If anyone had told me, just a week ago, that I would be capable of hurling a man – and a muscular one at that – to the floor, I would not have believed them.
But I’ve done it – and I have the photographs to prove it.
I’ve also, believe it or not, rendered a man immobile, while sending him to sleep.
It all happened when I went to meet a man with an unforgettable name who is a master in what is said to be the most effective form of self-defence in the world.
Sacha Martin-Luther King is an expert in the martial art of Jiu-Jitsu. He practises the ‘Gracie’ form of the art, named after the family who created and developed it, and prides himself on being the only ‘pure Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’ instructor in Europe.
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu – which I admit to never having heard of before I met Sacha – differs from other systems of self-defence in that it is not based on teaching students how to use their physical attributes such as strength and speed to overwhelm and defeat their opponent.
Instead, techniques are based on effective use of leverage and precise timing, so that virtually anyone can use them, regardless of their size or athletic ability.
When Sacha, who has been teaching the art for a decade, and fellow instructor Jimmy Andrew, tell me this, I’m more than a little sceptical. And, after Sacha and Jimmy demonstrate a few moves, quite nervous.
“It is perfectly safe,” Sacha reassures me. I psyche myself up and Sacha shows me how I can create an arm lock to incapacitate Jimmy. The simple technique, involving a slight twisting movement across the body, does not cause pain, but would do if the other person tried to retaliate.
“That’s amazing,” I say, when it actually works. Then the tables are turned and Jimmy does the same to me. “Tap if you feel it hurting,” says Sacha. I try to break out of the lock, and immediately feel pain.
Next, Sacha explains, he’s to demonstrate a move that can make someone to unconscious.
While Jimmy seems quite happy to act as my guinea pig, I’m seriously worried that, as an inexperienced amateur, I might do him permanent damage.
But, under the watchful eye of Sacha, it goes to plan. It feels very strange, to be in control of this athletic young man. If I ever had to defend myself, and got the chance to use this technique, I would certainly have a go. “It gives you complete control,” says Sacha.
A former pupil of Beckfoot Grammar School, Sacha travels regularly to California to visit the family-run Gracie Academy where he trained as an instructor.
Jimmy, who attended Queensbury School, is also planning a trip to the world hub of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.
The pair teach at Richard Dunn Sports Centre in Odsal, where Sacha operates the only certified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu training centre in Europe.
“Gracie Jiu-Jitsu has a big following and I have people from as far away as Eastern Europe coming to learn – it has put Bradford on the map,” he says.
Although Gracie Jiu-Jitsu consists of 600 techniques, studies carried out by the Gracie family showed that 36 techniques were used more often, and with greater success than all the others combined. So in teaching someone to defend themselves in the shortest time possible, instructors concentrate exclusively on those moves, under the Gracie ‘combatives’ program.
Next, Sacha and Jimmy demonstrate a throw. This involves isolating an opponent’s limb – in this case his leg – and creating a lever with your own body over which you throw your opponent.
I laugh when they suggest I have a go. “It’s easy, you can do it,” Sacha assures me. I reluctantly agree, and within five minutes I’m pulling Sacha over my body, to the floor. I would never have believed I’d be capable of anything remotely like that.
“Are you hurt?” I ask, concerned on hearing him thud to the floor. “One of the first things you learn in martial art is how to fall over properly,” says Jimmy.
“The wonderful thing about Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is that it can empower people like yourself,” says Sacha, who has won many medals and titles, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu European Champion.
“In this day and age I would say it was essential. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is about how to defend yourself in the street against a bigger, stronger opponent.”
- Sacha holds classes at Richard Dunn Sports Centre. To check out class times visit ukgjj.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile 07788 838876.