It’s hard to watch when you want to play.
I’ve been watching my 8-year-old son practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the past year and a half. It reminds me of my younger days practicing Karate. The more I watched him practice the more I found myself entertaining joining as well. It wasn’t long before I did just that.
Once I decided to take the plunge and sign up I thought it would be fun to write a blog post on my experiences during my first month of practice. I hope you enjoy reading about the beginning of my journey with BJJ.
I started practicing Shotokan Karate when I was 17 and fell in love with the art. Practice became a focal point in my life and it was all I wanted to do. After 5 years of hard practice, I reached the rank of Nidan ( 2nd-degree black belt).
I looked forward to continuing my practice and knew it would become my way of life. Two years later I dislocated my patella playing hockey on roller blades. I still remember the exact moment it happened because I knew that this injury would prevent me from seriously practicing my art for months or even years.
I was right, my ortho doctor discouraged me from having surgery to repair the damage and to rely on physiotherapy instead. The recovery time was considerably longer. It was a frustrating few years not being able to practice at the level that I was used to.
My knee never healed to the level it was before the injury. I would practice when it felt good and mainly would lead the kids class. While I was waiting for my knee to heal life continued on and I met my future wife. Soon practice took a back seat to marriage and eventually children.
I continued to practice my art daily on my own to maintain my level and just because I love to practice. I would pop in from time to time and practice with the club but life would make it difficult to be consistent. I missed being part of a martial arts family.
Watching my son develop the same love for a martial art made me decide to step out of my comfort zone and give BJJ a try.
Return of the white belt. First practice.
Leading up to class I was nervous, I could feel some toxic anxiety creeping in but I was determined to go. Once on the mat I relaxed a bit and introduced myself to the other members practicing. There were two other guys starting today as well. I tied on my white belt and took my place at the end of the line.
It was unique feeling being the new kid on the block. I looked down the line and recognized that all the strips on those white and blue belts represented milestones that required blood, sweat, and tears to achieve. I was excited to begin my journey.
Once the warm up started and we began running around the mat I realized just how out of shape I was. This is an area I need to improve.
We went over a few closed guard passes after stretching. I was paired up with John who’s a blue belt. He was excellent to work with and taught me a ton. Chad came over to us and listened to John as he gave me tips and showed me different submissions. As Chad walked away he shook his head and said something about blue belts wanting to show the new guys everything they know in the first class.
One thing I’m going to have to get used to real quick is how personal you get with your opponent. John told me that everything your mother told you about personal space and being nice has to be thrown out the window. Get in there and mix it up.
The last ten minutes was all rolling. It was here that I realized how much of a beginner I am. I was completely dominated. My partners basically allowed me to work on what we learned today but they didn’t make it easy, I had to fight for every inch of position. Once I was depleted of energy and there was only a few seconds left in the match they turn it on and submitted me with ease.
It’s a weird feeling to be dominated like this. It felt great, it really was like I was fighting for my life. Every time I’d relax my opponents would take the opportunity to advance their position. My opponents are going to drive me to improve and I’m going recognize quite quickly what will work and what won’t.
After class, it took an hour for my hands to stop shaking but the calming feeling I experienced was obvious. It was the release of frustrated energy I needed. It was great to be part of a martial arts club again. I can’t wait for the next class.
Second practice. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
I felt a little more at ease heading to practice this evening, excited even. I was looking forward to building on what I learned last week. It was a bigger class today with about 20 members ranging from newbies like me, quite a few blue belts and one purple belt.
The warm up started as usual with running around the outside of the mat. Then sprints and rolls and shrimping thrown in. This was stuff I was familiar with and it felt good knowing I didn’t have to watch what everyone else was doing to figured it out.
After stretching we jumped right into working on techniques. One the senior white belts whom I met the previous class grabbed me to work with him. Chad showed us a pass to get out of side control. Once again it involved five or six steps to perform it properly. I’ll be happy if I remember the first three.
We took turns working on the technique and my partner helped correct my mistakes. Each step can be broken down into further steps. I’m just hoping that I will retain some of it for when we begin rolling.
Ok, now it was time to roll. I heard someone moan and say something about six-minute rounds. Wait, what? I looked up at the timer and sure enough, there were six minutes on the timer. Holy shit how the fuck am I going to survive this. I thought three minute was a long time. Oh well, suck it up buttercup. Another white belt grabbed me as his partner. We shook hands, bumped fists, and off we went.
He was tough. Even as a beginner, he knew enough to make my life hell. I just worked on my positioning and tried to remember what I just learned. We rolled hard. My partner continued to try to improve his position and I just tried to make it as difficult as I could. Then it happened, I tried a sweep while he was in my guard. I grabbed an arm and bridged as hard as I could and the next thing I knew he was on his back with me in mount. What the fuck just happened, did he let me do this so he could work on things from being in a weaker position or did he tire out and I was actually able to capitalize on that? Whatever, it felt awesome.
The round came to an end and I shook hands with my partner but there was little time to catch my breath as people were already pairing up for the next round. One of the younger blue belts grabbed me this time. I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be pretty.
I knew right away when the match started that this kid knew what he was doing. My plan was to just not get tapped. The fight went to the ground quite quickly and I was unprepared for the level of pressure this young guy put on me. He felt like he weighed 200 pounds, not the 130 he looked to be. Every time he moved he was able to keep this pressure on me until he finally was able to force me tap.
— Because Jitsu (@Because_jitsu) December 24, 2016
When we started over it continued off like before. I focused on survival until it happened again I was able to bridge out of guard into mount. Before I could get too excited he swept my mount and I ended up in his closed guard. I went for a cross collar choke which I was pretty sure was going to fail. I was able to get a good grip but I couldn’t make him tap. He was just too experienced to let some newbie choke him out. I held on for dear life for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, he was able to break my grip on his label but before he was able to do anymore damage the round ended. I was gripping so tight on his gi that I had a hard time straightening my fingers after.
After three six minute rounds, I was exhausted. A few people were sitting out having a water break so I was unable to partner with anyone. I sat with them and they gave me some pointers. A blue belt walks up to us and asked if we wanted a match. Even though I was exhausted and I still couldn’t open my hands I stood up right away. I might not be the most technical in the club but I wanted to show that I’ve got heart and will take on whatever challenge that comes my way.
Everyone so far that I’ve trained with has been super helpful and patient. It’s awesome to see the enthusiasm from all the members. You can really see that they love the art of BJJ.
The aftermath: well, I had the usual battle marks all over my arms and shoulders and it took all night to be able to straighten my fingers again. My left shoulder is quite sore which is odd because it’s my right shoulder I usually have problems with. I’ve separated it a few times over the years. The last time I wrecked it was when I was stepping into my empty hot tub to clean it. I slipped on the wet surface and as I was falling I put my hand out to catch myself and out it popped.
I think I’ll go Tuesdays noon practice because they are a bit lighter, then take Wednesday off and finish the week with Thursdays noon practice. Hopefully, this will give my shoulder a chance to heal.
Third practice. I’m getting old
I woke up this morning feeling very stiff and sore. I definitely injured my left shoulder slightly the night before. I’m thinking it’s just inflamed and not an actual tear, I hope. A doctor I am not.
We worked on drills from last night’s class. I worked with a female blue belt. I’m around the same size as her so she wanted to work with me. By the end of the drilling, I felt I had a better grasp of escaping side control or least surviving it.
We had time to have two six-minute matches today. I faced a blue belt and a senior white belt. I was truly amazed, I was able to hold my own and survived both matches without being submitted. And every once in awhile I was able to sweep out of mount and improve my position and it felt awesome. I still think they are allowing me to by taking it easy on me. Whatever, I appreciate the confidence boost.
During my first match with the blue belt he ended up in my guard and I noticed that his arm was posting on my chest. I subtly grappled his sleeve and slowly began working my hips up his body. He looked down at me and said do you really think that’ll work on me. I said no I don’t but I’m going to try anyways. Of course, my attempt triangle choke failed epically.
The one major difference between training in BJJ and Karate is the ability to recognize what’s effective and what’s garbage in real time. In Karate we train as realistically as possible but it’s impractical to match with each other like it’s a realistic situation without someone getting seriously hurt every match. That’s why the style of Karate I practice is so strict about maintaining the techniques and training processes that were developed by practitioners that actually used this art in real combat. A huge shout out to Canada Shotokan Karate and Shotokan Karate of America.
In jiu-jitsu, your opponent can go at you hard, gain position and submit you with highly effective techniques. As a beginner, you have no choice but to fight hard and try to survive the attacks. You quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.
Fourth practice. Memory please don’t fail me now.
I learned the kimura today. Very cool submission. We, meaning me, learned it from starting in side control then moving into top mount then applying the move. I’m going to practice this one a lot.
I worked on the kimura with another white belt. He told me that he has been to around 10 or 11 classes. When I rolled with him earlier in the week it was apparent that with only a few months of training your skill level increases quickly. This becomes apparent when facing a new member.
Now that I’m working the next four days I won’t be able to go to any classes. After work in the evenings I’ll work on the techniques I learned over the past four classes with my son. Hopefully, I’ll remember them all. I’ll also work on solo drills. Especially bridging and shrimping. I really hope that I retain some of the skills I learned in the past week so when my days off roll around again I won’t be starting over.
Physically I feel pretty good. There really isn’t many parts of my body that aren’t sore but it’s a good sore. My right shoulder is still quite stiff but I think it’s healing so I’m not going to worry about it. I’ll check out doctor YouTube and see if I can find a physio program to follow that will strengthen both shoulders. I felt that my cardio improved by the end of the week. The top half of my torso is covered in bruises but I look at them like badges of honour. I can see myself becoming addicted to this.
Fifth practice. Never underestimate your opponent.
Chad was away today so we had Jaret lead the practice. It was great to learn from another senior as he approaches teaching from a different angle.
We worked on gaining back control which was the first time I’ve been introduced to this position. One article I read recommended that small practitioners should focus on learning to take the back. Which is a hella of a lot easier to say than to execute. I’ve never come close to taking someone’s back.
After showing the technique he wanted us to work on, he asked if we had any questions. Yes, I have questions, all the questions. We partnered up and worked on back control techniques. One of my partners was a white belt visiting from another club.
Rolling time. My first partner was the guy from the other club. We started from standing and danced around for at least 30 seconds trying to find a hole to take the other person down. I went in for a trip and I ended up in a guillotine choke. We ended up on the ground but I was able to squeeze out of the choke. I found myself in his guard and he began to pass. As I worked on preventing the pass I could feel him slowly working his legs up towards my shoulders. It was like there was nothing I could do to stop it and I had to tap out from a triangle choke. That didn’t feel good.
— Chazz Sutton (@chazzsutton) December 26, 2016
We started over and this time I was more cautious and fought him like he was a blue belt and not a no stripe white belt. That was the first time I had to tap to a white belt. It was going to happen eventually I was just surprised how quickly it happened from a beginner like myself. Our second go around ended in more of a stalemate.
My second match was with a senior white belt. He was quite a bit bigger than me but he was one of the regulars and he wanted to work on escaping from side control so we began with me in that position. It was great to practice improving my position all the while being thwarted by my opponent. It was a good roll.
Every once in while a black belt would visit from another club at my Karate school. Usually, these guys were bigger than me so whenever I had to face them in a match I would use my A game. I was always surprised how I never had much trouble with outside practitioners. Maybe they didn’t think I was much of a threat being smaller than them. Even after I would hit them a few times and they woke up I still felt like I could handle them. There was always this pressure to show what our club was made of when a visiting black belt would show up to practice. I’ll never underestimate my opponent again when we are rolling.
Sixth practice Time to kick some ass.
We worked on a judo sweep for the technique tonight. I felt pretty comfortable with it after practicing it a few times.
Rolling went really well. I made my opponents tap three times during the matches. The last gray belt I faced was a challenge but I eventually wore him down. Oh, did I mention that I was helping out at my son’s kids class?
I enjoy helping during the kids class. It gives me an opportunity to see Chad teach the fundamentals and hopefully, it will reinforce what I’m working on during the adult class.
Seventh practice. I have a plan.
Jaret lead the class today. We started off with some cool drills to warm up. I had trouble with a couple of them but part of it was a lack of core strength. No doubt if I do these drills regularly that issue will rectify itself.
After drills, he showed us a technique on how to slide into our opponent to setup taking the back. I kept getting confused on which leg to slide in with but with the help of my partner I did eventually figure it out.
Next was rolling. I faced two white belts today during my matches today. The first was Kevin who was about the same weight as me but much younger and taller. We started on our feet but I was quickly slammed to the ground and ended up on my back. It was the hardest I’ve been thrown so far. Lucky I still remembered how to break fall from when I was in judo as a kid. He was strong and fast and again he was able to keep his weight on me constantly making it extremely difficult to find space to improve my position. It was a good match and it gave me some things to think about.
My second match was with a white belt my age but larger than me. This time I was determined not to be taken down and we remained on our feet hand fighting for quite some time. I went for a single leg takedown but they were able to sprawl out of it and I ended up falling to the ground and landing on my neck. I felt a tinge in the side of my neck which I knew would feel stiff in the morning. My opponent remained relatively in side control the entire match. I was able to shrimp out of side control into guard a couple of times but I always ended up back in side control. The match ended when I forgot to tuck in my arm and they tapped me with an americana arm lock. Straight arms are broken arms. Lesson learned.
After today’s class, I realized that I’m one of the oldest and smallest members of the club. The younger group will be faster and stronger than me and the bigger members will always be able to use their weight to their advantage. I need to figure out what skills and techniques I need to develop to counter these advantages.
First, I’m starting to discover that being on the bottom fucking sucks especially side control. And whenever I achieve side control or mount the larger guys sweep me at will and I end up underneath them again.
So, after a total of six classes here is my game plan. I am going to focus on strengthening my guard. I feel relatively comfortable in guard and feel that it is harder for my opponent to put their weight on me. And since it’s difficult for me to stay in mount or side control I’m going to work on taking the back. I’ve no idea how I’m going to achieve this but my coach will give me some tips. There you go, my game plan for the next few months.
Eighth practice. Wow, what a month.
Good size class tonight with 16 members with a good mix of white and blue belts. Class was started of course with a strong warm up. Sprints and forward rolls followed by squats, jacks, and core work.
Now that we were good and warm we worked on chokes from the back. One of these days I might actually achieve back control and try one of them.
Rolling time. The first three matches against fellow white belts felt great. The techniques that I’ve learned over the last month are starting to become more natural and instinctive.
My fourth match was a different story. It was against a newer white belt who has twenty or thirty pounds on me. I’ve faced him before and I had difficulty with him because he’s able to use his weight against me so effectively. Once we’re on the ground he’s able to put his weight on my joints starting with my ankle then slowly working his way up to my knee than take side control until he has me tapping out. I feel powerless to counter what he’s doing. We talked about how he uses his weight to his advantage and he gave me some tips. It’s something that I need to figure out how to counter.
I’m wondering if I’m being too passive when it comes to breaking my opponent’s posture when they’re in my guard. I’m going to try being more aggressive and make it harder for my opponents to gain position on me.
I’ve read some articles about larger guys “smashing” smaller guys with their weight. When much bigger guys use their weight to their advantage against a smaller opponent, is that considered unfair “play”? Is it any different than a smaller person using their speed to their advantage? Or a younger guy using their athleticism against an older guy? Where is the balance? It’s a question I’m going to explore with my coaches.
Since I’ll never be the youngest in the class and I’m definitely not going to get any taller, this is an issue that’ll never go away. I’m going to look at it like a blessing. I’m not going to be able to muscle my way through a match or have youth on my side. So my only option is to be more technical than the next guy.
My last match was with a senior white belt. I was feeling pretty gassed by now but I wanted to finish class on a high note. It was a good roll. My opponent worked me hard but allowed me to practice breaking his guard. As soon as I did he would put me right back in it. Afterward, he gave me advice on how to conserve energy which I added to my must work on list.
My old school Karate mentality is to go hard every roll. When you are gassed that’s when you start to learn how to use your techniques effectively. I still believe this is true but maybe not every class or match. I need to start being more patient during my matches and take breaks at the appropriate times.
So what have I learned after a month of practice?
- Your body is going to be sore, one article I read stated that it takes your body three months to get fully adjusted to a new physical activity. So don’t give up.
- Stretch or do yoga at least three times a week to help reduce injuries and to get into the required positions.
- Work on survival whenever you roll
- Don’t worry if you can’t remember all the steps. Any of the steps you do remember will help when rolling.
- Learn how to shrimp and bridge. You use them a lot. I started practicing this everyday at home.
- Listen to all your training partners regardless of belt colour. They’ve been there, done that. Remember they’re only using things that work for them.
- You going to get smashed, especially if you are smaller. Don’t get discouraged or whine. This is the game and you have to figure out how to deal with these situations.
- Relax and enjoy the ride.
Our society is moving towards making our world a safer place to live. To shelter individuals from being insulted or hurt. This is bullshit. Social justice warriors, safe places on campuses and reducing bullying in schools are doing very little to solve the problem. It’s only creating a society full of weak people who hide behind these movements and policies which do nothing to prepare them for the harsh reality that the life can be difficult and even cruel.
Instead, let’s focus on making individuals stronger. Putting yourself in difficult situations will build up your tolerance to adversity and will prepare you when you’re thrown into a shit storm. Practicing a martial art like BJJ will do just that.
So put on a gi and get on the mat. Facing that bigger, stronger, younger and more skilled opponents is a metaphor for life. Learn how to deal with adversity and you will become a stronger person that will be able to take on all challenges.
A big shout out to BOA BJJ and MMA.
This has been an awesome month. This group of men and women are the toughest bunch I’ve ever had the pleasure to practice with. They are always willing to show me how to improve my jiu-jitsu and push me every roll. Everyone in the room has the same goals in mind and push the beginners to improve. The atmosphere in the room is one of camaraderie which comes from knowing the amount of time and sweat it takes to get every strip on those belts. I would like to thank my coaches Chad Freeman and Seamus Connolly for introducing me to my new addiction. I’m looking forward to many years of practice with this amazing club.
As always, if you liked my post please like and share. See you on the mats.