Ten bodies writhed around me on the padded blue mats of the John Wooden Blue Room, attempting to escape the grasps of their sparring partner.
I witnessed the complicated sparring techniques of the members of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club, which meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I became increasingly convinced that I would end up embarrassing myself attempting such technical attack poses.
“In jiujitsu, nobody is unteachable,” said Kristopher Martin, a fourth-year psychology student and Brazilian jiujitsu instructor.
All around me I heard emphatic thuds of bodies on the floor and the sound of bare feet sliding on the padded mats. I watched members tap their opponents’ arms to signal they wanted to stop fighting. Club members grasped their opponents’ shoulders in a position that locked their partners’ arm movement and hurled them to the floor. They practiced moves taught to them earlier in the session.
Jiujitsu is an adaptable martial art that people of differing capabilities and levels of experience can engage in, members said.
Brazilian jiujitsu distinguishes itself from other forms of martial arts through attacks initiated while the fighter is on his or her back. As a result, many of the moves and counters are close to the ground.
Since jiujitsu is markedly different in its fighting strategies, even people who have training in other forms of martial arts must go through an adjustment period when learning jiujitsu, said Garrett Gregory, a third-year economics student and vice president of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club.
“The most humbling thing about jiujitsu is that everyone is a beginner at one point despite having some background in martial arts,” Gregory said.
As I practiced basic hip escapes and rolling moves with Martin, I began to see how different each of the basic positions are. The diversity of moves distinguishes jiujitsu as a sport with a lot of technical variety, Martin said.
“Jiujitsu is like human chess,” Martin said. “There are so many moves and counters to anticipate and use.”
As members become more experienced in the sport and learn moves, each person develops his or her own fighting style, said Jane Shevtsov, a postdoctoral student and regular member of the club.
During the meeting, some members chose to practice a new chin-strap position taught in the class in which one partner pins his or her opponent’s chin to the ground.
Shevtsov’s fighting style is different from that of other club members. Shevtsov has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair due to a balance impairment. Shevtsov practices jiujitsu moves and positions that rely less on balance, she said. Since jiujitsu focuses on fighting on the ground, Shevtsov can practice many positions, such as chin-strap positions and escaping counters, without extensive balance, she said.
An avid rock climber, Shevtsov transitioned into a different sport after the 2014 flood at UCLA ruined the mats of the rock wall, and the room went under renovations, she said.
“After the flood, I started to look for something physical and fun that had the same strategy of thinking with your body,” Shevtsov said. “I researched a little bit about martial arts (and) found out that jiujitsu would probably be a good choice for me.”
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In UCLA’s club, advanced belt members and instructors help students find moves that incorporate their strengths, Shevtsov said.
Martin helps analyze the function of moves, such as defensive maneuvers, and finds similar positions that help Shevtsov evade an opponent’s attack in a manner that works best with her body, she said.
As for my own practice session, I barely skimmed the surface of jiujitsu. In an hour, I experienced the pain of lying on my side and thrusting my legs in order to propel my body across the floor.
My numerous attempts only vaguely resembled the steps that Martin demonstrated. I practiced the hip thrust with hesitation.
Martin demonstrated the strategic benefit of placing my hands in front of my face in order to shield myself from attacks. He said he didn’t exaggerate how my moves physically affected him in order to help me understand the purpose of the position.
Because the instructors and the members are eager to help each other through difficult moves, many of the members feel comfortable training at their own pace, Shevtsov said.
“If you have the attitude, show up, put in the work and are willing to get choked by people, then jiujitsu is for everyone,” Shevtsov said.