By Felix Rodriguez, Staff Writer | Photo by Mike Calimbas
Garret Mowles on what it’s like training with Asperger’s Syndrome and how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has improved his quality of life
“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Changed My Life” is something many people who practice the gentle art end up saying or feeling. Some people find empowerment, some people meet weight loss goals, some people find camaraderie; and every now and then The Gentle Art can help someone find normalcy.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu changed the life of Garrett Mowles by bringing his family together to help him overcome the challenges of being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Garrett was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) as a child; Asperger’s Syndrome is a developmental disorder that falls under the spectrum of Autism. People with AS can have a hard time dealing with the most basic aspects of communication and social interaction. Their interpersonal relationships can become awkward and easily strained as a result. This was the case for Garrett and his family before they discovered the many benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Garrett is a 16 year-old from Venus, Texas who has been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since the age of twelve. Garrett and his older brother were extremely energetic children that played football before finding jiu-jitsu. The physicality of the gridiron was not enough for the boys who often continued tackling each other well after practice had ended. Garrett’s parents needed another outlet to help channel their sons’ aggression when football season ended so they decided to enroll them in martial arts. Garrett’s first love was football and he was reluctant to train in BJJ at first. His parents encouraged him to not give up quickly and he became hooked after about five months of training. Once the concepts of leverage and momentum clicked and he began to find success on the mats football was no longer important. “My life was all about football really. Then I realized that it’s almost impossible to get [a scholarship because of] my size, so that’s why I like wrestling and jiu-jitsu, [they] can help me get into college, as a wrestler,” said Mowles.
These days Garrett’s life is about becoming a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and champion. The high school sophomore has been training for five years now at Brandon Quick’s BQuick Jiu-jitsu Network to reach his goal and hopes to open a Brandon Quick affiliate academy alongside his brother, Levi one day. Garrett’s parents taught the Mowles brothers to work hard from early on and the two-stripe blue belt trains 6-7 times a week in order to one day become a BJJ black belt.
Garrett’s quest to conquer the gentle art has helped him overcome limitations he had within himself and to improve his relationships outside of the mats. When discussing his growth as a person and martial artist his coach noted Garrett was “very shy and reserved” at first and that “communication did not seem to be a huge part of him.” Quick, a BJJ black belt, believes that Garrett has been able to overcome some of the challenges of being diagnosed with AS because “jiujitsu forces contact” and hence, also forces social interaction. Garrett has been able to shed some of the typical social awkwardness that is typical of AS because of the structure of BJJ classes. Quick noted that BJJ is a “very intimate sport” and its physical nature creates a completely different dynamic than that found in team sports because it starts with asking for a roll, training and then [becoming] friends.”
People with AS have very literal ways of interpreting the world around them that often obviates hidden meaning and innuendo. This can often make the most basic interactions, like communicating with another person to learn a new task, something challenging and scary for people diagnosed with AS. Garrett’s literal nature has lent itself well to learning BJJ. According to his coach, “Garrett caught on to being a smaller guy and what we call ‘around the boulder’ concepts (going around someone and catching the back)…he gets jiu-jitsu and it follows suit with his engineering mind.” The combination of Garrett’s natural talent and dedication has translated to success in BJJ competitions as well. Mowles has won multiple belts “and a lot if gold medals” while competing in tournaments hosted by the American Grappling Federation and other organizations
Since they began their training, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become a source of family bonding for Garrett and his family. BJJ has enabled the Mowles brothers to channel their frustrations into a productive avenue. When discussing the relationship between brothers Levi Mowles noted, “I’ve always loved my little brother, but jiu-jitsu has brought us closer, I mean the whole reason our parents put us in jiu-jitsu is because we used to beat the tar out of each other. Now when we beat each other up, it’s in the gym and we have fun doing it instead of getting mad.” Garret has found a way to bond with his brother through jiu-jitsu and shed his “little brother complex.” Sharing the experience of learning BJJ has helped Garrett evolve his sibling rivalry into a relationship based on admiration, trust and cooperation with Levi. Garrett explained, “I’ve always felt I was in Levi’s shadow, but I realize I’m putting myself in his shadow, and I shouldn’t compare myself to him. He is my older brother, of course he is supposed to beat me, it’s sort of his job. But I do look up to him as a great brother. The only brother that would push me to the limit everyday ay school, at home, and at the gym.” Now instead of needing boxing gloves to settle their differences, Levi helps his brother perfect the arm-drag, because it’s his favorite move, and they peacefully breakdown the latest techniques that Keenan Cornelius and Marcelo Garcia are showing in videos instead of constantly bickering.
Their commitment to each other’s improvement on the mat has also led their entire family to become a closer unit. According to Garrett’s parents “when we started [them] in Jiu-Jitsu things began to change. Levi and Garrett no longer fought. They weren’t restless. The boys soon started making goals. Unlike some children that may say ‘I don’t want to go to practice tonight’ our boys never did. Their dedication impressed us. So that kept us dedicated to them as well. Soon less and less friends came around to hang out. We were never home. We were either at the gym training, at a seminar or at a tournament. We spent so much time together as a family that it became our norm. In our free time, many times we would watch movies together. Or play games. We eventually became this strong family unit … Also, having Jiu-Jitsu changed how we parented Garrett. We no longer worried what if he can’t do something. Garrett learned we expected him to train hard and we no longer considered him unable to do things. We all supported each other. We have shared many laughs, and tears through Jiu Jitsu and I am so thankful we found this sport.”
Garrett and his family are better because of the benefits of training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Practicing the sport has enabled Garrett to overcome some of the challenges people with AS find in social interaction. He noted, “growing up with [AS] has affected me a little, but I believe anyone can accomplish anything if they are dedicated, have heart, and they don’t let nothing stand in there way, even if they are different from everybody else.” Asperger’s syndrome makes Garrett slightly different than most people, but Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has helped him overcome that difference and turn it into sameness. His individual growth as a young person and as a martial artist has strengthened his family nucleus because the Mowles brothers and their parents all work together towards meeting their shared goals.
In the case of Garret Mowles and his family, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has definitely changed their lives and made it better. Their positive experience with BJJ has led them to encourage any parent with autistic children to see if the art is right for them too. TXMMA has reported on the benefits of BJJ for children with special needs in the past and agree that BJJ changes lives for the better. That said, please consult with a doctor specializing in your child’s diagnosis to see if BJJ is right for you. If you’d like to know more about Garrett or have any questions about training in BJJ or AS look him up on Facebook and he’ll be happy to answer them. For more information on AS please visit this site: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/7601.php.