Say what? Jiu-who? I know, I was the same way a few months ago.
Back in the fall, I took to my blog to whine about my various injuries, disappearing fitness level, and overall frustration. Enter Kate, Birmingham Track Club Volunteer Chair and her boyfriend Mario Santana. They both read my blog, and Kate suggested that I try some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes with Mario to burn off some steam and get back into shape.
I had never considered martial arts as a form of cross training. I knew that it was a good workout, but I had never seen myself as a “karate kid” type. Me, the world’s most accident-prone girl flipping bodies and putting people into choke holds? Nope. Plus, I didn’t quite see how it’d help my fitness as a runner. Boy was I wrong.
Mario teaches and trains at Spartan Fitness in Homewood. He’s been training there for the past five years and teaching for over two, so he really knows his stuff. The gym offers BJJ, Muay Thai, boxing, and MMA for all levels. They also do personal sessions—I worked with Mario for an hour and a half before taking a beginner BJJ class so that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself.
And it.was.awesome. Mario literally kicked my ass, but then I got to choke him in return. Fair trade.
Flexibility—Have you ever watched a BJJ match? YouTube one and then come back. Good? Did you see, there is a ton of flexibility needed! Whether you’re stretching your hip flexors while your legs are wrapped around your opponent’s back, or you’re engaging your back muscles while doing scorpions, all of the moves will translate into more flexibility on your runs.
Core strength—Like in running, a strong core is key for BJJ. Many times you’re in a closed hold with your hips in a bridge.
Endurance—On easy runs, distance runners can go for miles without getting winded. But in BJJ, doing warm-ups across the mat or doing a 90-second match will leave you panting, since you’re engaging different muscle groups. Which will help on future runs!
Acceptance of failure—You will get submitted many times in class, and you will get frustrated. But you need to bounce back quickly, because there’s always another match. The classes teach you how to channel that frustration and learn from your mistakes. Kind of like a bad race, eh?
Mind/body awareness—Every movement in BJJ is deliberate and meant to both keep you safe and harm (in a real-life situation) the other person. Channeling that awareness can translate into running as well—we need to always be conscious to keep our shoulders relaxed and core engaged, all while not tripping over our feet.
Self defense—An attack can happen any time, anywhere. These classes are invaluable if the day ever comes when someone tries to take advantage of you.
Self esteem—Knowing you can tackle an opponent, whether in a match or a race, is priceless.
Humility—“There is always someone better than you, and you will always be better than someone else. Which means, we’re always in a permanent state of learning and teaching,” Mario explained to me. Now, doesn’t that sound a bit like running?
Patience—Just like you don’t run a marathon after a week of training, you don’t master BJJ in one class. Ranking up to a black belt can take a decade or more, but imagine how much you’ll learn and achieve in that time?
Fun—As Mario said, “BJJ is designed for smaller people to beat larger, faster opponents. Your technique and intelligence play a large roll during a sparring match…it’s like chess with bodies.” C’mon. How cool is that?
It’s hard for runners to leave their comfort zones and try something new—especially something as different as BJJ. But the physical and mental benefits vastly outweigh the initial awkwardness. So go ahead and flood Mario’s inbox with class requests. He’ll make you a safer, stronger runner!