I’ll share with you my thoughts after training for about a month. I’m going to talk about why I started, what my experience has been at my gym, and whether or not I think it’s worth it to keep going.
What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
First let’s talk briefly about what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is (also written as jujitsu and BJJ). Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a martial art that focuses on grappling instead of punching and kicking. It’s very similar to wrestling. The goal is to take your opponent to the ground and submit them – meaning you get them in an arm lock, foot lock, or head lock where they have to tap out.
I won’t go into the history of BJJ, but you can read up on where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came from here.
Why I Started Jujitsu
I was at a very stressful time in my life. From work to family to other circumstances, I found myself losing my temper often. So I needed an outlet to release my pent up stress and energy. Exercise is a natural way to do that, but most exercises were just boring to me. I never enjoyed going to the gym, running, biking, or swimming – it was all too monotonous.
I did take limited martial arts in my life and remember enjoying it. As a kid, I took 2 years of kung fu, and in college I took a year of karate. Looking into taking another martial art, I wanted something that would also be practical for self defense, and landed on BJJ. Later in this article, I’ll share how practical I think it is compared to other martial arts.
BJJ is Physically Intense
I’m not sure how other gyms that teach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu operate, so I can only speak to my own experience at the gym I started at. From the first day, I was sparring with opponents.
The class started with light warm-up exercises like pushups and jumping jacks. The middle portion of the class was focused on learning and practicing 3 sets of moves with a partner. Then the last portion of the class was round robin style sparring, focused on using the moves we had just learned.
There were a few people on the mat, and challengers lined up. We would go up to one of the people and start sparring one-on-one. The winner would stay on the mat, while the loser went back into line until it was their turn again.
I’m a small, skinny person, and so I was mostly sparring against opponents who were bigger and stronger than me, not to mention more skilled since I was just starting.
The nature of jujitsu sparring is physically intense and demanding. You’re trying to get control and maintain dominance, and get your opponent to tap out, or give up, by essentially bending their limbs to the point of extreme pain or choking them. Students in the class do exercise control, but sparring in BJJ is somewhat aggressive and violent, since the concept is kind of “If I bend your elbow back any further, it will break, so hopefully the pain you’re in right now is enough to cause you to give up.”
Needless to say, my joints were always sore for a day or two after the training.
Jujitsu Moves Are Complex, But Effective
The moves in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are complex. They require multiple steps done in sequence and were sometimes hard to remember. Even when practicing with a partner who’s compliant as you go through the moves, I had difficulty executing the steps smoothly, and questioned how realistic these moves would be in an actual fight.
So when we got into sparring, I forgot the moves completely. Much of the sparring for me was amateur wrestling – I was just trying to get my opponent on the ground and squeeze, or try to escape.
However on the receiving end, it was a different experience. Opponents who had trained for awhile knew the moves, and when applied to me, they were extremely effective. I found myself in positions where I simply could not move no matter how hard I struggled. So the answer to my question was clear – Brazilian Jiu-jitsu moves worked, and they were effective.
BJJ is Practical Through Sparring
What makes Brazilian Jiu-jitsu unique and practical is its high focus on sparring. Other martial arts have a focus on routines and memorization, but without sparring, you don’t know if the moves actually work, no matter how well you can execute them. Perhaps it varies by gym as well, but when I took karate, I remember sparring twice the entire year. And during that sparring, there was none of the fancy moves and routines we learned – everyone defaulted to elementary punching and kicking, even the higher belts.
At my BJJ gym, we spar at every training, and rotating through different opponents gives you a experience with different fighting styles and different skill levels. Sparring introduces resistance – there is a person actively opposing your moves, so you can really know if your moves actually work. I had considered other popular, high-intensity martial arts like Krav Maga. But upon doing further research, I discovered there’s usually no sparring in Krav Maga gyms. The moves look intense, but it’s one thing to memorize a series of moves with someone who goes along with it, and something else to try and perform those moves in a live combat scenario where the other person is trying to attack you.
That’s where I believe jujitsu excels in practicality. Both sparring partners are using all their strength, speed and skill against each other, actively trying to defeat each other. In that scenario, it’s a very close simulation to actual combat, and makes the skills you learn more useful should the need for self-defense ever arise. When there’s a guy twice your size sitting on top of you trying to strangle you, it feels very much like a life or death situation.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Lacks Punching & Kicking
That being said, my gym doesn’t teach punching, kicking, or blocking against it. There are some BJJ gyms that incorporate some level of punching and kicking into their training. But at my gym, both the routines and sparring don’t involve any striking.
Therefore, it’s difficult to know if these moves would work in a practical street fight. If there was a scenario where I was attacked and had to defend myself, I may know enough of the basics to protect myself… IF they weren’t trying to punch me. But I’m not sure if myself or any of the others in my gym would be very successful if the opponent were using their fists.
Yet the upside of no punching or kicking is that you can actually spar safely. Unlike other sparring martial arts like boxing or MMA, where it’s expected that you’ll get hit multiple times in training, participants of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu mostly walk away uninjured despite the intensity of sparring.
Gi vs No Gi
Most gyms, including mine, train with wearing a gi, the uniform most martial arts use. You’re familiar with it – white pants, jacket, and knotted belt. It’s made of a very tough material that doesn’t stretch or tear, so a lot of moves incorporate grabbing sleeves and collars. There are moves in which you grab the foot or hand sleeves to control your opponent’s motion, or grab their jacket collar and pull it around their neck in an attempt to choke them. These moves are all very much a part of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments as well.
However, these moves simply wouldn’t work in an actual street fight for several reasons. The opponent might not be wearing long sleeves or long pants, so there wouldn’t be anything to grab. They may not be wearing a jacket, so moves involving the collar wouldn’t be possible. But even if they were wearing all that clothing, it would just stretch or tear since its not constructed like a gi, deeming those moves ineffective.
Most Brazilian Jiu-jitsu gyms will train with a gi, while some gyms train with no gi. Many, like mine, train mostly with a gi, with occasional sessions for practicing without a gi.
Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Worth Continuing?
I’ll definitely be continuing for the near future. It’s a unique way to exercise that’s out of the normal routine of running, cycling, or gym machines.
There are martial arts that focus much more on balance, meditation, and precise movements, but that’s not what I was looking for. I wanted something a little more physically intense and practical for self-defense, and BJJ might be a great choice. I’ll share more in future posts as I progress and learn more.
Originally published on Medium.