Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Intro to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

As I write this, I am bruised in various strange places, like the sides of my chest, the inside of my upper arm, and the base of my skull. Why? Because I attended a BJJ seminar last night! Not last night as you read this - I attended the seminar on the 25th of October, but I've already got my blog laid out for last week, so this one's getting bumped into early November.

Anyway, this seminar was part of Syracuse Jundokan's ongoing "Guest Instructor" series, which is terrific. The first one I attended welcomed Sifu Sharif Bey from Syracuse Kung Fu. It was an excellent seminar, and my son and I completely enjoyed it. Sifu Bey is a dynamic and powerful individual, as a speaker, as a martial artist, and in general. You can see him co-star in a short film called Fighting, which may or may not be entirely safe for work.

I think I've missed a seminar or two in-between, but I have almost no direct exposure to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so I was absolutely not going to miss this one.

I first heard about BJJ back in the mid-90s, when the Ultimate Fighting Championships first premiered. These were billed as "anything-goes" gladiatorial cage-matches, almost along the lines of the "Kumite" from the old Van-Damme movie "Bloodsport." There was some of that, to be sure - powerful martial artists (I suppose) throwing punches, kicks, knees and elbows and pummeling each other bloody. But then the Gracie family would roll into the cage and before you knew it... not much. They'd get their opponent wrapped up in a ball on the ground, and then it was over. Que the "wah wah wah" sound. It was utterly boring, but certainly impressive the way they always managed to tie up their opponents and win.

In more recent years, BJJ has exploded in popularity, with many BJJ-focused dojos all around the country and many other schools offering their own BJJ curriculum (with varying degrees of authenticity and validity, I'm certain). Ground fighting is definitely a hot topic in the martial arts, and I was excited to see what it was all about.

Going in, I wasn't conceptually sold on the idea of training in ground fighting as a primary vehicle for self-defense. There's a lot of danger on the ground, even if you really know what you're doing. The ground may be broken or covered in something dangerous like glass or chemicals. Worse, you can really only fight one opponent on the ground at a time. If he has a buddy, you're likely to get stabbed or kicked in the head. Still, if you DO end up on the ground, it would certainly be beneficial to know how to fight your way out of it.

The guest instructor was Scott Schultz from Tai Kai Jiu Jitsu. He was a very skillful, down-to-earth guy who was an enthusiastic teacher and learner. He talked about living life in a way that continually challenges you to learn new things, and he was very up-front with the idea that BJJ wasn't the be-all, end-all solution to every combat or self-defense situation. But he knew his stuff and was very good at helping us to develop a set of basic skills in the short time we had together.

We paired off with a partner, and began with a simple exercise to insert your hand down under your opponents when the two of you are face-to-face with your arms locked. The technique gets a bit tougher when one of you drops into a bear-hug, but we learned that as well. Whoever's on the inside has much more control, so that technique was very important.

From there, we moved into a basic take-down. You'd bear-hug your opponent from the side, in a position where they couldn't reach much except the top of your head, and couldn't effectively attack that. The person performing the technique simply had to extend a leg and sit, and the opponent went down on their back, ready to be straddled or "mounted."

We spent quite a bit of time working that technique, and then we "tested" the mount by having the opponent (the one on their back) struggle vigorously to get the person on top off of them. I think this is where I got that bruise on the base of my skull.

Next we had the person on top apply a one-handed choke, and learned how the person on the bottom could defend against it. This lead to the attacker (still on top) actually rolling over and pulling their opponent on top of them. Normally this would put them at a disadvantage, but on the way over we grabbed the back of the opponent's uniform gripped their collar with the other hand, and applied an X-choke against them using the forearms.

I'm not ready to apply any of what I learned in a combat situation if I can avoid it, but if somebody threw me on the ground and jumped on top of me I think I did learn a little that would be helpful in defending myself. More, I have a basic sense of what BJJ is all about, so when I read about it or hear people speaking of it I'll actually know what it all means. I'm not ready to make BJJ my full-time martial art, but it's a very interesting style, and I'd definitely be open to learning more of it down the road.

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