Winter and Elan Breget have ectodermal dysplasia, leaving them without the ability to sweat.
But for 10 years, the Armstrong brothers have defied the recommendations of doctors by practising jiu-jitsu and are looking to the future to when they can open the doors to their own training facility.
“They were told they would never play a sport,” said their father, Dennis Breget. “We were actually told that we would have to move to Nova Scotia because B.C. was too hot.”
Doctors told the Bregets the boys would have to be put on heavy medication, but Dennis refused. Instead, they enrolled in jiu-jitsu and yoga, where they practiced breathing exercises and slowly but surely built up the strength needed to defy the odds.
“We take jiu-jitsu so seriously because it saved our lives,” Elan said. “Before, I wouldn’t be able to run the width of these mats. But now I’m one of the top athletes for my grade in school.
“When we started out we still weren’t able to do it, but we just built ourselves up and now we can roll for three hours without even being gassed.”
“Our first three or four years of jiu-jitsu we were known as the spray bottle kids because we would always be cooling ourselves down, putting water on ourselves,” Winter added. “Now we’re learning how to keep our heat down and keep calm with our breathing.”
The Bregets have grasped just about every Brazilian jiu-jitsu accomplishment within their reach in the 10 years they’ve been at the sport, and the two Armstrong brothers have also been taking care of business off the mats.
Ask them about lessons and they’ll hand you a sleek black business card.
At just 14 and 15 years of age, the two have already been doing private lessons and seminars for three years, and more recently they’ve been drawing up plans to own a jiu-jitsu school together.
The brother are diminutive, but that doesn’t seem to affect their results on the mats, and it also makes them better teachers for younger kids.
“It’s hard for a kid to do a private lesson with an adult because of the size difference,” Elan explained.
For the younger and smaller athletes who take lessons at the Pacific Top Team martial arts gym in Vernon, having trainers their size who are as technically advanced as the Breget brothers is an asset.
It’s striking how calm and unwavering the brothers look as they wrestle on the mats for extended amounts of time. Mouths closed and faces relaxed, there’s not a drop of sweat to be found on their bodies. That’s partly due to the rare condition that, by all odds, should have kept from the sport altogether.
The Bregets run lessons with kids aged four and up, and even have a 19-year-old student studying under them.
In August, they had a group of kids come all the way from Vancouver just to train with them, and they’ve been asked to come to Washington, Portland and elsewhere to hold seminars.
Before the year is out they’ll hold another camp in Kamloops.
In short, business is booming, and their clientele is made up of people with a wide range of goals.
“Some people come and do private lessons just to get a little bit of confidence. Not just to be good at jiu-jitsu but also to feel comfortable when they walk around,” Elan said.
“It’s not just good for fighting,” Dennis said. “It’s good for fitness, self esteem and confidence.”
The Breget’s home in Armstrong contains about 300 medals and dozens of championship belts.
They’ve been adding to that collection of late. The brothers won gold medals in both their Gi and No-Gi events at the 2019 North American Grappling Association (NAGA) championship in Washington on Sept. 14, and in August Elan fought his way to a gold and a bronze and Winter took home a gold of his own at the Kids International IBJJF Championship in Las Vegas.
Elan’s swiftest victory at the Vegas tournament — an ankle submission — came just 13 seconds into the match, while it took Winter just 31 seconds to submit an opponent with an arm bar.
“There was such a big stadium and it was such a popular area, so people who didn’t even know jiu-jitsu just came and spectated,” Winter said.
Pacific Top Team’s head instructor David Rothwell accompanied the boys down in Las Vegas and won two bronze medals of his own.
A black belt with 23 years of experience, Rothwell has been instructing the boys for more than two years, helping Winter towards his green belt and Elan towards his blue belt.
“All the newer adults who come in think they’re ninjas,” Rothwell said, noting the two are seen as adults around the gym because of their abilities on the mat and their character.
“I’ve seen a lot of adults who take jiu-jitsu very seriously and train once or twice a day, like myself when I first started. But they’re doing jiu-jitsu three times a day.
“They’ll go to California, win a world championship or a Pan Am medal, and their parents ask if they want to go to Disneyland the next day to relax and they’re like no, we want to go find a local jiu-jitsu club.”