Portland State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

“Cross that pack of cigarettes off of your shopping list!” barked Eric Dorsett, brown belt and instructor of the Portland State Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. The class had just practiced guard passes in rapid succession, and some were looking fairly winded. Eric represents Five Rings Jiu-Jitsu, whose head coach Tom Oberhue is one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners in the state of Oregon.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling art that takes place between two competitors in what amounts to a heavy two-piece cloth outfit. The competitors grapple against one another using their opponent’s gi to control their opponent, as well as using their own gis for offensive attacks, as is used when implementing a gi-choke—a choke where one uses their gi to choke their opponent.

Dorsett let me know that the class has been at PSU for a number of years. However, the class has taken off recently, and enrollment has swelled to over 40 students. Luckily Nick Burke, a Five Rings Jiu-Jitsu purple belt, is on hand to help the students with technique. This is a positive because even though Burke is of mid-rank (the system goes white, blue, purple, brown and black), the ranking system is different and more conservative than other martial arts systems.

Burke has been training for six years to obtain his purple belt. Had Burke been training in another system, such as Tae Kwon-Do, he would have long since received his black belt. However, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts are notoriously stingy when it comes to awarding a belt, as once you receive their belt you are representing their brand of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. If you’ve been given your belt while you weren’t ready and get submitted by someone you shouldn’t have from a rival school, it could be very shameful for you, as well as your school and instructor.

That is not to say that it is impossible to receive rank quickly. I have heard stories of division-one wrestlers taking up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and because of their advanced understanding of ground movements they have received their blue belts in six months.

There is also the tale of multiple sport world champion B.J. Penn. Penn is thought to have received his black belt in a mere three years; a near superhuman feat. Penn was fortunate to have the mix of talent, as well as a loaded family. This enabled him to dedicate every waking moment to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. For us mere mortals, three to four hours a week will have to do.

Dorsett told me about the Portland State Jiu-Jitsu Club. He said that another student likened it to a lab for the Jiu-Jitsu class. There is not much, if any, free rolling in the class. However, students are encouraged to sign up at the Academic & Student Rec Center for the Jiu-Jitsu Club. There is no formal instruction that takes place, and it is primarily used by the more advanced students who have outgrown the Portland State Jiu-Jitsu class to practice live against one another.

The interview was very informative, and I was pleased to find out that PSU has a vibrant Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community. The interview was wrapping up, and I’d planned on only observing the class. However, Eric insisted that I cannot write an article on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu without taking the class. Even with a background in submission wrestling (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu without the gi), I was a little nervous about putting on a gi for the first time.

When we first started practicing, it took me a few times to get down the moves we were being shown. One of the moves we practiced was a sweep from guard. Basically, there is a person on top of you and you turn the tables to put them on their back, with you on top of them. I was familiar with this move from no-gi. However, the presence of a gi means that you have something to grab on to, and the move can be performed slower and more methodically. In no-gi you have to explode into it. When I went to explode with the gi on, the result was more like a small puff of smoke.

This is what I get for not paying attention to the finer points of the demonstration and thinking, “I know this one already.” My partner was kind enough to break down the move for me step by step again. The proper use of the gi made all of the difference for me.

The class was very relaxed, with no pressure, and some students even had their glasses on. Yet another had a hat on. The environment was a great one for learning, and since there was no live rolling to submission, there were no opportunities for inflated egos. All in all I had a fun time; I learned new techniques and I got a great workout—all in one hour’s time.