Hunting for the perfect fitness program or gym fad to get in shape and build self-confidence after bulking through COVID-19 or a long Canberra winter?

If you’re done flipping tyres and doing burpees till you wanna spew, then I may just have the perfect challenge for you.

Last year I joined a male-dominated sport – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). The idea I couldn’t defend myself because I just didn’t know how was enough to terrify me into changing that. Did I think it would involve wrapping my legs around new strangers every week? Definitely not. But trust me, it’s a really quick way to get to know people.

Me grappling with the legend himself: Benny Turnbull.

I had an interest in BJJ because it’s a sport not reliant on strength: it’s about strategy and leveraging what you have. If you’re tall, you can use your long limbs to your advantage. Similarly, if you’re short, your lower centre of gravity is super helpful in staying upright—something I’ve discovered to be much more difficult if you’re not only tall but also have as much coordination as a newborn foal.

It’s also a sport that teaches you how to grapple on the ground, because let’s face it, if someone bigger grabs you, you’re going down. 

I joined the family-run Turnbull Martial Arts Academy in Belconnen after hearing positive stories about head instructor Ben Turnbull, and the assurance that “Benny does not tolerate dickheads”. Sign me up, that’s the only reassurance this girl needs. 

I signed up for five fundamentals classes, aimed at absolute freshies like me, that would teach you some of the key concepts of BJJ—like how to protect your airways in a fight or escape if someone’s got you in a headlock. No biggie, right? 

We end our classes with a bow, a handshake and pure exhaustion.

If you think making it to the first class is the hardest part, you’re entirely correct. I had fears I’d turn up and it would be nothing but egos and testosterone and bullsh*t that went unchecked. To my delight, it was anything but.

I walked into the gym and was faced with a bunch of pretty regular looking dudes of all different shapes, sizes, and races. Everyone had different coloured belts and different levels of skill and fitness. Everyone was friendly and introduced themselves and not once did I see people staring into mirrors taking selfies—my kind of gym. 

It was then I met Professor Benny, who shook my hand, welcomed me to class and kicked off the warm-up. 

Benny is a black belt, one stripe, which means he’s already worked out what you’ll do before you’ve made the move—he’s just being polite and letting you make it. He’s also a bloke that lives for his sport, loves imparting knowledge on his students, and is infinitely more patient than most people. After all, he runs the kids class and that looks harder than herding cats.

I quickly learnt from that first class, and in every class since, that my resilience would be tested again and again. At the end of each class, we ‘roll’ and drill the skills we’ve learnt.

That’s when you can test your knowledge in five minute rounds with other students. Believe me, it leaves a HIIT class for dead. Bodies are heavy, and resistant ones are even heavier. But everyone looks after each other and respects each other—that is the fundamental culture at our gym.

Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to use parts of your body you probably hadn’t considered to be that effective. Your hips, for example, are so strong and will get you out from under people, every time. And your thighs are stronger than you think, you just haven’t tested them yet. 

My only advice to anyone that wants to try it? Get to a class, keep an open mind and be willing to be tested against yourself. We only know what we’re truly capable of when we’re tested.

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