The recent World Brazilian jiu jitsu Championship in Bangkok went largely unnoticed in the local press, even though Pakistan’s Jahanzaib ‘Jazzie’ Rashad finished an impressive number seven out of 425 competitors from 65 countries.
Brazilian jiu jitsu, commonly known as BJJ, is a variant of the old Japanese martial art of jiu jitsu. It exploded onto the world stage when its founding Brazilian family, the Gracies, started the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in ’94 to showcase their superiority. Since then it has become the basic staple for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters across the world.
It failed to find much traction in Pakistan over the years, which is not surprising since public interest as well as player performance has been on a decline in well-established sports like squash, hockey, cricket, etc, also. And the lack of adequately skilled training partners – to prepare for an event where the world’s best is on show – makes Jazzie’s performance that much more outstanding.
He talked about the championship, among other things, during an interview with Pakistan Today.
He picked up the sport some years ago in Dubai and quickly became a regular feature in strong tournaments, especially the famous Abu Dhabi Cup that attracts players from around the world. But the only competition he has had since moving back has been much weaker than him. In fact, before him there was no well-trained BJJ player with a proven record in the country.
“I hadn’t competed at that level in two years, so I didn’t know what to expect going in”, he said. The last time was the AD Cup in ’13, where he took gold. “It took me one fight to get back to where I was, and even the second was not a hundred percent correct technically”.
When he’s not competing, he trains with a small band of students that have come his way over the years. Initially they would stumble onto this new form of grapping when they would go for MMA or boxing training. With time they would bring friends along to train. Now even the government has started to take notice.
In the evenings, he coaches at the Pakistan Sports Complex in Lahore.
“The government holds camps, provides training facilities, etc, and like-minded people are gathering and growing,” he said.
“To be fair that is as much as any government can do, it’s for athletes now to respond to these initiatives and keep them going.”
BJJ’s appeal lies in its unique grappling style. Its exponents have out-performed other martial artists at the world’s biggest stages, yet it incorporates no punches, kicks, or strikes, unlike any other fighting style. Its methodology stems from a far deeper appreciation and exploitation of the human anatomy. It employs grips, chokes and pressure tactics.
“Most importantly, it teaches economy of effort,” Jazzie added.
It’s a thinking fight, he explained. To get ahead you have to first stabilise while using minimum effort and luring the opponent into using more energy, then induce and exploit weaknesses in his position. It is the efficiency of the exercise – minimum effort, maximum result – that leads to victory.
And other than being a fighting technique, BJJ is also an excellent workout program; far better, according to its practitioners, than any other fitness regime.
“I find it more effective than doing weights or even cross-fit,” said Abdul Mateen, a 22-year old BBA final year student at LSE, and one of Jazzie’s regular students. He’s been doing BJJ for three years.
“BJJ incorporates every muscle of your body”, he added. A typical BJJ fight requires you to leverage most muscles of the body, he explained. It provides a stiff cardio and muscle workout. And since the exercise relies on dynamic movement, not isolation of muscles, it develops functional strength.
“It’s very demanding. By the end you are spent.”
This fitness virtue attracts non-fighters to the sport as well, unlike other martial arts. Not all of Jazzie’s students are pro-athletes in the making.
Moin Riaz, a 35-year old businessman from Lahore’s Shah Alam market, has been Jazzie’s student for a little over a year now. He, too, chanced upon BJJ while experimenting with various fitness programs “to keep healthy and strong”. And, to him, this provided the perfect combination of a grueling workout and some taste of combat.
“At heart everybody enjoys a bit of a fight. We’ve all wanted to be heroes since we were children watching cartoons,” he explained.
“And BJJ gives that experience, and thankfully there are no punches and kicks, while giving every muscle of your body a thorough workout.”
Plus, Moin said, it also provokes constant thinking and calculation.
“It also teaches you to become comfortable in uncomfortable positions, which is helpful in life as well.”
That is why it is increasingly being considered more a way of life than just a sport.
“For me, going to a fight is like going to a movie,” Jazzie said. His success lies, according to his students, in his discipline and dedication, proving that it is possible to jump high even from a small platform.
That is one surprise Jazzie has sprung. Perhaps another will come if BJJ grows at the national level, providing more Pakistani competitors internationally.