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2021 Personal work

How one month of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu feels

My exposure to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as a late Generation Y adult, was muddy. As a tangential fan of the UFC, I had heard the name and knew it was a martial art that seemed to involve a lot of rear-naked chokes and a lot of armbars, but that was pretty much it. It was only after watching Fighting in The Age of Loneliness, a product of sports essay wunderkind Jon Bois, that I got a grasp of the sheer magnitude of the martial art’s importance and influence in contact sports. They discuss the story of Helio Gracie, the sickly and runtish man who insisted on learning judo and making it work for a man with no physical advantages, and how Helio’s son, Royce, dominated the UFC during its earliest years. A dynastic family of Brazilian champions who pioneered their own martial art in the 20th Century.

My one and only weakness in this world is romanticism, and this story was all it took to get me hooked on the martial art. Not long afterwards, I bought a (judo) gi and signed up for a monthly membership at Academia de Jiu Jitsu, the alma mater of Megjitsu. On my first day, in my first class, we practised a wrist lock. When my purple belt partner twisted my hand in a way that made me go from standing straight up to collapsing on the floor, I was absolutely hooked. In that instant, what happened to me felt like nothing less than magic. I couldn’t wait for the near future where I would be showing these techniques to an unsuspecting newcomer.
One month later, how much progress have I made?

The interesting thing about trying a new hobby is the expectations for it you never realised you had in the first place. They aren’t necessarily concrete, tangible things, but they are there nonetheless. A month feels like a long time to practise a single skill, it felt like a long time for me, and I did in some capacity expect visible results. Maybe I could tap out somebody, or do one of those imanari rolls I saw Ryan Hall do on Youtube once? As you might have guessed, I did not do any imanari rolls, and I did not tap anybody out. In fact, most of my time sparring is spent stuck underneath somebody bigger than me and struggling to get out, only to get caught and pinned again. If I was still doing BJJ under the expectation of firing off moves that sound like they came from a Tony Hawk game, I would have gotten frustrated and quit. Instead, I quickly learned to change my mindset.

What am I learning from each class? Am I absorbing what I am being taught? And most importantly, am I having fun?

Now, being on the wrong side of a sparring match between a 140-pound stringbean and a 200-pound athlete doesn’t sound like much fun at all, but it’s about perspective. In one months time, I’ve learned to control my breathing better, how to shift my weight when I’m stuck underneath somebody, and how to keep my mind engaged rather than panic in a sprawl. Rather than measure my success with leglock-shaped milestones, I’m grateful for lasting a little bit longer before I get tapped each time. It also feels fantastic to work up a sweat. I’m practically glowing after a full class, whereas on my starting days I felt my muscles cramping and my heart thumping in my chest. It’s difficult to put my finger on it exactly, but there’s a huge difference between making yourself tired doing something fun and doing it for some outside reason.

My enjoyment of learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has been affected greatly by how I framed my expectations. I am, ostensibly, the same person I was one month ago, with no stripes on my belt, but I also don’t really care! I look forward to each new class and do my best to live in the present of those classes when they happen, rather than project my brain ahead into some hypothetical future where I’m showered in belts and ankles. BJJ is also a beautiful sport to learn; every class a piece of this gigantic system is unravelled before you, as well as its own accompanying infinity of counters, counter-counters, and counter-counter-counters. You learn when you can relax your muscles and take some deep breaths; when to turn it on and send someone tumbling out of your guard, and yes, when to twist someone’s hand in a funny way and send them spiralling to the floor. I’m looking forward to every month after the first.

Reference List / Stuff to Check Out

Megjitsu – Composure is Jiu Jitsu
Secret Base – Fighting in The Age of Loneliness
Secret Base – The Bob Emergency
The Seido Blog – Traditional manufacturing: The Sashiko fabric
The Seido Blog – Embroidery & Japanese Translations on Martial Art Equipment
Munchies – The Pescatarian Diet of Kron Gracie, MMA Fighter
Rickson Gracie – Choke

By William

A third year Graphic Design & Illustration student currently studying at De Montfort University. I enjoy creating both physical and digital design and dabble in various creative outlets in my spare time.

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