Dan Pilewski, a 1988 graduate of Berlin High School would be embarrassed
if someone called him a hero.
But Dan Pilewski is an American hero.
After high school, Pilewski joined the military and began to train in and teach Relson Gracie jiu-jitsu. He said without the training, he would not have survived his days in the Army.
Pilewski survived not one, not two but three deployments to Iraq in his Army career.
The former Berlin High School wrestler was also stationed at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009 when Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39-year-old U.S. Army major, serving as a psychiatrist, killed 13 people and injured more than 30 people. It was the worst shooting ever to take place on an American military base.
"We were about a mile away when we heard what had happened," Pilewski said. "We were called back to make sure we were all accounted for. It was a bad day for America. You go into combat and you expect your life is in danger but not on your own base. It was a bad scene."
Pilewski has retired from the U.S. Army and operates the Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy of Connecticut at 100 Webster Square Road in Berlin.
"It had been a dream of mine to open an academy and I thought I was going to do it but I was deployed for the third time and things didn't work out," Pilewski said. "I knew I wanted to move back to Berlin for my family and friends and now we have the academy up and running and we are growing every day."
Pilewski started training in this form in 2002. He would train all day with his unit and then either work out or teach classes to his fellow soldiers in the Relson Gracie discipline. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art, combat sport and a self-defense system that focuses on grappling, especially ground fighting.
While this fits into Pilewski's wrestling background, he says he would like everyone to come take a class because there is so much more to it.
"This system works," he said. "I'm not a big guy and it allows smaller or weaker people to defend and escape. It would be the kind of thing that would be perfect for a woman walking to her car and someone tries to grab her purse. If she knew how to do it, she would be able to defend herself and escape.
"I love to teach and I love to train. There is no substitute for time on the mat. For me, if I didn't have this training I'm not sure I would have made it back from Iraq. It gives you the confidence that you can do anything."
The academy is on the web at www.relsongraciejjct.com.
Classes for all ages and all athletic abilities are offered on Monday Wednesday and Friday from noon to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 7 and open mat from 7 to 8 p.m. On Tuesday and Thursdays youth classes are held from 4:30 to 5:30. On Saturdays, youths come can study from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and adults from noon to 2 p.m.
The academy can be reached at (860) 828-5555.