Updated: Oct 25
Before getting into Jiu-Jitsu, I had already trained consistently in multiple primarily striking arts reaching the rank of first-degree black belt and beyond. For years I had toyed with the idea of getting into grappling but continued pushing it off until an opportunity presented itself. I was training in Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido at a shared space with an MMA school.
Then in a strange turn of events during the pandemic, I was offered the opportunity to add all three MMA school offerings to my training routine (BJJ, Wrestling, and Dutch Kickboxing) at no additional cost. This was an offer too good to refuse. And as they say, the rest is history.
I especially enjoyed the BJJ program which is an excellent complement my base art of American Kenpo. All arts have a lot to offer and pack surprises. Today, I’d like to share some of the surprises I’ve encountered in Jiu-jitsu.
Fun I’ve always been one to enjoy martial arts. I find it hard to believe that some people don’t enjoy training. That said, I assumed I would like BJJ training. That would turn out to be an understatement though. Rolling is exceptionally fun. There’s not much like pushing yourself, safely, to your physical limit against another person with a common goal. Though, it is most important to check your ego at the door.
If you let your ego rule you on the mats, you’ll likely be disappointed, hate the process, and maybe even end up injured because you’re too stubborn to tap when necessary. If you can let go of the need to win and replace it with the desire to learn, you’ll find great enrichment on the mats. Brotherhood You might assume that folks rolling and trying to strangle each other would become adversaries. However, quite the opposite is true. As you and your training partners push one another to your absolute limits, you develop a bond, or brotherhood, that few others will understand. Rolling with higher ranks When you’re first starting out or early in your journey, you may feel better about yourself rolling against other newbies. You may “win” a few submissions or at least survive without having to tap. That can feel good for the ego (remember, we should have checked it at the door), but it limits growth. Rolling with higher ranks typically is when we grow the most. They are often good enough to allow you to flow through some options during live rolls and let you test your skills before shutting you down. As a beginner, it’s humbling when a smaller, more skilled person completely controls you on the ground, but if you’re willing to take the lessons, you’ll grow by leaps and bounds. Grueling As I mentioned before, I was already an avid martial artist before starting BJJ. I also lift weights on average at least five days per week. Despite this, the first week of rolling was incredibly taxing on my cardiovascular system. I felt like throwing up after every class. Fortunately, that only lasted for about a week. I still find BJJ workouts incredibly grueling, but learning to relax during rounds has made all the difference.
Grip I can’t say enough about how important grip strength and grip endurance are in jiu-jitsu. Whether grabbing a gi or a wrist, the ability to hold on can be the difference between completing a submission or escaping. If you’ve never rolled and decided to try it, you’ll be amazed at how much control one person can have over armed only with good grips.
Injuries One of the reasons I stayed away from Jiu-Jitsu for as long as I did was the concern of getting injured. Injuries can and do happen, but many can be avoided if you don’t let your ego rule your attitude on the mats. Interestingly, when it comes to injuries, you may be more concerned about rolling with a high-ranking practitioner thinking they may hurt you, but the exact opposite is true. The spastic white belt who moves without control is more likely to injure training partners accidentally. So, as mentioned before, it is best for all involved not to let one’s ego push the action. Work with the techniques your instructor teaches you, move with control, and stay safe protecting both you and your training partners.
Intensity One wonderful thing about Jiu-jitsu training is that you can slowly adjust intensity on the fly. You can move with intent and fluidity and reasonable speed as you spar with your classmates. Then as you work your way to submissions or escapes, you can slow down the action and work through both sides with controlled strength. This is an excellent way to keep the intensity up while remaining safe.
Laundry Practitioners argue day after day over which is better: gi or no-gi. Each has its own list of pros and cons. All I’ll say is that no-gi makes for a lot less laundry.
Moving on/Letting go One great lesson repeated daily while rolling is learning when it’s time to let go and move on. When people start rolling, you will see that if they get a grip or a hold that they find advantageous, come hell or high water, they won’t give it up. This serves them briefly, but then the position changes, and it ends up being their own grip that is holding them back from progressing in a given roll. This is a living metaphor for life that the astute practitioner can learn from every day on the mats. If you already study jiu-jitsu, I’m sure you have some wonderful stories about your experiences on the mats. If you haven’t given it a whirl, it may just be time to give it a try. Stand up striking or grappling on the ground, the lessons are plenty for all involved.
Salute, Ian Lauer