Why I Love Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


There are two types of jiu-jitsu matches: the ones you extend and experiment with, and the ones you end as soon as possible. The former are for grappling with friends and learning. 

This was the latter. 

My opponent was a boy my age, one I’d fought before. He was aggressive and out of control, and had been known to hit me with a stray arm or foot on accident. I glanced up, waiting for the match to start and instead meeting the eyes of my audience. Several young girls were watching us, and I knew I had to set an example. 

Brazillian jiu- jitsu is a sport designed for the underdog. Winners are skilful, rather than strong. You can control a match from the bottom, unlike wrestling, all of which is to say that women can easily match men. However, many men believe they will win simply because they are men, often bigger and stronger. Teenage guys especially don’t appreciate being shown up by a girl. 

Once I fought with an ex- policeman with prior jiu- jitsu training, a match that lasted 20 minutes and ended in a draw. For context, most last 5-8 minutes. He was shocked and exhausted when it was finally called. Later, I told this story to a boy I was dating at the time, and he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “well, he must not have been a very good cop, then.” Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last. 

So I was used to being underestimated. I liked to use it as a surprise tactic, but I also wanted respect. I didn’t want boys to think I was an easy win. I wanted all of those little girls to look up to me and know that they had the potential to beat everyone in the room, regardless of gender. 

I turned back to the boy, we fist bumped, and the match began. I zeroed in on his chest, center of motion, the eye of the storm. I prefer to fight defensively at first, waiting to see what my opponent does, and predictably, he lunged for me, trying to secure top control. I let him, slipping my legs around his waist at the last second to pull him into my guard. He squirmed around but I held him firm until one of his flailing arms knocked me on the temple. I gritted my teeth, fighting back my anger. My instructor noticed and called for me to take a breath. I exhaled hard, captured his hands, and flung my leg around his neck, clamping down and hooking my legs together to choke him out. One… two… three… I squeezed tighter and he tapped, hard.

Immediately, I pulled away, breathing hard. It hadn’t been much more than a minute. I had made my point. To sweeten the deal, the boy recovered his breath and muttered, “wow”. If I had ever felt like a superhero, it was then, sweaty and triumphant, looking at the pride in my instructors eyes and the admiration of everyone watching. As much as I wanted to smile, I kept my face neutral, wanting the little girls to know that this wasn’t a one time deal, or a fluke. 

I’ve always been a quiet person, and I knew here that my actions spoke louder than words ever could. Here was a space where I, a woman, could be in control and powerful while surrounded by men. I remembered watching the older ladies win matches, wishing I was them, and I realized that I had finally achieved that goal. 

Adjusting my gi and hair, I nodded to my opponent as he left and finally allowed myself a smile as the next person in line groaned, knowing they had to fight me. It was a wolf's smile, freed from her wool cage.

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