With its strange outfits and obsessive fans, Brazilian jiu-jitsu can seem cult-like to those on the outside, but for practitioners the martial art is surprisingly compassionate
Three years ago – five months after moving cities and one week after quitting smoking cold turkey – I turned up at a mixed martial-arts gym in Melbourne for the free trial class I’d booked: Introduction to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I am not naturally athletic and was sluggish and tired from changing jobs and cities. So I decided to give it a crack for reasons I’m still unsure about.
The first class consisted of various warm-up drills, which included hip escapes, where you scoot backwards on the floor down the mat, forward rolls (sort of like a somersault) and backwards rolls, where you roll over your shoulder. I was startled and embarrassed by my lack of coordination in these seemingly basic moves, but I was with lots of beginners, at least.
I had never felt so confused, embarrassed and out of sync with my body before, but by the end of the class, I felt the expansive excitement of having learned something.
I was going to have to come back to get the hang of this. As I watched the coach demonstrate a sweep effortlessly over and over again, the part of my brain that thought “I want to do that!” won out over the parts that were embarrassed and scared. That night, at home, I repeatedly googled “How to survive your first month of BJJ” and “What every new white belt should know”. I had to know.
Though the nerd vs jock trope is as old and tired as most clichés, as a book editor and poet I definitely over-identified as the nerd my whole life. But over time, jiu jitsu has sunk itself deep into my veins. After that first class, it soon became all I could think about.
To those outside, it can appear to be a cult. We wear funny-looking outfits (either a gi – jacket, pants and belt – or, for no-gi, spats and a tight-fitting rashguard). If you are friends with a BJJ practitioner, they’ve likely tried more than once to coax you to try a class at their gym. The sport was introduced to Australia in 1994, and interest in it has been on the rise15,000 practitioners in Australia today.
For the hooked, it seems obvious that everyone would love it if they just tried it. A popular meme doing the rounds lately goes like this: “Friend: What’s BJJ like? Me: It’s like Fight Club but you talk about it all the time.” Every day you can be choked, arm barred, sat on with such force you cannot breathe, foot locked, kimura-d (an effective shoulder lock with almost mythological history). You don’t have to worry about being kicked or punched in the face. Instead, you could tear an anterior cruciate ligament, or even knee yourself in the nose. How could you not like that?
It’s a sport that is not easy to decipher for “outsiders”: watching a match can be confusing without a basic understanding of the positions. To unfunny, homophobic television writers from the early 2000s, it might even come across as, god-forbid, a little gay.
But it’s also a sport for all body shapes and sizes. The technical depths of jiu jitsu are vast and ever evolving, and there are as many styles as there are body types.
As a woman, it’s a refreshing ego boost to be able to pin a person to the ground, to embrace all your heaviness, or to be told you’re annoying (meaning you made it difficult for your training partner to implement their usual game). This doesn’t mean I’d automatically be able to beat up a man who attacks me on the street – the confidence of physical ability this sport provides goes hand in hand with a very good understanding of what bigger opponents can or cannot do.
It’s also a sport that centres on learning. As a clumsy 31-year-old, I am not quick to pick up new skills, but where I was once afraid of being seen failing, I have learned to embrace failure as the starting place for improvement. Learning jiu-jitsu made me less afraid of that vulnerable space we sit in when we don’t know much. This openness to being wrong is something I try to carry with me in all areas of my life – as a writer especially.
In my three years of doing this sport, I’ve found that its soul-destroying, ego-clipping nature goes hand in hand with an intense connection and close-knit community. My training partners can beat me up because at the end of the day we have each other’s trust. Consent and support are beneath the violence of the grappling art. You trust someone to let go of their submission hold when you tap, and you don’t deliberately try to injure your opponent.
For me personally, this intense connection comes from the joy I feel when I help a newer person with a technique, and then see them pull it off, or the heart swell from having training partners cheer me on in a competition.
It’s a sport that is full of bravado and masculinity and strength, but also trust and compassion. Brazilian jiu-jitsu has given me an appreciation for my body’s abilities and confidence that comes from dedicated practice.
9 Reasons Why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Is The Perfect Martial Art
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or BJJmartial art based on grappling and ground fighting, focusing on the skill of controlling one’s opponent through techniques that force him or her to submit. It prides itself in being known as the “gentle art”, allowing a smaller, weaker person to use leverage and submissions (chokes, locks) to defend himself against a bigger opponent. With origins in Judo (Newaza) and Japanese Jujutsu, it has since been adapted and modified by Carlos Gracie and his family to become the martial art it is today.
The popularity of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has been on a steady rise over the years, thanks to the growing audience of MMA. Typical Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu jargon such as “rear naked choke”, “armbar” and “guard” have even become common vocabulary even among non-practitioners.
Today, Evolve Daily presents 9 Reasons Why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Is The Perfect Martial Art:
Contrary to popular belief, studies show that 95% of street fights end on the ground. The techniques you learn in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, which focuses on taking your opponent down to the ground and keeping them there, enables you to attack or get into a more dominant position. This gives you the upper hand at all times in a real-life self-defense situation.
In the event that you find yourself in a precarious situation, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a great second line of defense in case striking doesn’t work. As mentioned above, a street fight will most probably end on the ground, thus enabling you to incapacitate your opponent with submissions should the occasion arise.
Anyone: women, men, and even children as young as four years old can practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Because it is an art that is designed for a smaller, weaker practitioner to subdue much larger and stronger opponents, virtually anyone of any size, age or sex can practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Also known as the “game of human chess”, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners utilize a lot of strategy and technique in order to beat their opponents. In fact, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu student will probably come across hundreds of techniques and concepts in just a few years of training!
One of the greatest benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is how your body changes without you realizing it. Constant drilling sessions and sparring will certainly have an effect on your body! Because you’ve become so focused on learning new techniques, you don’t realize how much weight you’ve lost or how much flexibility you’ve gained in the process. Any workout that doesn’t seem like one is definitely a plus.
What do all of the top MMA fighters have in common: a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Anyone who has a solid base in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has the upper hand once the fight hits the ground. It is a great defense against wrestlers as well as strikers who aren’t as adept in the art. In fact, more fighters who aren’t as highly ranked in BJJ have found it necessary to learn how to defend it or prevent it from being used.
There are days when you feel like you’re at the top of the world and then there are some days where you wonder why you even bothered to attend class. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu exposes you to a roller coaster of emotions that not only makes you stronger physically but mentally and emotionally as well. You have to be ready to accept failure, learn from it and move on. Doing so determines how far you’ll succeed in the martial art.
ONE FC World Champion and BJJ Black Belt Shinya Aoki teaches students how to maintain the mount position.
Whether you are a black belt or a white belt, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches you to accept that you will never fully become a master of your martial art of choice. Not only are there hundreds of techniques out there but there are also new ones being discovered everyday. You then realize that the only way to improve is to continuously work on it everyday and remind yourself that you have a lot to learn. By taking it one step at a time and acknowledging your achievements, who knows how far you’ll go?
The more you train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the more focused you become on the bigger picture; an important lesson you learn on the mats. Now, nothing can faze you. Whether it’s stress from work or being dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, you realize that some things aren’t worth beating yourself up over, giving you an edge over those who aren’t used to experiencing duress on a daily basis.
Whether it’s to learn self-defense, the start of a new hobby or wishing to further your martial arts repertoire, there’s no doubt that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a beautiful art that is accessible to anyone. From its countless lessons to its physical benefits, it becomes clear: the more you train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the more you realize that it is more than a martial art – it’s a lifestyle.
Enter your email below and get inspired to unleash your greatness.
Evolve Daily guarantees 100% privacy. Your information will not be shared.
Evolve Mixed Martial Arts® is Asia’s premier championship brand for martial arts. It has authentic World Champions in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, Boxing, Wrestling, and No-Gi Grappling. Named as the #1 ranked martial arts organization in Asia by CNN, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, ESPN StarSports, Tokyo Times, and many other leading authorities, Evolve MMA aims to deliver the best martial arts instruction available anywhere on the planet.
Homosexuality in Jiu-Jitsu: Why A Taboo Subject?
For those who do not know me, in my life I have two interests, the psyche of the human being and martial arts. These two things have the advantage of quickly showing you what hides behind the speeches, attitudes or expectations of each practitioner. I will return to this later.
Today I want to highlight a conversation that I had recently with a Brazilian female friend about the homophobia that is present in Brazil. After a general conversation, we came to the subject of homosexuality in sports and especially in Jiu-Jitsu.
Since the many years that I’ve been training Jiu-Jitsu, I thought that I had heard it all. I remember when traveling to Brazil, I was told that Jiu-Jitsu ‘Pitboys’ would beat up gays and transvestites , because they were ‘disgusting’ (I’ll spare you the words).
So what about at home, in France, in our dojos? I like the idea of the neutrality of dojos. We wear the Gi to avoid highlighting our political beliefs, moral, religious or even sexual, we leave our differences aside for a few hours. We practice to become better in our daily lives.
Our sport is a contact sport, we are always glued to our partner. When I ask a practitioner, if they would mind rolling with a gay person? There is often a problem, a discomfort. As if the fact that since the person was gay, they would take advantage of the situation … Is that what also happens when a man rolls with a woman? They take advantage of it?
Quickly you feel discomfort in this subject. I remember a few years ago on a popular MMA/BJJ forum, a thread went crazy with the type of statement: “if I learn that there is a ‘beep’ at the academy, I would not hesitate, I wouldn’t let go of submissions, I’ll make sure he does not come back …”
Knowing that many gays do not make their coming out and even less in the ultra macho world of combat sports, do you honestly think that a guy or girl, would come to BJJ just to ‘cop a feel’ of a training partner? We are in a sport that hurts, that makes us undergo pressure in each roll, which requires courage, training, sweat and blood … Do you think that they would come in an academy for something else, that to learn and love this sport ?
A few years back, I was talking with a gay friend, who training Judo. He joked about the locker room and the fact that judo forms athletic bodies. When I asked him if his sexuality was present at the training, he smiled and told me that he loved judo, that it was his sport and that nothing else interested him in the academy.
It is true that the dojo, is not a nightclub, it is not Tinder, it’s still very rare that there have to have people flirting on the mats Wether it be men or women, straight or gay when you’re at the academy, your goal should be to advance and evolve .
If tomorrow, a friend that you train with for years, told you they were gay, what would you? Would you beat them up? Would you refuse to roll with them? Still, you have to face it, there are gay BJJ practitioners, you have surely come across some, you may have even rolled with them. Did you feel like you have been abused ? Did you notice things that seemed suspicious to you? Also, can’t gays also be warriors ? To go further, all the guys who look up to 300 and Spartans as being brave and powerful warriors, do they know the habits of our Greek friends in antiquity?
As I mentioned, in my eyes the Academy is a sanctuary. A neutral place, a place that allows all those who accept the rules of the dojo, to share, to learn, to practice, without trial . We love BJJ, talk about family, we like to highlight respect. Would you reject one of your friends who has experienced the same hard trainings, the same stressful events, because they do not live their private life like you?