Clubbin’: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Written by Bwog Staff
You’ve tried all the yogas, you’d bike but you don’t want to get hit by a cab, and you don’t know where the Dodge pool is. We have a solution for the most jaded of the athletically challenged. In Clubbin’, Bwog sends our troops to scope out the most unusual sports Columbia Club Sports has to offer. (Any member of the Columbia community can join! Just email [email protected].) We’ve horsed around with the Equestrians, wielded swords with the Kendokas and jumped walls with Columbia’s resident ninjas. In the latest installment of Clubbin’, Briana Last, kicks butt Brazilian-style.
On Monday and Wednesday nights, the brave among us enter Dodge’s Wrestling room at their own peril. Columbia’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club, a host of mean, fighting machines, gathers to practice complex techniques, work on calisthenics, and most importantly, kick butt.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a martial art derived from an older Japanese system of Judo, has developed steadily since its inception. The combat sport, which focuses heavily on ground fighting and technical superiority, gained prominence in the 1990’s when Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships. His opponents practiced traditional fighting systems: karate, boxing, and tae kwon do. They were shocked to find themselves defeated by an art form they had never seen before. It didn’t take too long for the sport to take hold of America’s attention and now Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most popular martial arts in the world.
Columbia’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Club is affiliated with the renowned Renzo Gracie Academy, named for the former Ultimate Fighting Champion and member of the BJJ’s founding family. The close relationship between Columbia and the academy draws skilled athletes to the mats of the university. Renzo Gracie himself has taught many of the fighters at Columbia, and Matt Serra, a UFC welterweight champion and disciple of the Gracie school, was a permanent instructor for the program years ago. Jason Yang, CC ’00, the current head instructor of the club, trained under Serra while he was an undergraduate, and soon joined his ranks as a black belt, promoted by the Renzo Gracie Academy.
The club is open to fighters of all skill-levels and of either gender. But, at practice, there were only two girls present, and according to Marilyn He, CC ’14, even that’s rare. Heard before she’s seen, Marilyn unleashes aggressive cries with her kicks. At practice she bellows: “What are you doing to my ear? What did my ear ever do to you?” “When all the guys are rolling, it’s really quiet,” she recounts. “Everyone just focuses. I’m the only one that really gets out there. I gotta distinguish myself somehow!”
Also a member of the archery team, Marilyn joined BJJ because she figured “it would be cool to practice a martial art and shoot a bow at the same time.” But she hasn’t gotten around to telling her mother that she spends six hours of her week wrestling with strong, muscly men: “I think she thinks we do something that’s more like yoga. I’m okay with that.” Her mom isn’t the only one who doesn’t know what to think about her decision to be in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club: “I have a boyfriend and he’s not, like, thrilled about it.”
But, how violent do these fighters get? Aside from the catalog of injuries the fighters brushed off: broken chest cartilages, mystery bruises, elbowed-eyes, ripped finger nails and broken toes, all “occupational hazards,” according to club president Stephen Chan, CC ’12, they all agree that what happens on the mat stays on the mat. The fighter has to separate any internal emotional strife from the combat situation. According to, Philip Crandall, CC ’12 and secretary, “You don’t get angry. The whole point is that if you get angry, you stop.”
When asked about the most exciting fight the two had gotten into, they both laugh and shake their heads. “They’re not really fights, you know. It’s not like, this one time I jumped out of a plane and got a guy in mid-air before falling into a lake. And then I choked him again under the lake,” Phil said. “And then he told me to hide the bodies,” Steven chipped in.
Much to the observer’s surprise, the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club is no free-for-all of violence. The nuts and bolts of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club are quite structured. Practice starts with some stretching and several laps around the wrestling mats. Then, fighters “roll,” or flip their bodies to prepare for falling to the ground. Next, they slide up and down the mat for “hip crawls” to practice escapes from the dominant position. Jason Yang, the instructor, teaches a few moves and then everyone tries them out.
Finally the moment of truth: it’s time to wrestle. Each member finds a partner. They knock fists, and the round begins. The fighters begin wrestling from their knees and they try to find openings in their opponent’s defense structure or catch them when they’re not looking. BJJ is all about strategy, and a moment of hesitation can cost the fight. Adrian Bauman, a graduate student at the School of Journalism, remarked after a round, “I mean, that’s the whole idea of the sport. You should be able to beat someone much larger than you.” Another round begins. Legs fly everywhere; grunts are frequent and loud. Marilyn’s comedic aphorisms fill the room, and somewhere in the midst this Bwog reporter taps out. Man down, but the Columbia Brazilian Jiu Jitsu club lives on.
Photos by Briana Last