Originating in 1882, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu really took off in the early 90s when BJJ expert Royce Gracie won the Ultimate Fighting Championships. Despite fighting larger opponents, who were practising boxing, wrestling and karate, Gracie took the crown. And suddenly, the MMA world was hooked!
Since then, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been credited for highlighting the importance of ground fighting, and consequently become an essential art for many MMA fighters.
On a personal level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a great way to stay fit and learn self defence, and for many people it becomes a way of life. One such person is Carl Fisher: a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor with over 20 years experience. He’s on a mission to get everyone involved in his favourite sport!
Take it away Carl…
How I got involved
I’ve been involved in martial arts for over twenty years and have travelled all over the world, training at some of the best academies on the planet, in my never ending quest of self-improvement in the grappling arts.
My introduction to BJJ came about in 1993 when the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was held and Royce Gracie from Brazil showcased the effectiveness of BJJ and that was it, I was hooked. I was already training in Traditional Jiu Jitsu and the only way to train was by reading magazines and watching VHS tapes. That’s right folks, VHS tapes!
There was a network of like-minded folk back in the day that swapped videos and magazines and over the years, people visited Los Angeles to train with the Brazilians who were teaching out there and I became one of these guys in 1999, training at Rigan Macahdo’s academy in LA. The legendary Dan Inosanto, one of Bruce Lee’s original students, was a brown belt there at the time and is now a black belt, still teaching and training. Plus there were many other world champions and famous MMA fighters all training at the academy and around the LA area. It was, and still is, the place to be for any serious BJJ/MMA practitioner.
I now hold black belts in Karate and Traditional Jiu Jitsu and am currently a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), teaching and training in London; I have competed extensively in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu all around the world and also competed in Judo and Sambo competitions.
What to expect at your first class
Anyone can train BJJ, with people from all walks of life rubbing shoulders on the mats; rich and poor alike exchange techniques and roll with each other and there are many celebrities that train BJJ, including Guy Ritchie, Jason Statham, Prince Jackson and Ashton Kutcher, to name a few.
Walking through the door of a BJJ academy for the first time can be very intimidating, especially if there are people already on the mats, practising techniques and rolling with each other, before the class takes place. That said, every person on the mat at that time will have been in your place, walking in for the very first time and will know what’s going through that person’s mind and I’ve yet to train in a BJJ gym where the newcomer has been ignored and left to fend for himself.
Before a class: everyone shakes each other’s hands and introduces themselves and as class starts, there will be partner drills, which means the new guy will be paired with a more experienced guy and a lifelong friendship starts.
Warm-up: Typically it will involve running round the mats, break falls, forward and backward rolls, a drill known the world over as ‘shrimping’, also known as a hip escape. Every coach brings their own years of training methods to the classes, so no two warm ups are the same.
Partner drills: After warm up, partner drills are practised and these can be on just about anything to do with the different aspects of a BJJ fight; in a competition match, fighters start from standing, so the first thing that happens is either a guy gets a takedown, or they pull guard. At this point, cross training in Judo is a must and many of the academies in the UK and around the world, offer Judo classes and heavily encourage training Judo.
Position practice: After warm up and drills, specific training takes place, taking out one part of the rolling jigsaw (guard pass for example) and partners will practice just the one position as set by the instructor; rolling will end a typical session and the instructor will put people together matched to their belt and skill level.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an art that one can study for life, providing you train smart and don’t get badly injured; most injuries occur when one first starts training as everything is new and when people start sparring with each other, also known as ‘rolling’, especially at beginner level, their egos take over and it becomes a fight for life and inevitably injuries can and do occur.
Leaving your ego at the door will prevent you from the misery of broken fingers, dislocated joints, ruptured tendons and much worse. Enjoy every session and if you get tapped out, shake hands and start again. Tapping out allows you to prevent serious injury and you can resume training a few seconds later. If you don’t tap you might not train again for weeks or months.
There are many health benefits associated with training BJJ; every session you will walk away with increased levels of stamina, strength, endurance, self-confidence, balance and much more. You will face battles on the mats every session, rolling with the badass higher grades, getting submitted again and again, night after night. Yet there you are the next night, back on the mats, rolling with these beasts until one night, you become the beast and you take a step up the ladder. Life will never be the same again.
Picking yourself up off the mats at the end of class, drained of energy, battered and bruised and returning for the next class, demonstrates an inner toughness you only get from regular training and all these skills cross over into other areas of your life.
All the pressures of modern life, work, bills and other worries can be tackled head on. You’re a fighter now, you can respond under intense pressure when you are used to having a fifteen stone purple belt mount you in class, looking to submit you.
BJJ is one of the best stress busters around, trust me. Had a bad day at the office? Simple, get the gi on (BJJ outfit) hit the mats and smash some rounds of rolling in and you’ll soon forget your bad day.
It’s like moving Zen when you roll, you instantly become aware of the right here and now, nothing else matters in life except the guy you are rolling with, so your brain takes a respite from worrying and takes a well-earned break.
Sure, your worries will be there after class, but you’ve had a chance to forget them for a while and that can only be a good thing. Just repeat this process by going back to class and do some more training.
In addition to all the health benefits associated with BJJ, are the many friends you will make both at the gym and through competition; in competition you are both fighting for the same thing, but once the whistle blows, regardless of win or lose you will have made a friend for life and gained each other’s respect for stepping up to fight.
I’ve made many friends in all my years of training around the world and regularly keep in touch with everyone; the BJJ world is very small and everyone knows everyone. If you want to travel and see a part of the world far better than a regular tourist, start training BJJ, get on a BJJ forum and post that you are travelling to X and where’s the nearest BJJ gym?
You will be inundated with people willing to help you out find a place to train and more often than not you’ll not need a hotel either, there will be a room for you with one of the students. Not bad eh?? In addition, contact my good self and I’ll hook you up anywhere in the world and that’s a promise!
So what are you waiting for? If this piece has made you want to try BJJ, then drop me a line and I’ll point you in the right direction for a place to train and if you’re in London, the doors of my gym are always open. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu really is for everyone.
Carl Fisher teaches at Checkmat Wimbledon in London and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out www.checkmatwimbledon.co.uk for more info on class times.