COLORADICAL: Think Strong — A serious Workout Takes Serious Consideration

High Altitude Martial Arts owner and retired UFC fighter Cody Donovan says the closeness of jiu jitsu is certainly something that scares away folks who might want to try what is otherwise a grueling and satisfying work out. But the people who brave that initial awkwardness find it short lived.

With anything new, it’s always nice to get the awkward part out of the way early.

At the introductory jiu jitsu class at High Altitude Martial Arts, the brief — and remarkably friendly — lesson on choking certainly throws an interesting wrinkle in any fitness class. But once that’s over — once the instructor’s forearm has left your carotid artery — it’s hard to fret much at what else they’ll throw at you.

20161102-Jiu Jitsu-Aurora, Colorado

Reporter Brandon Johansson got a firsthand, or first-fist look, if you will at the world of mixed martial arts.

20161102-Jiu Jitsu-Aurora, Colorado

Robin Solsbery, left, demonstrates a choke on his twin brother, Ryan, during an introductory jiu jitsu class Nov. 2 at High Altitude Martial Arts. Reporter Brandon Johansson got a firsthand, or first-fist look, if you will at the world of mixed martial arts.

20161102-Jiu Jitsu-Aurora, Colorado

Reporter Brandon Johansson got a firsthand, or first-fist look, if you will at the world of mixed martial arts.

20161102-Jiu Jitsu-Aurora, Colorado

Reporter Brandon Johansson got a firsthand, or first-fist look, if you will at the world of mixed martial arts.

20161102-Jiu Jitsu-Aurora, Colorado

Reporter Brandon Johansson got a firsthand, or first-fist look, if you will at the world of mixed martial arts.

Coming in, I was a little leery of the closeness of it all — grappling with a stranger for the first time since wrestling very poorly in high school a decade and a half ago. Once you’ve already choked a stranger and been choked back for a few seconds? Well, there’s not really anything to feel awkward about after that.

High Altitude Martial Arts owner and retired UFC fighter Cody Donovan says the closeness of jiu jitsu is certainly something that scares away folks who might want to try what is otherwise a grueling and satisfying work out. But the people who brave that initial awkwardness find it short lived.

“That wears off in about a week,” he says.

With about a half dozen other bare-footed guys inside the small chain-link cage at the back of High Altitude, the friendly trainer started things off with a few lessons on how to fall and how to get up, all of it pretty basic stuff.

“It’s designed to teach a person walking in off the street with no experience,” Donovan says.

Still, while much of it’s pretty basic, the gulf between the way Donovan and the other instructors pop to their feet from sitting on the mat and the way I do is vast. While Donovan gracefully glides to his feet, I get the feeling I look more like a lumbering bear with a worrisome hangover — and that’s on the few occasions I remember to push with the correct hand.

The point of the choking, our instructor explains, is to teach you one of the most important lessons: How to “tap out” — acknowledging that you’ve had enough. It’s an important skill when you can’t muster even enough breath to croak, “uncle.”

So with his arms crossed in front of my neck and his gripping the collar of my gi, he pushed his elbows out and pinched down on my neck. After a couple seconds, I tapped.

“Alright, good job,” he said, giving me five before shuffling down the line to choke one of the other guys kneeling on the mat.

“Wow,” I thought to myself, “he was really nice about that.”

The hardest part, really, was trying to find the right time to tap out. I had the misfortune of going first in the class, so I didn’t want to tap too soon and look like a wimp, or wait too long and look like a dummy.

Then it’s on to some light grappling with a partner before the class wraps up. The intro class is short — it only covers about 30 minutes — but still, even that brief stretch, you can see the potential workout jiu jitsu or any martial art offers.

Donovan knows how crucial that workout can be. When he was in the UFC, it was those training sessions that he says helped get him into the best shape  ever — they were better cardio shows than any run on a treadmill, and better at adding lean muscle than slamming weights.

He points to a quote from Socrates that notes the benefits of a wrestling workout: “I swear it upon Zeus an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler.”

The strength that fighting sports like jiu jitsu develops is a functional one, Donovan says. It’s why when the occasional bodybuilder type roll through the door — guys with bodies that look great at the beach but not in a cage — a few minutes on the mat can wear them out.

“We have to be like, ‘hey, go lie down, bro,’” he says with a laugh.

Still, despite the clear physical benefits, Donovan said he doesn’t try to pitch people on the fitness benefits of jiu jitsu. The sport is more about problem solving than anything, and that’s a skill that adherents apply to the rest of their everyday lives. Overcoming those problems also births a self confidence that people rarely find elsewhere.

He likens it to “human chess.”

“It’s exercise for the mind almost more than it’s exercise for the body,”
he says.