Fitness, Self-Care Found Within Jiu-Jitsu

Reesa David removes her boxing gloves and wipes the sweat from her brow. “It’s a tough journey, but you have to stick with it,” she said while catching her breath.

Four days a week, David is punching, kicking, running and rolling her way closer to her goal. A patron of Team Hopkins Jiu-Jitsu in Bossier City, David attends fitness classes, including the Fight Fit program, as part of her lifestyle change for good health. David’s journey started in December and since signing up at Team Hopkins, she has shed 25 pounds of her 75-pound weight loss goal. More importantly though, David has lowered her blood pressure and has been taken off her cholesterol medication.

“The reason I wanted to lose weight and get healthy is because I want to have kids in the future,” said David, a dispatch officer with the Bossier Parish Sheriff Department. “My OBGYN said I’m so overweight that sometimes it will have an effect on your ability to have children. If I get to a healthy weight, I have a higher chance of conceiving.”

Team Hopkins Jiu-Jitsu, owned by Mike Braswell, is a school for learning Jiu-Jitsu, but it also offers exercise classes that incorporate the fitness aspects of the martial art. Jiu-Jitsu uses leverage, joint manipulation and strangulation (or impeding blood flow to the brain) on opponents. Braswell, an accomplished black belt with almost 20 years experience, leads Jiu-Jitsu classes and also coaches others in their weight loss journey. 

“Whether it’s self defense, getting in shape or tournaments — I even have guys who fight MMA — we do a little bit of everything,” he said. “Everybody’s goal and everybody’s journey is a little bit different but the purpose of this school is for us to help you reach your goal in a structured environment with an emphasis on self defense but with lots and lots of residual goodness that comes from it.” 

Jon Michael Mulkey, a four stripe purple belt in Jiu-Jitsu, is an instructor for the Fight Fit and cardio kickboxing classes. A student of martial arts since age nine, he shifted his focus from karate to Jiu-Jitsu following his return from a deployment to Iraq in 2004-2005. At just 20-years-old, Mulkey served as a tank driver in the Army. 

“Coming back from combat, I was dealing with some issues — post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — so I tried a whole bunch of different things, went in a whole bunch of different directions to try to clamp down on the issue, and take control of it,” he said. “The only thing that’s worked for me effectively has been Jiu-Jitsu.”

Struggling with insomnia was one of Mulkey’s most challenging symptoms of PTSD. Turning off his mind at night made sleeping near impossible. “Coming in here, training hard and exhausting my body and my mind make it so much easier to crawl into bed in the evening time. It turns that little voice off inside your head.”

Although Fight Fit is not a self-defense program, beginners of all ages are welcome to study Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense at Team Hopkins. According to Braswell, Jiu-Jitsu at its core is a self-defense art, and women are ideal candidates to become students. In fact, he said women tend to be better at Jiu-Jitsu than men. 

“I can’t teach you to be bigger, stronger, faster. Biologically men are stronger percentage-wise than women are, and that’s OK. Because women are a lot better at things than us, including Jiu-Jitsu,” Braswell said. “Men have a tendency to try to use strength but women have to use technique.”

The second highest-ranking instructor at Team Hopkins Bossier City is Jeannie Carter, a four-stripe brown belt in Jiu-Jitsu. At 38, Carter began training Jiu-Jitsu after her son began taking martial arts classes. For six months she watched her son train before she decided to hit the mats herself. Carter teaches the youth Jiu-Jitsu classes and she encourages parents to consider enrolling their children in martial arts. She said many kids are already attempting moves they’ve seen on TV or on videos online.  

“They’re grappling. They’re doing this already,” Carter said. “So I would want to put my child somewhere they’re going to learn how to do it right instead of half way learning it. We teach them the right way.”

As one of the few women training in Jiu-Jitsu in the area, Carter said it’s empowering to know you have the skills necessary to protect and defend yourself in an assault or attack. In fact, there have been a few occasions where she’s had to use her training. “I’m just thankful that as the situations occurred, I was able to control myself, control my mannerisms and take care of the situation before it got any worse,” she said.  “If somebody grabbed you and pushed you up against the wall, most people are going to freak out. Well, we practice that and I’ve learned how to deal with that mentally and physically.”

A key to training Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense is repetition. With many one-time self-defense classes, attendees don’t practice the techniques often enough to become good at it. “I believe it’s also a perishable skill so I tell everyone you should at least come two days a week,” Braswell said. “You should spend at least two to three hours a week making yourself better at this.”

Whether students are training for self-defense, weight loss and fitness or relief from stress, the common thread in the Jiu-Jitsu community is teamwork and unity.  “There’s nobody that can’t do it. We’ll work around any injury you have,” Braswell said. “Everyone deserves to do martial arts.”

It’s that welcoming approach that has Maria Sanders returning for more of the Fight Fit program, as well as cardio kickboxing. She started in February and lost five pounds in her first week.  Sanders said the reasons she joined the school is to lose weight before her 50th birthday in July and to get in shape for her son’s wedding. 

“They let you work at your own your pace until you’re able to keep up with them. At other places, you get a little intimidated at the gym with all these fit people. Here they don’t make you feel bad at all. And if you have an injury, they let you do what you can,” she said. “When you’re ready, when you’re body says you can do a little more, then they push you a little harder. That’s what I like about this place. It’s only been a week and I feel like I’ve been here a long time. Everybody is so cool. It’s not intimidating at all.”

Why Should You Train Jiu-Jitsu ?

  • One in six people will be the victim of a violent attack.
  • One in four women will be the victim of a sexual attack in their lifetime.
  • 95% of all violent attacks and street fights end up on the ground.
  • 10% of victims of violent attacks do not survive the encounter.

Source: Team Hopkins Jiu-Jitsu