Dojo Road Trip: Part I

July 4, 2015 by Rieshy

About a month ago I had the opportunity to stop at a few BJJ schools and Karate Dojo's while on a road trip.  It was an unusual opportunity for me, as a mother of 7, to be in a car alone for days (wahoo!) and because I have very little experience with martial arts outside my home dojo.  I did my homework; I found some places that looked reputable; I contacted them ahead of time and made arrangements for dropping in and got some advice from my sensei at Family First Martial Arts about how to stay safe.  I also got a heartfelt request from my husband to, "Please Do Not Get Injured".

And away I went.

The first school, Atos North Dallas, Team Pedro Mello, was amazing.  This was my first time ever inside a purely Brazilian Jujitsu school.  The place was massively intimidating to walk into.  Torture devices (cross-fit equipment) ranged along one side of the gym and loud music shook the ceiling tiles.  Very fit looking men were standing around waiting for class to start.  The mat was chain-link fenced from the rest of the gym.  Something about the chain link seemed very serious and reminded me of the book, The Outsiders, or maybe a scene from West Side Story.  Not that whistling and dancing are all that scary... but I digress,  all I could think was, "I am about to die amongst strangers."  And when I found out there were no changing rooms or showers I mentally amended that to, "I am about to die sweaty and amongst strangers."

Limbering up was also intimidating, driving 5 hours straight after a day of driving 10 hours straight tends to make arthritic knees revengeful, and I was the only woman on the mat at first, not to mention the only person well over forty.  To be honest, my hands shook but the mat felt familiar and the atmosphere seemed casual and team or family-like rather than ego driven.

The professor was welcoming and explained the shrimping and rolling warm-ups completely. When the rest of the class, who were all advanced belts, didn't roll their eyes or act annoyed at such basic explanations I started to relax.  I have to say watching a bunch of BJJ black belts do shrimping warmups is really beautiful.  When we paired up to drill I was specifically matched to a purple belt who was patient and helpful and long-suffering.  It turned out that he coaches some of their kid's classes.  I bet he's fabulous with the kids.

I had the time of my life and learned an amazing amount.  It was fascinating to experience a martial art's culture so different from my own.  I bowed at the wrong times, I hustled at times that everyone else sashayed.  I responded with a couple of instinctual and loudly misplaced, "Yes Sirs."  Yet the similarities were striking: the respectful intensity with which the participants listened to their professor, the sense that we were all there to work hard, the way that I was placed specifically with a partner unlikely to accidentally hurt me, and, equally important; how I was given a partner savvy enough to avoid being hurt by an unknown and probably spastic white belt.  Even the sense of fun that I love about my home dojo was a part of the work out.

Atos North Dallas with Padro Mello

The experience psyched me up for the next school on my list, 300 odd miles to the West.  I had picked this school partially because my 13 year old son loved the name, Zombie Jujitsu.  As he put it, "How can you not want to work out at a place called ZOMBIE?".  Bolstered by my Atos experience I walked in this school with a modicum of confidence, or at least enough confidence that my hands didn't visibly shake.  Once again the culture difference.  Jujitsu schools seem a much quieter experience than a mixed martial art school and I missed the constant kiai and the inherently satisfying thwacking sound of bagwork. In fact, the quietness actually made me a little homesick.

At Zombie, with Joseph Tonche, we did some self defense work using a padded wall; it was a blast slamming and being slammed into the wall.  Yes, there is something very theatric and wrong with me. We don't have a padded wall at my home dojo so the drills were all new to me and they seemed quite practical.  Later I got myself very very squashed free-rolling an experienced white belt who completely controlled me with just her grips; I think she actually had 4 arms.   Once again I learned a lot.  It was a pleasure to work hard with people, even though they were absolute strangers.  It was also interesting to see a similar gentle demeanor that I'm used to seeing in my three sensei at home in the professor and coaches at both jujitsu schools.

Zombie Jujitsu 

Martial Arts and hospitality intertwined on this trip.  I am grateful that both Atos North Dallas and Zombie Jujitsu were kind enough to let me drop in on their worlds.  To my husband's relief I even came home uninjured.

Part of the reason I came home uninjured is because I choose not to stay to work out at a third school (which will remain unnamed) that I also visited... but that's Part II.


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