Monday, February 23, 2009

The Star : Monday February 23, 2009


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one martial art form that advocates defence without violence.

IT’S hard to explain how watching two people wrestle on the ground, each trying to out-manoeuvre the other and applying chokeholds to bring the other into submission, can be so fascinating.

Marcos Escobar: ‘BJJ is an amazing way to work out your body.’

As savage as it may sound, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art form that requires skill and efficiency, not brute strength. BJJ is built on the principle that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend himself against a bigger, stronger assailant using proper leverage and technique.

“The literal meaning of Jiu Jitsu is ‘gentle art’ as it is an art in which you don’t have to apply strength. It’s a smooth art where you use leverage and apply techniques to submit your opponent,” explains Marcos Escobar, a BJJ black belt holder and instructor from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Escobar recently opened a studio in Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, where he has about 35 students enrolled in classes.

While BJJ is often compared to judo, there is one major difference between the two: in judo (and most other martial art forms) the goal is to bring your opponent to the ground. In BJJ, the fight really begins once you get down on the ground.

While many may compare BJJ to wrestling rather than any martial art form (such as karate, kung fu and judo which are stand-up sports; being on the ground equals failure), Escobar disagrees. “BJJ is still very much a martial art form,” he asserts.

Down but not out

Before going any further, there are some terms that will inexplicably be used when talking about the martial art form. First, the aim of BJJ is to get your opponent to submit, which is BJJ-speak for surrender.

To achieve this goal, you have to use a variety of manoeuvres such as (now, don’t be alarmed) chokes, strangles and locks while executing other moves (such as mounts and guards) to gain a dominant position to defend yourself.

Weight leverage: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is built on the principle that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend himself against a bigger, stronger assailant.

To concede defeat, the fighter who is overpowered has to tap his opponent.

You can train in BJJ for self-defence or for sport (to enter competitions). You can, of course, also treat the martial art form as a workout. In competitions, there are rules to follow to ensure the safety of players and uphold the integrity of the martial art form.

BJJ practitioners have to wear a standard gi (costume) which is similar to that worn by judo or karate exponents but with tighter cuffs on the pants and jacket so that there is less material for an opponent to manipulate. Escobar, who has participated in dozens of com­­petitions, has won many titles. He was champion at the Brazilian Team Cham­pion­ships (1997, 1998), the Red Nose BJJ Open (1998), the State Championship (Brazil, 1998), Abu Dhabi Championships (2001), the Brazilian Cup (Absolute Division, 2002) and the Brazilian Championship (2007), among others.

“I love competing. The training, the focus, the adrenaline ... it’s the best feeling in the world. Although I like it here in Malaysia, I do miss competing and whenever I go back to Brazil – which is twice a year – I try to take part in competitions,” he says.

Ground fighting

BJJ can be divided into three broad categories: self-defence (where you learn unarmed striking techniques to fight an armed opponent), free fighting competition (now popularly called Mixed Martial Arts competitions), as well as sportive BJJ.

Although he teaches sportive BJJ, Escobar claims that the techniques his students learn leave them more than able to defend themselves in any situation.

“What you learn in sportive BJJ is very effective for self-defence. In the real world, 90% of all fights ends up on the ground. In cases of abduction or rape, they always end up on the ground and the ground is our territory,” says Escobar, adding that BJJ also has techniques that teach you how to fight on your back, commonly perceived as a weak position to be in. It’s not as easy as it sounds though. Learning to move on the ground takes a lot of hard work and practice.

Force of habit: BJJ practitioners must wear the standard gi.

“In BJJ you also learn how to relax your body and fall without hurting yourself,” says Escobar.

The most important thing to master is leverage – it negates the significance of physical strength.

At Escobar’s studio in Kota Daman­sara, students are made to do gruelling warm-up exercises and conditioning drills at the start of each lesson. From running laps to doing push-ups, per­­form­ing solo drills that teach you how to fall safely and moving your hips on the ground, you will undoubtedly get a full body workout almost immediately.

Escobar took up BJJ 14 years ago while still in Brazil, and has never looked back since.

“I have always liked fighting. As a kid, I saw myself as Rocky Balboa or Bruce Lee. I learnt kung fu and water polo. Then I took up BJJ and it became a passion. I was hooked and did not stop until I had a motorcycle accident that forced me to take it easy for a while,” says Escobar who came to Malaysia to work as a fitness trainer three years ago.

Early origins

The early origins of Jiu Jitsu can be traced to India among the Buddhist monks who lived in isolation in monastries. The monks often faced threats from robbers who raided them for supplies.

Because of their principle of non-violence, the monks had to find an approach to self-defence that was effective but humane – no arms or violence and something that would not hurt their attackers, just overpower them. So they came up with a form of self-defence that used leverage to overpower.

Over time, this form of self-defence spread to Japan where it was further developed. Japanese Jiu Jitsu prize-fighter Mitsuyo Maeda came to Brazil circa 1915 and met a Brazilian politician named Gastão Gracie who was fascinated by the sport. Gracie wanted his teenage son Carlos to learn Jiu Jitsu from Maeda, and subsequently share what he learnt with his brothers.

Light touch: To concede defeat, the overpowered fighter has to tap his opponent.

Unfortunately, the Gracie boys were not as strong as Maeda, so they had to improvise: they introduced new techniques that hinged on leverage. They refined their techniques further, concentrating on ground fighting and this pretty soon evolved into an independent art form which we now recognise as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

BJJ picked up in Brazil as well as internationally in the early 1990s when expert Royce Gracie won several championships, sometimes against much bigger opponents.

Addicted to BJJ

BJJ student Lim Fang Han says he is hooked on the sport which he took up a couple of years ago.

“Initially, I had reservations about wrestling other guys on the floor, but once you get past the initial discomfort, it’s really challenging.

“I took up BJJ for fitness. I have an interest in martial arts too. I like BJJ because it is very physically demanding; it gives me a great workout and provides stress relief from work.

“It is a sport in which you have to prove yourself before attaining any rank. It takes an average of eight to 10 years for a person to get a black belt,” says Lim, who trains at Escobar’s studio three times a week.

Adds Escobar: “BJJ is an amazing way to work out your body. You are going to work muscles you never knew existed. You will get fit doing BJJ but you also need to be reasonably fit to train for the sport.”

May Tan took up BJJ for self-defence. She has since learnt that it is a great way to keep fit and lose weight.

“It’s tough, but I like it very much,” says Tan who signed up about five months ago.

Being a woman is not an impediment to BJJ, reckons Tan, because the sport is not about physical strength.

“That’s another reason I like BJJ. Most of the guys in my class are double my size but this is not an advantage in BJJ,” says Tan who is undaunted by the physicality of the sport.

Marcos Escobar can be reached at 017-635 6079 or