Although I played rugby in a team for a couple of years, my heart was never truly in it. The main reason being that I didn’t want to tackle anyone too hard and inflict any pain on anyone as I recoil at the thought of hurting someone; I’m the ‘keep the peace’ kind of girl who shies away from any form of confrontation. So when my partner, Will constantly tried to cajole me into going to Gracie Jiu-jitsu classes with him, insisting that it was ‘incredible’, I was very wary at the beginning as a) I’ll be honest and say that I’d never heard of GJJ before and b) I didn’t think a martial arts class where a bunch of men got hot and sweaty in funny white robes was the thing for me!
But then I succumbed and came along to a Saturday Fundamentals Class. Wow! It blew my mind. The first thing I noticed was that there was a really happy, friendly atmosphere to the class. Graham, our coach and his daughters; Anne & Katja made me feel so welcome and were extremely kind and patient with this new kid on the block.
From day one everyone in class were always willing to offer advice or repeat a move to help me progress and begin my journey of understanding this gentle art.
Endorphins and adrenaline- Natural free happy medication
When I’m travelling the 24 miles to training, I’m normally feeling: exhausted after a full on day working with children, hungry, stressed out and overall feeling like I’d prefer to curl up into a ball and pass out rather than go train. But then I make the move, get changed into my gi, push myself through the warm up and start focussing on the techniques. That’s when the magic happens; adrenaline kicks in, waking me up, dissolving all other thoughts apart from GJJ and I feel those endorphins bubble up inside me. All the tiredness, stresses and strains literally are booted out the door and allow my mind free to marvel and practice this human game of chess. It’s almost a euphoric feeling when I leave class sometimes.
“Leave the ego at the door and your sweat on the floor”
I was never sporty as a kid; I was overweight, wore glasses and extremely introverted. I got bullied. My weight went up and down more times than a rollercoaster and you could have called crash dieting one of my hobbies. This unhealthy attitude affected all areas of my life. When I weighed in at 18stone I was well and truly fed up and pretty hateful of myself and my attitude towards food. Knowing that my eating habits would influence my daughters’ attitude towards food and fitness from an early age woke me up like a slap in the face. So I put myself into overdrive; not allowing any unhealthy food to be kept in the house and making a point of being active every day, even if that meant getting up at 5am to do exercise before the children woke up. Luckily it’s been seven years since I’ve been overweight but it’s still a threat I face every day, when I look in the mirror and see my former self staring back at me. Instead of letting this haunting image get me down, I use it in a positive way, keeping me self-disciplined and on track. This determination and passion can sometimes get mixed with ego when it comes to rolling on the mats. Never wanting to be seen as weak or less fit than anyone else, I used to always use strength and be driven by ego instead of carrying out techniques accurately during sparring, yeah sometimes you would be able to get away with this but not for long and especially not with any experienced partners. Over time, listening to the inspirational advice given by our coach, training partners, and the Professor and teaming this knowledge with growing confidence in carrying out techniques the right way, I’ve been able to leave the ego at the door and keep it playful and enjoying the sessions so much more.
Having said that, I’m still working on letting the ego not take control when it comes to rolling with my other half!! It’s amazing being able to train with your boyfriend or girlfriend but Oh my! The competitiveness can get a bit heated.
40 weeks of no rolling? No Chance baby!
I was training 2-3 times a week at this point (white belt, 3 stripes) when Will and I found out the result we’d been hoping for; we were going to have a baby! No I didn’t want to slow down in the amount of training I was doing despite being pregnant and carried on attending training and even the Royce Gracie seminar. My closest training partners Kris, Anne and the coach knew about the pregnancy so rolling was restricted to no knee on belly rides and I could still practice most of the techniques. Being aware of how my body was changing and obeying any aches and pains through slowing down and taking time out I was able to train at the start of the pregnancy until unfortunately I got SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction) which causes back, hip and pelvic pain. It was too painful to carry on training GJJ until around eight and a half months pregnant when the SPD eased up and allowed me to return to training briefly. One of my favourite memories of GJJ is training knife defence on my due date. Elaine was born three days later at a very healthy 10lbs 7ozs!!! I was eager to start training again straight away but the loved ones around me and my body restricted my ambition to return to GJJ. Added to that, an infected gallbladder which caused debilitating pain for a few months, I didn’t fully return to training properly for a whole year.
Since then I’ve got my fourth stripe and from regular training my confidence has grown considerably and I enjoy being part of each session. So, my advice for anyone considering to train GJJ during their pregnancy is to ensure your coach and all your training partners know of the pregnancy and LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you need to stop training, don’t feel guilty about it, the jiu-jitsu family will be there to welcome you back whenever you’re ready to return.
“If size mattered, the elephant would be the king of the jungle.” – Rickson Gracie
Training with your family
Teaching your children a vital lesson in life; how to defend themselves and at the same time making the sessions part of our valuable family time. GJJ allows you as a parent to gain such a close bond with your children. Now that my eldest comes with me to evening sessions; it’s strengthened our relationship and seeing her progression in the art is such a joy to see as a mum. An extremely proud mum at that!
Not only do the children learn valuable self-defence techniques which is even more relevant for girls to learn more than the boys but GJJ sessions help children form self-discipline, respect and a positive opportunity to let their confidence grow when communicating and interacting with adults. I definitely recommend training with your children.
Find comfort where there is none
Don’t be too hard on yourself; I know I’ve been hard on myself with jiu-jitsu in the past but you don’t need to be; it won’t help you get further down the path of wisdom.
Yes it feels fantastic when you get promoted; your dedication, knowledge and application of techniques is acknowledged and rewarded but that’s just a minor part of the journey of training GJJ. I see GJJ now as foundation blockwork in mine and my family’s framework of life. It brings us unity, endorphin-fuelled happy moments, a sense of belonging and powerful with our knowledge and ability of protecting ourselves against whatever gets thrown in our way. “Jiu-jitsu is like a philosophy. It helps me learn how to face life” – Helio Gracie