“I train so I know I am safe walking at night.”
The training is Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ). This speaker is 16-year-old Angelica Maria, a native of Valencia, Spain.
On a hot summer night along the River of Valencia, Maria responds to a chokehold from behind from her trainer. Lowering her center of gravity, and that of her assailant, she turns clockwise and brings the 32-year-old man down to her right, loosening his hold and causing him to fall onto his back. She secures his body by trapping his left arm and placing one knee on his belly, then makes a repeated punching motion to his exposed face and neck.
“It is normal that people fight in the street for one reason or another,” said Robin Gracie, whose legendary father, Helio, essentially invented BJJ. Robin heads the Gracie Barra jiu-jitsu program in Spain and Portugal.
The name of Gracie is renown. November 12, 1993 saw the lineage emerge as arguably the greatest martial arts family of all time when another of Helio’s sons, Royce, won the first ever Ultimate Fighting Championship in Las Vegas. Using his family’s developments to overcome every opponent, Royce proved the dominance of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in practical application against the best of the best.
Jiu-jitsu is the martial triumph of human intelligence over raw power. Unlike traditional arts like boxing, muay thai, or aikido, BJJ is a non-striking game. This means no punches, kicks, knees, elbows, or head butts. In these genres, fighters usually have a hard time against larger opponents.
Rather than employing physical force through the extremities to damage an adversary, BJJ is oriented more like a chess match. In this game, one’s center of gravity, natural inertia, and proper limb movement count for far more than muscle. Intelligent use of technique allows physically inferior fighters to outmaneuver and trap their opponents in fight-finishing positions.
“I think the body is the least important,” said Robin regarding the size of combatants. “What characterizes us is the technique.”
The truth is, the human body is incredibly fragile in certain positions. Besides obvious vulnerable points like the eyes, groin, and throat, any limb can be endangered through the application of any number of BJJ holds and locks. In a proper setup, a 100-pound woman can easily break a grown-man’s elbow, knee, wrist, etc. These facts are the basis of what BJJ is built around: it doesn’t take a herculean physique to prevail in battle.
“Someone who comes in the gym insecure and weak…” said Robin. “Every time they feel more secure, and that they could defend themselves in case of an aggression or something alike.”
Despite the fact that BJJ is a sport that revolves around properly dislocating parts of the body, it is referred to as “the gentle art.” This is because even particularly exciting and aggressive bouts can resolve with both participants healthy and whole, ready for a rest then go another round. This is because properly executed BJJ puts the loser in a controlled position where damage is prevented by a ‘tap out.’ The motion of patting the ground or an opponent’s body signifies defeat.
Analyzing a fight, the vast majority involve grabbing or wrestling at some point. Fist may fly, but there is almost always pushing or extended physical contact during an altercation. These moments are key opportunities for smaller people to defend themselves. That is, if they know what to do.
“To have control over the combat in the floor is very important, especially if your opponent knows how to punch and kick,” said Robin. “Because once you are in the floor, those options get eliminated.”