Connection Rio Rite of Passage:Drilling to Death with BJJ Hostel Owner Dennis Asche

Published on by Nico Ball

Photos courtesy of Connection Rio

“I kept asking him if he was ok or if he needed a break. He kept saying ´nah´ so I took my belt off and threw it in the corner. Then I wait a minute and walk over to get it as slow as I can. That’s what I do when I need a break but don´t want to admit it!”

I was overcome with laugher at my friend Pab´s description of the drilling class that we had just finished up with Dennis Asche, the owner of Connection Rio BJJ Hostel. They were now sprawled out on the floor of the apartment they were renting in Ipanema. Pablo Carela and Fernando Reals, a purple and brown belt under Vitor Shaolin, had decided to escape the Bronx from the summer and bring their families to train in the Mecca of the Arte Sauve. Fernando is an instructor a Bronx Jiu Jitsu, a social project located in…. you guessed it: the Bronx, and Pab is a veritable Jiu Jitsu nerd, filled to the brim with random names from purple to black belts and any other BJJ trivia you may (or may not) find useful. Neither of them was new to the Jiu Jitsu scene. They had, in fact, already put in work on the mats alongside legends like Fernando Terere, Ricardo Vieira, Felipe Costa, and Ricardo De La Riva. They were two big dudes from New York and naturally they were no strangers to technical classes or tough rolls, but Dennis´s class is a whole other level and in hindsight, I probably should have warned them.

If you want to know more about Dennis you can look him up on BJJ Heroes and they will give you the official spiel. Something along the lines of him being a black belt under Robert Correa who has been living and training in Rio for over 10 years. He is the owner of CR BJJ Hostel, a sports based accommodations facilities that houses a select group of athletes crazy enough to leave their native countries and come get repeatedly choked by black belts in Brazil. It was there, in the quiet neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca nestled beside the entrance to Pedra Da Gavea, that I started training Jiu Jitsu. Dennis has made it possible for a lot of people to find come to Brazil and experience “the Jiu Jitsu lifestyle”. He doesn´t currently compete. I´m not sure why, but if I had to guess, I would say he spends too much time running up mountains (he is known from that) and devising new drills to break the souls of those who haven´t fully embraced the BJJ lifestyle.

Your typical BJJ class is comprised of a warm up, a little dab of a technique, some specific drilling here and there, and then topped off with a massive amount of bone-crushing, soul grinding rolls at the end. Dennis, however, has devised his own unique form of torture based completely on the highly undervalued and often avoided art of drilling. Death by drilling if you will… Now, I´m not talking about your typical drilling session where you find yourself discussing your weekend plans as you lackadaisically run through some toreando passes and arm bars. No, this form of drilling is more akin to the special ops training conducted by the green berets or Israeli Special Forces.

Stamina is fundamental. Dennis stacks one pass on top of another… and then another, explosively transitioning from one to the next until the path of least resistance is found, then he finishes with a submission (generally of your choice). The fluidity of his movements as he transitions from one technique to the next is downright mystifying. As students run through drills he stalks amongst them correcting, encouraging, and imparting the knowledge and theories that he has gained from years of training in different martial arts styles.

Physicality, after all, while essential in athletics, will only get you so far. In the end, it is mental prowess that will set the champions apart from the mere athletes and Dennis makes sure to address this facet of training just as thoroughly as any other. He encourages his students to feel out the position and to try to understand the theory behind each movement. He emphasizes the need for speed and power, but never at the cost of technique. He pushes his athletes to their limits, but acknowledges the need to listen to your own body and find your own pace. The class is intense, but hours of repetition turn strategically calculated movements into intuitively natural reflexes. The idea behind his madness is not to make you cry, but to develop progressive improvement through repetition and sensitivity to the adversary´s reaction by combining positions in set drills, then advancing to free flowing movements, and finally, finishing with submissions.

As the minutes pass the lactic acid builds up, exhaustion grips the soul, but just when you think you are going to collapse
and die, kinesthetic memory kicks the body into autopilot. Suddenly, your body is responding to your partner´s movements while your mind is off crying in the corner begging for water, a bed, or a small natural disaster that will incite Dennis to end class early (actually I think Dennis would teach through a natural disaster). By the end of the session, the combinations you learned have embedded themselves into your soul and just the mere fact that you survived is sure to increase your confidence exponentially the next time you step onto the mats for your next competition!

After class, students file out of the academy and head to the CR BJJ Hostel that is located less than a block away. After hanging kimonos out to dry, everyone vies for a spot on the mats that are laid in the living room. Dennis changes out of his kimono and sits down to enjoy some coffee while answering any extraneous questions from the day´s session. This is my favorite part of the session. Since I started my BJJ training here in Rio, Dennis´s “gringo” class is the only training I´ve ever done in English! Having the opportunity to ask questions or discuss theory and technique in my own language has really helped me analyze and develop my game and understand the importance of strategy. Others follow suit, taking advantage of his expertise and riddling him with questions or competition stories. He not only welcomes an infinite amount of questions and new ideas from his students, he often incorporates them into his classes creating an even more unique experience for his students. 

As the owner of the CR BJJ Hostel Dennis has gotten the chance to train with and teach athletes from all over the world. Black belts from Ireland and USA, brown Belts from Poland, Purple belts from England and Jordan, white belts from Australia and Germany, and of course, myself and my friends from the Bronx.

His class is definitely one of the most diverse and technically challenging in Rio. It´s an intense, exhausting, and gut wrenching experience, but the hard work provides the desired results. Athletes all over the world are climbing to the top of podiums with BJJ hostel T-shirts in hand thanks to the seemingly, sadistic teaching style of Dennis Asche

If you want to check out more about Connection Rio BJJ Hostel check out their Facebook or Instagram page.