When people find out I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I often get asked why that sport in particular; what makes it special? Many people do not understand this martial art, some don’t even know what it is and some others feel it is too intimate; seeing people rolling around on the mats in very close quarters.
I, however, love it. I kind of fell into it so to speak, rather than making a calculated decision to start. I started out practicing a form self-defence at sixteen which segued into Sambo (a Russian martial art) for two years. I loved Sambo and my favourite part of the class was the hour long grappling session that usually happened at the end. No matter how battered or bruised I was for the following days, and even though I was one of the only girls in the class, I still looked forward to the next class. A few teachers even asked me if I was getting hit at home because of all the bruises! Naturally I told them that everything was fine!
Photos courtesy of Laura Jenney Photography
No one understood how a sixteen-year-old girl could enjoy such a sport and I was not able to communicate how good it made me feel. It wasn’t one of the “traditional” martial arts, which made it even more difficult to explain what it was. I had very big self-confidence and self-image issues and sambo started helping me to be more confident about who I was at 16 and who I was going to become. Sadly, we then moved to a country where I could not find a Sambo class, so I had to stop training. I tried many clubs, MMA and BJJ, in the various countries in which I found myself, but never felt comfortable in any of the clubs that found.
I finally found a home for my love of grappling when I moved to Lancaster, in the UK, at 23, where I would be studying at university. Kaizen Academy did not yet exist and the grappling classes were taking place at the Lancaster University’s sports centre. I showed up to one of the classes with little hope of liking it as the other has gone before, but boy was I wrong! When I stepped into that room everyone was so warm, friendly and welcoming and there were other girls there – several of them!
The teacher, Michael, taught his class bearing in mind not everyone had grappled before and I fell in love with grappling all over again. I had never had such a good session. As I found out throughout the class and others following, we were learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and it was taught to us in such a comprehensive and obvious manner that it left me wondering why no one else has ever thought of teaching grappling in this way.
I am now 25 and practicing BJJ in a great community at Kaizen Academy, which opened in October 2015. My training partners are people who love training just as much as I do, if not more, and we are encouraged to experiment and discover things for ourselves – bring ideas to the open mat sessions and develop our own styles. When someone asks me now why I do BJJ I can finally give them an answer: This is my meditation and my therapy. Once I get on the mat, the stress and worries of life fade away and I can centre myself and recharge.
BJJ is like a game of chess – but sportier! BJJ has helped see that one cannot always use brute force (and that you don’t always have to!) and that, like in life, fitness and quick can help you more than over large muscles. On the mats respect for others reigns along with dedication, hard work, laughter and joy. Kaizen Academy is my second family and any woman, or man, struggling with confidence issues, or wanting to discover themselves, or learn how to defend themselves should definitely consider taking up BJJ. It has helped me in so many ways, more than I could describe, and I have a community of friends that I love.
Blog post written by Cosima, and edited by Bryony.