Thursday, March 15, 2007

Wrestling-like sport teaches self-defense

Although Brazilian jiu-jitsu was invented nearly a century ago, it is just now being introduced onto Truman's campus.

Late last semester, juniors Vince Vitatoe and Brian Hilliard started a club called Bulldog Jiu-Jitsu, in which they teach and practice the once scarcely known martial art that is rapidly growing in popularity around the world.

Four times per week Vitatoe, Hilliard and an assorted group of men meet and practice the sport that has only been considered a martial art for a few decades, improve their technique and get a workout.

Developed by Helio Gracie in the early 1900s, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is different from typical martial arts because it was designed for self-defense and real-life situations. It focuses on grappling (a form of wrestling), submission holds and taking the opponent to the ground without hurting them, Hilliard said.

"Most martial arts rely on striking or speed, flexibility or strength," Hilliard said. "Brazilian jiu-jitsu was developed by a guy who was weak his whole life. [Gracie] only weighed 135 pounds, and he had to find a way to beat guys that were much stronger than him. It uses leverage and technique as opposed to strength or flexibility, which makes it really practical for anybody."

Although jiu-jitsu might look and sound similar to wrestling, there are several small but significant differences between the two sports. Differences include submissions, chokes and joint locks, which are allowed in jiu-jitsu but illegal in wrestling, said Vitatoe.

Alumnus Steve Cox, a frequent jiu-jitsu club attendee and volunteer assistant coach of Truman's wrestling team, said he is able to use a few techniques for both jiu-jitsu and wrestling.

"In wrestling, you're using just a bunch of strength to try and stay out of certain positions, whereas in jiu-jitsu, if someone's trying to put you in a certain position, you just kind of roll with it and use it to your advantage," Cox said.

Jiu-jitsu is growing rapidly in popularity because of TV's airing of Ultimate Fighting Championships, Vitatoe said. UFC is a sports association that involves supervised fighting using mixed martial arts, including jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling, according to the UFC Web site. The fighting that happens on the ground in UFC fighting is mostly jiu-jitsu, and a little wrestling, Vitatoe said.

"I think [Bulldog Jiu-Jitsu] will [grow into a bigger club] because of several different reasons," said Dave Schutter, coach of the wrestling team and Bulldog Jiu-Jitsu adviser. "One reason is ultimate fighting is getting to be bigger all across the country, and ultimate fighters have to have an avenue of somewhere to train. Being in the jiu-jitsu club gives you another part of those skills you need to be an ultimate fighter."

Although primarily males have been attending jiu-jitsu practices during the week, women always are welcome, Vitatoe said. Later this month, Vitatoe and Hilliard will begin teaching a women's Rapesafe class on weekends. Rapesafe is a women's self-defense course that teaches women how to avoid dangerous situations and how to escape if an attack such as attempted theft or rape does happen, Hilliard said.

"[Rapesafe] is really practical," Hilliard said. "All the moves are really, really easy, so in the heat of the moment you don't have to memorize a bunch of junk. It's just a couple steps to help you get away, to help you protect yourself long enough to call someone else to help you. ... We really want to encourage girls to come and check it out."

Although jiu-jitsu might sound intimidating to some, anyone interested can participate in the club's jiu-jitsu practices, Hilliard said.

"You've got kids starting as young as 8, and there are guys doing it as old as like 95," Hilliard said. "We teach our classes in a manner that's kind of from the ground up so you're not going to come in and learn really difficult moves. We'll teach you how to first survive and defend yourself in a fight, then once you've mastered those, we'll show you how to control the other person and finish the fight that way through submission."

Vitatoe said he agrees experience could be helpful but is not necessary for participating in and enjoying jiu-jitsu practices.

"I mean, obviously if you have some wrestling background or any kind of martial arts background it's good, but, you know, you don't need any experience," Vitatoe said. "You'll pick it up pretty quick."

After practicing jiu-jitsu for more than a year, Hilliard said he can't think of anything he'd rather do.

"I love it," Hilliard said. "It's a really good workout, and it's really fun. ... With jiu-jitsu you get an extremely large amount of self confidence. It's crazy. After doing it about a week or two, you just feel a sudden burst like, 'Man, I can take anybody.'"

Practices are in Pershing Building small gym Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. For more information on jiu-jitsu practice times or the Rapesafe classes, contact Vitatoe at or check out the Facebook group called Bulldog Jiu-Jitsu.


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