Exercise switch-up: Here’s what happened when I committed to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for a year

Qualified personal trainer Amélie Creusy steps out of her comfort zone and explores the ancient practice of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with some surprising results.

“As a personal EMS-trainer (running my own training business for three years), a runner and a dedicated yogi, I have always been fit. After all, when fitness is as much a part of my down time as it is inherent to my professional life, how could I not be?

But it wasn’t until I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu nearly a year ago — thinking it would fast-track my ‘bikini body’— that I quickly realised how different being fit was from being strong. A year later and my goal is no longer bikini-centric. It’s about being strong enough to protect, defend and assert myself if I ever needed to. The importance of that ability, I’ve learned, far outweighs how I look, and this has given me the kind of body confidence I have never had before.

My first Jiu-Jitsu class was an eye-opener. There I was, dressed like the Karate Kid, facing a stranger whose objective was to overpower me (and mine to overpower them). And while the get-up and set-up felt silly at first, Jiu-Jitsu’s various choke holds, shoulder locks, wrist locks and armbars demanded that I took it seriously — quickly showing me how dangerous it could be if I didn’t. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, your opponent will come up against you with a number of techniques and all of their force. You need to be prepared to stop them from breaking your arm or suffocating you by indicating submission and ‘tapping out’ (by tapping the ground or them). It might sound confrontational and violent, but actually it’s a game of strategy and strength.

That was one of the first things I learned — that the fundamental pillars of this sport are consent, trust and support. That isn’t to say that I avoided the inevitable bumps, scratches and bruises that came with a session of Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a serious workout, and the people who practice it are there to work hard. Being in pain after Jiu-Jitsu is part of the game, almost half of the fun and is strangely satisfying — it’s like a lasting reminder that you have conquered a gruelling workout.

The other thing I quickly learned about Jiu-Jitsu, is that it isn’t reserved for big burly men, or muscle-bound, athletic women. People are surprised when I tell them I practice it, which is probably because they see me as a petite Parisian who would be more suited to barre classes than wrestling on the ground. The truth is, Jiu-Jitsu is perfect for anyone with the impetus to give it a go.

I also love the solitude that Jiu-Jitsu provides. After fielding non-stop questions from my three inquisitive kids all day, a session of Jiu-Jitsu offers some much-needed respite from the busyness of my regular routine.

When you’re wrestling or focusing on techniques, concentration is key. Trying to stay upright while your training partner is grappling you is a great way of clearing your mind of anything that has been worrying you. I’ll tell you now, there’s no time for self-pity or misery when you are pinned to the ground under someone 20kgs heavier. Now, rather than fight against them, I relish these meditative moments in the middle of my week for the way they leave me both mentally and physically calm — a feeling I often return to when I feel under pressure in my day-to-day life.

But the real beauty of Jiu-Jitsu is that you never stop learning. If you don’t win your fight, or you are struggling to master a technique, you must develop the patience to learn how to be better. As in Jiu-Jitsu, so too in life. When you finally get something right, or you win your first fight, the joy is insurmountable.

Jiu-Jitsu has given me a newfound appreciation for my body’s abilities. Being able to pin an adult larger than me on the floor and have them eventually submit is empowering to say the least and I’m not ashamed to say that I am completely hooked.

Despite the fact that it will probably take me the better part of a decade to reach Jiu-Jitsu’s prestigious black belt status, it’s a journey I’m very happy to embark upon. The pursuit of progress and mastery in this sport runs through your veins forever.”

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