Tokyo Fight Club: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
A Guide To Mastering Grappling
In the arms of the crowded streets of Hiroo lies Carpe Diem, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) dojo, my final stop on the international circuit before I attack the more traditional Japanese martial arts.
As my eyes adjusted to the scene in front of me, Norikata Noda, my soon to be instructor, came over drenched in sweat. Behind him, multiple men and women were in boa-constrictor embraces on the floor, slowly attempting to choke each other.
I was there for the newly-started women’s class. However, it was a beautiful day outside and most were obviously out enjoying it. And so it was just the instructor and I.
BJJ is not for the faint-hearted. You will be “mounted”, you will smell the sweat from your opponent’s armpit and you will most certainly find your body being forced into positions it’s not used to. And there’s a good chance that your Gi (traditional BJJ uniform) will slip open whilst in the arms of someone else —and I don’t mean in the romantic sense.
As an initiation of sorts, Noda-san had me practice falling to the ground, throwing my arms to the side to stop myself from going right over, using the whole forearm and palm to do so and making sure to keep my chin tucked into my chest. I can confirm that if you let your head fall back and hit the mat, it hurts.
You will be mounted, you will smell the sweat from your opponent’s armpit and you will most certainly find your body being forced into positions it’s not used to.
This is a key principle, shared with parent-sport Judo. If you don’t learn how to fall, it is likely that you will injure yourself or make your life harder whilst in combat.
Once I had finished squirming around on the floor, it was time to engage with my partner who is also (may I add?), a fully-grown man, whilst I am the size of a fully-grown 12-year-old. We went through the most common and basic Jiu Jitsu moves to warm me up to the sport and get me used to some of the positions.
“Now, get out,” Noda-san said as I lay on the floor with him sat on top of me. Easier said than done. But, once you master the basic techniques, this will soon become second nature.
Using the so-called “hip escape” technique, which involves sliding over onto your side, Noda-san showed me the best way to get out. Making sure to create a frame with your arms to protect yourself, the force comes from the hips. By pushing yourself into a bridge pose, you throw your opponent off balance to give yourself the prime opportunity to slip into position. We did this multiple times with Noda-san’s close guidance, until I was able to do this relatively flawlessly.
[…] once you master the basic techniques, this will soon become second nature.
Next, we did a “side mount” followed by an “arm bar,” where your opponent’s shoulder is pushed into your neck whilst they hover over the top of you. A bit of a tricky situation, which gets worse, when they swing over your head to pull your arm back.
We practiced this a few times, me occasionally feeling a little pathetic when my body would not coordinate effectively. And yes, at some parts I did feel like a bit of a fool. But, eventually I managed to get my own back and pull Noda-san’s arm into an arm bar until he tapped out.
As if I weren’t exhausted enough, I then had to keep Noda-san away from me using my feet, spinning from left to right on my back whilst he stood in front of me. Certainly a more effective core workout than anything you’ll do at the gym.
Here coordination was key, bringing the correct knee up, keeping hands up in guard and eventually pushing yourself away from your opponent. It was a few tries before I got this right too.
Ultimately, the techniques you learn here are useful for any threatening situation, particularly where you are on the ground in a more vulnerable position. BJJ involves a lot of grappling and groundwork, unlike my previous kickboxing and Krav Maga sessions, and is effectively designed for even the smaller, weaker person to escape from.
Your muscles will benefit from a deep core workout, as will the rest of your body. You’ll come out feeling strong and well coordinated. Although you may occasionally feel strange rolling around on the floor, soon enough it all begins to come together and the feeling of accomplishment is like no other that I have felt doing any sport.
My advice? Go in with confidence; remind yourself that size and weight don’t matter. And be prepared to sweat, probably be covered in other people’s sweat, be in close quarters with every part of another person’s body and to use every single muscle you have.
It was an intense and sweaty session, but the feeling I had afterwards was pure triumph. Whether it was eventually making my way out from under Noda-san or being able to take control of the situation, BJJ is an empowering sport and workout.
It was an intense and sweaty session, but the feeling I had afterwards was pure triumph.
What to wear?
Make sure to wear a white or black round-necked top, I suggest a tight T-shirt so it fits well under your Gi. Leggings or tight fitting shorts work best under the baggy trousers. As always, it is practiced barefoot so shoes will be left in the changing rooms. All jewelry should be removed, and you should avoid wearing anything under your Gi that has zips or similar. Gi uniforms are available for rent at each studio, so don’t worry about buying one until you’re sure that you want to keep going.
Location: 5-1-13-B1, Shiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-6435-4803 (Japanese), 080 9644-0081(English & French)
Location: 5-14-2-3F, Hiroo, Shibuya, Tokyo
Tel: 03-6721-9302 (Japanese) 080-9644-0081(English & French)
Location: 4-26-16-1F, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-6427-4163 (Japanese) 080-9644-0081(English & French)
Location: Piso-Ikebukuro Bldg 1F, 2-62-1, Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
In the Savvy “Tokyo Fight Club” series, Maxine Cheyney heads to some local martial arts gyms to get fighting fit, release some stress and work on her straight kick. If you’ve wanted to up your fitness and self-confidence as well as learn how to throw (or block) a punch, Maxine will let you know what to expect in each discipline. Following her kickboxing and Krav Maga sessions, she will be exploring more traditional Japanese sport in her future articles.