At Gracie Barra Seattle, you’ll quickly get accustomed to close quarters and complex escape techniques.

Share story

I WAS PINNED under my partner, her weight planted on my chest, arms bound around my head.

To practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique, I moved my legs to one side, lifted my hips to shift her weight, shoved my forearm up against her throat, twisted an arm and wriggled out from underneath while still maintaining control.

I hate being pinned down. At least I now know how to get out.

Gracie Barra Seattle

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is described as a martial art designed to allow the weaker to defeat the stronger. When I learned it mainly involves grappling, I had to give myself a mini-pep talk. I reminded myself that I have grappled before in martial-arts classes. I could do it again.

But Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu takes grappling to an entirely different level. I spent half the class either putting my full weight on my partner, Morwenna Hardwick, or working on an escape when she pinned me down. The other half was spent in a headlock.

Many people arrive at the Gracie Barra Seattle studio new to grappling. Head instructor Rodrigo Lopes said being grabbed without reacting can be a challenge, and self-defense is one of many reasons to learn Jiu-Jitsu.

Another is the physical challenge. After outfitting me in a white gi, Lopes had us do a quick warm-up and demonstrated the first technique, a bear hug and headlock escape.

We practiced bracing our hands against our opponents’ bellies to escape the bear hug, got pulled into a headlock, then set up our feet to collapse our opponents onto our legs, then slide them out so they fall to the ground and we escape. Finally, we let our hips collapse so they couldn’t pull us over and pin us.

It is a complex series of moves that requires pretty much every muscle in your body. We did it so many times.

I figured out the bear-hug escape, but had trouble getting my feet set correctly so I could push on Morwenna’s knee and have her sit on my leg. I also pulled her down often, rather than sliding my supporting leg away. I did manage to collapse my hips most of the time.

But that escape — and yes, even the headlock — felt like playtime compared to the side-mount escapes.

We started with our opponents on top, arms wrapped on either side of our heads. To get them off, we had to move our legs to one side, push our hips up and shove an elbow into their throats, keeping them up and away so we had time to slither out while still keeping control.

It took me a while to figure out how to escape, though I disliked being the opponent more; having an arm shoved into my throat wasn’t pleasant.

We did another side-mount escape; this one became my favorite. We started with one arm wrapped around the person’s shoulder. To get out, we had to move our legs and shove our hips up, grab our opponents’ lapels and pull them up to get enough room to twist out. We also swiveled our legs in a twist to keep one hand on the lapel and get on top. I liked the complex twist required to execute this escape.

Did I mention I was disheveled, and also pulled out some of my partner’s hair? Sorry, Morwenna.

We repeated each technique multiple times and then, for the final chunk of class, had to repeat all three over and over, as fast as we could go.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will get you accustomed to close quarters, fast. I was surprised that by the end, the contact felt normal, and was even fun.