Wandering Warrior-Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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This month we will be learning about the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Seta Reupenny from the Gracie Arizona Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Seta teaches the all women’s class on Saturday mornings.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that focuses on grappling and ground fighting techniques which can be used by a smaller person to defend against attacks by larger, stronger opponents. Specifically, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu refers to the style developed by Helio Gracie in the 1900s from a modified version of pre-World War II Judo including some techniques from Japanese Jujutsu.
Because of Helio’s slight build, he developed a fighting style using technique, leverage and timing allowing a practitioner to successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger adversary.Today, we train in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense, sport grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MMA) competition.(www.graciearizona.com)

The first thing I saw when I pulled up to the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy was a sign that read “PROFESSOR PARKING ONLY ALL VIOLATORS WILL BE CHOKED.” I thought, “These people are either going to be really fun, or I’m in for a world of hurt.” It was a little bit of both.

After I changed into a Gi that they were nice enough to loan me, I had time to sit and watch the kid’s class before mine. I was blown away. There were 30 kids in the class and EVERY single kid was enraptured in what they were doing. And, they weren’t just rolling around on the floor “playing” and having a good time. They were rolling around on the floor, demonstrating good technique and well thought-out strategy…. and having a good time! I have never seen 30 children that focused on one task. Impressive.

I was welcomed into the family before class had even started. Donna, an experienced student, had spied me sitting alone and waiting for class to start. She didn’t hesitate to come over and make me feel at home. She said hello and answered several of my basic questions. With Donna on my side, I felt more secure in learning something new, which was good because our fabulous instructor, Seta, was calling us to start.

Now, I should tell you that I started off my morning with a 3 mile run. I figured, “It is my first day of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, how much could they really have me do? I’m sure it won’t be a very thorough workout.“I have one word for that plan of action…..STUPID! Even though it was my first day,I had a very good workout. And, I’m sure as you get better and better, (and your
instructor can spend less time explaining and more time doing) it will be an even more challenging workout. We started by warming up. This was achieved by running around the perimeter of the mat forward, then sideways, the other sideways, and then backwards. We then proceeded to run to one side of the school and slide down the floor on our backs and sides. This is called shrimping. It kind of looked like a switchblade opening and closing, but on your sides. Seta had to demonstrate this to me and then explained that no matter how long it takes, you always finish the skill that you are working on. We then ran back to the other end. Next we did forward rolls down the mat, run back, followed by backwards rolls down the mat, run back. I missed it, as the rest of the class did bear walk (I was learning the beauty of rolling backwards over one shoulder from Seta). I caught back up with the class when we did monkey walk. These were kind of like cartwheels, but on your knuckles, run back. At this point Seta figured that we were warm. Yep, pretty warm over here.

We made a large circle in the room and then began to swing our arms to loosen them up. Ah, time to breath. Having swung our arms forwards and backwards, we stretched our legs. Yay, more
breathing. We did forward bends over our legs and then straddled our legs and leaned forward again. We were back in my comfort zone, now, and I was feeling better. We laid on our backs and circled our hips and legs and then rolled forward and backward, coming up to a squat each time. I was a little behind the class, but was rewarded with a smile when I finished all 5 of my required tasks.

Now it was time for partner work. I was worried that I would be all alone when Donna came over and saved me. Seta instructed the class to go through a set pattern of drills that help to
prepare you for “rolling” later. “Rolling” is like sparring in other martial arts. But since most of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) takes place on the ground, they call it “rolling.”

Donna did a great job of being patient with me and helping me to understand the “hows” and “where fors” of each technique. The first thing you need to know about BJJ is that you will be
VERY close to your partner. An anorexic tapeworm would not fit between the two of you while you are practicing. I took an all- women’s class and can see how this would be much more comfortable for a beginning student. That being said, the Gracie Arizona Jiu-Jitsu Academy is the only school that I have seen with an all women’s class.

Our partner practice started with “going up and down the body.” You practice where you would put your feet on the other person to gain the largest advantage.(hook behind the knees, locked on the hip joints, and pushing against the crux of the elbow). You work your feet up and down your partner’s body focusing and pushing as necessary.

Next, we practiced “sweep 1” and “sweep 2”. I never really “got” these two, but the general concept is to move your body around in the way that you would need to in order sweep your partner from the right or left side. A sweep is when you position yourself and your partner in a way that you are able to “sweep” their legs out from under them and they end up on the ground.

I felt much better about my attempt at the “berimbola.” This was an intricate combination of rolling over and placing your hands and feet on your partner. You use their legs for leverage and
move in and out of their legs in a rolling kind of dance. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty but at lease I kind of got it.

Finally, we laid on our backs and held our partners ankles while they stood. We did a series of leg lifts that would have made Jillian Michaels proud. I was beginning to see why Seta was in such great shape. Donna told me she was a mother of 6, but you would have thought her abs had been flat her whole life.

With our drills completed, Seta called us all together to show us the technique we would be focusing on that day. The all women’s class isn’t a beginner class, so this was an advanced description of the intricacies of the technique. Seta, carefully demonstrated all the weak spots you need to “shore up” in order to succeed when you roll. Fortunately, I had Donna to fall back
on since I had never seen these before. Seta had us focus on making sure that our weight is spread out evenly. She suggested that we visualize a tent. Each corner of the tent has a spike to hold it in place. We should endeavor to be this stable. It is key to stay close to your partner and block them from being able to move. If they can move, they can move you-not what you
After I had practiced with Donna for a while, Seta came over and showed me some of the places that I needed to shore up. BJJ is an excellent combination of physical workout and mental mastery.
It is like a chess game. You and your opponent are constantly searching for each other’s weaknesses. Seta, showed us one more key point to focus on and then it was time for us to roll. Donna left me, and I thought for sure I would just end up watching the others roll, but I was so impressed. One by one, the other students came over and invited me to roll with them. We switched
partners about every 5 minutes, and not once did I feel left out or awkward. One of the students always jumped right in and made me feel welcome. With that, class was over.

We shook hands and hugged each person from the class. If you If you had had the pleasure of working with that person that day, you thanked each other as well. After all the hugs were over, Donna came over one more time. She asked if I wanted to join her in the following class, as she usually stays for two more classes and then 2 hours of yoga. What? After I politely declined, she said she hoped to see me next Saturday. These are some Gung ho women, and I was inspired by their openness and commitment.

Where will you send me next?

Read the Interview and more on pg.43 at http://joom.ag/jSbb

-Jill Roth
Jill Roth holds her fourth degree Black Belt with the American Tae Kwon Do Association, a Blue Belt in Kempo, a level 2 Reiki and an NRA Certification in Basic Pistol. She has taught Tae Kwon Do across the country. She studies different types of martial arts all over the state and writes about her experiences in our Wandering Warrior section.

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