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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Don't Sweat the Technique: An inside look at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Class.

In the enclosed gym sealed by two doors, the stench of accumulated sweat is coupled with a warm humid temperature. The muay thai practitioners are training in gleaming shorts that sit above their waist while the boxers are in tank tops, sweat beading out of every pore on their bodies. They’re drawing a distinction here, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys. Within the sealed building, filled with mix and match color shorts and tops of the other athletes, the Bjj (brazilian jiu-jitsu) guys can be identified by their white uniforms called a “Gi”-a traditional lightweight uniform adopted by many types of martial arts. Despite this, they do not throw punches or kicks with shouts of “hoo’s” and a “ha’s” a person would normally associate with conventional martial arts. While, fighters at World Class MMA/Boxing Gym are swinging away with jabs on punching bags or sparring in the boxing ring, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu artists settle among themselves in a caged square fully equipped with floor padding. Within cage, arms, heads, and knees interlock as the fighters utilize their bodies to stay on top of one another while simultaneously avoid being locked into submission.

“Let’s go guys, give it everything you got!”

Felipe Fogolin is Sensei (Japanese for “master” or “teacher”) of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class of World Class MMA/Boxing gym located in Westminster. Felipe is a black belt in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He stands at a mere 5’ 10’’ with legs that are thin compared to his upper body which bulges with muscles- no doubt from the heavy emphasis of upper body work that is required in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Despite his intimidating looks, Felipe is a caring guardian, watching over a younger sibling while simultaneously teaching his class today. From the looks of it, she can care less that Felipe is an undefeated mma fighter with a record of 5 wins and 0 loses, she isn’t intimidated. She just wants to scooter around the gym despite Felipe’s opposition.

The class meets up on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, and train rigorously to learn new moves and perfect the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the guidance of the Sensei. Today, there are roughly 10 students, The most experienced of the group, a guy by the name of D-block and Richard Castillo are partners, and the rest disperse around Felipe including a kid by the name of Andrew who claims his power level in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is over 4000. They begin their training with the practice of a technique called the Arm-bar lock.

The Arm-bar lock is one of many tricks used to break a “mount” of an opponent (term refers to when the opponent is position above the suppressed with legs clinching the torso.) Richard volunteers to be the person that D-block must break the guard from. To successfully execute the arm-bar lock, D-block begins by clinching onto both of Richard’s arms that sits above his chest with his hands. From there D-Blocks shifts his body weight with his back to the side of Richard. With the momentum of the thrust, D-Block wraps his legs around Richard shoulders and forces Richard’s face to the mat. With the success of pinning Richard, D-block moves his entire body onto Richard’s upper chest and wraps his legs around his forearm and chest while positioning his victim’s arm with his own two arms crossed.

“It’s only training but you can break their arms if you’re an asshole” D-block explains moments after Richard taps rapidly on his partner’s leg. D-Block smiles from ear to ear while he comforts Richard.

In sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, fighters are awarded “ippons” or “points”. For every throw or takedowns it’s worth two points. Mounts such as the one positioned by Richard would have earned him 4 points if he was able to maintain it. However, since D-block was able to overcome his partner or, “passing of the guard” he instead earns the 4 points along with an additional 3 for “passing the guard.” Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter usually fight it out from anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes depending on their belt levels but since D-Block and Richard are only training they focus more on practicing their techniques rather than earning points.

Despite practicing lethal moves that can potentially dangerous, the guys have fun and help each other by giving their own insight on techniques. In fact the grueling training of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu causes cauliflower ears- a condition that comes from repetitive slamming of the ears and is very common among wrestlers and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. To the outside world, it maybe a disfigurement but to the fighters they are a sign of experience.

“Plus they look badass” Richard explains.

“I never want a cauliflower ear” D-Block. Richard laughs and shows his ears, both are cauliflower on the outside lobe.

While, D-block and Richard are talking. Andrew, who claimed his power to be over “4000” had difficulty wrapping his legs around his opponent due to his large side. Those around him assist Andrew and after a few tries, he learns to compensate by dragging his opponent’s arms down into his legs rather than moving his legs up toward his opponent’s upper body. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu size is an advantage but the key to victory is to be more technical than your opponent.

How Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu started:

The name of the sport is a fusion of Japanese and Brazilian culture. “Ju” is Japanese for gentle or yielding while “Jitsu” means “art”. So how did a Japanese martial art become adopted by Brazilians?

Starting in feudal time of Japan,tThe Samurais practiced the precursor to the modern day form. Simply called Ju-Jitsu at the time, the main focus of the martial arts was to defend and defeat armored opponents through various manipulating of the opponent’s force. A disarmed Samurai was ineffective when it came to simply throwing strikes at other samurais due to their dense armor therefore, techniques involving pins and throws became essential.

Because of the emphasis on movements geared towards fighting in armor, around the late 19th century, a man by the name of Jigoro Kano saw impracticalities of the archaic form of ju-jitsu. He revamped the sport by incorporating Rondori, which is another derivative of Japanese of martial arts that emphasized in sparing. The nature of the many regulations and rules that were embodied in Rondori allowed for this new form of Jiu-Jitsu renamed Judo (Japanese for “gentle way”) to prosper.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was on its way to being born:

Brazil’s very own jiu-jitsu would take shape when Kano’s prodigy Mitsuyo Maeda moved to the country around the 1920’s. There he opened a jiu-jitsu dojo and one of his first students is Carlos Gracie. Carlos along with his family formed the Gracie clan and in 1925 began a legacy when Carlos begins to teach jiu-jitsu at home in Botafogo, a borough of Rio de Janeiro. For the next 80 years the sport would gradually grow, especially due in part to the “Gracie Challenge” which the Gracie clan advertised to help promote the sport.

Then in the late 90’s and early 2000’s the sport became immensely popular in the USA thanks to it’s invaluable contribution to mixed martial arts-a showcase of all forms of martial arts popularized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) because of it’s adopting of Judo’s throws and takedowns and fusing it with Japanese Jiu-Jitsu which emphasized in grappling, chokeholds, and joint locks. Hence, many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu dojos have opened and many gyms such as the World Class MMA/Boxing gym have begin to offer it as a class to the public.

“Alright guys gather up”

Upon Felipe’s call, everyone huddles around him, all listening attentively to further instructions. The students sit in a circle, despite their bodies drenched in sweat, the floor mats that they rest on glisten with pools of sweat, they don’t mind, they’re just eager to learn.

“Next we’re going practice our triangle choke hold, everyone partner up.”

Instantly the class breaks up, D-Block and Richard are partners again and they begin their practice of the lethal triangle chokehold. Done correctly an opponent should tap out instantly; if he’s careless, he’ll pass out after a couple of seconds. Any longer, and the opponent’s neck will be crushed. D-block takes mount as Richard lies on the ground. He begins the execution of the move by dragging D-block’s body toward him. D-block struggles moving from side to side but unfortunately Richard’s arms are too powerful for D-block to resist for long. Veins pop from both fighters forehead as they struggle. After a couple of seconds D-block gives in to Richard attack-an unwise decision. Richard proceeds to use D-block’s split second of rest to his advantage and wraps his legs around D-Block’s neck to form a triangle. With his body in position, Richard begins to separate his partner’s arms from his shoulder while squeezing tighter and tighter around his friend’s neck.

“You bitch!”

Richard screams. Not giving up or tapping out, D-block decided to slap his partners butt instead.

“Wow D-block”

“Sorry man it was an accident man”

“You’re such a faggot dude”

The two reconcile moments later as Felipe calls for a water break. Water breaks are always welcome by the fighters. Without them, fighters not only are unable to replenish and hydrate themselves, they also get cranky.

Felipe is sitting with his little sister, she says she’s sorry and hugs Felipe and is off on her scooter again. “In life you have to fight for what you believe in. You have to preserve.” He says, half directly to his students, and half to himself. Felipe is part of a fighting federation called “KINGS MMA”. He has a fight in a couple of weeks at the Eagle Mountain Casino, which explains why his mind is a bit preoccupied. He’s been training 2-3 times a day with a boxing coach named Chef and Juanito. If he’s able to win this, it’s one step closer for him toward entering the UFC. Felipe’s moment of contemplation is suddenly interrupted by the incident between D-Block and Richard.

“What happened you guys?”

“D-Block is just being a bitch, I’m a black belt killer so it’s ok.”

Felipe responds almost immediately, “a faggot black belt killer”

“Aw Felipe you too? That’s messed up man.”

Despite the potential of experiencing his first lost, Felipe is content with the upcoming fight and does well in keeping out of mind when he’s with his class. He cherishes the training that he is able to share with his students. It reflects the philosophy he has:

“You gotta keep coming to practices. Just keep going and just keep training. The guy that has no talents but trains everyday…that’s the guy you gotta watch out for.”

And with that, the Brazilian class of the World Class MMA/Boxing gym continue refining their skills. They will stay for an additional 30 minutes on top of the hour and a half that has been spent practicing their technique. As they wrestle among each other, various pools of sweat are left behind causing the mat to be extra slippery. They don’t care, they’re just eager to train.

Reporting Notes:

Training and observing the class for 2 days a week for 2 weeks.

Brief interview with D-Block (refused to give his real name)

Brief interview with Richard Castillo

Brief interview with Felipe Fogolin

Picture of Helio Gracie: http://www.mmanewsleak.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/helio-gracie-jiu-jitsu-vale-tudo.jpg




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