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Tales from Buenos Aires: Welcome to Jiu Jitsu


Posted June 13, 2013 by

I’m a newbie when it comes to martial arts. Now that I’m back living in the UK, I train in KFM/Defence Lab, but about a year ago, I had absolutely no experience in martial arts whatsoever.

Having always prioritised my rugby training, I thought that relocating to Buenos Aires would be a great opportunity to cast that aside for a short time and throw myself into the dojo. After a bit of time spent on Google, I plumped for Jiu Jitsu. It made sense to me, after all some of the grappling techniques I was already moderately competent in from rugby training, and I liked the strategic edge that the sport seemed to have.

Baby steps

In the weeks leading up to me leaving for Argentina, I had been in regular contact with the Director of the Gracie Dojo, Sebastian. I made him aware of what I was doing, moving to BA to learn Spanish and dive into Argentine culture, and he assured me that everything would be fine and that they welcomed all levels. Great, full speed ahead with the plans.

I should probably mention here that I didn’t speak a word of Spanish before I arrived in Buenos Aires. A few niceties perhaps, please and thank you, but that’s as far as it went. Not exactly useful phrases when you find yourself in an arm bar or the triangle!

Lost in translation

Arriving at my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu session, I was extremely nervous. I had only been in the country for three days, I hadn’t had a Spanish lesson yet, and it took me two hours to find the Dojo; the bus system in BA is a little confusing to say the least!

Peering my head around the Dojo door, after I eventually found the place, I confidently belted out my over rehearsed lines, which explained who I was, that I was looking for Sebastian, the School’s Director, and that I didn’t speak a lot of Spanish so could you all speak slowly please.

Obviously, something got lost in translation.

Sebastian wasn’t there, as he had been kept late at work, and I was met by a barrage of indecipherable Spanish. As anyone who has been to Buenos Aires knows, they speak a special brand of Spanish down there, using as much slang as they can, speaking ludicrously quickly with a strong accent, and refusing to say whole words.

Picking my phrase book out of my bag, much to the amusement of my fellow classmates, I tried as best I could to explain again.

It was, however, a futile exercise.

If in doubt, copy everybody else

After standing with one of the other instructors for a good 10 minutes attempting to have a conversation, everybody began warming up. So I did the only thing that I could think of, I followed them. It seemed to work. People said hello and were very smiley, so I figured that I was doing the right thing.

After some running around in circles, we moved into the main part of the warm up, which was exhausting. By the end of the neck strengthening exercises, my body was literally shaking. I didn’t show it, obviously. When presented with that situation, there is only one thing to do, and that is to pretend that it’s easy and you’re fine.

Welcome to Jiu Jitsu

Having never studied Jiu Jitsu before, I assume that in the UK you would be grouped with people in the same ability level as you.

Well, this was Argentina and things didn’t work like that.

After a brief demonstration of two moves, we were paired off to practice them for 15 minutes or so. Unfortunately for me, my partner was a purple belt and spoke absolutely no English. And even more unfortunately, the two moves we were expected to practice were an arm bar and a rear naked choke-hold.

If you know Jiu Jitsu, then you know that, when put on you by a seasoned veteran, these holds are pretty painful! I didn’t know that at the time, largely because I didn’t understand the instructions as they were all in Spanish, but I found that universal truth out pretty quickly.

With his legs wrapped around my waste from behind, and arm across my throat in a sleeper hold, I got my introduction to Jiu Jitsu. I had watched enough MMA to know that when you feel the need to submit, you tap. I, however, being new to the sport, and being extremely stubborn, forgot this in the heat of moment. The moment at which my head became light and things started to go a little dark, I quickly remembered this, much to the amusement of my partner.

I’ll never forget what he said to me, “Bienvenidos a Jiu Jitsu.” Welcome to Jiu Jitsu.

Baptism of fire

A baptism of fire is the only way that I can describe my first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class. Sebastian made it to the second session and I was introduced to everyone. They were a great bunch of guys at the dojo and the instructors really knew their stuff. As it turns out, the first session that I did wasn’t supposed to go like that. I was supposed to have my hand held a little, but Sebastian’s absence and my lack of Spanish ensured that nobody really quite knew who I was.

Four nights a week of training and some Spanish lessons later, I began to really love Jiu Jitsu. And I even got a little respect for the fact that I had come through my first session more or less unscathed. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the ideal introduction to Jiu Jitsu, but it’s definitely a memory which will stick with me for a lifetime. Character building, I believe they call it.

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans
A former professional rugby player in his youth, Gareth is now a bit of an all-round amateur when it comes to sport. He continues to play rugby for his local club, has studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Argentina, played Basketball in Peru, trekked in the Andes and the Himalayas, is a reluctant adventure racer, and is now studying KFM (Keysi Fighting Method). He has a passion for a whole host of sports, as well as travel, but feels truly at home on the rugby pitch or in the mountains.


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