Inspired by Bruce Lee, Tony knew exactly who he was and what he wanted to be. He would begin down the road of a lifetime of dedication to martial arts and began his training at the age of 10 at the PABA (Progressive Amateur Boxing Association) in Houston with Reverend Ray Martin, the "Reverend." Years later, he trained under Hawaiian Kempo pioneer and instructor, Gary Lee. He also moved to San Antonio for a short time where he trained in Tae Kwon Do with World Kickboxing Champion, Steve Ashcraft and received his black belt in that art.
At age 19, Tony moved to Los Angeles with nothing else in mind but to train, and train great. He trained with Bruce Lee's first students, Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo in the art form of Jeet Kune Do at the IMB academy. It was at this academy that Tony was introduced to Thai legend and seven-time Muay Thai World Champion, Nam Pha "Lot" Sarhardechio. Under Lot's guidance, and paired with Tony's undeniable drive, Tony was able to participate in some of the first Muay Thai matches ever held on U.S. soil.
Years later, after Richard Bustillo was asked to referee a challenge match between Rorion Gracie and a famous world champion kickboxer, Tony was introduced to Rorian, Rickson and Royce Gracie. Tony began training in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu during the infamous "garage days." Tony would often drive the Gracie brothers in his VW van to El Camino college where they introduced Tony to wrestling. In turn, Tony introduced and encouraged all three brothers to train in American wrestling. Tony received his BJJ Black Belt from Royce Gracie, making him among the pioneers of Mixed Martial Arts in the U.S. and of only a handful of Americans who had such a valuable and impressive opportunity.
A few years later, the world was introduced to Gracie family and the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu through Rorion's creation of the UFC. Royce Gracie won 4 consecutive tournaments, as the UFC was created with a tournament format to showcase the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
Tony has trained high-level superstars such as UFC veteran Mike "Quick" Sick, former PRIDE and UFC Heavyweight Champion. Tony is also an Official Judge of the (ADCC) (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) Submission Wrestling World Championship. Tony is now a Professor after recently receiving his black belt with a red sash and two white stripes.
23 years Thai Boxing, began with Nam Pha "Lot" Sarhardechio
20 years Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, began with Royce and Rickson Gracie
Black belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu under Royce Gracie
Only American, Official Judge of the World Submission Championships (ADCC)
Awarded & recognized as one of the best trainers in Texas
Awarded best competition team in Texas
Michelle started training in martial arts in 1994, when Tony convinced her to try Muay Thai. Her background as a dancer made the transition a bit difficult for her, and while Tony used to make fun of her kicks, Michelle shares that he, "doesn't do that much anymore. Tony is a talented teacher!"
In 1997, Michelle and Tony moved their training from their garage to the Torres-Aponte Academy. That same year, Michelle began to train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Two years later, Michelle and Tony both became certified in the Kardio Kickbox system under Steve Doss. After they were certified, Michelle started to teach the Kardio Kickbox class. This happened to be just after she had given birth to her second child. Her daughter was three months old, and Michelle found herself looking at a figure that was 50 pounds overweight.
Her body and lack of cardio made her feel nervous and insecure about teaching, but there happened to be a number of other mothers in the same situation. They all got fit together, and it made the experience more positive for everyone. This is why Michelle is such a great instructor for women. She has been there and done that and knows the challenges the female body will experience throughout the process.
Michelle not only teaches the Kardio Kickbox and Women's Fitness classes, she also manages all of the Urban Jungle Self Defense marketing, employees, billing and website. She also stays updated on tournaments, fights and any other martial art related event that might spark an interest in their students.
Michelle and Tony both feel strongly about the relationships they forge with their students. "It's all about the students. We truly work for them. We couldn't do what we love to do if we did not have such inspiring and loyal learners," shares Michelle. "I always admire the people who choose to walk through our doors after a long, hard day at work, or at home dealing with the kids. It is for this reason that our staff is trained to be on top of customer service, always."
Michelle and Tony are animal lovers and have two dogs, two cats, two ferrets, two bearded dragons, two water turtles and a Kinkajou named Yoda that looks like a monkey. Oh, and they also have three kids!
Michelle Torres-Aponte has over 21 years of experience in personal training, and over 12 years of experience in both Muay Thai Boxing and Jiu-Jistu. Michelle is an expert in her field and has a detailed knowledge of women's health and fitness, bringing exemplary skill and a unique ability to train women in her classes.
Michelle has graced many publications with her workout and fitness training tips, and firmly believes a man cannot train a woman like a woman can. Her taught programs tailor to women, their physicality and how their body moves and reacts. Michelle was the first female judge at the ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) Submission Wrestling World Championship. Michelle has held high positions and has been called "trainer to the trainers" at numerous boot camps across the U.S.
Michelle also has a way about her style that makes her clients feel at home. You are pushed to be your best, but in a way that gives you confidence in other areas of your life, as well. Michelle trains in a whole body mentality, which includes training your mind to handle the stresses of daily life.
11 Years Thai Boxing
11 Years Jiu-Jitsu
8 Years Kardio Kickboxing
21 Years Personal Training
ACIM - Certified Personal Trainer
ACIM - Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist Trainer
ACIM - ANSC Applied Nutrition Specialist Certified
BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU BLACK BELT - 4 STRIPES
James Pokluda is Urban Jungle's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu assistant instructor, and holds a BJJ Black Belt. He's also both a MMA fighter and MMA assistant instructor. James is also qualified to teach the Women's Self-Defense program.
BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU 3 STRIPES BROWN BELT
Robert Lopez is Urban Jungle's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu assistant instructor, and holds a 3 stripe BJJ Brown Belt. He is also a certified personal trainer and can help almost anyone reach his or her fitness and training goals.
Robert grew up with a brother and cousins and they were constantly play-fighting. Robert always had an affinity for grappling, but had yet to learn the true fundamentals of the sport; in those days, he just grabbed for a neck and squeezed. That all changed when his father showed him a VHS copy of the first UFC, and Robert's fascination with the sport began to grow. Robert identified with Royce Gracie, being a smaller individual and admired Royce's ability to skillfully finish fights with submissions. Robert believes that there is a gracefulness to ending a fight without striking.
At 23 years old, after a long search for the perfect gym, Robert came to Urban Jungle for a free trial class. He was drawn to Urban Jungle largely because Professor Tony Torres-Aponte has trained under Royce Gracie, and Tony's team had proven their skills in competitions throughout town.
At Urban Jungle, the entire staff works together as a family. Robert also shares in all the responsibilities. He will do anything from greet incoming students, answer the phone, assist with computer entry, clean, help advertise, and attend to financial matters, all in addition to training, of course.
Robert has a tendency to immerse himself in his hobbies, and he has dedicated a lot of time to studying Jiu-Jitsu outside the gym, as well and now views it as a total lifestyle.
Robert has represented Urban Jungle in tournaments at the local, state and world levels. He sold his car in preparation for his first world competition and has been riding his bike ever since. Through his fascination with nutrition, Robert attended culinary school and loves to cook good food. He also has three dogs and a cat, and enjoys experiencing nature first-hand. Robert also co-founded Kickin' Kombucha- a rebalancing probiotic tea that provides a great energy boost.
Robert now feels that he has found his true calling, and has rearranged his life in order to train others for a living. He loves the fact that everyone has his or her own Jiu-Jitsu. Each student is an artist in that capacity. The physical and mental challenges keep Robert coming back for more. "You truly connect with your body and understand the magnificence of its movement yet acknowledge its limitations. It provides such a beautiful balance that has enriched my life and provided so many valuable lessons and friends," shares Robert.
BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU 1 STRIPE BROWN BELT
Derek Laurel is Urban Jungle's Tiny Tots/Kids instructor, and holds a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Purple Belt. Derek was originally a student at Urban Jungle, studying Muay Thai and working on getting into better shape. He chose Urban Jungle for its proximity to his house, and now realizes how fortunate he is that his hobby has turned into a way of life for him.
As a child, Derek idolized Bruce Lee and wanted to train like Bruce Lee, but there was no studio near his home for him to attend. His solution was to watch the movie "Enter the Dragon" everyday. He even grew his hair like Bruce Lee. His stepfather ended up taking him to a BJJ class in Dallas, and Derek was hooked. He started training when he was 25. He now trains MMA, BJJ and Kardio Kickboxing at Urban Jungle.
Derek teaches the Tiny Tot and Kids classes. He also assists Tony whenever necessary with teaching or anything else around the gym that needs to be done. Derek has a caring attitude and down-to-earth teaching approach. Derek shares that "BJJ has changed my life and made me more confident in everything I do. There is nothing greater that passing that on to people of all ages. I couldn't ask for a better job."
BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU PURPLE BELT
Jesse experience at Urban Jungle started young. When he was in the second grade, Michelle used to teach kickboxing after school at his elementary school. Michelle was teaching free Kardio Kickboxing classes to promote the business and to give back to the community. Jesse's mother started doing the free Kardio Kickboxing classes and then decided to become a member of the gym. Eight years later, Michelle and Jesse's mother had become friends, and Jesse was offered a position supervising kids at the Summer Camps.
Jesse initially began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 16, and progressed to MMA and Kardio Kickboxing one year later. Jesse started training when Michelle offered to let him work to pay off his dues. Before going to his first BJJ class, Jesse learned everything he could about the Gracie philosophy and found out that a smaller person could easily submit a larger person with the right skills. That drove Jesse's desire to train even further.
Now Jesse does everything from scrub toilets to teaching kids classes, all the while continuing to train in MMA, BJJ and Kardio Kickboxing.
Outside the gym, Jesse enjoys being outdoors and creating 2D sculptures. He is currently attending UHD, majoring in business administration. And since Jesse received an award for perfect attendance from Pre-K through his Senior year in high school, he expects you to come to class when you say you will!
Jesse Bailon is Urban Jungle's Tiny Tots/Kids assistant instructor, and holds a BJJ Purple Belt. In addition, Jesse is a Kardio Kickboxing assistant instructor.
BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU 3 STRIPES WHITE BELT
Norma Nunez is Urban Jungle's Kardio Kickboxing assistant instructor, and holds a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu White Belt.
Junior Instructor - BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU BLUE BELT
Giovani Torres-Aponte is Tony and Michelle's son and he was only weeks old when his parents moved into the current location of the gym. While Tony taught class during the day, Giovani would be either hanging out in a baby harness with Tony or in a playpen. Michelle was managing a restaurant at the time, and so this lifestyle is all that Giovani has ever known.
Giovani has been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since he was just 3 ½ years old. He still practices Jiu-Jitsu today and started training in MMA when he was 13 years old.
Giovani has also practiced and competed in both Judo and wrestling. He was a member of the hip-hop dance crew, Fly Kids, along with his sister. Giovani currently plays football and runs track, and now helps to teach the Tiny Tots class with Derek; he loves to help the little ones learn the sport and see how it can apply to all aspects of their lives.
Junior Instructor - BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU GREEN/YELLOW BELT
Bianca Torres-Aponte is Tony and Michelle's daughter. As a child, she used to think the family actually lived at the gym, because she "would take a nap and wake up and we would still be there. I thought we have the coolest house ever," says Bianca.
Bianca has been practicing and competing in Judo tournaments since she was four years old. She still practices BJJ and just recently started to train in MMA, which she got into, quite frankly, because she was "born into it!"
Bianca also has dance training (like her mother) and used to be a member of the hip-hop dance crew called Fly Kids. Only 7 at the time, Bianca was the youngest member of the group. She then moved on to modern dance and performed with a cast led by Toni Leago Valle. The only child in that cast, she performed in Tetris in 2009, and Baptism in 2010. Bianca is also an artist, and loves to draw. She plans to start taking gymnastics soon, as well.
Bianca now teaches the Tony Tots class with Sensei Derek and Hallie, who Bianca has known since they were both in kindergarten.
Junior Instructor - BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU YELLOW/ORANGE BELT
Diego is Tony and Michelle's youngest son. Diego has been practicing Jiu-Jitsu since he was 6 years old. He enjoys drawing and singing.