How a Striker Fell in Love with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

It’s been over a year now since I started learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I had seen it used by fighters like BJ Penn in the UFC, and it had fascinated me for a long time. As a stand-up fighter, the ability to take someone to the ground, control them, and ultimately win the fight by choking them out or breaking their arm was very interesting.

It wasn’t until a few years later that my interest in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ, went from watching MMA on the couch to rolling on the mats. I was in Singapore to visit family and enjoy some much needed R&R, when I walked into Evolve MMA, a multi-million dollar MMA complex, with the best Muay Thai and BJJ coaches in the world.

BJJ has a long and interesting history. It has evolved from Japanese martial arts, and been tested in BJJ, “full contact,” and MMA fights. It has been notably refined by the Gracie family in Brazil, thus the name: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

BJJ fights take place predominantly on the ground and involve fighting for dominant positions, such as side control, mount and back control, and submitting your opponent through chokes or submissions such as arm-bars.

I didn’t know a lot about BJJ when I walked into Evolve, beyond its relevance in MMA. Before I started training, I learnt that I needed to wear a gi for the first time in my life! My initial class involved a warm-up which included some cardio to raise our heart-rates, and dynamic stretching to get our joints and muscles ready to grapple. Coaches Almiro Barros and Alex Silva demonstrated a basic technique for us, passing the guard to mount, then getting an arm-bar. After practising the drill with our partners, we were given time to spar, or roll, with each other. I was filled with a lot of aggression (did I mention that my holiday served the purpose of self-appointed stress-leave?) and took my muay thai attitude onto the mats. Like most first-timers, I was all braun, no brain. My attempt to pass my opponent’s guard involved me standing up and body-slamming him. Not cool. I look back and laugh a little at myself now.

Almiro, Alex, and Takeo Tani worked with me over the two weeks I was in Singapore and taught me some of the basics of BJJ. They gave me a lot of encouragement. I remember them asking me, “Are you sure you haven’t done BJJ before?” It was probably a little good-natured flattery, but it was nice. By the time my holiday was over, I had fallen in love with BJJ. Takeo made me promise to find a coach and continue my training when I went back to Australia.

On returning to Adelaide, I sought out some referrals for good BJJ gyms, and one of my muay thai coaches, Jeremy Keeping at Rikers Gym, put me in touch with Michael Toyama at SABJJ, where my BJJ journey has continued ever since. I’ve gone from seeing BJJ as simply a means to transition from muay thai to MMA, to an art form which I love in its own right. After nearly a year of being the smallest person in the gym and getting smashed by bigger guys, I’m gaining more skills and beginning to understand that BJJ, perhaps more than any other style of fighting, enables a smaller, weaker opponent to take control of a fight through intelligent application of good technique. I’ve improved my strength and conditioning, especially through my core. After having done muay thai for ten years, BJJ challenged me to use my body in completely different ways. I’m still the only woman in the gym (where are you, ladies??), but have found that BJJ, due to its emphasis on intelligence and technique over blunt force trauma, is conducive to good training partnerships between men and women. I’ve received a lot of support not only from my coaches, but from more experienced students who are happy to make friends and share their knowledge with me. I’m still a white belt and have a long way to go, but I can’t wait to test my skills in BJJ competitions, and in the cage.

Interested in improving your fitness, learning how to defend yourself, transitioning from being a striker to a well-rounded MMA fighter, and making new friends through Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Michael Toyama is adding mixed beginner’s classes and women’s only classes to the schedule at SABJJ. Check out the SABJJ website and Facebook page for details and up-dates. See you on the mats!

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