Part of my plan to drop about ten or twelve kilos while the ladies are away is to get more time in at the dojo. Traditional jujitsu is not the calorie furnace you get in the Brazilian offshoot, but it’ll do me. As I get older and the knees get creakier I find the ground-fighting harder.
By happy coincidence, however, I’m working through the second bar of my brown belt grading at the moment. Plenty of opportunity for burning off flab there.
This morning, Saturday, we had the two hour class and I had some weapon defences to demo, responding to attacks with knife, chain, broken bottle, axe and staff or Jō. The staff is a traditional weapon, but the techniques to defend against it also work for pool cues, star pickets and broom handles. The axe has a wooden head, but it'll cave your skull in or break a bone if it connects.
It was a hard morning and I’m now a bit shaky and covered in fresh bruises and scrapes, but MyFitnessPal tells me I burned at least a thousand calories.
The attacks start simple. A straight stab with a knife, a big swinging axe coming to take off your head. Yeah, it’s weird, but that's simpler to deal with than lots of random, short stabby arcs with a broken bottle. As the grading proceeds the attacks escalate.
In the end there’s an exercise where you stand with your back to the attackers—Thanks Chris! Thanks Sensei Gordon!—and at a nod from the examiner they rush you with their choice of weapon and attack. Could be a concealed knife ripping upwards to gut you. Could be a chain swinging in a series of figure eights.
You try to empty your mind, and not to anticipate the clap which releases you to turn around and receive your attacker, but it’s like being on the blocks at a swim meet, waiting, waiting, waiting for the starter’s gun. The longer it went on, the harder it was to zone out and simply respond. My legs were shaking. Not with exhaustion or anxiety, but with my having to stop myself turning too early. I really wanted to see that attack coming in as early as I could.
When I did spin around, usually stepping forward and a little to one side or the other to give myself an extra half second, and to force the uke to slightly alter the line of their attack, I mostly perceived them as a blur. If they wielded a smaller, one-handed weapon, it was often impossible to discern what it was before they were on me.
A lot of the time I couldn’t even tell who was attacking, and now a couple of hours later, I couldn’t tell you who picked which weapon. Except for the axe. That was Sensei Gordon.
This part of the grading lasted only ten minutes at most but it felt like at least half my calorie burn was compressed in there. It also gave me the barest insight into what a real attack might feel like. A rushed chaotic blur where there’s no time to think, you are going to get hurt even if you ‘win’ the encounter, and afterwards you’ll struggle to recall the details in any sort of coherent form.