Brazilian jujitsu classes at Ground Control in Bel Air not only improved Zackary Perrone's fitness, he says, they boosted his confidence, too.

"All my life I've been considered the black sheep, oddball, underdog," says Perrone, a Bel Air resident who joined the mixed martial arts training center to lose weight. "Always picked last, as well as picked on."


Since he joined Ground Control almost two years ago, he has gained higher self-esteem — and lost more than 60 pounds.

"Now I am at the point in my life where I enjoy proving people wrong," he says.

Most of the students at Ground Control become healthier, physically and mentally, after taking Brazilian jujitsu classes, instructors say.

Brazilian jujitsu, also known as BJJ, is a martial art and combat sport that teaches people self-defense. It is known for its ground fighting and grappling techniques.

Ground Control offers several BJJ classes, including "gi," where participants wear a heavy cotton jacket and pants, and "no gi," where participants wear anything from rash guards to board shorts. BJJ techniques differ based on the class.

Ground Control instructors also teach boxing, wrestling and muay thai, a form of kickboxing.

"It's never the same thing twice," says Pete Stackpole, Ground Control co-owner and an Abingdon resident. "Running on the treadmill is boring. In here, you're so concentrated on getting a technique right, you're not even thinking about the cardio you're getting."

Many of the Ground Control students are fans of boxing and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a promoter of mixed martial arts events, Stackpole says.

But Ground Control also offers classes for children ages 6 to 12 and for men and women like Michelle Temel, who simply want to exercise.

The Bel Air resident, who takes classes five days a week, says she enjoys the variety that comes with BJJ. She has a new partner each class.

"You never know what to expect," Temel says. "It's a really good workout, but you don't feel like you're working out."