Sunday 25 February 2018

Getting to grips with the gentle art of grappling

It is the relatively new martial art which is beginning to take Ireland by storm and there is a lot of skill in grappling.

Wayne Palmer at National Athlete Development Academy in Rosemount Business Park. Photo: El Keegan
Wayne Palmer at National Athlete Development Academy in Rosemount Business Park. Photo: El Keegan
Wayne Palmer and Sinead Bartley photographed at the National Athlete Development Academy in Rosemount Business Park, Dublin. Photo: El Keegan
Wayne Palmer and Sinead Bartley grappling at the National Athlete Development Academy in Rosemount Business Park, Dublin. Photo: El Keegan

Fiona McBennett

With the Ultimate Fighting Championship set to take place in Dublin this weekend, martial arts have never been so popular in Ireland. However, a lesser known form, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, is slowly taking the country by storm.

Jiu-jitsu, meaning 'gentle art', is a form of martial arts that focuses on grappling and ground fighting.

Created by Carlos and Hélio Gracie, it is easier on the joints than other high-impact martial arts and does not involve striking or throwing.

Instead, the aim is to overcome your opponent through a series of techniques such as joint locks or chokeholds. Unlike other forms of martial arts, such as karate, it can take as long as 10 years to earn a black belt.

Paul Fox, founder of the Royal Grappling Academy, has been involved in martial arts since he was a teenager and has trained with some of the world's best jiu-jitsu teachers.

"I had been doing various forms of martial arts since I was 16. When I hit 30 I realised that I needed to stick with something that wasn't as tough on the body, so I chose jiu-jitsu," he says.

Paul travelled to Brazil to train during a career break in 2008 and brought Brazilian jiu-jitsu back with him to Ireland.

"I decided to start up a club in 2011 near to where I lived and started off with just two or three people and one or two classes a week. Now we have classes six days a week and are getting busier and busier," he says.

Paul runs the club with Roger Dardis, whom he met at a jiu-jitsu training event in New York. Roger has been involved in martial arts for almost 10 years and is currently the only Marcelo Garcia Brown Belt outside of America.

He agrees that while jiu-jitsu is somewhat unknown in Ireland, interest is beginning to pick up. "We have our own home-grown black belts now. Five years ago, there was only one and now there are 15 or 20."

The club has recently moved to the National Athlete Development Academy headquarters in Blanchardstown, Dublin, and Paul says it's the perfect pairing. "NADA train the Dublin GAA team and Olympic athletes so we are delighted to be in a place of such high standard."

Grappling builds strength and stamina through the resistance work involved in overcoming an opponent, as well as cardiovascular fitness due to the high intensity warm-up routine at the start of the class.

Paul says that for many, the benefits of the sport spread into all areas of their life. "Everyone starts eating healthier and doing things like yoga and pilates to keep fit. It's more than a sport, it's a way of life," he says.

Wayne Palmer began doing martial arts six years ago, a while after he had suffered a heart attack at the age of 24.

"I had been fit at the time but the heart attack was stress-related," he explains. "It took me a while to get back into exercise and then I began grappling which I immediately fell in love with."

However, a knee injury, followed by the births of his children, meant that Wayne put grappling to one side and his health suffered as a result.

"I put on a lot of weight at the time, I was over 16 stone. Then one day I just decided I was going to get fit again. I wanted to get back into grappling and found this place."

Over the course of a year and a half of training with the club, Wayne's health dramatically improved.

"I dropped 20 kilos and got much fitter. I used to have to use an inhaler at the beginning of every class as I couldn't even do the warm-up and I was on tablets for back pain. That's all cleared up now and I'm feeling great," he says.

Wayne says that jiu-jitsu is now one of the most important things in his life.

"My whole life has changed. I eat better, I'm fit and my kids, my wife and my work have all benefited from me doing this. If you've had a bad day, mentally it's great, as you get to take out any frustration you have on the mat."

Although Wayne has a young family, he makes sure to fit in his training sessions.

"With family life and work, it's definitely tough trying to find the time, but I usually get here twice a week.

"When it comes to competitions, I usually train three or four times a week. The club have recently started early morning classes so I'm going to go to them before work too."

Sinéad Bartley is a regular on the mat and is currently the only woman in the club. She came to grappling after she had given birth to her twins last year.

"I was put on bed rest when I was 26 weeks pregnant and I gained a lot of weight as a result. The twins were born at 32 weeks and spent another two months in hospital, so I didn't have time to think about anything else," she says.

Sinéad had always been a fitness fan and a regular at her local gym before she had the babies, so when the twins were five months old, she began looking for classes again.

"Once I got back into training, I lost about 15 kilos but I found the last stone very hard to lose. I wanted something that would shock my body into losing the last bit of weight. I loved watching The Ultimate Fighter on tv but I wasn't keen on the punching. My partner, Sean, told me about grappling, so I got in touch with the club."

Sinéad has been training with the club twice a week ever since and says she loved it from the very first class.

"I was addicted from the very beginning and from then on I haven't missed a week. Most evenings I'll say I don't want to go but I know that I'll feel great when I do. If I didn't come to class I'd be afraid that I'd miss something as there's so much to learn every week."

Being the only woman amongst the men has never deterred Sinéad.

"When I rang up and asked about the classes, they told me there were no other girls. I didn't care, I wanted to do the training regardless," she says.

"They don't treat me like a girl most of the time. The better you get, the less they hold back and that's a compliment. Some of them really don't want to submit to a girl so they'll try really hard, but they're always really nice to me and ask me if I'm okay."

Aside from the physical benefits of the classes, Sinéad loves the time grappling gives her away from the demands of being a mother.

"I find the training is a great way to get away and forget about everything. I'm with the kids all day, so by the time Sean comes home, I am ready to leave the house and have a break," she says.

"If I stay in, I have to listen to the babies crying, so it's better for me to get out of the house and properly switch off. I just don't have the time to think of anything else when I'm here."

Like Wayne, Sinéad finds that the classes are a great

way to let off steam. "It's been great to come down here after a bad day, as I can really take it out on the mat," she says.

However, while the classes do help Sinéad to unwind, her love for the sport means she can often leave a class buzzing with excitement. "When I come home in the evening, I'm wired. I'll have Sean in leg locks as I want to try out all that I have learnt in class," she laughs.

Paul says jiu-jitsu has many benefits for women, including being a great form of self-defence. "Most attacks involve a woman being wrestled to the ground, so a good knowledge of grappling would equip a woman with the ability to defend herself," says Paul.

Both Paul and Roger are adamant that jiu-jitsu is suitable for all ages and fitness levels.

"Grappling is based on technique so even older or weaker practitioners can still manage to overcome someone.

"We teach grappling to children through play and by incorporating games. It's a more natural form of martial arts for children to learn than other types that involve kicking or punching," says Paul.

Grappling facts

* Brazilian jiu-jitsu began in Japan and it is a descendent of Judo. Grappling involves techniques and manoeuvres applied to an opponent in order to gain physical advantage.

"Don't be afraid to give it a go," adds Roger. "Find a club and try it out."

* It does not include striking but involves pinning and controlling an opponent on the ground.

* Techniques include holding an opponent in a position where they are unable to attack, as well as 'escapes' whereby the competitor moves his/her body out of an inferior position to gain advantage.

*  In grappling, a competitor must admit defeat when they have been caught in a hold that they cannot escape.

*  Submission is done by 'tapping out', where the competitor taps the mat or the opponent.

*  The Ultimate Fighting Championship was created by the Gracie family as a marketing tool to promote the effectiveness of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

*  There are ten belt grades in jiu-jitsu: white, blue, purple, brown, black, black/red, white/red and red.

*  The uniform worn in jiu-jitsu is called a 'gi'.

*  Opponents can communicate submission verbally or by 'tapping out' with their hand on the mat or the opponent.


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