Dennis Asche must have the best job in the world! He is a hugely popular and important figure in the BJJ community, the creator of the Jiu-Jitsu accommodation and training experience in Rio De Janeiro: Connection Rio. In this interview with BJJ Eastern Europe, Dennis will talk about how he started his projects in Brazil, the experience of training in Brazil and his Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle:
1. Hi Dennis, can you please introduce yourself to the BJJ Community of Eastern Europe?
Hello BJJ Eastern Europe! My name is Dennis Asche, I am a Jiu-jitsu black belt under Roberto “Gordo” Correa de Lima, from Oregon – USA. My training is done here in Rio at Gordo Jiu-jitsu, in addition to visits of academies here in the cradle of Jiu-jitsu, Rio de Janeiro. The main titles in my career are USA Trials (Gold), USA vs Brazil at IBJJF Pan Ams and the championship that brought me to Rio, the first Gracie Open. All of these titles where from many years ago. After moving to Brazil and earning my black belt, my goals gradually changed from being a competitor to helping other experience this Jiu-jitsu lifestyle that enticed me to move here in the first place.
2. What’s your Jiu-Jitsu story?
My Jiu-jitsu training began in the late 90’s with Patrick Lachman (student of Jean Jacques Machado) in Southern California, where my first year was spent training much without the kimono. At the time Jiu-jitsu was scarce in Oregon and I had moved states to learn BJJ (and other Martial Arts) where I could find it. Returning to Oregon for several years, my training continued by travelling to areas of the state where BJJ was to be found, one destination being NWMA in Eugene Oregon, where Ryan Clark, Ryan Kelley and Harold Utterback lead training.
All the while slowly progressing, I began to train more and more with the kimono after returning to Bend, OR and with friend JT Tailor (who had been introduced to me at NWMA). Under the lineage of Professor Marcello Alonso (Carlson Gracie) I earned my blue belt in 1999, with the help of JT (who help greatly at that time along the path) and my first Gold medal at a tournament in Tacoma, WA where Marcello was based. Training was there in Oregon, as I believe in making the most of what is at hand, at the same time it was apparent that moving closer to the source was important for advancement in the Arte Suave.
2001 I returned to Southern California and began training under Professor John Machado. John took me under his wing and broke my Jiu-jitsu down, only to build it back up stronger than ever and create a solid game for competition. The training with Professor John Machado is essentially what created the winning streak in competition that won my passage to Brazil. He encouraged me to train at Renato Magno’s academy in Santa Monica, Rigan’s academy in Torrance and at Jean Jacque’s in Tarzana (which became a regular route for training). John also encouraged me to continue training in Muay Thai and instilled the importance of being well rounded (at a time when many BJJ academies where dead set on only training BJJ). My purple belt was awarded to me by John Machado just before moving to Rio. I am very thankful to Josh Lazy for introducing me to John.
Once in Brazil (2003) my training was under Roberto “Gordo” (known for his contributions to BJJ with development of the ½ Guard as an offensive position), who awarded me my brown and black belts.
The diversity in my lineage has allowed me to build a game from several completely different styles that has formed into something unique to me. I am grateful for the knowledge that has been passed along to me and hope to always show this appreciation for those who have taught me and been there along the way. Whether it be through competition, teaching or sharing Jiu-jitsu lifestyle with those who have yet to experience it my goal is to continue the growth and development of the Arte Suave.
3. How and why did you start Connection Rio? What were the challenges in the beginning and how did you overcome them?
Connection Rio began through helping Jiu-jitsu practitioners in Rio to find accommodation. I spent my first six months in Rio de Janeiro at the On The Mat house in Barra da Tijuca. My role in the house changed from guest to managing the apartment when owners Scott Nelson and Danny “Do Nothing” where away travelling. Scott and Danny both encouraged me to open my own place in Rio. At the end of 2003 the first location open, before it had been branded Connection Rio or the vision had grown into what it has become today. Spending a little more than a year outside of Brazil during 2005 put plans on hold for CR and set back progress. Returning to Rio in 2006, I began building what is now Connection Rio little by little. It wasn’t until 2009 that CR was officially branded and opened its own property.
In the first year of business I had the fortune of taking in Jeremy “Gerbil” Arel as a guest. Jeremy’s contributions to CR where a very important piece, spreading the word and encouraging those who only dreamed of visiting Rio to make it a reality. Connection Rio grew and continues to grow as word spreads and we work to provide the best combination of accommodation and training in Rio de Janeiro.
In 2011 Journalist and film maker Hywel Teague joined the CR team and has contributed greatly through his journalism and film making. These contributions from HT allow those who have never visited Connection Rio to have an idea of just what it is like to live and train in the cradle of BJJ. HT’s organization has also helped to create a better infrastructure, benefitting those directly involved and guest alike.
Stuart Cooper of Stuart Cooper Films has been a great help to BJJ/MMA community as the ”Jedi” film maker and always shown support for CR.
William Burkhardt, founder of BJJ Pix, one of the best BJJ/MMA photographers in the World joined the team in 2012, capturing some of the greatest moments with Connection Rio.
There have many contributions to CR through our ever growing team; Mike, Bond, Melyssa, Dom, Peter and Leen, and Jeremy … thank you all for your help, every one of you have made important contributions in developing CR.
The largest obstacles to overcome in opening and growing Connection Rio have been largely in part dealing with government agencies for licensing and regulation. Something that may seem simple from abroad is in fact complicated when a person is in the thick of it. In addition to the bureaucracy sustaining a modest life in Brazil and growing a business from scratch can be taxing. What really matters in the end is that pros do outweigh the cons and they do.
4. In your opinion, what goes through a Brazilian BJJ player’s mind when they see a foreigner stepping for the first time in their academy or in a competition mat? Did you feel that some Brazilian BJJ players may have not respected you as much, because you weren’t Brazilian and was training “their” sport?
On my arrival in Rio there was a much different attitude toward foreigners on the mat. Although I was respected it had to be earned, both in the academy and at competitions here. Now with the explosion of growth in BJJ, there are many great athletes from all over the World. I believe that many Brazilians still see Jiu-jitsu from the exterior as inferior but that has changed a lot and continues to do so as more and more non-Brazilians visit and train/compete in Brazil.
5. Please tell us about the facilities and services provided at connection Rio.
Connection Rio BJJ hostels provide and environment conducive to making the most out of a BJJ practitioners time in Rio de Janeiro. CR hostels have amenities for comfort such as: High Speed WIFI, pool, mats for drilling outside of academy hours, commercial washing machines and convenience in location seconds walk away from top level BJJ training. Our newest location, although not fitted with a pool is only two blocks from the beach. In addition to these conveniences CR has regular group outings to the best academies, competitions, events and points of interest in the city, where we are greeted with open arms.
We have the infrastructure and ability to provide packages that handle all aspects of a trip to train BJJ in Rio by providing transport, food and insights to Rio’s best academies.
Above all, the environment at Connection Rio breaks down walls that once stood between different flags and academies. Staying at CR provides an environment that connects BJJ from around the World through guests, who share experiences and build friendships that will last a lifetime.
6. What would you say are the plus and minuses of being in a place like connection Rio compared to renting your own apartment and training as a lone foreigner in a typical Brazilian academy?
First off, when I arrived in Rio it seemed the best option to be on my own and stay away from other foreigners to have a “real” experience of the culture and academies here. It took some time before beginning to realize the great benefit of spending time here with like minded people from around the World. The experience of Jiu-jitsu lifestyle in Rio with others is incomparable and will last forever in stories built on great experiences shared together in the cradle of BJJ.
In having the support of CR, with its base of knowledge and contacts there are many places that a person may not venture or find the time or resources to visit which open up being here. Being alone can have it’s benefits but the benefits of staying in an environment built around a Jiu-jitsu lifestyle has no comparison. Next is price, as CR offers a fair market price year round … it will save you money. Overall making the most of your time and creating a truly memorable experience is what a person will find at Connection Rio, that is what it really comes down to.
7. What are the best parts of living the dream and living in Rio training and competing in Jiu-Jitsu?
Living the Dream in Rio and experiencing the “real” Jiu-jitsu lifestyle in Rio de Janeiro is an experience that a person will really only truly appreciate after having done it for themselves. The environment, culture and great training go hand in hand with an experience that allows a deeper understanding of the Arte Suave, found through submersion in the city where it was launch from. There is nothing like hard training with good people, followed by enjoying the nature of Rio’s surroundings (whether it be the beach or rainforest and mountains), smell of fresh air, abundance of fresh fruits and healthy food, sounds of ambient noise and warmth of the people.
Competing in Brazil is a great experience on it’s own as it gives a whole new level of confidence after testing one’s self in the arenas where BJJ was proven and lineage of today’s top athletes had been forged. It is an important piece of understanding for any BJJ practitioner serious about their development and understanding of Jiu-jitsu.
8. How different are the trainings and the mentality of BJJ players in Rio and in the US for ex?
The mentality of BJJ players in Brazil varies greatly from academy to academy. As anywhere there are places where the principal focus is competition and training will always be challenging. In other schools the focus may be much more on the art itself and healthy lifestyle that comes with it.
Most academies here have a tendency to drill / work technique less and spend more time free training. Although it has changed greatly and continues to, there is still for the most part much less appreciation for just how much drilling and specific training can add to the development. *Again, this is not the same with every academy here.
9. How much do you feel your game has improved from training in Brazil compared to if you had stayed in the States?
I believe that my game has developed much differently than it would have had I stayed in the USA. My training in Los Angeles with John Machado was excellent. The difference in training on my arrival here was availability of high level training partners in the US compared to Brazil. Here there was and still are innumerous black belts and top level competitors on the mats of hundreds of academies just in Rio. This high level of training helped greatly in application and development of technique. The high level training in addition to diversity of styles, not only Brazilian but many from around the World all contribute to a greater learning. There really is no way to compare how my BJJ would have been unless it had been developed back in the US.
10. What is next for you in 2013?
In 2013 Connection Rio will continue to expand its locations to other areas of the city and develop its infrastructure to offer more for all who come to visit. To name a few: locations in Zona Sul (namely Copacabana area); a transportation system that is operated by CR; many more great academy visits and with photos and videos to keep the memories alive.
11. Thanks Dennis and all the best! –
Thank you! I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of Connection Rio and myself.