Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, the Sports Studio inside of the ARC is full of grown men, many of them quite large, flying through the air, slamming into the mats and trying to strangle each other. They’re practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the Judo-inspired, South American martial art and combat sport focused on grappling and ground fighting.
Each class starts with warm-ups and stretches. Students practice falling correctly, moving their hips and controlling their bodies. Afterwards, they’re shown the days technique and begin practicing.
As they drill, their coach AJ Albert, a four-stripe purple belt that has trained in Jiu Jitsu for near nine years, watches over them with a careful eye, making small adjustments.
“I’ve been teaching this class three years,” AJ said. “At the beginning, we had between eight and 12 people coming regularly. They were dedicated; they’d come every class, during midterms or finals, until they graduated.”
After the day’s lesson, the students begin to spar, affectionately called “rolling.” They pair up and start trying to catch each other in joint locks or chokes. The competition is real, though controlled. Everyone takes safety very seriously, releasing whatever holds at the lightest taps on the mat. By the time the class is over, the room is humid, the floor is covered in sweat marks and everyone is tired and breathing heavily.
As they line up for dismissal, AJ makes a few shorts announcements before bowing and high-fiving every student.
Though the class started small, they’ve been steadily growing. Last quarter a group of class students created the Jiu Jitsu club and formed the UCI Club BJJ team. This quarter they hosted their first tournament, featuring competitors from UCLA, USC, Long Beach State and UC Irvine.
“I’ve thought Jiu Jitsu should be a collegiate sport for a long time so I worked with the club sports guy to get everything working. We turned in our club petition the week of the deadline,” AJ said. “Our first tournament, I had no idea what I was doing. It went so smoothly though. We started setting up at 9 a.m., started at 9:30. It went until 1 p.m.. We had a lot of help though. Tim Cartmell from Ace was here, Chris Seals from Cleber’s was too.”
Today, the class’ student limit is automatically increased each quarter. Despite this, AJ still needs to regularly turn away interested students.
“Each quarter we have about half the old students stay. Everyone else is made up of new people trying out the class. When I started training in 2003, the sport was slowly getting popular. Now you can throw a stone and hit a gym. I think that has a lot to do with MMA [Mixed Martial Arts] becoming so popular,” AJ said. “You have to turn people away. You know, it’s nice to teach a small class because you get a lot of one-on-one time with people but when there are seventy people in the room you can only give so many people enough. I don’t ever want to turn anyone away. I would never want this to be someone’s one chance at trying it out and then if it doesn’t work out they never try again. I want everyone to train in jiu jitsu.”
The ARC’s UCI Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class meets Tuesdays from 6 to 7:20 p.m. and Thursdays from 5 to 6:20 p.m.