The Time I Fell in Love with Jiu Jitsu in Tijuana

Fightland Blog

By Chantal Flores

Photos by Alejandro Misteró

Has anyone died of a broken neck on the tatame? I only remember that his arm was around my neck and that the pressure increased. He was wrapped around my neck the entire time, immobilizing me, reinforcing my desire to breathe—consolidating my fear of submission.

Very alert, my partner asked me if I was OK seconds after tapping out and, very cordially, I lied and said yes. Usually they tell me I complain to much, so this time I decided to stop myself. Beyond the pain in my neck, there was a small courage, or perhaps a tantrum, in my stomach. I really wanted to strangle him back.

Up until this point in my life, I’d never conceived the desire to strangle, and much less the impulse. If I ever had this intention before, certainly I would've imagined myself throwing myself against a man and strangling him with my two hands around his neck. But now I imagined myself mounting him to apply a lion-choke. Now I saw myself as a jiu jitsu player.

I learned about no gi jiu jitsu several months ago, but it wasn’t until now, with Master Raúl Arvizu from the Entram Gym in Tijuana, that I fell in love with jiu jitsu. To me, fighting without weapons used to have an aggressive connotation; it implied moving with a lot of strength, it implied being masculine. It’s not that there’s something wrong with being seen as a masculine woman, but in my day-to-day life, especially now that I find myself traveling alone, most of the time I have to fall back on my resources, which are considered masculine, to protect myself and move freely. On the tatame, I just want to be me.

Jiu jitsu made me feel something I never had felt before with its subtlety and fluidity. It’s that vibration in my adductors when I feel the proximity to an armbar or shoulder lock. It’s my pelvis elevating itself with the intention of scaring, immobilizing, and even breaking. It’s my knees approaching the floor to cause pain in my opponent’s omoplata. It’s my shoulder getting close to his legs to take him down. It’s maintaining his body close to mine so I can better get the lock. It’s seeing my body as a biomechanical weapon. It’s the rebirth and death of my ego.

And, man, did my ego suffer, especially when it was time to fight. “Are you going to fight,” my peers would ask me, and I would say yes even though I didn’t even know how to fight. Doing something I don’t know how to do isn’t one of my obsessive and self-demanding personality’s favorite activities. But even then, I gave myself the chance to make a fool of myself, and worst of all, to be submitted.

Sometimes I feel like a girl who tries to walk while one hand—I still don’t know where this hand comes from—immobilizes me by simply pushing its palm against my forehead. I move my arms euphorically, and my stomach moans, my jaw tightens up and my eyes are blinded. I lose energy; I lose vision. And that’s exactly how my fight was. I looked like a koala, intensely holding onto my partner’s back, and second laters I laid on the tatami with that tree trunk submitting me, repressing my capacity to do, undo, and be.

“Pass the guard,” they said, and I didn’t even know what the guard was. When I miraculously was able to pass the guard, my opponent immediately grabbed the gi. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve only trained in the gi twice or three times, and this particular loaned gi was huge on me. So my first reaction was to power through, and desperate, all I wanted was to slide my arms out and get out of the gi while he grabbed me. But I refused to run away. I remembered my ex-boyfriends saying that I leave before being left and stayed—I faced the submission.

“Anything can happen in a fight,” says Arvizu, while I watch the Entram professionals fight before it’s my turn again. I like watching them fight and how they connect. Those seconds while they remain static. You see the fighter’s face, breathing, thinking, feeling, intuiting the next step: the movement that gets them closer to victory or the space they leave for the loss. I like to see how of all the possibilities that jiu jitsu gives you, the brain picks one.

And that’s what attracted me to jiu jitsu, that perhaps most of the time I will be submitted—or that least I learn more—but the path full of possibilities and challenges incites me. If all of this will force me to think, feel, plan, formulate, create, I accept the submission… sporadically, of course. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to spit blood in the trash can after training with of the Entram fighters.

This article was originally published in Spanish.


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