"What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu anyway", I thought.

I heard of Rickson Gracie when I was 17. Rickson Gracie is a legendary martial artist who never lost a fight. He had more than 400 fights. My friend told me about him and the Gracie style of fighting, which is now popularized as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). I didn’t really get into Rickson or BJJ at that time, but I remember I was quite impressed with this Rickson guy.

About a year later, I ended up starting my journey of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It was in Tasmania, Australia and in 2002. I was there to take a university preparation course at University of Tasmania. During a campus tour, I noticed a poster for University of Tasmania BJJ club in the sports gym. I remembered about this style of martial arts and Rickson Gracie; I joined the club and started practicing BJJ.

At the BJJ club, I was the smallest person, both my height and weight considered. I’m about 177cm (5’8) in height. I think I weighed around 60kg (132 pounds) at that time. I did Kendo for 5 years. I did a bit of Judo for physical education classes at high school. But I wasn’t good at any sports. I wasn’t physically strong either. Get my 17 old self go for a run. He would be one of the last ones to finish. There was no way I could beat my training partners with my (non-existent) physical strength. This situation forced me to be smart about training. I had to sharpen and to rely on my techniques.

A BJJ match consists of two phases, broadly speaking. We could call them the standing phase and the ground phase respectively. In the standing phase, your primary goal is to bring the match into the ground phase while keeping a better position than your opponent’s. You can take your opponent down by throwing or tackling him or her. Alternatively, you can pull your opponent into yourself.

In the ground phase, your primary aim is to submit your opponent by locking his or her joint or choking him or her. To make this goal easier, you need to take a better position than your opponent’s. What’s meant by a ‘better position’ is quite simple: it’s a position where you can be safe and rest while your opponent has to struggle to get out. There are various techniques and moves that lead you to such a position. Scores are awarded when you take a better position or do a move that leads you to such a position. If the match doesn’t finish within the designated time limit before any successful submission happens, the winner will be decided on the basis of the scores the competitors got.

BJJ puts greater emphasis on the ground phase. Naturally, those ground techniques compose the heart of BJJ and BJJ tends to get attention for such techniques. I believe, however, what’s really striking about BJJ is not just how effective these techniques can be.

There are two factors to take into account if you wonder whether you should learn BJJ or not. One is how each technique can be taught in a systematic way; the other is how anyone can do the basic techniques. Every technique can be broken down into a few basic principles. If you understand these principles and how your body and your opponent’s body work, you just need to make sure you control your opponent’s body with no rush or unnecessary strength, and to execute the technique you wish to execute. Since the basic techniques don’t require great flexibility or strength, it’s possible for you to learn some of the basic moves at the first lesson and to try sparring if you want.

My point is that if your physical condition is such that you can walk with no problem, you should be able to do the basic moves of BJJ after a few hours of lesson. It will certainly take years to master those moves, but there are almost no prerequisites for starting BJJ. You don’t need to be crazy flexible or super strong.

By the way, the most important and first thing you should learn in BJJ is to tap before you get hurt. You can certainly practice tapping at the first session. It may be embarrassing to get toyed with by someone smaller than you, but it’s a necessary route. It can be a great way to let go of your ego as well. Your instructor should be able to match you up with senior people who know what to do. You don’t need to worry about getting hurt and smashed at the first lesson, unless the gym you chose was the wrong place to go.

After you’ve learned how to lose, the next thing you need to learn is how to survive. Survive first. This way of thinking is prominent in the Gracie way of fighting, I believe. Survive through every attack your opponent does, preferably in the safest position you can get. When you’ve survived from such attacks without using any energy, your opponent is likely to be more tired than you are. When you have much more energy left than your opponent, you have a greater chance of winning, even if your opponent is twice larger than you.

I’m inclined to think the Gracie way of fighting can be applied to real life, non-fighting situations as well. That’s one of the things I like about the Gracies and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Where do you think this ‘survive first’ way of thinking is relevant and applicable? In my view, to survive is to keep showing up no matter what. As long as you don’t give up and tire yourself, you can always increase your chance of winning.

Watch a demonstration done by Rickson and his brother Royler here.

“The primary objective of Jiu-Jitsu is to empower the weak who, for not having the physical attributes, are often intimidated. My Jiu-Jitsu is an art of self-defense in which rules and time limits are unacceptable.”  – Helio Gracie