Looking Out To Sea

First lesson in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Why BJJ? It seems interesting and it seems safe. As fascinating as boxing is it’s a clean straight path to head trauma and brain damage. BJJ, like its close cousin judo, focuses clearly on being able to stress test without causing any undue damage. (Famous last words. We’ll see what my knees can still do when I’m sixty.)

I went to a class at CrossCombat in Tollcross after work on Thursday, just above the Scotmid near the King’s Theatre. I arrived while they’d been doing some warm-up so didn’t see what the beginning of class looked like. And given the timings I may rarely see the class start — it just takes slightly too long to get from Haymarket station.

After being led through a short warm-up (standard jogging, side-steps and so on) I joined the rest of the class for a warm-up free-play, trying to maintain dominance then onto the first teaching moment, the scarf hold. Initially I was just trying to maintain the hold while my partner would escape. The people on top moved round trying out the move on different partners, then the two roles reversed. Being underneath was exhausting and felt very vulnerable. It was amazing how much weight some people seemed to exert though they looked (and claimed) to be pretty slim.

Next round was transitioning from the scarf hold to a north-south choke. This was more than a little daunting and even the feeling of the choke being clamped on — never mind taking effect — is quite debilitating. Also it tends to happen with your nose in some sweaty dude’s armpit which isn’t cool either.

Thereafter my brain hit overload, so took the executive decision to ignore all the “then you could do this, or this, or this” suggestions as clearly not aimed at me. If I could even remember the scarf hold by the end of the day it would be a miracle never mind all the other transitions. Walk don’t run.

The end of class was more free play though this time I had something I could positively focus on. Each person I sparred with gave me a little tip or piece of general advice: “keep your body close so you don’t give space to manoeuvre”; “turn so you’re facing your opponent when they try to move”; “keep your hands close and tight if mounted”; “relax so you don’t tire yourself out”.

The last point was the only one where I thought to myself, “hang on a minute, that’s not fair”. I admit outright that it makes total sense and with expertise comes the ability to relax into the game. But the game here is about positioning and since I really didn’t know what were good positions or transitions to get into them my only real intention was to frustrate the efforts of whoever I was sparring with. Without a plan of my own, I could only resist the plans of my partner. Given time I hope to relax into the situation. Then I will feel less like my muscles were given such a pummeling.