So, Have You Ever Tried BJJ?

What led you to take your first BJJ class? I stumbled into mine accidentally.

I rocked up to my gym in Melbourne for my usual kickboxing session, but I had read the timetable wrong.

“There’s no kickboxing on tonight, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is about to start – go jump in with the guys!”

I remember feeling so awkward, paired with a dude who was telling me to sit on him, grip his arm between my legs, press my chest into his back and try moving around whaaaat? SO many giggle moments for both of us and the poor guy may have copped a stray knee to the groin a few times too, oops.

I knew nothing about BJJ or grappling/wrestling or judo, but something about that class (other than the God-awful BO smell) stuck, and by my second class I had given BJJ a good google, and even bought a gi.

I’m a weird advocate for the sport. I kinda suck, struggle to make class consistently, don’t follow ‘the scene’ obsessively.. but I know how much I get out of training on a physical and mental level and am always keen to spread the love.

BJJ inevitably comes up in conversation when I’m meeting someone new. In this case that someone was a random Aussie girl I had followed for years on Twitter and vice versa.

She was in London, we caught up (met for the first time! Oooher) I mentioned BJJ and two days later she was wearing one of my gis and rashies, and attending Fightzone’s first Women’s Open Mat. Boom!

She had a blast, and seriously I couldn’t think of a better first jiu jitsu experience than with a mat full of friendly, uber supportive women.  I have a feeling I’ll be spying some BJJ tweets in her feed in the future.

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Meet Marie

I came away from my long weekend in Strasbourg with another girl-crush – I have these frequently in BJJ. There are so many awesome women in this sport helping to enrich the experience for the rest of us, regardless of our rank or motivation to train.

In this case, the incredibly warm welcome I received from Marie-Laure Kocher has stayed with me, and made me realise how much of a difference a gesture as simple as a smile can make when directed at a club newcomer – even more so when that newcomer doesn’t speak the local language!

So here’s a little more on the lovely Marie.

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I first discovered BJJ as I studied in La Rochelle, a city on the west coast of France. One day during a judo class, I sparred with a guy who rolled in all directions like a cat (Guillaume Baudoin who is now a BJJ black belt and instructor at Spirit JJB). He just arrived in the city and wanted to open a BJJ academy. I was a bit bored with judo at that time (I practised for around 12 years) so I took benefit of this opportunity to discover a new martial art.

The BJJ scene in Strasbourg is beginning to grow. There is the Gracie Barra academy (around 60 members) which was the first in town. Christian Sardella has done a lot to develop BJJ in the area. Now there are two sister academies in the south of the city. Recently a Brazilian black belt has opened BJJ classes in a kickboxing/MMA gym.

I don’t know that much about the BJJ scene in France. There are academies in the biggest cities, but it’s not as developed as in countries like the UK, Germany or even Switzerland. Actually martial arts are not that popular in France. I would like to discover more academies in France over the next few years, and visit Florence Couzin’s academy (one of the first, if not the first, female BJJ black belt in Europe, she also won the worlds as a black belt).

My biggest challenge in training BJJ was first stepping on the mat being the only woman in the class, then returning and continuing to train. It is sometimes hard to be the only girl on the mat (still the case today). By the way I wrote an article about that on my blog which represents my experience as a beginner.

The best of my travels late last year (which included Australia) was definitely the BJJ people I met along the way. Each of them made the visit unique. I wrote articles about every academy we (my boyfriend and I) trained at. I experienced BJJ in a different way.

If you’re coming to Strasbourg, you must of course explore the city center. It’s really nice to walk around or to bicycle around the middle age streets, buildings and the riverside. Historic places to see: the Cathedral, la Petite France, and the “Neustadt” quarter. There are some interesting museums for people who like history. Also go to the European quarter (with the UE Parliament and the European Court Human Rights) and the Orangerie park.

Petite France Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office
Petite France
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office

Strasbourg and all Alsace is famous for its cuisine and wine. People should try for example a real Tarte flambée, a choucroute or a Baeckeoffe, munster cheese. To drink: riesling, gewurtzraminner and, of course, a beer with Picon 😉

Strasbourg is really nice in the summer. When it’s sunny, locals like to be outside and have a drink. There are many nice bars around the city center. During the summertime there are also a few growing music festivals in Strasbourg or close to the city.

Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

In December, it is all decorated with Christmas lights (and a huge Christmas tree). There is a big Christmas market in the city where you can find local food, warm wine and handcraft.

Christmas Market at the Cathedral Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.
Christmas Market at the Cathedral
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

I can’t wait to catch up with Marie again in the future at BJJ Globetrotter events. Be sure to pay her club a visit if you ever find yourself in Strasbourg.