Shrimping into the art of self defense: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art for all

The gentle art of unarmed combat

Instructor+Laura+Eyler+demonstrates+a+T-Position+throw+on+first+degree+black+belt+Amad+Jones.

Caroline Hobson

Instructor Laura Eyler demonstrates a T-Position throw on first degree black belt Amad Jones.

At 13, I was just like every other middle school girl. I was timid, struggled with self confidence, hated my body image, and dreaded going to school every day because of how shy I was.

I was so anxious to go to school, stand up for myself, and even walk with a touch of confidence that I tried to blend in as much as possible. I dressed like everyone else, and just wanted to be as un-noticeable as possible.

Fast forward five years. I have grown into a strong, confident person who has no fear of standing up for myself.

I attribute my confidence to the art of Jiu-Jitsu.

This gentle martial arts form shaped my life, and taught me how to stand up for myself in every situation.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, by definition, is a grappling-based martial art whose central theme is the skill of controlling a resisting opponent in ways that force them to submit. My instructors have always referred to it as a game of chess, where you are always thinking three steps ahead of your opponent, and always trying to use their mistakes to your advantage. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is also centered around the skill of taking an opponent down in a gentle way, and submitting them to where no harm can be done to either participant.

Since the early 90’s, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has exploded in popularity due to the rising interest in mixed martial arts and self defense. The Gracie family was the first to bring the martial arts form from Brazil to the United States, and it was a foreign success that everyone wanted to learn.

Women, children, the elderly, and really everyone who isn’t considered a “big strong man” can benefit from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Caesar Parades, third degree Brazilian JiuJitsu Black belt has been practicing JiuJitsu for over 20 years, and has been running a successful academy here in Frederick for about 10.

“The first thing that really got me into Jiu Jitsu was seeing Royce Gracie when I was a teenager. When Royce Gracie was choking everybody and armbaring everybody, I really didn’t understand what was going on. But I saw that every martial art form had this huge guy competing for them and representing their martial art, whether it be karate or whatever, there was a big strong guy competing for them. But for JiuJitsu there was this very small guy representing that martial art [Royce Gracie] and it was like a ginormous guy against this very small guy, and the small guy would win every time. So I guess when I saw that small guy choking, breaking people’s arms and stuff I was like man whatever that guy is doing is highly effective and really for me,” said Parades.

While it is a relatively new martial arts form, it is booming in the Frederick area. With over 10 mixed martial arts, JiuJitsu, and self defense gyms in Frederick County alone, the opportunities to learn are endless. The variety of classes offered at these locations include womens only classes, children’s JiuJitsu, muay Thai, and adult JiuJitsu programs.

Brazilian JiuJitsu Brown Belt Laura Eyler has been practicing JiuJItsu for ten years and has run a successful women’s program for five.

“Over the many years I have been involved in teaching Jiu-Jitsu, I have seen tremendous growth in self-confidence. When asked in a prior question about a benefit to training Jiu-Jitsu, confidence is my number one answer. The confidence is not only in whether someone can protect themselves but just in everyday ordinary tasks. More confidence in all areas of a person’s life. I have witnessed so many examples and so many have shared with me how the Jiu-Jitsu I have taught them has changed their life positively. I am proud to be a part of that story,” said Eyler.

Her women’s program among many others in the county has provided a safe space for women to learn the art of defense. Her program has helped many girls at Linganore find comfort in defending themselves.

“I’ve gained confidence in myself and my abilities to protect myself. I started loving myself and my body more. I’ve made many new friends. I’ve been in the class for about a year and a half and I am so unbelievably proud of myself for how far I’ve come,” said sophomore Natalia Markus.

“I’ve gained confidence, a feeling of safety, and an understanding of how a body moves/works. Within the few months I have been participating in the class, I can confidently say that I am proud of my progress and I look forward to every class. I’ve also learned to trust my instincts, because in a tough situation you may have to depend on them,” said sophomore Rachel Holibaugh.

The core beliefs of JiuJitsu is that everyone should be able to participate in it, no matter what physical challenges you may face, which is why JiuJitsu is really a beneficial sport to all regardless of size or gender.

“I believe that JiuJitsu, especially with Gracie JiuJitsu, some of the core beliefs about jiu jitsu are that everyone should be able to do it. So if you are bigger, smaller, stronger, or whatever you should be able to protect yourself. The mechanics of the movements should be natural. If I need extreme flexibility to do a move then that would go against Gracie JiuJitsu. It’s not necessarily that the move is wrong or is not effective but if not everyone can do it then it does not qualify for Gracie JiuJitsu,” said Parades.

The Benefit for women
Women are typically looked at as weaker, less likely to defend themselves, and more likely to be abducted by someone bigger and stronger.

“Jiu-Jitsu has benefited me in too many ways to mention. Most importantly the friendships I have gained through the years of training and teaching so many wonderful people. I have truly benefited most by teaching others what I have learned over the years. I know that I am helping so many when I share the art with them,” said Eyler.

The art of Jiu-Jitsu can favor the “weaker” opponent because it relies on both body and mind, not just the strength of someone’s body. The ability to outsmart your attacker with the moves that you know is one of the best skills for a woman to have in a time of danger. There is approximately a one in three chance of women being targeted and attacked in some way whether it be from a stranger, or spousal abuse. However, with the knowledge of Jiu-Jitsu, the gap between violence and being able to protect yourself can close.

I wish all young women would participate in a women’s program like this so that they could increase their confidence, know their worth, reduce their anxiety, and protect themselves.”

— Linganore Parent

The empowerment that women can gain from training Jiu-Jitsu is another huge benefit. People of all ages struggle with self image, body confidence issues, and the ability to stand up for themselves. Womens programs offered in Frederick teach women not only how to stand up for themselves physically, but also just how to say no.

Many women are pushed into saying “yes” because they don’t know how to stand up for themselves. Just saying “no” or “back off” or “don’t come closer” makes a world of difference. Using your voice can prevent conflict because they know that you will put up a fight.

“Really don’t be afraid to start JiuJitsu. Nobody is judging you, we all had to start somewhere. Whether you’re 13 or 31, we’re all here to learn, grow and support each other. These classes are an amazing source of stress release for me, if I’m feeling tired or sad and angry I always find myself feeling so much better after class. These ladies are so nice and supportive, I couldn’t have asked for a better group to learn with,” said Markus.

Doing Jiu-Jitsu as a woman can create self confidence, and teach women how to feel comfortable in their own skin, and walk down the street knowing that if they were to be attacked, they have the ability to stand up for themselves.

“It is a very valuable skill and you will never regret that you took the time for it. When you start Jiu-Jitsu, often it takes us out of our comfort zone. That is okay, in fact it is a good thing. Stick with it and soon you will be comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” said Eyler.

The Benefit for Children
The way Jiu-Jitsu teaches children to move their body can benefit them in many ways. The first is increased mobility and flexibility. Gymnastics is a prime example of a sport that conditions children and allows them to gain more flexibility and control over their bodies. Jiu-Jitsu demonstrates the same characteristics because it teaches children to use their bodies in a specific way which allows them to defend themselves.

“Seeing my child do JiuJitsu, I have seen him gain physical strength and discipline. He also feels included and successful in a popular sport, which is not always easy for a child with a physical challenge,” said a Linganore parent.

Learning Jiu Jitsu requires a child to execute techniques that contain many small details. Learning to perform these techniques can help develop the child’s fine motor skills and teach them a good understanding of base and balance. These skills of physical and mental coordination can then lead to them being more successful not just in Jiu-Jitsu but in all aspects of life.

JiuJitsu can also help instill confidence in children. At a very young age many children are told to stand up for themselves, but very few have the confidence to stand up to their bullies. Jiujitsu teaches children how to stand up for themselves and protect themselves from danger whether it be from adults or school bullies.

“The children gain self-confidence, strength, agility, and respect for others. Children who know Jiu-Jitsu are often able to avoid conflict because of the confidence they exude. They make lifelong friendships and have coaches that truly care about their safety,” said Eyler.

Bullying is another issue that almost every child faces at some point in their lives. Whether they are physically or emotionally conflicted, children are presented with the difficult conflict of sticking up for themselves. JiuJitsu can help children find that voice, and stand up for themselves in each situation, whether verbal or physical, without hurting themselves or others.

“I had a kid that was my student and he was bullied since he was little and his parents didn’t know about the issue. Then eventually one day he had to stand up to this person and had to come out and not be afraid anymore. So I feel like JiuJitsu gives you the tools and once that you feel assertive in the physical aspect and that you know you can take it the mental part is going to come next. But if you do not have an assertion that you can defend yourself you might never stand up to a bully, which is why JiuJitsu is so important,” said Paredes.

No matter your age, size, or physical stature, Brazilian JiuJitsu can teach you how to defend yourself and use those valuable tools when needed. It is a hidden gem in the martial arts world that contributes to every aspect of life for a student. From self discipline and confidence to physical strength and improvement, JiuJitsu is made to keep everyone safe.