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I love trying new workouts, but for the sake of convenience I typically end up jumping on the elliptical in my building or taking a run in the park when the sun comes out in Seattle (it happens occasionally!). In short, I'm definitely getting enough cardio in my workouts — but I was starting to get bored because I haven't learned any new skills or challenged my body to do something completely different in a while.
As I tried to think of a new workout to try, my interest was piqued by Demi Lovato's Instagram posts showing off her Jiu Jitsu chops. Martial arts classes hadn't been on my shortlist and it's a completely different workout than anything I've ever done — but go big or go home, right? I signed up for a private beginner Jiu Jitsu lesson at Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios, the martial arts studio in my neighborhood.
Jiu Jitsu is a defensive art that teaches locks, throws, and strikes as methods of defense in a variety of possible attacks from the opponent. It's believed that Japanese Jiu Jitsu techniques were developed and evolved during times of peace, possibly as a way to safely teach combat skills and strategies to warriors as preparation for future battles.
To get me warmed up, my instructor had me do 10 jumping jacks, 10 sit-ups, and 10 push-ups. Then it was time to learn my first skill: how to fall, which is called a "breakfall" in Jiu Jitsu. Your opponent is inevitably going to take you completely by surprise and knock you down — so it's crucial to know the safest way to fall. My instructor told me to consciously let myself fall to the ground without attempting to stop myself with my hands. When you embrace the fall rather than try to fight the inevitable, your risk of injury is reduced.
After teaching me the correct way to position my fists, my instructor had me practice some basic punches with each hand.
Image Source: Caitlin Flynn
As my lesson progressed, I learned how to combine striking and punching skills and eventually I graduated to sparring with my instructor rather than the massive dummy who served as my first opponent.
Something that surprised me about Jiu Jitsu was that a good portion of my lesson took place on the ground. After learning my initial punching and kicking skills, I was taught how to kick an opponent from a lying-down position. We also practiced maneuvering on the ground, and my instructor taught me how to "roll up" from the floor to a standing position without losing sight of my opponent.
Because this was my first lesson, I only learned the most basic Jiu Jitsu moves — but I could totally see why Demi and so many other people love this form of exercise. During my usual cardio workouts, I put in my earbuds and let my thoughts wander. This isn't always a great thing when you're a naturally anxious person, and I frequently jot down notes and add reminders to my iPhone while I'm working out. Needless to say, if I ever tried that during a Jiu Jitsu class, I'd be knocked to the floor in seconds and my breakfalling skills would really be put to the test.
Jiu Jitsu is definitely physically rigorous — although I wasn't sweating like I do when I pound the pavement, my body was sore the next day. But it's also a mental workout that requires your full concentration and that was a challenge for me in the best way possible. Another reason I'd go back for a second lesson is because I like the idea of knowing some basic self-defense skills. As much as I hope that I'll never need to use punches or strikes outside a martial arts studio, I think it would feel empowering to strengthen skills that I could use to protect myself if necessary.