Want to get in shape for the new year, but you're tired of traditional workouts?

Try Brazilian jujitsu, a form of martial arts designed not only to tone your muscles but also to teach you self-defense.

Although it can fit seamlessly into any modern exercise routine, jujitsu has a long and rich history.

Even before the samurai warriors of ancient Japan, jujitsulike forms were being developed in Asia and used in combat; the very first records of combative grappling can be traced back several centuries.

There are no weapons used in jujitsu. The whole idea is to gain superior positioning and then to apply various holds, locks and joint manipulations on your opponent.

The primary goal of this type of martial arts is not to cause physical damage to your opponents but rather for them to submit (via joint lock or choke), or to hold them in a position in which they can do no harm.

In jujitsu, there is a great amount of emphasis on position strategy -- which fighter is on top and where each person's legs are.

Wide Appeal

In the early 1900s, Japanese jujitsu master Mitsuyo Maeda stopped in Brazil during a judo tour, and local politician Gastao Gracie befriended him.

In exchange for Gracie's kindness, Maeda went against the tradition of training only the Japanese in jujitsu and taught Gracie's teenage son Carlos. Carlos in turn showed his younger brothers Osvaldo, Gasto Jr., Jorge and Helio.

In 1925, Carlos and his brothers became so absorbed in the techniques that they opened the first jujitsu academy in Brazil.

The martial art has since spread worldwide, and with good reason.

"If you train three times a week for six months, you can probably beat up most karate instructors," says Adam Golden, a doctor who has been practicing jujitsu for 12 years and has attained a black belt.

There are several levels of jujitsu, all of which are represented by various colored belts.

The levels progress from white to blue to purple to brown to black.

Within a year, if a person trains three times a week, it's possible to advance from a white belt to a blue belt. It takes approximately 10 years to reach the highly respected black-belt status.

But even after six months, you can learn how to defend yourself effectively.

Jujitsu teaches that your opponent can be bigger, stronger, younger, more athletic and faster than you -- but most important, it teaches how to avoid hits from opponents.

Traditional punches and kicks won't work if your opponent grabs you, and boxing and karate aren't effective, either, if you are taken to the ground, Golden points out.

"As a middle-aged professional, I don't want to get hit, even once," says Golden, who lives in Orlando and trains at Gracie Barra Orlando. For him, Brazilian jujitsu offers the ideal method of self-defense.

Training and Technique

People who are more competitive train multiple times throughout the day, says Roderic Rosado, a personal trainer based in New York. The average practitioner finds a few times a week sufficient.

Brazilian jujitsu drills consist of submission and grabbling. Participants practice techniques in which the opponent is placed in a choke and held until he or she is forced to tap out, or submit. At this point, the fight is over.

There is no striking, punching or kicking. It's all about grappling, which refers to the gripping and handling of an opponent

Most people find that jujitsu spurs a highly developed sense of coordination and offers an excellent cardiovascular workout and resistance training -- especially the back and arm muscles -- Rosado says.

It's not a sport about ego or trying to outdo each other.

During jujitsu training, everyone is there as a team and works together to learn the different techniques; it's a very good learning environment, Rosado says.

Jujitsu technique teaches superior self-defense and how to be offensive.

It also shows how to leverage body weight to your advantage, even if an opponent outweighs you by 50 pounds.

If you have good technique and a solid base of training, you will most likely beat your opponent even if he is significantly heavier than you.

Further, the more experienced you become, the fewer moves you have to make to force your opponent to submit.

However, a jujitsu opponent will always be on the lookout for you to make one false move, which the opponent will then immediately capitalize on.

It's almost like a chess game -- it's all about strategy, Rosado explains.

Smart Moves

Below are some of the primary Brazilian jujitsu positions. You'll hear these referred to often at the beginning of training.

  • Guard: The person who is the guard is on the bottom with his back on the ground; his legs are wrapped around his opponent's hips (who is said to be "in the guard").
  • Side control: Fighters are chest-on-chest, but without the legs entangled.
  • Mount: The person is sitting on an opponent's chest with one leg on either side of the opponent's torso.
  • Back mount: The person is behind his opponent, with his feet hooked around his opponent's hips and upper thighs.

If you're interested in learning this ancient and effective art of self-defense, there are several Web sites, such as jiu-jitsu.net and American Ju-jitsu Association, that offer information on courses and certification as well as comprehensive listings of schools.

So this year, instead of staying on that treadmill you've been on for years, why not try jujitsu? You'll not only get in shape, but some of the moves you acquire just might save your life.

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