Tucked round the back of Camden Lock and hidden away from the buzz of Camden’s colourful and sensory fizzing stalls is the Gracie Garcia BJJ Academy – the family name that sits above all others in the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

BJJ is recognisable for its ground fighting techniques, locks, chokes and joint manipulations and its development had me interested. I know of plenty of people who participate regularly and others who have been looking into it. I am also very aware that it is a martial art that is enjoying tremendous growth worldwide amongst women as well as men. despite this awareness I had not yet got round to experiencing it myself and I ileapt at the chance to change that situation.

It all began when a former Japanese champion of Jiu Jitsu, Esai Maeda, was assigned to Brazil as the chief of an immigration colony in the early 1900s. He met Gastao Gracie and taught his son Carlos Jiu Jitsu. Carlos and his four brothers then opened a school in Brazil in 1925. It was the younger brother Helios who truly stamped his style on it and created something that has travelled the globe.

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To compensate for his smaller frame he created hugely effective techniques that would allow a man lacking in height, bulk and raw power, to take on and beat those with all the apparent physical advantages. This method is now known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Speaking as a little ‘un myself  this of course has particular interest!

For past generations the Gracie family has held onto world titles and brought their techniques over from Brazil to London. This story resonated with me as my father and his Aikido friend, Jim Elkin, brought Aikido to Britain decades ago, a move I took for granted as a child and didn’t really pay attention to or grasp the significance of until later in life. It was only as an adult that I realised what this meant and the impact it had. Aikedo is now a widely available option to anyone interested in martial arts.

As my son Oscar and I entered the mat and prepared to dip our toe into BJJ for the very first time we bowed to some evocative photos who I took to be the founding fathers Helio’s and Carlos’.

Wrestling with new concept in exercise_3

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Thankfully having a 7 year old means he’ll ask the questions I won’t for fear of looking stupid and Sonia Pires, our wonderful teacher and host for the day, explained it was to show respect to the Masters. Oscar and I donned our suits and white belts, he somehow instantly looked more the part than me as I am sure many young boys would.

Oscar took to ‘rolling’ on the mat with Sonia easily and joyfully, quickly learning locks and holds while being clamped by her. I on the other hand, surprised myself and felt quite awkward about being strategically positioned in such a way to try and hold down a lady I had just met! And when the roles were reversed and I was on the bottom – after a few lurches, grunts and wriggles – I quickly realised I was going nowhere and would tap out.

Oscar put me to shame. Seven years old and two thirds my size, scrapping and scrapping with all his will and energy, refusing to believe in a lost cause and assiduously applying Sonia’s guidance and instructions to great affect. But the real reason for being there was to try an extension of BJJ that Sonia has been working with to bring its physical benefits to the masses who don’t actually have to learn the martial art itself.

* Joey concludes this piece in Part 2. She talks about the brilliant BJJ influenced workout everyone can have fun with and benefit from. And she also describes the moment she took on her own 7-year-old son at BJJ and realised age and experience isn’t always a match for youth, energy, enthusiasm and determination!

* Look out for Sonia Pires superb ‘Staying Grounded’ workout in the WatchFit app which takes you through Beginner to Advanced stages. Check them out soon at WatchFit. Check out the promotional video here!

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