Sat. May 28th, 2022


Before lockdown, I felt my passion for training exhausted – I’ve been practicing dance intensely since I was a kid, and I’m now 47. But I made a documentary called Extreme Combat: The Fighter and the Dancer, and it was a true eye-opener in the world of mixed martial arts and violent sports. There was one specific form that really attracted me, because there was a great conceptual and psychological approach – it was like a game of chess. It was Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I decided to study it, and became obsessed. This has been my passion for the past year and a half, to which I have spent all my free time and money – truly my emotional, psychological and physical savior.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu developed when a Japanese master went to Brazil just over 100 years ago, and a few brothers changed that. The goal was: how do we make this shape not only beautiful, but useful in a practical situation? It’s a wrestling form, mainly on the ground, and it’s about pinning parts of the opponent’s body. I was lucky enough to take one-on-one classes during the lockdown in my dance studio in my backyard. It was so exciting to learn something new. I often refer to what I call “the pleasure of drowning” – that feeling of being in the absolute unknown, a total beginner. I did think, “Well, I’m pretty OK with dancing – I can not be that bad with any other form of movement.” But I’m useless!

Choreographer Akram Khan

Choreographer Akram Khan © Max Barnett

I have two masters, Lucas and Tom. I would not call them my friends. I love them and I hate them because I’m not used to being criticized in such a harsh way. Lucas in particular is very tough. To never have compliments …! I cried for my wife after the session and said: “He did not say a single word! He looked at me in disgust! ” But he makes me think of myself a lot, because I do not give compliments easily – so when he does give one, you know it is of great value. Tom is different: he does not necessarily give compliments, but he is extremely encouraging. It’s nice to have both approaches. I also love that they vaguely know I’m a dancer, but they do not know the caliber. I have this voice in my head that says, “God! They talk to me like I’m a beginner! If only they fucking knew who I was! ”

Even though jiu-jitsu literally means “soft art” when I fight, my first thought is: “How do I dislocate his shoulder? Breaks his knee joints? Put him to sleep? ” (Basically work it out.) Although you do “tap” your opponent to indicate surrender before it goes that far. It’s as violent as you want it to be. But if I had just studied martial arts on a physical level, it would not have fulfilled me. With Brazilian jiu-jitsu, you not only have to be in a studio – you can also do homework, study the movements and realize where you went wrong. It’s like dancing in that respect, and I think that’s why I’re attracted to it. It definitely made me a better dancer – stronger and more flexible.

“Jiu-jitsu has been my passion for the past year and a half, to which I spend all my free time and money” © Jean-Louis Fernandez

I think I was also attracted to it because it’s one of the few shapes designed for smaller opponents against bigger ones – and I’m pretty small. It’s amazing how often smaller black belts destroy large, athletic opponents. It’s so much about rhythm, about understanding pressure points, about angles, so if you have the knowledge and you can execute it, you’re superior. Of course, weight and strength play a role: with a bigger person on top of me, I have to work harder. But the knowledge itself will give you a way to escape. You could end up rolling with a builder weighing 250 pounds – though I try to avoid that.

My kids also take classes, and I roll with them. My daughter is eight – she’s very good at it, and she’s almost suffocated me to the point where I’ve lost consciousness. I said, “I typed!” She replied, “Well, I did not hear you, Dad. You have to speak louder. ”

By the way, Tom is “Gi”, which means he wears the traditional martial arts clothes, and Lucas is “No Gi”. I am constantly looking for nice, cool outfits of both types. My wife just says, ” Look, honey. I know you’re into this, but getting three different colors of Yeast will not make you better. ” Broadly speaking, however, she thinks it’s a brilliant, beautiful mid-life crisis, and that it’s much better than me to buy a convertible with just two seats.



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