I am certainly not new to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). I was first introduced to the sport in the fall of 2005 at my university in Fairfax, VA where I took it as a one credit course. Six months after that one credit class I started training properly (2-3 times per week) under Toni Passos. I trained with Toni for 2 years, earning my blue belt in that time before graduating from George Mason and heading off to Thailand to focus on Muay Thai and then later on to Pakistan where I spent the next 4 years spearheading and establishing the sport of MMA in the country. So yeah, I am not new to BJJ as an art form, and I am familiar with the idea of the “BJJ lifestyle” or “BJJ culture” but mostly through my continuing exposure to BJJ via the internet while in Pakistan.
Now that I am back in the USA to focus on my training for my ONEFC career for the next year, I am paying a special attention to my BJJ skills. Although exposed to the art 7 years ago, I have spent less than half that time training it, learning it with a coach and with partners that pushed me. So after these years abroad I feel like I am just starting again and while at first I was despaired about the lost training time, I have made myself embrace the opportunity to be able to view the art and it’s culture as a much more mature martial artist than I was before.
So for the next few months or so (I really don’t have a set time line, but ideally until I get my purple belt) I am going to be writing about my observations and experiences in the “Jiu Jitsu Lifestyle” of the DC metro area. If finances and opportunities allow I will also detail as much as I can about BJJ life along the east coast, but I am quite sure (though I may be proven wrong) that the BJJ culture is similar worldwide. I know there are a lot of blogs and websites out there that can give you a lot more detailed info about BJJ and BJJ life, I’ll be using a lot of these sites as resources in fact. So, for the experienced BJJ fanatic, my observations are not going to provide them with anything new. But this blog is not for the BJJ fanatic, although they still might find it interesting. This blog is mainly for Pakistani MMA community interested in knowing more about this art, it’s culture and my own training progression. For those living in the DC area, or in North America in general you have to understand that this blog is being written through the lens of an outsider trying to explain BJJ life to an MMA community on the far outskirts of the BJJ community, where a blue belt, a legit blue belt is a BIG DEAL.
So why write a blog about BJJ? For me, the idea came when I attended the Grand Opening of David “The Rock” Jacob’s new academy in Tyson’s Corner (Tysons corner is a commercial/shopping hub of Northern Virginia, big malls, restaurants etc). His grand opening was quite a fascinating experience for me. I have traveled all over the world, and seen a lot of different things but yet I still found this very fascinating. WHen someone approached me and asked “what gym do you roll out of?”, that’s when it hit me, that whoah, I am in another world right now. There was a language being spoken here particular to jiu jitsu culture.
I didn’t know to answer that question partly because I didn’t know if there was a wrong answer (there wasn’t at least not in this setting, we’ll get to that in a moment) and two, most importantly, because i was training at two different schools and I wasn’t sure which one I “rolled out of.” Anyway after introducing myself to my new friend and awkwardly telling him about how I didn’t really hold allegiance to any particular gym I scanned the rest of the rest of the mat to sea of bodies twisting and moving, each wearing the different patches of their different schools, but this wasn’t a competition, it was a show of respect to a jiujitsu leader’s new venture into a new academy. As I looked around and tried to absorb the novel scenario around me, someone came up to me and very cheerfully said “you wanna roll?”, it made me think of a high school dance where instead of asking the other to dance they were inviting you to the mat where you two would then commence to try and break each others bones and choke each other conconciouss – all in good in fun!
After rolling with this person (I’m sorry I forgot your name!) for about ten minutes, they asked for a break, they were a white belt but quite frankly I felt that they were more technical than I was. That’s another thing I have noticed since coming back into the BJJ game after more than 5 years. Everyone is really good now! Now obviously, the people I started training with over 7 years ago have gotten better, but what I mean is that the advanced white belts and blue belts with 2-3 years of experience are as good as the newly minted purple belts back when I was a white belt, that’s my impression at least. It seems that in these past 5 years, the access and depth of knowledge available, not to mention the advancements made by those senior to them has resulted in a whole new generation of Jiu Jitsukas pulling off moves that possibly the group I started BJJ with would consider advanced when we were white belts.
After my break, I sat back down to the edge of the mat and continued my people watching/meeting new people from different gyms. Around this time “Rock” asked everyone to pause for a moment so he could speak. “Rock” as Dave Jacobs is known, is a well known figure in BJJ world. Do a google search on the guy and you’ll see that he is not just a local black belt but an avid competitor and much loved figure in the community. When I first started BJJ in 2006 his name was known in the competition circles and came up in discussions (I didn’t really compete but nonetheless heard his name through friends who did). You could tell the older brotherly role that he filled, the way people talked about him, the respect for “The Rock” goes beyond any school or team, everyone likes the guy.
As he gave a short speech about his new academy and thanked everyone for coming, one of the reasons for the respect that everyone has for the “Rock” regardless of Team or gym was clear in the message he gave to everyone about what his gym was about. He made it clear that those who joined his academy, be they from the group on his mats at that moment or new practitioners, he didn’t mind cross training and welcomed all to come to his gym any time they wanted. This was neutral ground, a sanctuary where normally warring tribes could come together under peaceful terms. Apparently, fierce loyalty to ones team and tribalism is rife in the BJJ community and creating a petty politics in a martial arts world, where one would hope there would be none. Doesn’t seem too much different from Pakistan, where politics are rife in sports but where they are not so much based upon team rivalry as they are a fight for control of scarce government funding, funding that can be used to build up a sport and its athletes or line it’s federations board members pockets (and unfortunately it’s very often the latter as seen by the poor condition of the Pakistani martial arts scene), anyway that’s a separate topic altogether and unrelated to my foray in the BJJ lifestyle.
Look forward for more posts, some based upon my own training and growth and others about the “culture” and “lifestyle” of BJJ. No set timetable, but be sure to check back on the site and of course my facebook profile. If you have any ideas for the next article (whenever that may be) let me know in the comments section or inbox me!