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Jiu-Jitsu More Than A Sport

Jiu-Jitsu More Than A Sport

Story by SN Zachary Behrend on 02/25/2019

PACIFIC OCEAN Passion. Dedication. Resilience.

These characteristics are embodied by practitioners of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a form of martial arts dedicated to grappling and designed to equip a physically smaller or weaker individual with an effective method of defending against a larger and stronger attacker. Brazilian jiu-jitsu encourages a healthy lifestyle, builds resiliency and instills camaraderie among peers.

For Lt. Aaron Mitchem, the security officer aboard amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), his passion for Brazilian jiu-jitsu began seven and a half years ago with his daughter while stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
Dana Mitchem, his daughter, played basketball, baseball and flag football growing up and her father would coach her. These were all sports that he played growing up, so it was easier for him to give pointers and connect with her.

His daughter started training in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the age of 11. She fell in love with the sport very quickly, but, despite being a naturally talented athlete, struggled to be competitive with the other kids from Okinawa, many whom began learning at a younger age.

“My daughter was always a natural athlete, but the kids she would spar and compete with were taught in grade school as part of their curriculum,” said Mitchem. “It was hard for her to adjust because she didn’t have the skills and technique to compete.”

Mitchem always encouraged her to do her best, but he couldn’t give the same type of advice he had been providing for other sports during her athletic career.

“I didn’t understand the sport,” said Mitchem. “She would tell me how hard it was and I couldn’t help her. I always helped her with basketball. I played football and baseball. I could always give her pointers.”

That is when Mitchem decided to take on the challenge of learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Just like his daughter, he fell in love with the sport quickly and a new connection between them was soon built.

“I remember thinking this is going to help me relate with what is going on with my daughter,” said Mitchem.

Mitchem hit the ground running. He began competing monthly in various forms of grappling, including his fondest memory of competing with his daughter where they both won double golds in a single day during a tournament in Okinawa. Their bond was strengthened through competition.

“You can’t see everything from the outside, and you need someone to will you through,” said Mitchem. “We coached each other. We definitely built a good bond through that.”

As he became more proficient in the sport, he decided to begin coaching Sailors in Okinawa.

“We had Warrior Wednesdays, and we would get all of our Sailors together and teach martial arts,” said Mitchem.

Being a former master-at-arms, and commissioned as an officer in 2011, Mitchem knows how important it is for Sailors in law enforcement to learn self-defense techniques to use in their field of work. He believed that the Sailors would benefit from the extra training.

He was trying to build the culture wherever he went. He knew the sport brought camaraderie with it, and he learned you can train Brazilian jiu-jitsu wherever you go.

“The community is nice like that,” said Mitchem. “They would always welcome you to come train.”

Mitchem realized how the Brazilian jiu-jitsu community looks out for each other. Wherever he would go during his line of duty he could find a home. Whether he pulled into ports in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, or Columbia there was always a place for him to go and practice.

Finding a new home to continue practicing was important when he arrived in San Diego. Luckily he met Andrew Mauldin, a deployed resiliency counselor on board Boxer at the time, who also practiced Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

“We met talking about jiu-jitsu,” said Mitchem. “Andrew introduced me to people that helped me find my jiu-jitsu home here.”

A relationship between Mitchem and Mauldin formed through their passion for the sport, and they wanted to introduce that passion to the Sailors and Marines aboard Boxer. With support from the former Boxer triad, they decided to form their own class after the planned maintenance period in 2017.

Mitchem plans to continue teaching and coaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu after he is done in the military by starting his own academy. He plans to focus on helping underprivileged youth with an after-school program. He wants to build a culture around hard work and success- to provide children with a chance to experience the passion, dedication and resiliency the sport teaches through self-defense and scholastic work.

“It will build a pattern,” said Mitchem. “They just got out of school, so I don’t want them to go right to homework. They will have a chance to train hard first and get the energy out. Then they can focus on their homework there for an hour before going home.”

According to Mitchem, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is for everybody, regardless of size or age. No one should be intimidated to give it a try.

For more news from USS Boxer (LHD 4) visit

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