Fight or Flight

In Which Our Writer Trains in the Ancient Art of Self Defense

I always thought that if someone were to attack me, I’d be able to fight back. Yet it was within mere minutes of my private jiu-jitsu lesson at Valente Brothers that I was proven wrong.

After putting on the robe for my lesson, I met Professor Burak Eyilik on the mat, where he explained that we would be working through a series of scenarios. But instead of teaching me the proper maneuvers first, he asked that I show him what I would do if each were to happen in real life.

What I had failed to consider was that a perpetrator would likely not be an equal opponent; rather, it’d be someone greater in size and strength. So, when Eyilik grabbed my wrist and began pulling me away, I quickly realized that running in the opposite direction was not the key to survival. What I needed to do instead was step toward him and bend my elbow so my forearm lined up with his. Then, I would be free.

While it may seem too simple to be effective, it’s one of the moves that has helped hundreds of Valente Brothers’ students, aged three to 83, defend themselves.

Self Defense Valente Brothers
A children’s jiu-jitsu class at Valente Brothers.

One of the most common reasons Eyilik sees students come in for is bullying. “We’ll train them for six, eight months,” he said. “The kid defends himself one time and then his school life changes from there.”

For one of Eyilik’s students, the gym became a safe haven from the bullying he faced on his swim team. That is, until the day he put his skills to the test against his bullies and was able to stand up for himself. From there, he went on to become the swim team’s captain. “Once you know you can defend yourself, your confidence builds up,” says Eyilik. “Everything builds up around your confidence.”

Since being introduced to jiu-jitsu two years ago, assistant instructor Gabriella Kayal says the martial art has been a “complete game-changer” for her. “I’m not a walking target anymore,” says the 25-year-old blue belt.

Professor Burak Eyilik, shown above left, with a women’s self-defense class.

The same can be said for Marie Baumer who, after being involved in an accident that left her blind, moved from Naples to Coral Gables just to train with the Valente Brothers. It was the only studio she found that was able to accommodate her. “I would say after losing my sight, this is the place I’ve felt the most comfortable,” she says. “This feels more like home.”

Today, the 26-year-old holds a blue belt, three belts away from the coveted black belt, and walks a mile and a half to the studio with her guide dog three times a week.

“I think for people looking to try something new, stay open-minded and realize that you learn so much from coming here,” Baumer says. “Not only knowing how to defend yourself but also just challenging yourself to try new things.”

In addition to offering private and group lessons, Valente Brothers trains military members and law enforcement officers in the F.B.I., U.S. Customs, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Miami Police Department. The gym also offers a free introductory class, as well as free self-defense classes for women each month. For more information regarding current offerings, go to or stop by their studio.

Valente Brothers Jiu-jitsu

275 University Drive Unit 1