There’s a chair facing the mats at the academy. There’s always someone sitting in that chair during classes. Someone with a knee brace. Or an arm sling. Or crutches. Someone who’s injured but can’t stay away.
When I first enrolled at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City I would hear people say how Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a way of life, how it made them better human beings, how they couldn’t, wouldn’t ever stop or trade it for anything else. Honestly, I thought these people were a little crazy. I’d see them at the academy when I trained in the morning, then I’d also seen them if I trained at night, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they had any lives outside BJJ. Little did I know I’d become one of them.
I started training jiu-jitsu about a year and a half ago. I went from training three times a week to training three times a day. I love everything about it; it’s challenging, complex, humbling, many, many times frustrating, but always rewarding. There’s a tremendous sense of camaraderie I’ve never encountered before. When one of our professors, Rafael Sapo Natal, won his fight at UFC on Fox last weekend, I was ringside, and I became so visibly emotional people were asking me if he was my brother!
Now I can’t go on vacation unless there’s an academy I can practice at. I rarely drink and I mostly eat consciously to keep a healthy body. I dream about BJJ most nights, vividly; I hip escape a lot in my sleep. A couple of times I've jumped guard on unsuspecting friends, to their understandable dismay. Sometimes, without realizing it, I start speaking with a funky, quasi- Brazilian accent (my husband finds this particularly disturbing). I have Zebra mats in my apartment. And a grappling dummy. My bedroom has piles of Gis and rash guards and instructional videos in every corner. I’ve become a hoarder.