On the Gentle Art #1


I began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu about a year and a half ago. I had wanted to train since I first saw it in action on a VHS tape that my friend and I rented from Blockbuster Videos for $1.99 a day. It was the spring of 2000. By then, the tape was already nearly seven years old and was tucked away in the back of the store with the “seedy” material: wrestling tapes and those other works of art deemed to be of the lewd persuasion.

From the opening scene, my friend and I were in for a brutal and shocking display of human aggression. I wouldn’t say that it was novel because I grew up in a neighborhood where violence was on display almost daily and sometimes to deadly effect. No, it was shocking because I didn’t think that this kind of violence would ever be allowed to take place in an arena, watched as a spectacle, and videotaped for posterity. A quaint idea, I know, in today’s world of Youtube fight videos where the current iteration of the UFC is civilized compared to what is on display throughout the internet.

As we watched the fights unfold, we readily expected the procession of brutish competitors to scale-up the violence, but then something happened. A slight, meek, Brazilian competitor dressed in white pajamas walked out from the locker room, accompanied by a line of other guys that looked like him, including a really old guy that was introduced as his father. I can’t remember what my friend was thinking but I remember well what I was thinking. This guy is going to get murdered! Will they actually videotape a murder? I grew up watching boxing and still love the “sweet science” to this day. That had weight classes and for very good reason! I had seen plenty of fights in my life until that point and they hardly ever went well for the little guy, unless of course the little guy was armed, in my neighborhood usually with a knife, gun-play was always kept a nocturnal activity, and I was usually fast asleep by then.

So the little guy walks into the cage and I was scared for him. I’m a little guy and I hate watching helpless people getting attacked. I saw and experienced plenty of that growing up. I walked around scared of the bullies and always kept my guard up as most prey animals do. So my sympathetic nervous system kicked into overdrive. I knew what was going to happen but I could not turn away. It would be brutal but at least it would be over quickly. The referee would step in. It wouldn’t be like in my neighborhood. This little guy would at least have someone to stop it.

And then it happened. The little pajama wearing guy won! It looked like magic. He wasn’t throwing brutal kicks or punches. He somehow managed to wrap himself around the big guy, took him down, and unbelievably drained his will to fight. The big guy gave up but he wasn’t visibly brutalized. The little guy did this to all of the fighters he faced that night and each time he dispatched his foe more quickly and in a less violent manner. It looked like his fighting style somehow drained the aggression from the cage. He not only smothered his opponents but the bloodlust of the entire spectacle. There was something beautiful in his fighting if you could even call it fighting. Wait was he even fighting? His face didn’t seem to show it. He wasn’t bearing his teeth, he wasn’t angry, he was, would you believe…calm.

I wanted to watch more and thankfully Blockbuster carried several more UFC tapes. I watched again and again as this same little guy in the white pajamas defeated foe after foe in the same calm manner. I was sold. There was a method here, a technique, an unseen science, and art in his fighting. It was something that spoke to me as a little guy. Then finally some fourteen years later, I began to understand what it was.

© J. Manuel Writes

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