First rule about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: talk about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

I recently started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It’s a martial art that derives from the 1800s from Japan by way of Brazil. Unlike martial arts focusing on striking and kicking, BJJ is about ground game or “rolling.”


While working on my second novel (the sequel to Sword and Serpent) which features gladiatorial games, I became fascinated with human combat. I began to study MMA and the UFC (we need an ethics of fighting article on Maccabee Society – any takers? Submit an article.) Anyone who follows the UFC knows that the “mixed martial art competition” was originally popularized by the legendary Brazilian Gracie dynasty, the family that brought Jiu Jitsu to the United States. It was Royce Gracie that put Jiu Jitsu on the map when he dominated the practitioners of various martial arts in UFC 1-5.

Here’s a video of Royce Gracie dominating the enormous Kimo Leopaldo at UFC 3 in 1994. This is one of the matches that sparked attention for Jiu Jitsu and MMA. It’s an example of how a small Jiu Jitsu blackbelt can overcome a larger Taekwondo blackbelt by ground grappling (note bene: fist striking as seen in this fight, is not allowed in the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu):

My brother-in-law Sam is a blue belt in BJJ and he encouraged me get on a gi and take some classes. So I went for it.

This is my first time to train in BJJ, and after reflecting on my experience so far, here’s what I’m learning:

  1. Humility. Although I may be the strongest guy in the room, I will easily get destroyed on the mat by a man weighing 140 pounds. I was tapping out every 60 seconds. Humiliating.
  2. Perseverance. I already want to give up. BJJ is like a rock crashing through the glass of my ego. I have felt totally confused and helpless in the guard of a better practitioner. When I ask around, the consensus is that it will take months, but more like two years (!!!) of consistent training to even begin to hang with a blue belt (the second lowest belt in BJJ). If I’m going to make progress, it will be very slow and accumulative. There are no cheats or secret techniques to jump ahead. It pretty much parallels success in business, health, marriage, family…life. You have to persevere with consistency.
  3. Prudence. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is more like chess than it is fast fighting. Getting angry or passionate just makes things worse. It wastes energy and usually sets you up for a submission. Following my natural instinct only leads to an arm bar. And isn’t that life? When you get worked up, angry, or allow yourself down the path of lust or appetite, you get enslaved in the moment. Voluntary slavery leads to regret.
  4. Toughness. I’ve been banged up a little. I’m not 20 anymore and I’m more than a little fearful of injury. Weightlifting, stretching, diet, etc. are essential to health in any martial art. Toughness is necessary as it relates to the virtue of fortitude. When I pair up with someone better or bigger than me, I sense the fear of injury. But there is a joy in pushing through the mild fear and going for it. BJJ is forcing me to reassess how I calculate risk/reward.

Is anyone else in The Maccabee Society into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? How long have you been rolling? What have you learned? Please leave a comment below:

Tapping out,