Runcible Blog

a whole new world (of hurt)

In my fourth week since starting kickboxing, I decided to experience a new set of aches and pains by learning Jiu-jitsu and grappling. I've been going to the gym almost every day and have gotten used to the ebb and flow of different specific injuries (tendonitis in my foot, blisters and cuts on my feet, strained groin or hip), but wrestling is showing me an exciting and unpredictable level of hurt. Today, my lower back feels like one big bruise, and I'm walking around like I've got a peg-leg.

The range of skills I've been learning outweighs the immediate discomfort, though. In the general grappling class, we do falls, throws, takedowns, and free sparring, while the Jiu-jitsu classes teach specific submissions and footwork. The free sparring is the most exciting and frustrating part for me. As a beginner, I'm usually in a defensive mode where I have to squirm around to prevent the other guy from getting into a dominant position. I've found that I'm reasonably good at defending against people more knowledgeable or slightly bigger than I am, but when it comes time to capitalize on all of that squirming, I don't yet know what to do and end up losing any brief advantage I had. Jiu-jitsu emphasizes using your opponent's force against him, whether that force comes from a strike or from his own joints (most submissions are simply achieved by pulling a limb in an unnatural direction; by aligning it correctly, one needs hardly any force to do serious damage). Similarly, every position or attempted submission has a corresponding escape. Even if someone is sitting on top of you with his weight on your torso — probably the worst place for you to be — there are ways to turn the situation around and end up in a more neutral position. Or if you're being choked and the choker doesn't have quite the right position, he can struggle forever without succeeding because you can move your body to alleviate the pressure. That's why the mantra is "position before submission": Jiu-jitsu is like a chess game, in that if you put all of the pieces into the right places, the outcome plays itself out effortlessly. What makes Jiu-jitsu more complicated is that the entire time you're thinking about the body mechanics and trying to find the right opening for a submission, your opponent can be punching you in the face, pushing on your liver, or generally being very distracting.

The grappling classes seem to have more serious students than the level 1 kickboxing classes. You can take kickboxing only for the cardio workout or be content to work on technique by kicking a bag thousands of times, but grappling requires a bit more of an investment. The folks I've met in the grappling classes seem to know each other's names and are willing to help each other improve, while many people in the kickboxing classes might as well have headphones and blinders on. I'm sure that the fact that Jiu-jitsu involves close physical contact (like this [which is a good example of a "rear naked choke with hooks". she'll have a tough time getting out of that one...]) compels people to get to know one another, but it's an interesting social difference to note. Also, there are no women in the grappling classes and only a couple in the Jiu-jitsu classes (which are slightly more geared toward self-defense). From a self-defense perspective, that's a little disappointing because I would think that women, in particular, would want to know what to do if they're pinned by someone stronger. Kickboxing is pretty much useless when someone is sitting on top of you.

I'm still working on finding a good training schedule with a mixture of kickboxing technique, conditioning, and grappling. The classes complement each other well — kickboxers without ground fighting skills are likely to lose in a real fight because most fights end up on the ground, while Jiu-jitsu fighters who focus on wrestling have sloppy or weak punches and kicks. Of course, I still don't know whether or if I'll ever use these interesting skills in real life (it's funny that Jiu-jitsu instructors seem to have found themselves in lots of street fights over the years, while I've never been in such a situation and don't intend on looking for any bar brawls. go figure.), but my curiosity and fascination haven't waned yet. Plus, there are still parts of me that remain to be injured.