Use Your Fitness: How CrossFit Guided Me Back to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

When I traded in my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gi for a pair of Nanos three years ago, I was content with my decision. CrossFit satisfied the same needs BJJ did – a competitive outlet, the fitness aspect, the community. A few days ago, my younger brother shared a documentary on his Facebook page – Jiu Jitsu vs. The World.

Watching it brought a lot of old feelings back – memories of days and nights spent on the mats, friendships forged through combat, the feeling of an opponent’sultimate submission, as he taps out to a choke. I went home that night and searched my closet – my old gi and belt were there, folded nicely in a gi bag. Untouched through two moves, but always kept safe and accessible in case this day ever came.

 My BJJ gear was packaged away in my closet, just in case I ever got the itch again.

My BJJ gear was packaged away in my closet, just in case I ever got the itch again.

My first night at Cheyenne Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was exhilarating. At least three times during class I found myself having to refocus on the instructor because I was just taking it all in. The wonderfully terrible and yet comforting smell of the mats, the sounds of different groups rolling and teaching, the instant camaraderie you rarely find in other sports, the burning of your hands on your opponent’s gi lapels – it was both as if I never left and as if it had been ten years, all at once. Like a long-lost love – familiar but strange at the same time.

 After my first BJJ class in more than three years. From left to right; Matt Cano, Me, Matt Manzaneres.

After my first BJJ class in more than three years. From left to right; Matt Cano, Me, Matt Manzaneres.

My game was rusty. My strengths are still my strengths, guard retention, flexibility and my sweep game – frustratingly slow and lacking the fluidity that comes from repetition. My major weakness still there, compounded by the lack of practice– guard passing. My fitness level from CrossFit was noticeable. I was able to take part in a nearly two hour class and never really felt run-down.

Each instructor brings their own lineage in BJJ, so you pick up different games by training under different instructors. When I started BJJ in Birmingham, Alabama, I trained under Chris Conolley, who had his brown belt from Chris Hauter, one of BJJ’s “Dirty Dozen” (The first 12 Non-Brazilians to receive their black belt).

 My first BJJ match ever. I had just swept my opponent for the winning two points before time expired.

My first BJJ match ever. I had just swept my opponent for the winning two points before time expired.

I learned a dominant top game training there, the knee-ride and a number of subs from that position. In South Carolina I trained under Shane Briggs, a black belt under Relson Gracie, the second oldest son of Helio Gracie, who, along with Carlos Gracie is credited with creating Gracie or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. There I learned a pressure-style top game and a number of techniques I still employ out of mere habit and repetition, like the guard-blocker.

 Relson Gracie Black Belt (at the time a brown belt) Shane Briggs, awarding me my blue belt at Jiu Jitsu Nation in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Relson Gracie Black Belt (at the time a brown belt) Shane Briggs, awarding me my blue belt at Jiu Jitsu Nation in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Now I’m training with a crew of Rigan Michado lineage students (Rigan is also the Professor who gave Chris Hauter his black belt) and I hope to pick up much more. I want to thank the crew at Cheyenne BJJ – specifically Matt Cano and Matt Manzaneres, for welcoming me into their Jiu-Jitsu family last night. The group of students was awesome, with skill levels ranging from a young man who was taking his first class, to mma professionals with more than ten fights under their belt. I’m looking forward to adding BJJ back into my fitness and competition routine – and adding their crew of BJJ players into my close-knit competition family.

 My new BJJ family. Cheyenne Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

My new BJJ family. Cheyenne Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

One thing CrossFit is about is building a fitness level that allows you to go learn new sports and activities. In my case, it allowed me to seamlessly pursue an old passion. My level of fitness allowed me to jump right back into this old game. I encourage all of you to rediscover an old love or go find a new one. Don't allow your fitness to only be about the sport of fitness - let it be something that guides you into a myriad of different passions.

You don't have to simply love one sport or one form of fitness. I will CrossFit probably until the day I die - but I will also never stop trying to find ways to use that fitness level.