I found the dojo tucked away in a worn strip mall. It certainly didn't jump out at you. In fact, if it wasn't for the fogged up windows, I might have missed it. If not for the recommendation of my friend, I probably wouldn't have ever walked through the door. Clearly, not a lot of money was spent on flashy banners, window hangings and the like.
The windows were dripping when I opened the door. A tiny bell chimed as I entered. Shoes were on the floor, lined up. The first thing I felt was energy, positive energy. There were people working hard on the mats. Sweating, grunting and smiling.
Class was in session. I can't remember what they were working on but there was a fair number of students.
I stood watching for a moment until a man in a worn black belt came over. He told someone to take the class and stepped of the mats. I explained that his student had recommended I come in and I was hoping to watch a bit of a class. He was happy to let me do so. He also then offered to do a demonstration to show me a bit more about the style. He explained that it was Jiu Jitsu.
He stepped back on the mats and called over a senior student. For the next 5 minutes, he had his student throw a bunch of different attacks at him. (The fact that he didn't tell his student what kind of attack to use on him didn't mean much to me at the time, but it sure does now. A scripted attack is easy to defend from, multiple unknown attacks are a different story.)
I was in awe. The student attacked his Sensei over and over again. Punches, kicks, grabs, chokes, headlocks, bear hugs, the attacks kept coming. Each time, the Sensei would effortlessly evade, block, strike, or throw the student. He would drop him the the ground without seeming to move, pick him back up and drop him back down again. I felt very much like the character 'Nico' when he was describing his experience at the beginning of 'Above the Law'. (see part 1 of this post)
One thing that immediately registered with me was that what I was seeing was brutal in its efficiency and application. Although perfectly controlled, the Sensei was inflicting lots of pain on his student. Most techniques ended with a lock of some sort or just short of breaking bones. It looked magical but it also looked very real. Full force attacks being countered at full speed.
The student bowed and returned to the rest of the class.
I was blown away. When I mentioned Aikido, the Sensei smiled and explained to me that Aikido was like Jiu Jitsu, but with all the nasty stuff taken out. I chuckle now because this is probably the most apt description of the style of Jiu Jitsu that got me hooked. I have the utmost respect for Aikido and there are many shared techniques in the two martial arts but I have to say that that one sentence summed it all up for me.
The Sensei told me that I was welcome to come in and try a couple of classes for free (something I maintain every dojo should offer) to see if I liked it.
I thanked him for his time and walked out. I was in a different place mentally. I had just seen something that I had begun to think was only possible in the movies. This guy was good. Scary good. He moved like no one I've never seen. I was impressed.
The next several weeks, I thought about what I'd seen. I even came in with a friend again, feigning that she was interested. In truth, I wanted to know if what I'd seen was actually as good as I remember it. I got another demo. It was just as good, maybe better. I had found the real deal.
It is always a nerve racking experience walking into a new club to take your first class. It took me another few weeks before I summoned the courage to do so.
Little did I know that the tiny bell that chimed when I first opened that fogged up door signaled the beginning of a journey that continues today...