By Scott Carlson
For The Towson Flyer
Some people join bowling leagues. Other people golf.
I beat people up. And get beat up.
I have been amazed to see how many people my age participate in judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and other combat sports. Since I started playing judo 16 years ago, I have become friends with a wide range of white-collar, high-achieving men and women who sneak away every other night to put on some thick, cotton pajamas, get on the mat, and wrestle an opponent into a pin or armlock. I could probably count up a dozen people in my own neighborhood of Rodgers Forge who are judo or jiu-jitsu students.
For the uninitiated, judo is a form of Japanese grappling, with a heavy emphasis on throws. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu — or BJJ — is a derivative of judo, focusing much more on pins, armlocks, leg locks, and chokes. Together, these two martial arts form a basis for much of what you see in the UFC. They are effective forms of self-defense and some of the hardest workouts you’ll ever experience. [pullquote] The Maryland Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Academy offers free self-defense courses for women and girls every Wednesday[/pullquote]
I have been to dozens of judo and BJJ clubs across the country, but I can honestly say that one of the best is right here in Towson: The Maryland Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Academy, in the strip mall behind Gardiner Wolf Furniture and Guitar Center, near Rockin’ Jump.
The academy is associated with the Jason Morris Judo Center of Albany, N.Y., one of the most prominent judo training centers in the country, and it regularly brings in Olympic judo athletes to teach. The school is turning out a new crop of top-ranked junior judo players — from Rodgers Forge Elementary, Ridgely Middle, and Carver High School — who have a good shot at going to the Olympics in 2020 and 2024.
Adults like me — with our sore muscles and creaking bones — tend to gravitate more toward Brazilian Jiu-JItsu, which usually starts on the ground, rather than from a throw. The academy’s focus is on a form of BJJ started by Relson Gracie, and it has a significant focus on practical self-defense as well as sport BJJ techniques.
Because of that self-defense component, and because of the club’s commitment to teaching women, the Maryland Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Academy offers free self-defense courses for women and girls every Wednesday night at 7:30 pm.
Anyone can try judo or BJJ. Give the club a call, and then show up at one of the practice sessions. The club has an array of judo uniforms (known as a “gi”) available to borrow for the evening.
But what makes clubs like the Maryland Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Academy special is the camaraderie. We “roll” — or wrestle — at the club during the practice times, offered seven days a week. But we also go to the bar to watch the UFC. We get together for dinner parties. We help each other with house projects. We watch each other’s kids. When one of us falls on hard times, we try to help out in whatever way we can. The members represent a diverse array of races, religions, and cultural backgrounds. On the mat, we’re all just grapplers.
Some social scientists have decried the declining involvement in organizations that promote civic life and social bonds. Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor, has mourned the disappearance of bowling leagues, in particular. Maybe we’re a rougher society today, given that my version of a bowling league is a fight club.
Somehow, I think I’m better off for it.
The Maryland Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Academy offers classes for kids and adults. Women’s Self-Defense is held Wednesday nights at 7:30. Call 443-275-2390 or visit teammarylandbjj.com for details.