Monday, April 22, 2024

The Humble and Gentle Art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

by DR. GEOFF EMRY/Exercise Explorer MD
| March 28, 2024 1:00 AM

Sitting in my truck at 5:45 a.m. on a Wednesday morning outside Sparta Training Academy CDA, I watched the snow lightly fall as I grappled with my insecurity and fear. Up to now, the sum total of my experience with self defense was boxing on my kids’ Wii U console and watching a few Bruce Lee movies. I was told by my good friend, Mike Schmidt, to bring water and flip flops and to trim my fingernails and toenails (so I didn’t accidentally scratch someone) but that was all I knew to expect. As Mike later told me, the hardest thing is going for the first time. So when Mike pulled up next to me it felt like a beacon in the darkness and my gut unclenched as I followed him inside.  

The routine at Sparta Training Academy CDA is pretty straightforward — you show up early, sign a waiver, put on your gi, stand by the side of the mat before class begins, meet other members (everyone was friendly) and have a good workout. I was introduced to everyone before class with the admonition to “focus on instruction” (in other words, take it easy on me). We got right down to business — warming up consisted of scooting or rolling or crab walking across the mat in a line.

Next, we were instructed in a specific technique, the kimura, and had a chance to pair up and practice it on each other. Jiu Jitsu (Japanese for “gentle art”) is a martial art focused on leverage and applying techniques which allow a smaller person to subdue a much larger opponent. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu incorporates techniques from Judo, Sambo and wrestling. As Devin Rourke, owner of Sparta Training Academy CDA explained, “it’s the perfect mixture of hard physical exercise with getting to stimulate your mind because the techniques … all serve a function.” He added that “some people are concerned about injury … but, for us, that’s one of our primary tenets is making sure everyone is taking care of each other and nobody is attempting to hurt each other.” I would agree that while we were practicing the kimura and other techniques, everyone was focused on learning and teaching rather than pain or submission.  

Finally, we had time to pair up and spar with each other in five-minute intervals. It was very tiring for me and I kept being reminded to slow down my breathing. Repeatedly in talking with Mike and Devon the words “humble” and “humility” kept coming up. Mike started jiu jitsu 14 years ago after his oldest daughter, Clara, was born as a way to stay more active and although he continues to describe it as humbling, has worked up to the level of brown belt. And as Clara, now a middle schooler at the Charter Academy, would gladly remind me, humble (from the latin root “humus” or “earth”) and humility (from the latin “humilis” meaning “low”) are very appropriate words to describe jiu jitsu, where much of the time is spent grappling on the ground. Grappling on the mat for me felt like wrestling an anaconda — every move I made just made the squeezing tighter until I literally could not move at all.  

After it was all over, we bowed to our instructor and gave high fives to every other member. I was exhausted from a good workout and although humbled I didn't feel humiliated (also from the latin root “humilis”). My fear and insecurity were replaced by understanding and admiration for this gentle art. 

THE GOOD: Sparta Training Academy CDA bills itself as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the whole family and, indeed, when I dropped by on a recent Saturday the room was evenly split between adults (about a quarter of whom were women) and kids (ages 4 and up). They are open seven days per week with flexible class times ranging from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and even have some women-only classes.

THE BAD: A certain amount of mobility and flexibility is required before attempting jiu jitsu, such as being able to do a forward roll. Cost ranges from $100 - $150 per month, depending on your age and the length of contract.

THE NITTY GRITTY: It's amazing how focused you get and according to Mike Schmidt, “that’s my favorite part about it. I hate exercise, but when you’re doing this, you’re just doing the sport, trying to win. And you don’t realize you're exercising.”  

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Dr. Emry is a family physician and partner at Ironwood Family Practice in Coeur d’Alene. Exercise Explorer MD will appear every other week in The Press and Dr. Emry can be contacted via email © 2024. This work is licensed under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.

    Mike Schmidt and Devon Rourke, owner of Sparta Training Academy CDA.