by Marana Vradenburg, VisionAware Peer Advisor
Several years ago, I was walking home from the gym thinking about where I wanted to take my fitness journey. At the time, I was following a bodybuilding type program, and although I was getting stronger and improving my physique, I was feeling that it wasn’t very functional for me. I had been considering trying CrossFit since it seemed new and challenging but wasn’t sure. A staff member at the gym had suggested that I try out a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu martial arts class that he and his wife taught in the evenings. I considered it but didn’t really give it too much thought. As I was walking, a car pulled up beside me and driver started yelling at me, telling me to get in. I had no clue who he was, but he exited the car and walked toward me. I froze.
Fortunately, a personal trainer I knew was leaving the gym. He saw me, recognized there was a problem, and ran down to help. As soon as he called out my name and started running toward me, the stranger jumped back in his car and took off. In that moment I realized that learning to fight might be a useful option for that new training program: Brazilian Ju Jitsu it was.
Let’s face it, when we are blind, many people see the white cane and often assume we are helpless. Some people want to offer assistance; others are predators who see us as easy victims and hope to capitalize on what they perceive as a vulnerability. I believe that it’s our responsibility to be prepared to respond in an appropriate way to whatever situation presents itself.
Why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
I’m glad you asked. Many different types of Martial Arts programs are available, and I know blind individuals who practice several such as wrestling, Judo, Kenpo, Muay Thai, and several others. Within the martial arts communities there are limitless debates on which are the best traditions. I think that each style offers benefits that may be useful in certain situations. Its similar to being a chef. Which knife is the best? Well, it depends on what you are doing. If I had started long ago with martial arts and had the time and resources to practice multiple ones, that would have been preferable. Since I didn’t begin until my mid-30’s, I wanted to focus on one and felt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu would be the most beneficial in the situations in which I might find myself.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also known as submission grappling. It’s similar to wrestling, but we use submissions (grappling hold applied with the purpose of forcing an opponent to submit out of either extreme pain or fear of injury) such as joint locks and chokes. The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu choke hold is not what we all see on TV. It includes learning to choke with hands, arms, legs, even using your clothing or the other person’s, or other items such as a white cane. The technique incorporates parts of Judo with take downs and other submissions and wrestling as well.
Beneficial to Women
As a woman I find Brazilian Jiu Jitsu beneficial in that we learn to fight from positions we could find ourselves in during any type of assault. As a blind person, we learn to grab on, hold on tight and pull someone in close, using pressure to control our opponent. While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, as with most martial arts, has drifted from its original purpose of self-protection and has become more sport or competition oriented; the submissions we utilize in sport Jiu Jitsu would still be effective for self-protection. However, for use in self-defense, it’s important to learn things that are not taught in a sport setting, such as protecting your head if someone is striking. Being aware of our vulnerable areas and what to do for self-protection is critical.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, whether for fun and sport or combat, is wonderful for so many regardless of ability, age, or gender. I have trained with men and women of all sizes and some who have varying disabilities such as deafness, blindness, or amputations. It’s a great way to be challenged, grow, be humbled, and gain confidence all at once. While we all learn similar moves, it is highly individualized, and we take what works for us and leave what does not. It’s constantly evolving. New moves are always being created, and no matter where you are in your journey, there is always more to learn.