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I feel stronger and more empowered than ever after one hour of jiu-jitsu

HELLO!'s Bryony Gooch attended Alliance Jiu Jitsu's flagship London studio

Jiu jitsu students grappling in class
Bryony Gooch
US Writer
29 February 2024
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My jaw drops as I watch a woman lift and flip her far bigger husband over her shoulders, as he falls with a smack to the mat. While he's completely unharmed, it's an impressive feat - and not one I'm sure I could replicate easily. But according to Henrique Rezande, the Head Coach at Alliance Jiu Jitsu's flagship London studio, with just a bit of time and practice I could do this just as easily. 

Of course - Henrique and his wife Renata Marinho are both black belts, with the latter regarded as one of the best middleweight fighters in the world. But at no point during the class do I ever feel as though I'm not coordinated or strong enough to do what they do.

My main takeaway from my one-on-one jiu-jitsu class at the Imperial Wharf studio is that it doesn't matter how small you are or how big your assailant is - you can defend yourself.

The jiu jitsu studio© Permission from Alliance Jiu Jitsu
The jiu jitsu studio

This is an idea I pick up early on through the brief history lesson of the martial art, in which Henrique tells me that one of the grandmasters of jiu-jitsu only weighed 60 kg and was able to beat people twice his size, even if he was on the floor beneath them.

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I took up Muay Thai in November 2023 when the days got shorter and darker and I felt completely vulnerable while out and about in the evenings. Tired of feeling scared, I decided to learn some self-defense.

While muay thai is combative and teaches you to use all facets of your body to fight back, jiu-jitsu is more defensive - and particularly effective in close quarters. As a martial art, it doesn't rely on kicking and punching - moves that might escalate a fight. Instead, it focuses on grappling and forcing your opponent to submit peacefully.

Jiu jitsu students grappling in class© Permission from Alliance Jiu Jitsu
Jiu jitsu is all about technique

The secret, Henrique tells me, is technique. A lot of jiu-jitsu may at first feel counterintuitive, but that's kind of the point: jiu-jitsu is all about countering your opponent's fighting instincts with logic and technique. There is a technique for everything, from how you stand up, to how you take back your arm if someone is gripping it.

So when I am rocking back and forth on my back and using my arms to move around in a circle, kicking out at my black belted assailant, I try not to feel too self-conscious that I might look like a worm. That sensation disappears immediately when my feet make contact with Renata's stomach and she's knocked back with ease.

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In the class, I quickly learn that my body can do a lot more than I think. For example, in a scenario where a man who is a lot stronger than me tries to drag me by my wrist, I initially thought I could twist my arm out of his grasp. Instead, I learned that the key to breaking contact was to pull my arm up so my elbow points out.

Jiu Jitsu is a grappling martial art© Permission from Alliance Jiu Jitsu
Jiu Jitsu is a grappling martial art

Similarly, if someone came to slap you, you might think the best thing to do is to move back and out of the way. I quickly learned that if you rush towards their arm, blocking it with your own, you can lessen the impact of their strike and grapple them to the ground.

While jiu-jitsu focuses on de-escalation, that doesn't mean you can't do some damage with it. I'm shown the appropriate way to do what is called a Rear Naked Choke, which can knock an opponent out with a light squeeze. As I practise on Renata, I only exert a light amount of pressure before she taps out, remarking that I'm strong. That amazes me because I've never felt strong in my life.

But there is a sense in the class - as there is in all martial art classes - that you're learning these techniques with the purpose of self-discipline. It's all well and good that you can do a Rear Naked Choke move, but that doesn't mean you should crack the move out next time someone annoys you. 

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With this realisation comes empowerment, because martial arts aren't just great for self-defence, they're even better for your self-esteem. Henrique tells me that he took up jiu-jitsu when he was 13 years old for this very reason. 

"I was quite small and I got picked on at school. So I took up jiu-jitsu because there was a local class", he explains. "At first I did it for self-defense, but over time it built my confidence."

When I started looking into self defence classes, I remember the hypervigilance I felt - that I must learn to defend myself. Even now, a few months into my martial arts journey, I can recognise that the most important aspect of muay thai and jiu jitsu is self-discipline - and there is something so empowering in knowing what you can do with your own body.

For more information about Alliance Jiu Jitsu's classes and membership, go to: - book your free intro class here.

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