ARLEE, Mont. – Crow Indian Aaron “Rude Boy” Brien was 12 when he saw his first Ultimate Fighting Championship on Pay-Per-View that featured UFC legend Royce Grace while growing up in Crow Agency, Mont.
Brien was immediately drawn to the lanky, indigenous looking fighter who resembled other “regular” Indians he had seen around him. “At that time I guess I wasn’t distinguishing that he looked like an Indian, but he did look more like me, and that’s why I had a connection to his Jiu-Jitsu style,” Brien said.
Some 10 years later, in the fall of 2006 after training for only four months, Brien began teaching Jiu-Jitsu at his coaches urging. Brien had a knack for teaching, as he had already taught things like how to make teepees and sing in a drum group. “I had the basics of being able to explain things, so it carried over to teaching Jiu-Jitsu.”
There are blue, purple, brown, and black belts for Jiu-Jitsu competitors over 16 years old. Kids have a different set of colors. The belts take longer to move through compared to other martial arts.
“A lot of people think it progresses too slow to get belts because it will take you 2-3 years to get a blue belt, and 5-6 years to get a purple belt.”
Brien, now 27, was a natural at the sport and received his blue belt after two years, and his purple belt only six months later. He credits his uncanny ability to grapple to studying and watching years of UFC fighting and Royce Grace. Shortly after Brien’s Missoula Jiu-Jitsu club broke up he moved to Arlee on the nearby Flathead Reservation.
Brien started training in the local high school’s wrestling room. His mentor and friend, black belt Brandon Olsen - who Brien described as “the best grappler Montana’s ever seen” – wanted to teach Jiu Jitsu at the high school. Brien was to run the day-to-day operations, but Olsen became wrapped up in other issues.
“But I didn’t want to be totally dependent on him. I wanted to be able to say that I did the school on my own. So I did do it on my own and changed the name from Brandon Olsen Jiu-Jitsu to the 406 Jiu-Jitsu Club,” Brien said. Montana’s area code is 406.
The school started in the Fall of 2008 and is the first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club on an Indian reservation in Montana, and perhaps nation as far as Brien knows. He recognizes there are a variety of Mixed Martial Arts schools on reservations throughout the nation. “But for me,” he said, “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is really the heart of it.”
Brien competes in MMA fights periodically, and usually wins quickly. “To me, MMA and Jiu-Jitsu are two different things. Jiu-Jitsu is what I do and it’s my hobby, it’s my sport, it’s a daily thing. MMA is the challenge for when I’m in the mood for it.”
Although he was adopted into the local Salish and Kootenai tribes, Brien always holds the fact that he is a Crow Indian to a high prestige in everything he does whether it’s going to work or studying Jiu-Jitsu.
He credits three people for encouraging him in his endeavors: his mom, dad, and his wife Misty whom he compares to a virtual coach.
He recalled seeing his dad Eric getting up early everyday to work 12 – 13 hours a day to support his family, and uses that as motivation whenever he feels lazy. “If my dad can do things like that, I can sacrifice too in training for a few weeks.”
He encourages his mostly Native students on the Flathead Reservation – who age from small children to their 40s – to be proud of their heritage as well.
“It’s hard to do without being cheesey! We come from a warrior culture, but we don’t want to be walking into our fights with feathers in our hair.” He cites a few Crow warriors like Plenty Coup and Medicine Crow. “We have the ability to be just like them, but just in a different form and fashion.”
Brien encourages his students to go to sweats before training and be involved with the local Indian culture happenings. “Do things in the same manner as the old timers did,” he tells them.
Brien explained that in the native Crow tongue, “Our Side” is the term the Crow use to refer to themselves.
“It’s ‘Our Side,’ our way, the Indian way – even if you’re not Crow. It’s who we are. It’s what makes us different. Those things about being Indian mean something. You can’t just say, ‘I’m Salish,’ and put it on my bookshelf, and when I need it I’ll pull it out.’ You should carry it with you everywhere you go.”