By Rebecca Maglischo
Photographer Jerry Eang
The man at the front of the room says a few funny comments and then calls my husband’s name in a thick Brazilian accent, “Mark!” Amidst the clapping, a few whistles and a lot of pats on the back, Mark walks to the front of the room. No one else would notice, but I see the slight swell of my husband’s chest. Pride. This is the most humble man I know and a little pride looks good on him. The instructor, Fabio Novaes, removes the white belt from around my husband’s waist and replaces it with a blue one. Then, just as importantly, he wraps Mark in a hug and congratulates him. This has not been an easy road, but nothing about Brazilian jiu-jitsu could be described as easy.
A quick glance at Wikipedia will tell you, “Brazilian jiu-jitsu, BJJ, is a self-defense martial art and combat sport based on grappling, ground fighting, and submission holds. BJJ approaches self-defense by emphasizing taking an opponent to the ground, gaining a dominant position, and using a number of techniques to force them into submission via joint locks or chokeholds. Brazilian jiu-jitsu was initially developed in 1925 by Brazilian brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., O’Brien, and Hélio Gracie, after Carlos was taught jiu-jitsu by a traveling Japanese judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda, in 1917. Later on, the Gracie family developed their own self-defense system, and published Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ eventually came to be its own defined combat sport through the innovations, practices, and adaptation of Gracie jiu-jitsu and judo, and became an essential martial art for modern MMA. This seems to be a good summary of the sport. But for so many people, jiu-jitsu is so much more.
From the corner of my eye, I see two blonde, curly heads peek through the doorway and weave their way to a good viewing position. My sons. They know the significance of this moment because they practice jiu-jitsu, too. Mark and I married late, and, under the pressure of time, quickly had two children back to back. We ran a gym, worked long hours, and I have no doubt he often wondered why in the world he left his calm bachelor life for all this chaos. I teased him, maybe a bit too much, when he decided to visit Fabio Novaes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He told me later he almost didn’t return after the first day. It was hard… and frustrating… and overwhelming… and it exposed every weakness, physically and emotionally. He feared my eye rolling and “I told you so” even more.