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Getting a Grip: The Wonderful Sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

By Andrea Pow

Considered by some to be the ultimate form of self-defence, Brazilian jiu-jitsu requires no hitting or kicking and is accessible to men and women of all ages and ability levels.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art, combat sport, and self-defence system that focuses on grappling, especially ground fighting. It was formed from Kodokan judo ground fighting fundamentals and eventually came to be its own art through experimentations, practices, and adaptations from the judo knowledge.

Some people ask me why I’m in a sport that is not very ladylike, or why a woman would want to choose a sport that is all about fighting. To which I reply, I have full confidence I can defend myself and, if I ever had to, I’m not too concerned whether my attacker thinks I am ladylike or not. But I’ll be sure to ask him when he regains consciousness. 

BJJ promotes the concept that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend himself or herself against a bigger, stronger assailant. Using proper technique, leverage, and most notably, taking the fight to the ground and applying submissions such as joint-locks, arm bars, wrist locks, and chokeholds, enables a person to defeat the opponent while causing minimal harm. 

Size, fitness, gender, and age don’t always mean that the bigger, faster, stronger, and younger opponent will win. It’s a chess game where the right technique, skill, and timing can mean a smaller, weaker person, can defeat a much larger, faster person.

As a woman participating in a male-dominated sport, I see uniqueness and amazing qualities about it. I had to quickly allow people into my personal space and be comfortable with them. In addition, they had to trust that I would be careful with them and that I wouldn’t intentionally put them at risk. I also had to get used to the physical parts of a hard workout with someone in close quarters, like sweat, knowing that I’m wrestling with them. However, the amazing aspect of it is that I have made friends for life—friends across the country and internationally. The trust that comes with training and competing with friends, both male and female, has created a family and community that supports me.

There are many reasons why a woman may choose to practise BJJ. Often women decide to try the sport as a means to get into shape and lose weight. When coming to a dojo for the first time, a woman will quickly notice that the women training are different sizes and fitness levels. It truly is an all-inclusive sport that supports women of all sizes, shapes, and athletic ability and can meet the fitness needs of anyone.

Other women choose the sport as a means of self-defence. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. About two-thirds of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted. BJJ provides the means in which women can have the confidence, and the skillset, to defend themselves in a physical altercation, if needed. An attacker, using strikes and longer reach, can no longer be a threat when a woman uses self-defence techniques, rather than force, to her advantage. She can use ground fighting techniques and submission holds to defend herself and remove herself from an undesirable situation.

The confidence we learn from Brazilian jiu-jitsu is tremendous. I have seen women enter the sport reluctant and scared to attempt a technique or put themselves into a situation where they may have to defend themselves. After a few training sessions, seeing the look on a woman’s face once she has learned how to simply and successfully defend herself can be life changing. It is incredibly rewarding to witness the self-confidence and awareness in her newfound ability and knowledge that she has potential skills to be able to take care of herself.

While many women may choose to train in BJJ for the sport, fitness, and challenge, the comradeship that comes from training with other women is amazing. Women across all ages and stages in life have found lifelong friendships and support through BJJ. 

Grappling is a thinking game. When practising Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it’s a moment where all the worries, frustrations, and the stress of everyday life disappear, and the only task at hand is to focus on the mats. The concentration needed to learn and practise, as well as the opportunity to escape from the demands of work, home, children, school, partners—all the things that can add to stress to your life—actually makes training quite relaxing. Plus, the physical fitness of it definitely helps melt the stress away! 

BJJ permits a wide variety of techniques to take the fight to the ground after getting a grip on your opponent. Once the opponent is on the ground, a number of manoeuvres (and counter-manoeuvres) are available to manipulate the opponent into a suitable dominant position for the application of a submission technique. Achieving a dominant position on the ground is one of the hallmarks of BJJ, and includes effective use of the guard and sweeping to achieve an ideal position. When used by two experienced practitioners, this system of manoeuvring and manipulation can be likened to a form of human chess. A submission hold is the equivalent of checkmate in the sport, reflecting a disadvantage which would be extremely difficult to overcome in a fight, such as a dislocated joint or unconsciousness.

BJJ training can be used for sport grappling tournaments, mixed martial arts, or self-defence. Sparring (or “rolling”) plays a major part of skill development as it allows for the real—and safe—application of the techniques learned.    

Self-defence that relies on striking certainly has some applications, but jiu-jitsu has shown that once the opportunity to strike has been taken away (i.e., someone is on top of you), those skills are ineffective and you are defenceless. Jiu-jitsu has proven time and time again that it is the ultimate form of self-defence. It does not require hitting or kicking, it is applicable in all situations, and it can be applied by anyone of any ability or age.

Andrea Pow is a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and a brown belt in judo. She started training in martial arts eight years ago at the age of 33, and has competed in numerous tournaments, including international tournaments such as IBJJF World’s Masters, and most recently, in the IBJJF Pan Jiu Jitsu Championship in Irvine, California. She trains at Pacific Top Team Vernon, which is part of the largest Canadian-based Brazilian jiu jitsu team, Pacific Top Team.

*Reprint from our Spring 2015 Issue

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