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Let’s Roll: One Year of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

I celebrated my first year of doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on November 6th. These sort of milestones are a traditional time for reflection, so let’s take a look on what I’ve learned.

BJJ is great because it can be different things to different people, I’ve decided during the year. You can emphasise it as a sport, a martial art, as a means of getting human contact or exercise, a form of self defense, a vehicle for self-improvement, or a fun puzzle or chess game you do with living bodies. After doing this for a year, I’m personally in the fun puzzle with some accidental exercise and self-improvement thrown in, with a small dose of competitiveness (and generally friendly co-practitioners). A year ago I knew nothing of BJJ. I was just grateful to have made it through the first week of the beginner’s course alive. I still know very little (even naturally athletic people spend years getting good at this shit), but I decided to jot down some discoveries from this year, some achievements I’m proud of and what I’m going to do next.

BJJ: What I Learned My Year One

  • What the frig is going on. No really, coming from a non-sporting, non-martial art background with
    BJJ is massive fun, competition class especially.

    lousy coordination, balance and no cardio, it took me probably months to internalise the general objectives of BJJ. Basic rules like don’t stick your arms out and Oh yeah, Closed Guard is also a thing. But I recognise all the fundamental positions now, as well as some concepts of the game. So yay for sticking with this stuff.

  • To be more resilient. Not to tap immediately, to actually resist during sparring, not to flip over after every half-arsed attempt to be swept like a dead fish.
  • To follow instructions and to ask for help. I will never be someone who learns new physical skills quickly. When I started in the advanced classes, just following the instruction was a struggle. It still can be sometimes. I’m so glad I’ve not let that scare me away, I’m still able to get better at BJJ, even if I do it slower than other people. There are days, sometimes a week worth of days, when having to acquire new knowledge turns me into a whining mess. But at least I can see for myself when it is happening.
  • To turn up regularly and to otherwise try some of that habit-building people go on about. When I started, two classes a week was an ordeal. Now four classes a week plus one session of Boring Gym and maybe some yoga takes only a bit of pre-planning (of course I rest if I need to or have other commitments).
  • Skills-wise, a blue belt said to me yesterday: “You don’t get fooled by anything really silly anymore”, so I suppose I’ve become better compared to the wide-eyed absolute beginner who fell over if poked and had to learn a simple roll forward as extra homework. Then again, Coach said on Friday: “We need to figure out something for that guard of yours.” My open guard is barely nonexistent at the moment and needs work. I promise I’ll get to work on it after I’ve spent some time improving my stand-up game. Also, I haven’t learned to stand on my hands or on my head. But I can do so much now with my body I never thought I could, and that is brilliant. <3
  • Competing feels like something I want to keep doing, even though I lost all four matches I was entitled to during this first year of mine. Comps help me see where my “game” (don’t really have one, I’m a white belt) is lacking and offer good opportunities to practice my mental resilience.
  • Most people in the BJJ scene are very, very nice. I was nervous of being too out-there for this sport but I suppose that in an obscure martial art (BJJ is that where I live), stuff can be a bit more relaxed than it otherwise would be. Of course, an understanding of gender minority issues and accommodating trans people isn’t always what I wish it would be in the community, but to my joy I haven’t faced any open hostility.  Being a non-binary AFAB makes me quite palatable of course, even if my frame is massive. Speaking of frame, weight class sports also have a tendency to build discourses regarding food and nutrition that aren’t very good for mental health, maybe not even physical health. I luckily had already made up my mind about this stuff, no I can continue living my personal truth: don’t be a dick, especially to vulnerable members of your community. But all in all, BJJ has brought me in contact with some fantastic people I would never had got to know otherwise.

What Happens Now?

I am going to continue to train and to blog. I can now reveal that the point of making (mostly) weekly updates during Year One was not just to chronicle my journey, it was also to get used to writing frequently. From now on, my posts will probably be less frequent (twice a month will probably be the most I will do), but they will touch on more specific BJJ-related topics. If you have subject ideas for future posts, feel free to suggest them in the comments!

As for training, I’m still trying to decide if I take part into a competition at the end of next month or not. Let’s wait and find out.

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