Triton Fight Center and their Wounded Warrior Program
Veterans helping Veterans is undoubtedly something that we like to shine a light on here at The Rhino Den. When that help comes in the form of combat sports as therapy, well I just get downright excited about the possibilities and believe that it deserves a lot of attention.
That is why I set out to contact Piet Wilhelm about his Triton Fight Center Wounded Warrior Program. Wilhelm, a former Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, currently offers completely free training to any Vet with 80% or more disability ratings at his school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As it states on the Wounded Warrior portion of his website, this is done to “honor and empower Wounded Warriors” as well as “help injured service members and assist one another.” Professor Wilhelm, a wounded Veteran himself and former Marine Corps Martial Arts instructor, is currently a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu under Renato Tavares from American Top Team.
First of all, thank you for what you’re doing. How did you come up with the Wounded Warrior Program, and what is the biggest benefit you see from Brazilian jiu jitsu for Wounded Warriors?
“I came up with the idea dealing with my own problems with no solutions, but felt better being around former vets and training with them made life better. So I wanted to give something back to the military community after all the wonderful things my fellow Marines have done for me throughout my military career. Being around prior military people empowers oneself with esprit de corps—clears the mind.”
Do you alter the training you do for Vets compared to everyone else?
“No. I have injuries myself. Adapt and over come. As I walk around and make corrections I’ll adjust things for people with disabilities. But technique is taught in its true form then adapted. Regardless of disabilities, every technique does not necessarily work for everyone nor does it work on everyone. Therefore, as I walk around and make corrections, modifications may have to be made from one person to the next.”
I can relate all too well to injuries, unfortunately, so making adjustments has to be done. However, Bjj for me is more of a mental training thing than anything else. With that, have you had any Vets whose trauma is psychological speak to you about the benefits of your program? In other words, what kinds of feedback are you getting from the guys you train?
“Most of my students that are vets have PTSD. They feel great when they train and most of them are off their meds because of Jiu-Jitsu. They tell me they get into depressions if they are away from training for more than 2 days. I think a huge part of it is being around people they can relate to and doing an activity like BJJ. This bonds them together.”
A common thread I’ve seen from Vets is the idea that being around like-minded people is key to dealing with some of the thoughts they’re dealing with. Do you see Vets coming in actually seeking that, or do they come in looking to do Bjj and only discover the rewards after training for a while? Are the Vets that find you doing so more because of word of mouth or from any kind of organized push in the military/Veteran community?
“It has been word of mouth. We don’t do any advertising other than through the Internet. People come in for different reasons—at times some have no idea what they are looking for but eventually find it. It is an interesting process that I don’t fully understand but I see it works. I don’t know the science or chemistry. I see progress and empowerment.”
My personal belief is that sports like Bjj help because they allow Vets to go back into a certain mindset but in a completely safe environment—one that we can say “stop” to at any time. There are certain therapies that work in a similar fashion, but they won’t ever be as accessible to Veterans as combat sports are. I think most Vets have a natural distrust of psychologists and the psychiatric profession in general. Whether that is right or wrong, it is the reality.
A gym where combat sports are the focus seems much less alien to combat Veterans and, as a result, allows them to work through things they most likely would not elsewhere. Guys like Piet Wilhelm and his friend James Foster of Foster Brazilian jiu jitsu in Seattle, Washington have realized that and are doing what they can to maximize the opportunities for Veterans to train through the Wounded Warrior Program. When I contacted Coach Foster, he explained that he was “so touched” by what Piet Wilhelm was doing that he decided to implement the program at his school, as well. He added: “I hope the program will gain more exposure so veterans will be able to experience all of the benefits that Bjj has to offer them both mentally and physically.”
The benefits of the sport truly are deep and almost limitless. It’s fantastic to see guys at such a high level not only talking about it but implementing those lessons into programs specifically for Veterans, as well. If you or someone you know lives in Tulsa or Seattle, check out the websites of these schools and drop them a line to tell them thank you for what they do. If you live in another area, let us know of any other similar programs by telling us about them in the comment section or ask your local school if they know anything about the Wounded Warrior Program. These are issues that I am increasingly convinced must be taken into our own hands to shine a light upon. We cannot rely on the VA, traditional media, or politicians—Veterans must begin networking amongst themselves to open up methods of helping one another, and this is just one of many ways to do so.