Jiu-Jitsu in the mountains: Basulto Academy combines self-discipline with self-defense

By Richard Ploch | Sep 25, 2013
Photo by: Anne Baker photo Armando Basulto, center, demonstrates his technique to the Young Warriors class.

When the doors open and the lights come on at the Basulto Academy of Defense on Branner Street in downtown Waynesville, a world of self-confidence and personal discipline shines.

“We have so much fun,” said Rachel Robles, a copy editor for the Hickory Daily Record, who takes classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with her husband Robbie, a literature teacher at Tuscola High School.

In addition to the physical benefits, Rachel spoke of the sense of community that grows among the students of all ages.

“When you grapple on a mat two times a week, you get to know each other quickly,” she said, remarking also on her new sense of confidence. “After one month of doing this, I felt like I could walk down the street and defend myself.”

“It’s also a good way to get frustrations out in a healthy way,” added husband Robbie, who said the training has made him calmer. They are also making healthier choices in their daily diet and both have lost weight.

The Robles' sentiments echo many of those expressed by students at the academy. Participants come back not only for the physical benefits, but also the intellectual.

When Armando and Christine Basulto moved their family to Waynesville from the New York City area nine years ago, Armando knew he could offer a unique, sophisticated martial art which is widely recognized for its grappling techniques, but he was unsure if there was enough interest in the sport to move his academy here.

Any doubts were soon resolved when classes offered at the Waynesville Recreation Center grew quickly through word of mouth as students commuted from Asheville and other Western North Carolina towns in addition to the interest in Haywood County. Sheriff’s Department deputies, fire fighters, military veterans, teachers, carpenters, doctors, men, women and children as young as five began to sign up. As the numbers grew, the Basultos found a building on Branner Street, one block from Main Street, which could be remodeled to accommodate a large open mat area along with changing rooms and bathroom facilities.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu was developed in Brazil during the last century from traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Now known all over the world, jiu-jitsu uses sophisticated leverage and positioning to control and submit an opponent. Academy owner and instructor Armando Basulto is the only possessor of a First Degree Black Belt in North Carolina, awarded to him by the Gracie family.

Brian Reaid, 39, a Marine Corps veteran, has trained at the academy and now brings his 12-year-old son Gabriel to the twice-weekly Young Warriors classes.

“I look forward to the adult classes all week,” Reaid said. “It is good for my health, and I want to be challenged. Each day is better than the one before!”

Basulto, given the traditional jiu-jitsu title of professor by his students, began his martial arts training in judo, boxing and kick boxing in the 1970s. As a competitive kick boxer, he has fought in the United States and Europe. In the 1990s he began lessons in Gracie Jiu Jitsu while living in California, where he trained with three sons of Grandmaster Helio Gracie.

Basulto also carries another teaching title as well. He is a popular language arts teacher at Waynesville Middle School, having earned a master of arts degree from Fordham University and a bachelor's from New York University. His wife Christine, also on the faculty of Waynesville Middle School, teaches in the academy classes for adults and children each week which their eight- year-old twin sons attend. In addition to jiu-jitsu, both husband and wife also teach vale tudo, a mixed martial art that includes boxing. It is a full life.

The Young Warriors classes at the academy are filled with enthusiastic children who learn self-discipline as they listen to their coach’s instructions. Dana Stephenson, a nurse at Cherokee Hospital and member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, makes the 40-minute drive to Waynesville twice weekly for her son Kale, 8.

“He likes it a lot. He’s a very energetic child,” said Stephenson as she watched her son train. “It’s even helped him be more aware of his diet. He wants to drink water now instead of soft drinks and asks for healthy foods. He’s also gained self-confidence. We talk about jiu-jitsu on the ride home and then he likes to practice what he has learned at home, and I am his partner!”

Royler Gracie, son of the founder of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, will come to Waynesville Saturday, Oct. 19, for an annual training event the academy sponsors at the Tuscola High School gym. To have Royler Gracie come from San Diego to teach in Waynesville is like having Michael Jordan come to teach techniques in shooting baskets, said Basulto. He is that well known world-wide for his expertise, having assumed responsibility for the Gracie Humaita Jiu-Jitsu Academy founded by his father in Sao Paulo.

“Jiu-jitsu will definitely get a person in shape, but it hurts at first,” notes local physician and academy student Dr. Jon White, 40. “I love the mental aspect,” he added. “It’s intellectual, just anticipating what your opponent will do and countering that move.”

The enthusiasm is evident in the faces of both adults and the parents who bring their children for classes. Dawn Tox, a Spanish teacher at Tuscola, brings her sons Levi, 12, and Martin, 9.

“After my boys have been in school all day with much time spent sitting, it’s vital for them to get that energy out in a positive way. All the kids want to do well for Armando,” she said. “He’s a mentor who they look up to — they want to bond with him.”

Classes at the Basulto Academy of Defense, located at 218 Branner St., are held four evenings a week as well as Saturday and Sunday mornings. The schedule of classes is available at www.wncbjj.com. Call 230-5056 with questions and to learn more about the visit of Royler Gracie in October.