White-belt chronicles: Do you remember your first week of BJJ?

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[ By Eduardo “Dudu” F.* ]

I

I never pictured myself training BJJ, because I don’t have that much strength. Not even my strength of will is anything to write home about. I’m kind of like Bartleby, a character who would lazily say, “I would prefer not to.” Nevertheless, off I went. First class, wearing only the top part of the gi, basketball shorts and a kids’ yellow belt where the word “loser” wouldn’t be out of place.

II

Right away, stretching. Something I have no familiarity with. First pull to stretch the posterior thigh muscle and pow — that feeling like a fish hook. Had it happened during a soccer game, I would have spun my index fingers above my head to signal the need to be replaced on the team. But I can’t leave the mat during stretching — it’s pathetic, I thought. I swallowed that pain and had a brilliant idea: on the first play, I’ll pretend to fall wrong. A detail I only noticed later: BJJ is played on the floor; there are no takedowns in one’s first class. Moving on!

III

Unsurprisingly, I got run over by everyone I trained with, including a teenager who could be my son, the bastard. At the end of the session — destroyed exhausted, swept, frustrated and sweaty like one who just climbed the stairs to the Church of Our Lady of Penha to thank the statue for a miracle delivered — I hear my teacher ask me whether I liked the class. The answer is weird to me even now: yes! In fact, I returned the next day.

IV

A class on self-defense techniques — pretty cool. The master teaches how to get rid of that asshole who comes from behind to bother you. But the examples he used didn’t look too close to my real life. It was always some guy trying to steal some other guy’s girlfriend in the club, an environment I no longer frequent. I proceeded to adapt the content. A mailman insisting on delivering an overdue bill; a reckless old lady almost blinding me on the street with her umbrella; my boss trying to catch up to get me to stay late. That worked much better.

V

I’m in side control on top of a purple-belt girl with a cute hairstyle and a gi with details in animal print. Eventually she gives me the tip for freeing myself from her guard: “Squash my head on the mat.” Well, all I could think of was her hair, but I complied. “Do it for real!” she commanded. Hair be damned.

VI

All that were put in front of me were alerted that that was my fourth class, that they should take it easy on yours truly. My desire was to interrupt and say “On the other hand, I’m good at basketball and can hold my own on a skateboard!” But I shut up and breathe, and the session starts.

VII

BJJ is the gentle art, the master told me before one of the classes. Minutes later, with a reckless student squeezing a choke on me, holding the lapel of my gi with absurd strength, I questioned that gentleness. But indeed, everybody was nice and receptive. I felt welcome and, most important, respected. Perhaps that was the gentleness the master was talking about. Next time I’ll tell you about the following weeks.

* Forty-year-old Eduardo is a skinny man with a gut, as well as a journalist and writer. While he dreams of the blue belt, he writes monthly for Graciemag’s print edition in Brazil.

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