THE BASCIS: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ, is run by Alexandra Park BJJ. It”s a martial art, undertaken wearing traditional robes and belts, where you’re taught to wrestle and choke your opponents, and (if you’re the naughty one at the back like me) stifle giggles while you roll around on the floor, looking like a beetle stuck on its back.
This is the dirty (as in, down on the floor and grappling) floor-based wrestle-y cousin of the Japanese martial art of the same name. As a woman, it’s a great way to learn some useful, easy to apply self-defence skills and feel more confident that you could wriggle and fight your way free from a scary situation, if you ever needed to.
Classes are 1hr 30 mins and a free introductory session can be arranged. See the website for deets!
THE CLASS: A 15 minute walk from Bounds Green station, the classes take place in a school hall after all the kids have gone home. I was taking the class with fellow fitness writers Eliza and Pennie, and I was actually a little apprehensive as I just did NOT know what to expect.
Fahed our instructor told us to choose our Jiu Jitsu jackets and belts (there is a technical name for them, and I know you will enlighten me, HBs). I saw Pennie and Eliza tie their belts expertly, and it was only then I thought to ask them if they’d ever done anything like this before.
“Not really” they piped up. “Only when I was little. For about 10 years. Oh, and last week. Well, every week actually. Yeah, and I’m a black belt”.
Um , GIRLS?! Failure to disclose vital information?!?!
I had a tiny freak out but decided to man-up and get on with it. I tied my belt up like I would a dressing gown (FYI: incorrect) and got onto the mat ready to flump around.
Fahed started chanting in a rhythm, and we followed his jumping, stretching and warming up in a circle. My belt fell off and the temperature in my jacket reached 120 degrees. I prickled with sweat and got onto the floor to do the animal exercises he was talking us through.
Shrimp was my fave. A sideways shuffle, where you… well, you became a shrimp, pushing yourself on your side along the floor. Except weighing 64kgs more than a shrimp. And with no water to carry you.
It was SO difficult, I was way behind everyone else and just flopped into the ground unable to do anything but cry with laughter and shuffle along heavily. I looked over and Eliza was also laughing at my broken shrimp. I have a new found respect for little crustaceans.
Time to watch some floor flights and then split off into pairs to practice them.
It was very hands on, with everyone sweaty through their clothes; you should know this if you aren’t comfortable wrapping your legs very tightly around a stranger’s waist and then having their face hover 30cmm away from yours while you discuss how you’re gong to strangle them.
Despite the intimacy (!) it was an incredibly useful skill to learn, and I was very happy to practice it. Every woman should know how to break free from an attack like this. I was (annoyingly) far too gentle, and one ginormous man I was trying to shove off me was jovially saying “you can strangle me harder than that if you want!” but I guess I was just a bit worried as fighting doesn’t really come naturally.
I found out how gentle I was being when we swapped and I was the “attacker” pinning Eliza down while she tried to escape. She nearly popped my head off my neck with her thighs (THAT’S how it’s done)!
I stopped to watch for a bit and both Pennie and Eliza were really very fast and feisty. I think with a few classes I’d be pretty skilled up and able to comfortably hold my own in a scary situation.
We watched the pros to end with- 4 minutes of floor wrestling. It was mesmerising- What I had thought was going to be a lot of karate kicks was actually grunt work that was made to look dainty, easy and pretty impressive. They were sweaty as anything when they were done, priving how hard Brazilian Jujitsu makes you work.
THE VERDICT: Tough and challenging, especially if you’ve never done anything like this before, but very rewarding and unlike most other classes you can try in London. If you’re going to try it, go for it! Be strong, bear your teeth, sweat, fight, grunt and most importantly learn some skills that you might be grateful for one day.
Oh, and tie your belt properly!