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Grappling as an Art

Many years ago, when I was mainly training the Afro-Brazilian art of capoeira, I tried out a little bit of jiu jitsu-style grappling with a friend after an aikido class we attended. There was something that stuck with me about it. Although I loved the rhythm, music, movement, and interplay available in capoeira, this other art brought me in closer contact with someone, and to my body and brain, I felt “safer” being in close. A few years later, I started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and haven’t stopped, other than during a good deal of the last couple of years due to the pandemic (see: close contact). There is something about practicing the art of grappling that reaches down towards something primal for me. Most animals play through play-fighting aka grappling, and what are we if not a kind of animal?

What IS grappling? In the broadest sense, it is using different parts of your body as tools to seize and manipulate another person. There are many other martial arts forms that focus on it, such as sambo, wrestling, and judo. You can utilize grappling moves to destabilize someone and pin them in place. Some of the more offensive tactics can lead to joint locks or strangle holds. Luckily, in recreational and sport fighting, the objective is to gain control and apply a lock or a strangle hold, but not to hurt your opponent so badly that you both can’t train again the next day. There are safety mechanisms in place to help ensure that the fight ends before something goes seriously wrong (otherwise known as “tapping out”).

At the root of my desire to grapple, is something I can’t completely put words to. It just feels right to do. It soothes my stress, it connects me with others, it helps me find muscles and moves I didn’t know I had, and there’s nothing like the utter sweatiness of a BJJ training session. I can move through risk and fear and gain confidence in my ability to weather all sorts of storms.

I’ve been developing a program with Impact Personal Safety of Colorado (IPSCO) through my role researching and implementing movement and fitness into the staff training and into the curriculum. It is currently entitled “Roughhousing 101” and it is meant to be a trauma-informed, and slower entry to moving with another body, especially in martial or tactical ways. Consent and checking in is of utmost importance. It will be a place to take some risks and connect with others. It will include the aforementioned grappling and also includes some work that would mimic a striking art (like boxing), but with soft tools like pool noodles. The experience can be whatever it needs to be for the participant.

One of the meanings of “grapple” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “to begin to understand or deal with something in a direct or effective way”. This more figurative meaning of the word delights me because I can feel how by physically grappling, it often helps me to understand or at least deal with other things going on in my life as well - and sometimes it’s just plain fun.

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