Easton Training Center Centennial might be one of the top Jiu Jitsu academies in the area now, but it didn’t get there overnight. The path to the gym’s success was paved with the hard work and dedication of numerous people. Each person brough different talents and some serious work ethic to the academy.
It all started back in 2009, when Easton Training Center owner Amal Easton officially opened the Centennial location. The academy’s current general manager, Vellore Caballero, was working at the Denver location at the time. He came out to the Centennial academy after being asked to share his striking and Jiu Jitsu knowledge. At the time, the gym only had about thirty students, and was growing slowly but surely.
A Dream Team
Caballero gives a lot of credit to Eliot Marshall, Mike Tousignant, and of course, Amal Easton himself. They helped to create the system that’s made the academy as successful as it is today. “They make it relatively easy by modeling what success is, and providing education and mentoring me in both Jiu Jitsu and business,” he says. He also heaps praise upon the staff. “Our head instructor, Ethan Snow, is the man! He and his wife, Rossie, are both amazing and bring so much to the culture here at Easton Training Center Centennial.”
And of course, the academy wouldn’t be able to function as well as it does without Matt Reid and Brian Youakim. Both are now brown belts after starting at the school as white belts. Then there’s Shalane Pescevic, who Caballero says “does everything.” The hard work and talent is by no means limited to the wise, experienced black and brown belts, though. Even the junior assistant, Lauren, is a key component in helping this gym find success. “She’s literally grown up in our academy. She started at eleven and just graduated high school,” says Caballero.
Even the best teams deal with friction sometimes, and the Centennial team, which Caballero describes as a “motley crew,” is no different. “There are some serious personality differences in the fourteen-member team. We were able to work it out over the years though, and now the machine runs smoothly,” he says. Through it all, the team members became more like a family than co-workers. That close-knit vibe is one that Caballero strives to maintain among both his staff and his students. “As we grow, it takes more effort from the team to stay connected. We also work hard to be consistent with our techniques and our message,” he says. “But developing good communication skills in the gym is made easier by the fact that the academy’s team and students are great.”
The Killer Kids’ Program
The adults might be the ones making the magic happen behind the scenes, but it’s no secret that one of the best parts about ETC Centennial is the kids’ program. Despite initially telling Professor Easton “no” multiple times, Caballero eventually gave in and agreed to start teaching the kids’ classes. “Turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me personally and a great thing for the school. We became known for the kids’ program, and I would have never chosen to do it on my own,” he says.
As it turned out, keeping all those talented kids within the walls of the academy just wasn’t possible. With the encouragement of the Miller, Pescevic, Mellott, Harter, Klayer, Borisov, Gin, Hodges, Johnston, and Khanna families, the team of youngsters started traveling, competing, and winning. “I’d have been content teaching the kids Jiu Jitsu and reinforcing social values right there in the academy. But they encouraged and even pushed me to travel and compete. Best decision ever, as it caused the team to gel in ways I hadn’t expected,” says Caballero. “Strange, considering most of my own fondest memories of coming up were traveling with the team and competing.” As the kids continued to travel together, they forged strong bonds of friendship that have stood the test of time and keep each other disciplined and motivated.
Instructors Who Care
Caballero himself has had to dial back on teaching to focus more on his administrative duties. Luckily, plenty of other experienced and skilled instructors are there to help the students reach their goals. Take, for example, the wife and husband team of Rossie and Ethan Snow, who Caballero says caused the adult program to blow up overnight. “Ethan is a technical wizard, an amazing leader, and an all-around great man. When you add his badass wife to the equation, you get awesomeness, and that’s what we got when they came down to teach,” he says.
The academy also boasts the presence of Texas black belt Philip Miller, who joined the team when he moved to Colorado a few years ago. “He brings a hands-on approach and love for Jiu. Jitsu that is palpable. The students really connect with him,” says Caballero. We all know it takes a village to raise an award-winning team of kids. So Caballero has a crew headed by his own son Jaymin and including Nick Reid, Fernando Pelet, Isiah Wright, Jake Hartner, Lauren Moore, Megan Redman, and Aron Peach to get the job done.
This academy may have had humble beginnings, but with nearly 400 students, it’s now the third-largest Easton school in the metro area. Even as it continues to grow from the inside out, the academy leaders aren’t going to let go of that close-knit family feeling that made it such a welcoming place from the start.