I first heard about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2000, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. At the time I had been studying Karate for less than a year. As you might imagine, I had no idea what it was. I didn’t understand it and being completely ignorant I even made fun of it.
I first discovered Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2005 in Kuala Lumpur. I was talking to someone who has since become a very good friend, and he told me he had just started training Jiu-Jitsu at KDT, a gym a few minutes away from my apartment. I felt apprehensive about it, but still more curious.
My first BJJ class was on a Tuesday night. I walked in to the class not knowing what to expect. I was tossed around, armbarred, choked and just generally mauled. I walked out of the class stunned by what just happened to me. It was totally out of this world. Or, at any rate, the world as I knew it.
About a week or two later I went to the men’s room after class. I had just gotten my face smeared across the mat (thanks, Vince!) and was sporting a huge burn across my left eye. As I looked at my face in the mirror I suddenly felt so utterly, completely happy, I thought I was going to cry. In point of fact, I did.
Talking about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to someone who’s never done it is tricky. It’s like telling someone how to play a videogame: they can watch all they want, but they won’t ever really understand you until they do it for themselves.
Talking about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to someone who’s tried it but just didn’t get it is impossible. It’s like talking about politics or religion: you might be able to talk your point through, but you’d probably have more luck teaching a horse to pee standing on one leg.
Talking about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to someone who actively trains is unnecessary. It’s like preaching to the choir: you know it’s not going to accomplish anything meaningful but we do it anyway, as often as possible, because we just can’t help ourselves.
I’ve heard BJJ described in many ways: grappling, submission wrestling and ground fighting. I think one of the most appropriate ways to describe BJJ, and I don’t know exactly who said this, is that it is Human Chess. I like that description because it speaks to both the technical and tactical aspects of BJJ.
I have come, in my own journey, to equate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with music. There are only so many individual notes you can play. But, when you place them in different combinations, the possibilities that can result are most definitely endless.
Every last roll, or match, is like its own song. The pace can be slow and methodical, maybe even boring, or fast and frenetic, maybe even insane. One can be vastly different from another; you could also get one that sounds exactly like the next. It can be relaxed, soothing or playful. It can also be hard, forceful and intense. It’s all left up to you: what kind of experience do you want to create?
I trained in 2 styles of Karate for 4 years. I have nothing but love for my teachers, but looking back I realize that I had never felt truly confident, either in what I was doing, or in myself. I was getting pretty slick at performing kata, but after 6 months of not training, I had pretty much forgotten all of it.
What I have found in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is, no disrespect meant towards Karate or any Traditional Martial Art (TMA), something that works. It’s that functionality which first drew me in – and this is the kind of realization that usually only comes with getting choked out. If, as John Keats said, truth is beauty…then beauty is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Maybe I still haven’t really found that confidence that I was missing when I trained Karate – I don’t think it’s for me to say. What I can say is that I’ve come a pretty long way in the two years since I started training.
I think I see myself in so many guys that walk into our gym. I see guys who may have trained in something else, usually a TMA or even some “MMA” gym. I can see that when they start their first class, they are in the same place I was. I hope that I can be a good enough example to them, that they can see for themselves what Jiu-Jitsu can offer.