Jiu-jitsu means ‘The Gentle Art’ they said.  Sure, it’s about as gentle as being caught in a rip current or dragged and rolled by an alligator.

Those are my impressions after having four days of rolling on the mat with jiu-jitsu enthusiasts of various proficiencies.  I have a yellowish bruise on my chest, a purplish one on my forearm and my thumb is recovering from a sprain.

The thing is; I kinda love it. No matter what anyone tells you it’s still fundamentally two guys wrestling for supremacy and there’s something energising about that, like the primal part of my brain is suddenly waking up from its computer-induced slumber.

Sure, when pros do Jiu-Jitsu it can be deceptively elegant because the vying for position is hidden and only recognisable to those with the knowledge to understand what’s happening. When we beginners do it it’s like two monkeys tumbling around in the mud. That’s where the bruises and sprains come in.

But slowly, very slowly, a pattern is emerging for me.  Here are a few things I’ve learnt so far about the ‘Gentle Art’:

1.It’s about both technique and strength. You need to be strong, there’s no doubt about that. Strong in your legs, strong in your hips, strong in your neck; and it’s the type of strength that’s in the joints and ligaments as well as in the muscles.

2.It’s effective. Incredibly effective.  You only need a senior student to slap a chokehold or armbar on to you to know it for sure.  “Uhuh, that works,” was something I kept repeating while I was watching the pretty stars dancing in my vision after being shown a technique.

3. Position is everything. It’s like a Rubix cube: you have to carefully stack your techniques like the various colours, always keeping blue in mind when you’re working on red, always knowing that what you’re doing on one side is affecting the other side. It’s only when everything lines up that you pull off the technique.

4. It’s a cardio bomb.  Seriously. I had no idea the level of cardio that you need to grapple with someone non-stop for five minutes or more. It’s exhausting.

5. It requires patience. Learning to struggle for position is a lot less fun than learning a hundred different ways to choke someone out. But it’s exactly that learning that is going to set you up to be able to hold your own during sparring. Damn you Miyagi and your wax-on, wax-off, you were right.

6. It’s tough on the body.  You might not be learning a hundred new ways to choke someone out at first, but you’ll be learning a hundred different ways that you can tweak your shoulder, elbow or fingers.  The classes are amazingly free of aggro with everyone really open to learning but, like I said above, it’s still fundamentally two dudes wrestling.

So, in summation, if you’re looking for a gentle martial art try Tai-Chi. If you’re looking for something tough and physically challenging? Jiu-jitsu, uhuh, that works.