Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, And All The Answers To Your Stupid Questions

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I spend a good amount of my time training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Boxing, and Muay Thai. I don’t really try to hide it–most of my T-shirt wardrobe consists of BJJ tournament tees at this point, I’m never available from 7-10pm, I’m in shape, and I keep a pair of boxing gloves, focus mitts, and a 44lb kettlebell in my office cubicle–and when people ask me about my hobbies, it’s generally the first one to come up.

I’m incredibly proud to be a jiu-jitsu and MMA player, but I’ll be damned if I don’t wish I was less forthcoming about it sometimes, if for no other reason that when I mention it to you, your reaction is most likely going to be one of a handful that I’ve seen before, and it can get kind of annoying. So in the same vein as my Abbreviated Guide to Health and Fitness, I’m basically writing a FAQ for BJJ and MMA so I can just link you to this in the future instead of suffering through the same conversation over and over.

Brazilian Joo-Jitsoo? Is that, like, that martial art that looks like a dance?

Eddy Gordo from the Tekken video games.

Eddy Gordo is NOT a BJJ player.

No. That’s Capoeira. Think Eddy Gordo from Tekken.

That sounds so cool! Can you show me some Joo-Jitsoo moves?

Unless you want me to break your arm, throw you on the floor, or choke you with my balls in your face, it’s not really that easy to “show” anything. There are no forms or kata or anything like that.

So, uh, what is Brazilian Joo-Jitsoo, anyway?

This is the question you should have asked me first. It’s a martial art that stresses ground-fighting. It’s like wrestling or Judo, in that there are no punches or kicks, but wrestling and Judo end with the pin. BJJ keeps going, because it’s about establishing a dominant position and finishing the fight by submission.

By the way, it’s spelled “Jiu Jitsu”. Quit doing that stupid side-to-side head shake every time you say “Jiu Jitsu”. And stop over-enunciating it.

So you’re wrestling with a bunch of sweaty men, huh? Isn’t that kind of…gay?

Jiu Jitsu: Only gay if you make eye contact.

That's Wanderlei Silva, by the way. Probably don't want to bring up this image to a guy nicknamed "The Axe Murderer".

Only if you make eye contact. Or start having sex with each other.

You could probably kick my ass, huh.

Most likely, yes–though, with the notable exception of Jeff Monson, most Jiu Jitsu players still sufficiently believe in the rule of law enough to avoid handing out unprovoked ruthless ass-beatings

Are you, like, a Joo Jitsoo–sorry, Jiu Jitsu–master? Do you have your black belt?

No.

I hear Bob from Accounting got his black belt when he was, like, 13.

He probably got it in karate, or Tae Kwon Do. A black belt in Jiu Jitsu generally takes at least 10 years, training at least 5 days a week. I’m currently a blue belt, which I got after three years of practice.

So could you take Bob?

Bob from Accounting.

This guy got his TKD black belt when he was, like, 13.

Yes.

But he’d knock you out with a head kick.

First off, one-hit knockouts are rare in any fight–and most fights end up going to the ground, which most other martial arts don’t cover. It’d be kind of like fighting a shark if you don’t know how to swim.

Second, I also regularly practice boxing/kickboxing, both of which tend to spar harder than your average Tae Kwon Do McDojo.

Doesn’t it hurt?

I’ve been practicing BJJ and MMA for six years now. Other than a few bloody noses, the occasional jammed finger or toe, and sore muscles that I didn’t know I had, I’ve never sustained any major injuries during practice or competition. Of course, that’s because I’m careful (and lucky–knock on wood). The potential for injury is certainly there, but you can be safe if you’re smart. As long as you’re practicing with a good team and respectful partners, you’ll be okay, whether or not you have an athletic background.

But it looks so violent.

“Violent” is all in the mind. I can only speak for myself here, but I never have it in my head to hurt or injure my opponent when I’m sparring with them. We’re just playing a game.

When it comes to Jiu Jitsu, I will give you time to tap. If you’re physically weaker than I am, or less experienced, then I’ll step down my level accordingly so I can practice certain positions that I’m less comfortable in, and you can roll with me without feeling like you’re getting flattened. Beating up on random noobs isn’t really that gratifying after a while.

Boxing is a little different because even guys who are completely inexperienced can hit hard, but I don’t try to hit hard unless I’m confident that you can take it (or I’m convinced that you have no such qualms about hitting me hard). Either way, it just feels like a game–a game that lacks the animosity that sports like football and basketball, which channel aggression and physical exertion around violence rather that through violence, typically build up.

You really think you could take Bob from Accounting? He’s, like, 200lbs. And I hear he used to get in a lot of bar fights.

Probably. Anything can happen in a street fight, of course. But generally speaking, most street fights go to the ground before a knockout happens, and the ground is a jiu-jitsu player’s world. Yes, there’s all kinds of dirty fighting tactics that don’t generally get covered in a BJJ class, like eye gouges and groin shots, but it’s not like random barfight scrubs train those techniques more than a BJJ player. Besides, the point of BJJ is to advance to a better position so we can win the fight, and when I’m sitting on top of Bob’s chest pounding the hell out of him, it’s easier for me to eye gouge him than the other way around.

Weight certainly makes a difference in combat sports, which is why we have weight classes. But training and experience count for much more. I’m a 180lb blue belt, and I’ve submitted 250lb powerlifters with ease–and got beaten by 130lb brown belts.

I watch that UFC stuff. I know all about MMA.

If this video sounds like any conversation you have ever had, I’m going to punch you in the face.

I’ve been meaning to try that ground stuff out.

Seriously, you should.

I bring the snark and sarcasm in this post because I’ve been through these conversations a few million times before, but the fact is that there are very few decisions I’ve made in my life that I’ve been as happy with as deciding to get into combat sports. It may sound clichéd, but committing myself to BJJ and MMA has made me physically and mentally stronger and more confident. It gives me a productive outlet for all kinds of stress and energy that accumulates as a result of living an adult life, it gives me a hobby that encourages me to take better care of my body and develop my sense of discipline, and it gives me an incredible family and a worldwide community. Personally, I think everyone should at least give it a shot.

For the men: One of the women in my office commented the other day that all the guys she knows who are into Jiu Jitsu tend to be really laid back. This rings true to me for a few reasons: it gives you a place to test, build, and reaffirm your sense of masculinity, which I really think is important for any adult male. Most young men I know spend their time working, playing video games at home, or partying. It’s not my place to hate on any of that–I’m a gamer and working stiff with my own party habit–but none of that really gives you a place where I’d really want to channel all of my competitive energy.

If I brought the same heat I bring to the gym to work, it wouldn’t be a very comfortable work environment. If I brought it to video games, I’d get really good at video games, but at the end I’d feel like I didn’t really have much to show for it (I used to be a competitive Street Fighter 2 player back in the day, so I speak from experience). If I brought this to partying, I’d be broke, I’d be an alpha-male asshole, and I’d probably get into a lot of fights that I wouldn’t win since I wouldn’t be training Jiu Jitsu.

Now, when I’m at work, my body is sore from yesterday’s exertions, and I’m generally mellowed out from the morning or lunchtime workouts. Work is a nice way to get paid while I let my body recover for the next practice session. If you thought about your job that way, I guarantee you’d feel a lot better about your life in general and wouldn’t sweat the small stuff and feel so insecure.

Also, whenever other people at work are trying to flex nuts, you can remain secure in the knowledge that you could whoop their ass for free. Just sayin’.

For the ladies: At first blush, Jiu Jitsu doesn’t seem to be the most feminine sport–y’all seem to be more interested in stuff like Yoga or those weird boot camp fitness sessions I see going on in the park outside my house. Which is totally cool.

Growing up, I was always intrigued by hand-to-hand combat, but as a young man I was always taught that it was violent, and violence was what the bad kids did. I imagine that it’s a similar thing with women–you’re not really encouraged to try that kind of thing out, except maybe in an occasional generic “self-defense” class.

One of the neat side effects of practicing Jiu Jitsu and MMA is that it gives you another context for actions you previously thought as “violent”–like choking someone or punching someone in the face. In the gym, it’s a sport, and it can be fun–even if you’re the one on the receiving end. And, interestingly enough, you learn that it doesn’t really hurt that much. That’s the first lesson a boxer learns in the ring; the right straight coming at your face is much scarier before it hits than it is afterwards. I can’t speak from personal experience, but I think that the extra “space” that men take up in social situations, friendships, and romantic relationships due to our physical superiority (and implicit undercurrent of violence) evaporates a bit if you’re more comfortable with the “violent” actions in other contexts of your life.

Also, if you’re worried about getting hurt by big men: I have a profound respect for the women I train with, and I always make sure to train in a way that respects the physical difference–not “going easy” so much as just not trying to smash them down for the sake of smashing. That way, I can learn what it’s like to play their game–and hopefully add a lighter touch to my own. “Jiu Jitsu” literally translates to “Gentle Art”, after all. Not everyone is like this, but in my experience most people are–and you can avoid the ones that aren’t.

-patrick miller

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8 thoughts on “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, And All The Answers To Your Stupid Questions

  1. Andrew

    hey man good post HOWEVER! i must take exception with one certain point: judo’s groundwork does not necessarily end with the pin. certainly a pin is one way to finish a match on the ground (in fact for me it’s the only way i’ve ever finished any match that’s gone to the mat) but we do have subs- armbars and chokes, same as bjj, just no leglocks due to the possibility of longterm damage from an inexpert. remember, bjj was adapted by helio gracie from mitsuyo maeda who taught the brazilians judo.

  2. Good point. I didn’t mention it for the sake of simplicity–most of the people I would refer to this post don’t know what Judo is, much less the difference between that and Jiu Jitsu.

    Also, outside of the occasional flying submission, I don’t see a whole lot of subs in high-level Judo, because it’s so hard to finish with such a short time limit.

  3. Andrew

    International Judo Federation rules sort of neuter the groundwork portion of the sport in a lot of ways. Jimmy Pedro and Neal Adams were both renowned for their submission skills though but you’re right: They don’t allow much time to work on the ground which frankly benefits me so I won’t complain about it.

    High level judo is sort of boring honestly, it’s more fun to go to a local tournament and watch some kids who don’t really know what they’re doing try their best to kill each other.

  4. Nice post! Love the snarkiness, and now I really wish I’d seen Heather beat you up for those cookies last week.

    Also, great perspective about work. Gonna try to keep that one on for size:
    >>Work is a nice way to get paid while I let my body recover for >>the next practice session. If you thought about your job that >>way, I guarantee you’d feel a lot better about your life in >>general and wouldn’t sweat the small stuff and feel so >>insecure.

    Considering that I’m only now learning to love floor/mat work (after about 3-4 years of training TKD and Kajukenbo), I can get into this…and yeah, I’m not in a rush to be a black belt. I figure anyone who’s rushing is missing the whole point. As far as I’m concerned, there are only white belts and teachers, and I’m certainly not a teacher! 😀

  5. “I’m basically writing a FAQ for BJJ and MMA so I can just link you to this in the future instead of suffering through the same conversation over and over.”

    Heh – yeah, that’s the same reason I started my own BJJ Beginner FAQ a while ago. How long have you been training, out of interest?

  6. Todd

    Everyone who is serious mma/bjj fan and practitioner owes you a lot for writing this. you took the words right outta my mouth with this post 🙂

  7. Great post. I’m sure it gets real old dealing with morons like in your video. I love watching the UFC but I will never claim that I can woop anybody’s tail just from watching or wrestling in the backyard. I love to watch a war on the feet but it is more enjoyable to see to masters of BJJ go at it in a technical contest. I would love to learn BJJ.

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