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  • Writer's pictureRachel Butler

The lowdown on gracie jiu jitsu…

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

If you follow me on instagram I’ve posted about learning self defence and gracie jiu jitsu a few times because it’s something I think women especially can really benefit from but I wanted to write about it more in depth after a few things I’ve read and heard about recently. I think there are a lot of people that self defence training would benefit the most who rule it out because of misconceptions and not really knowing what to expect from self defence training.

I’m going to start by talking a bit about the reality of the world we live in and why I personally felt the need to start self defence training. I’ve got a friend that is a police officer and he recently told me about an experience he had where he was knocked down by someone he was trying to arrest, he fell on top of his truncheon so he couldn’t get to it and found himself on the ground being hit by someone who it turned out later was carrying a knife and was lucky that his colleague was able to get the man off him. I just found it completely ridiculous that he was doing that kind of job without knowing how to safely get himself out of that type of situation and it made me think about why more people don’t actively learn to defend themselves.

I read recently about a lesbian couple that were beaten up on a bus and after doing some research there has been an increase in these types of hate crimes. There’s no excuse for homophobia or prejudice and it is never OK to attack someone for any reason but the reality is that things like this happen every day. On occasions when I have found myself in a bad situation, knowing afterwards that it wasn’t my fault hasn’t changed the fact that I’m the one dealing with injuries, the trauma of being assaulted and the fear of how much worse it could have been. I don’t think it is victim blaming to recognise when you may be targeted and doing your best to equip yourself with skills to get yourself out of the situation should you find yourself in one. In a perfect world its not something anyone should have to worry about but the reality is we don’t live in a perfect world. When I have suggested to LGBTQ friends that they should think about learning self defence the response I’ve got is laughter and “Me? Learn fighting?” I find that really baffling to be honest because we’re all aware of the danger, we’re all aware that there is still prejudice and homophobic attacks and most of the time the conversation about learning self defence has come up because they have been talking about feeling unsafe or threatened. I just really don’t understand why your own safety is not a priority. I think its basically because the preconception they have of self defence training is a mix of karate kid and the montage scene from rocky 4 when that’s really not what it’s like.

I see a lot of people sharing quotes like this and it’s great that people are starting to recognise and call out victim blaming. Its so important that we are starting to talk about consent more but regardless of this the reality is that women are still assaulted. The problem is whenever we talk about things women can do to prevent sexual assault we have gone from victim blaming to now having the attitude of “well they shouldn’t have to” which is absolutely true, they shouldn’t have to. The problem is the fact that you shouldn’t be in a situation does not help you when you are in that situation.

I get asked why I decided to learn jiu jitsu a lot and the main reason is because of personal past experiences when I’ve found myself in a situation and haven’t known what to do.

I train Gracie jiu-jitsu, there are a lot of self defence systems out there, personally after doing my research before I started its the one I found to be the best. I can only comment on my personal experience and I’m not saying that other systems aren’t as good or don’t work, I’m no expert I can only talk about what I know about personally. I find it to be well structured, safe, logical and broken down step by step something I think everyone can learn. I get asked a lot of questions about it and there are a lot of misconceptions about it so I wanted to talk about it a bit more because I really feel that the people that it would benefit the most are the people that wouldn’t consider it.

So people often say they wouldn’t take up jiu jitsu because they don’t want to get beaten up. I’m not going to lie, my first attempt at learning jiu jitsu wasn’t great. I went to a gym where the instructor basically left me to it on lesson one, didn’t really show me anything and at the end of the class was like “there you go Rachel, fight him…” and I was flailing around with literally no clue what I was doing and obviously I never went back. It’s a shame that this is the experience and the lasting impression that people have of learning martial arts because they happen to have chosen a bad gym. With gracie jiu jitsu this didn’t happen at all. I went in and the instructor was really friendly, spent time with me explaining what jiu jitsu is and went through a technique with me and I felt really comfortable there. The beginners program gracie combatatives has been developed by the gracie family to teach you what to do in the most common situations you might find yourself in on the street. Each lesson is taught as a stand alone lesson as if everyone in the room is learning it for the first time so there has never been a time when I’ve felt like everyone else knows what they are doing except me. The lessons are taught as simulations to street situations but your not actually fighting, no one is going to be trying to hurt you or beat you up, it just isn’t like that and every lesson I come away thinking that if something happened to me I’d feel like I’d at least know what to do.

I quite often hear “fightings not my thing” when I tell people that I do it. My main response to that is that getting hurt in a real situation because I didn’t know what to do is not my thing. I think it’s really important for people to recognise themselves when there is something about their life that might put them more at risk of being attacked or assaulted. For me I work with the public on my own a lot of the time, leave early in the morning or come back late at night when there’s not many people around and felt that for my own confidence I’d feel better knowing that I’m more able to look after myself. A lot of people think that self defence and fighting are the same thing, the short answer to that is there not. In every lesson the instructor will always point out in a technique when you would have the opportunity to get out of the situation and go. The main thing about self defence is to keep yourself safe and while my instructor shows us how to finish the technique he also always stresses the importance of not escalating a situation if you don’t have to. In a real situation you wouldn’t carry on fighting for the sake of it if you could just get away safely.

A lot of people think that by doing martial arts training they are going to get hurt. I regularly hear “I don’t want black eyes” or “I like my teeth where they are” especially from women and this is basically because they don’t know what to expect. In the beginners course the “bad guy” will simulate an attack in a way that a person on the street is likely to so that you are able to practice the technique and learn what to do if you found yourself in that situation for real. No one is going to punch you as hard as they can or try to hurt you, it’s not competitive and everyone is there to learn. Safety aspects of the techniques are pointed out before you start and the instructor is walking around watching everyone. With any physical activity injuries happen but I’ve always found it to be really safe.

People are quite often nervous about the fitness aspect of it. Gracie jiu jitsu is for everyone, no one is going to judge your fitness level starting or expect you to be able to run a marathon. Jiu jitsu is about leverage not strength so it doesn’t matter if you’ve never set foot in a gym or lifted weights in your life you’ll still be able to do it. I’m obviously not a small girl myself and there’s a few adjustments I sometimes have to make for techniques to work with my body type but it’s never been an issue I’ve just called the instructor over, he’s shown me something else that will work for me better, there’s no judgement, no body shaming and I’ve just got on with the class like everyone else. I can’t stress enough how inclusive I’ve found it. I’ve been to other gyms and I have found that I’ve felt judged for my fitness level or how I look but this is just not the case with gracie jiu jitsu at all.

I can’t stress enough how beginner friendly the combatatives course is. I’m not the most athletic or co-ordinated person myself, if I can pick it up anyone can. Everything is broken down step by step and in an environment where questions are encouraged if there’s something you are not sure about. Everyone gets nervous about trying new things and it’s completely normal but I’ve always found everyone to be really friendly and want to help each other learn.

The gracie combatatives classes are for men and women. I personally don’t feel uncomfortable training with men but I know for a lot of women this can be a barrier. In gracie jiu jitsu they actually do a separate program called women empowered which is designed with the most common attacks that women are likely to encounter. Jiu jitsu is ideal for women as it gives you ways to be able to defend yourself against a bigger and stronger opponent. I think it’s really important as women that we understand that even though we shouldn’t have to worry about our own safety the reality is that we do have to. I personally would rather be aware and take responsibility for my own safety than deal with the aftermath and possible life changing consequences of being attacked. Its never the victims fault but that shouldn’t be a reason to not learn to look after yourself.

If you’re thinking about learning self defence the advice I would give personally is to do your research about what you are planning on learning. I’ve seen things advertised as self defence that are basically boxercise classes, there’s a lot of people out there willing to take your money but you don’t want to be in a position where you haven’t got a true sense of your own ability or where they have told you to do something in a situation that in reality would escalate it. The reason I chose gracie jiu jitsu is because after doing research I knew it was legit. Any training centre you go to the instructor has been certified by the gracie family themselves and I think it’s really important to know where what you are learning comes from so you can make a judgment on how likely it is to work. I train at eclipse in Wolverhampton, can’t recommend it enough, everyone is so friendly there and I’ve always been made to feel welcome and comfortable but if that’s nowhere near you there are training centres all over the place. If your interested in doing it don’t put it off, they offer a free trial anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose.

For me personally I’ve gained a hobby, new friends, more confidence and fitness. Maybe I’ll never find myself in a situation where I need to defend myself and hopefully you won’t either but personally I’d much rather know it and not need it that need it and not know it.


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