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Irish Jiujitsu: wrestling for well-being

With the explosion in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, Ellen Corrigan takes a look at the Irish Jiujitsu scene via coach and advocate, Grace Colley.

It can be said that Irish people are becoming more health conscious and interested in their physical wellbeing. In 2017, the ‘Irish Sports Monitor’ conducted a nationwide survey and calculated that 43% of the Irish population (approximately 1.6 million people) participate in sport at least once a week.

With countless sports clubs and exercise classes available, it can be hard to single out just one. In recent years, jiujitsu studios have multiplied across the country and are slowly gaining recognition.

Jiujitsu, a form of Japanese martial art, is a method of close combat involving two opponents. Different studios teach varying styles, but it is generally considered to be a graceful and safe form of combat. While popular amongst martial arts enthusiasts, Irish judo clubs are still relatively new and unknown to many. I spoke to jiujitsu coach and advocate, Grace Colley, to find out more about the sport.

Q: When did you first become involved in jiujitsu and why?

A: I first started in February 2017, and got involved because of my brother. He’d started jiujitsu in January that year after signing up for a Brazilian combat course. I had absolutely no idea what it was or what it entailed, all I knew was that there was a grappling element similar to wrestling.

I was really intrigued so I tagged along to one of his classes, and decided there and then that I was joining. My mam and my brother both told me no way, they thought it was too rough and dangerous so I persisted out of pure stubbornness.

As well as that, I had just completed all my college exams the month before and decided I needed a new challenge. I’d always been fit in school, but I found the transition from school to college really difficult. I stopped exercising and gained weight, and had also started working in a fish and chip shop which really didn’t help. I decided I wanted to get fitter and healthier, and saw this as a kind of New Years resolution. Almost two years later and it’s safe to say that this is the only resolution I’ve ever stuck to!

Grace competing- photo credit_ Grace Colley
Grace Competing. Credit: Grace Colley

Q: Where do you train and what is your grade?

A: I train in Jungle BJJ Dublin as a blue belt. Basically, there’s five ranks in jiujitsu – white, blue, purple, brown and black belts. I’m on my second belt, which I received in April this year after just over a year of training which was a bit bizarre. In jiujitsu, because there are only five ranks, it takes a considerable amount of time to upgrade to a higher belt.

Even for a really skilled person who trains multiple times a week, it could take ten to twelve years before they earn a black belt. It’s definitely quite different from other martial arts in that aspect. In karate, for example, you might see children with black belts but you wouldn’t see that in jiujitsu. It takes a long time to climb up the ranks, but that isn’t what it’s about. It’s about learning the skills to actually get there.

Q: How did you become involved in coaching?

A: I just recently started coaching kids classes in October this year, so just about two months now. Jungle BJJ started initially as a part-time gym, only running evening classes. As the interest in jiujitsu developed and more people wanted to get involved, it turned into a full-time gym offering morning and afternoon classes too.

I was approached by my coach during the summer to teach kids classes because he was absolutely overwhelmed with clients. I was super excited about the idea and I absolutely love it so far. I go to work straight from college so I’m often stressed and in a foul mood, then I see the kids and they just completely lift my spirit and keep me smiling.

As well as that, it’s given me a new sense of focus and responsibility within my own training. I want to perfect my own moves so I can give my all to the kids. It’s just so rewarding to be able to share my passion for a living and pass that fire on to these children.

Q: What is your favourite thing about jiujitsu and what are the challenges?

A: I could honestly go on and on about my favourite things about jiujitsu but I’ll try keep it short! I love how it makes you forget about everything else going on. When you’re in that moment of someone fighting you and you have to defend yourself, you’re thinking about all the techniques you’ve learned and you’re trying to apply them in real-time.

It’s the best way to take your mind off everything else, it’s such an escape. It boils down to a moment of absolute mental clarity and everything goes quiet. No matter what’s happening in work or college or relationships, you step on the mat and start sparring and you leave all that outside. In that sense, I find it so good for managing positive mental health.

I also really appreciate the sense of progression it gives you. If you’re showing up to training, you’re getting better. It’s addictive in a sense because you can feel yourself improving with each session. Finally, you become part of a community when you join a jiujitsu club. You meet these people that you have nothing in common with, but you’re there because you love this sport. You grow into this close family so quickly because given the nature of the sport, you’re in close contact quite a lot! Everyone’s there because they want to be there and they’re having a great time and you see them at the very best version of themselves. It creates this amazing, positive energy that’s just incredible to be around.

Honestly, the only things I find challenging are the body aches! You can get injured at times but that really only happens when you execute a move incorrectly. Other than that, I genuinely struggle to find anything negative to say about the sport. It’s changed my life for the better, and I just wish that I’d started years ago.

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