a week through the chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea, a chaplain assistant with the 71st Flying Training Wing, instructs a Jiu Jitsu class at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, is offered twice a week through the chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

Justus Walker, 12, works on knee-on-belly drills with retired Army Col. Paul Bischoff during Jiu Jitsu practice at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma Nov. 19. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, is offered twice a week through chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

Justus Walker, 12, works on knee-on-belly drills with retired Army Col. Paul Bischoff during Jiu Jitsu practice at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma Nov. 19. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, is offered twice a week through chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

2nd Lt. Jonathan Lee, with the 71st Student Squadron, applies a kimura arm lock to 2nd Lt. Mitch Greene, also from the STUS, during a Jiu Jitsu class Nov. 19 at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, is offered twice a week through the chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

2nd Lt. Jonathan Lee, with the 71st Student Squadron, applies a kimura arm lock to 2nd Lt. Mitch Greene, also from the STUS, during a Jiu Jitsu class Nov. 19 at the Community Chapel Activity Center at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Jiu Jitsu, a form of martial arts, is offered twice a week through the chapel. (U.S. Air Force photo / Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Karate gi-clad Airmen grapple atop black mats under the observant eyes of their teacher, who provides suggestions and occasionally steps in to provide instruction on proper technique.

The Airmen are participating in a bi-weekly Jiu Jitsu class taught by Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea, a 71st Flying Training Wing chaplain's assistant, which has been popular at Vance for two years.

The class is open to all Vance Airmen and those who attend have found practicing the sport better prepares them to face life's challenges, empowered by courage and camaraderie.

The class now boasts 10 to 15 students at sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Community Chapel Activity Center.

During each session, deputy wing chaplain Maj. John Sackett delivers a Chaplain's Challenge. The challenge on Dec. 1 focused on courage.

"Training in Jiu Jitsu is like training in many other areas of our life, we must live life courageously," Sackett said. "Sometimes, it feels like the world is completely against us, and we have no chance for success and everything is collapsing on us."

Sackett then shared a quote from retired Gen. George S. Patton, "Courage is fear holding on a minute longer," to encourage the martial artists to persevere through struggles, he said.

Traits like courage, which students have sharpened through the practice of Jiu Jitsu, translate to other areas of their lives, said 1st Lt. Kyle Parker, a 3rd Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot. Practicing Jiu Jitsu helps him meet the challenges associated with being an instructor pilot.

"In my opinion, it's a direct correlation, because not a lot of people get put in pressure situations," said Parker. "It's all about being in the moment: prioritizing, task management; that whole kind of deal. And being in Jiu Jitsu, you can only focus on one thing."

Eclavea also has seen parallels between his job and Jiu Jitsu instruction, he said. As a chaplain's assistant, his role is to help people, and moonlighting as a coach allows him to continue serving.

"They are looking to improve their lives in some fashion, looking to overcome challenges (emotionally, physically, spiritually), or just looking to meet people and build some healthy relationships," said Eclavea. "I have learned that as a coach and a chaplain assistant, fostering a good environment for this interaction is critical."

Eclavea first became involved in Jiu Jitsu when confronted by adversity in his personal life.

"My interest in this peaked when I was going through some personal issues, and I turned to this, among other things like church," he said. "Basically, all I did was go to church, go to work, go to ju jitsu. It was the camaraderie, the bonds that formed with all my training partners, that helped me get through all the craziness I was going through at the time."

Eclavea's students attest that the Jiu Jitsu class at Vance carries on that tradition of camaraderie.

"It is a one-on-one sport, however, what sets this class apart maybe from other things I've done is the camaraderie and teamanship we have in this environment here," said retired Army Col. Paul Bischoff. "Tony is really good at setting the example. He always says when we get new people in, we check our adrenaline at the door. We don't come in here like everybody's an alpha male. It's a learning environment, that's what I like about it, you can learn at your own pace. And, if you stick with it, you will learn."

Young, old, in-shape, out-of-shape, men, women, children -- Eclavea said those demographics don't matter when it comes to Jiu Jitsu. The sport is for everyone to learn and enjoy.

"Taking care of each other while training creates a very accommodating environment for new folks," he said. "No one is here to smash you and say, 'I'm tougher than you!' I hope the class will outlast my tenure at Vance."

For more information, contact Tech. Sgt. Tony Eclavea at 213-7211.