Grappling with the past

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Edgar Grimaldo
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

As her eyes locked onto her target, she slowly lowered her weight and widened her stance. With sweat dripping down her face she lunged, latched on, and took down her opponent, methodically and effectively.

Brazilian jiujitsu is a martial art that requires full control of your body and emotions, making it necessary for you to be free of all distractions. It teaches you to control your situation and to de-escalate when possible.

In the time before her U.S. Air Force service, Staff Sgt. Lacey Peinado, 1st Combat Communications Squadron expeditionary training advisor, encountered many moments where she felt she had little to no control. She had dealt with catcalling, unwanted advances at work and inappropriate comments.

Due to these experiences, Lacey said she realized early in her career that she was afraid of being in rooms with only men and understood it wasn't a healthy mindset for her to have.

“Being a female in the military can be really hard, especially when your job is male-dominant and some men aren't used to working with women,” Peinado said. “Moving overseas, I no longer had access to my friends, family, concealed firearm, or pepper spray, which provided me a false sense of security. I knew I had to find a more permanent solution.”

After some time living in Germany at Ramstein Air Base one of Peinado’s friends recommended Brazilian jiujitsu.

“At that point, I was still a bit hesitant to join Brazilian jiujitsu since it was all men, and it seemed as though that was the opposite of what I needed,” Peinado said. “But, once I met the club members and got engulfed in the community, it changed my perspective and became addicting.”

Brazilian jiujitsu revolves around the concept, taken from traditional Japanese jūjutsu, that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, physically stronger and heavier opponent by using leverage and weight distribution. It teaches you how to control the situation and thrive under stress.

Peinado continued to pursue her passion for Brazilian jiujitsu by attending a course at the U.S. Air Force Academy, where she got her master instructor certification for combatives. Unfortunately, like many things in life, the path to her certification came with its own set of obstacles. For Peinado, this came in the form of receiving news that someone in her family had been diagnosed with cancer.

“It was an emotional roller coaster trying to juggle family trauma and focus on the course,” Peinado said. “But I made it work, and at the end of the day I graduated.”

After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Combatives class, Peinado set her sights on not only continuing to improve her skills, but also spreading her knowledge.

“Obtaining the certification has given me the ability to go to different units and teach basic boundary setting and de-escalation techniques,” Peinado said. “To anyone struggling to find their inner strength, I would tell them that the hardest part is showing up, and, once you take that first step, everything is easy, comparatively.”

I loved it so much, and it became such an important part of my life that I wanted to introduce it to others who may have the same skepticism that I once did, Peinado remarked.

“After taking Brazilian jiujitsu I now have the confidence to defend myself,” Peinado said. “I have started a women's only class, where women who might feel intimidated due to a gender imbalance can learn in a safe environment.”

With 10 women now regularly attending her class, Peinado’s goal for the future is to do more scenario-based training that focuses not just on self-defense, but also on situational awareness and de-escalation techniques.