26 Mar 2011

My First Ever Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Lesson!

The rather awesome Slidey managed to find this long lost masterpiece on an internet archive. I've been looking for that article for years ever since I lost it when I upgraded computers and lost all my data, which coincided with the host server of my old trad JJ club website closing down. Seeing this again is like coming across a very old diary entry and half wincing, half feeling chuffed that I managed to record for posterity such a landmark moment in my life.

Anyway here it is in all its raw and innocent glory. Bear in mind that it was written for a Japanese Ju-Jitsu audience at a time (Apil 2003) when BJJ was much less prevalent in the UK than it is today...

April 2003
It may be from Brazil, but it's still Jiu-Jitsu.
By Seymour

So you've been a regular practitioner of Ju-Jitsu for several months, if not several years. You are learning new techniques and getting that warm glow of excitement as you see your own ability grow with each body drop and hip throw. You want to find out more by scouring the internet and thumbing through texts in the biggest bookshops. The 'Favourites' section on your internet browser is brimming with ju-jitsu websites and forums. Your own growing library of books will definitely include classics such as the 'White to Green' and 'Blue to Brown' books written by you-know-who.

I bet, in your search for all 'ju-jitsu' related items, you've come across clubs and books based on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). You take a look, realise that it's not your style and move on. But next time you do, maybe it's a good idea to take a closer look. On the surface, although it appears to be a ju-jitsu style of some kind, the terminology and whole ethos seems entirely alien. New words like guard, mount, half guard, Americanas and Kimuras pop up, throwing you off the scent. Famous fighters like the Gracies, the Machados seem to be honoured in almost reverential terms -are these guys really as invincible as their hype seems? Keen to find out more, I went to visit my local 'Gracie' gym and discover what all the fuss is about…

In a small, dingy basement dojo somewhere in an untrendy part of West London a dozen or so Ju-Jitsu students practice their moves seemingly much like any other Ju-Jitsu class. The instructor calls a halt to the lesson and the beckons everyone to pair off and start sparring. This is where the difference between styles becomes apparent, here, most of the session is taken up with ground-work sparring and these guys are practicing one of the most notorious forms of competitive combat - Brazilian Ju-Jitsu.

I had heard much about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (they prefer to include the 'i' in the word). The style began when a Japanese jiu-jitsu and judo master taught his techniques to two young brothers in Brazil in the 1900's. The brothers continued to teach their own children and over time, refined their techniques pretty much by trial and error with a mixture of rigorous practice and open fight challenges. The style was truly put on the world stage by Royce Gracie who devised the UFC (Ultimate Fight Championships). Royce challenged, and won, against fighters from various disciplines such as kickboxing, wrestling, judo and many others, and showed that taking opponents to the ground and working on applying chokes and limb locks, he could defeat much bigger opponents, whatever the style. The UFC has spawned many other big money competitions and nowadays, the fighters train in what is known as 'Mixed Martial Arts' or 'No Holds Barred' - a combination of all the best techniques from many different martial arts.

I turned up at the class and the regulars eyed me up, acknowledging my presence with a wary nod. Gulp! These guys were huge, with thick necks and strapping muscles. Not outwardly friendly, I guessed they did their talking in their fighting. I chatted to the more friendly looking student and made the mistake of revealing I knew a little 'traditional' Ju-Jitsu. There was much rolling of eyes and perhaps a hint of disdain from the others. No matter, I was prepared for some stick, but willing to stand by what I had been learning for the past five years.

The first thing I noticed about the BJJ class was how informal everything was. I had no idea who the instructor was, but there was certainly a large contingent of Brazilians merrily chatting away in Portuguese. I was finally spoken to by possibly the biggest man in the dojo - he introduced himself as Wilson and that he would take the class today. No one calls him sensei - simply Wilson. There was very little bowing and general dojo etiquette.

The class started with a simple warm up - easy, I can do warm up, I thought. Then came a series of excruciating neck exercises - now I knew how these guys got their thick necks. I paired up with a blue belt that looked a little reluctant (no one wants the rookie), and the instructor proceeded to show us a variety of groundwork techniques. Not bad, I could follow this and it wasn't too alien to me at all. What was interesting was that everyone from white to brown participated in learning and practising the same techniques. There was no segregation of syllabus by belt colour. A little unorthodox perhaps, but it seemed to make sense.

Then came the sparring, three pairs of students were singled out by the instructor and allowed to grapple for five minutes - a huge amount of time in fight terms and very energy sapping. They were good and even my undiscerning eye could detect skilled techniques such as chokes, locks, guards and defences being applied. I was happy to watch thinking my rookie status would exempt me from sparring. No such luck! The instructor beckoned me forward and paired me with another chap around my size.

My opponent was actually smaller than me, very skinny, smiled constantly and did not wear a gi. Great, a beginner just like me. I couldn't be more wrong. He was good, very good and danced around me like a slippery octopus. It must have been only ten seconds before he found an opening and executed a stunning arm bar on me. We continued, I tried my best but he was too fast, and next came a swift choke out. I was starting to feel dizzy but we had to continue. The others who were spectating were teasing him that he was being unfair, he retorted that I knew traditional Ju-Jitsu so it was fair! Me and my big mouth.

Arm bar after choke after arm bar, I lost count of the times I had to tap out. All the time he was offering advice like, don't turn your back one me, or, protect your neck all the time etc. As soon as I did something foolish, like turning my back, he showed me why I shouldn't. I also realised why the neck strengthening exercises were important, as the neck was a key target.

My five-minute baptism of fire was soon over, it seemed like an hour to me and I was exhausted. My opponent smiled and moved onto someone much larger, making mice-meat of him too. I couldn't get over the fact that my previous Ju-Jitsu skills seemed rather redundant on the battlefield of the floor. I talked this over with Luca, the club secretary and he was sympathetic. He explained that their emphasis was very different and the only way to be good was to practice everyday. The club students also train in kickboxing and Vale Tudo ('anything goes' mixed martial arts) and it was obvious they take their training very seriously and all were aiming to be great competitive fighters. I consoled myself with the knowledge that the emphasis with my present self-defence oriented style is very different though equally valid. Brazilian Ju-Jitsu offers very few standing techniques or throws, striking and kicking are not allowed and even breakfalls are limited to a simple rolling or side breakfall. Perhaps that's why the students here train in kickboxing too.

I left the dojo with a sore neck; an allergy to arm-bars and a somewhat dented pride. But I have decided to continue my training there and increase my knowledge of groundwork. I feel it was very important for me to remain grounded (excuse the pun) and continue to learn more from other systems. I faced up to my weaknesses and that's a good start I think. One day, I might even be able to hold my own against the smiling skinny guy who so expertly finished me off.

Seymour went to the Carlson Gracie London gym on Harrow Road.

FOOTNOTE: Zooom, back to 2011 now. That 'smiling' skinny guy I referred to is none other than Alain Pozo, who I interviewed recently. And no, I cannot hold my own against him, not even remotely. hahah, Ah happy days......


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


slideyfoot said...

It's been enjoyable reading through your old posts: glad my random journey down your memory lane resulted in something useful! :D

AndrewWrites said...

This was awesome!! So cool to read. Thanks Seymour!

Stuart said...

Your post reminded me of my first BJJ lesson, think I’ll catch up with the rest of your early posts now

Brown Bear said...

Very good read.

Elyse said...

HAHA this is great!

Anonymous said...

This is fixed into my Memory. I recall it well. It remains a great read. Well done - and for continuing it so well.

Peter McC

Anonymous said...

Great! Luca from CG Team Bulldogs


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