Brazilian What??? A woman’s journey in jiu jitsu and an attorney’s battle to the top
by Tara Miller
My heart throbbed. My head was light, and every little noise in the gym pierced my ears. I was certain I would faint. I stepped onto the mat, shook my opponent’s hand and started the battle, suddenly wondering what in the world I had just gotten myself into.
My first Brazilian jiu jitsu competition on January 23 was nothing like I expected. Nerves were spilling out of me so I focused on the deep, stern voice of my coach. Once I got in my groove, I surprised myself. My biggest fear was forgetting everything I spent the last nine months learning. But I was escaping chokes and advancing my position. Six minutes later, time was called and the score shoved it in my face that my first match just wasn’t good enough. I lost by several points, 6-3. I was proud, exhausted and ready for my next match.
This time, my nerves weren’t with me. I was wearing my gi, the uniform worn by martial artists, and was in my comfort zone. I was confident and it showed. Another six minutes later, my hand was raised by the referee for my first win ever (by points, 17-4). If I lost every match after that, I wouldn’t be upset because at least I won one.
Well, that is exactly what happened. I was choked and arm-barred in my next two matches. I didn’t get a fancy medal, but walking off the mat to hugs and congratulations from my coaches, teammates, family and friends was all I needed. I did it! I competed in my first jiu jitsu competition, coming out of it with no injuries and an amazing boost in confidence. Never mind the long list of things to work on for next time.
So what is jiu jitsu? A quick background: Jiu jitsu is one of the components of mixed martial arts. It is a "gentle art" based more on principles of balance and leverage, than on strength or weapons, according to the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation. Students learn a system of manipulating an opponent’s body to avoid the use of strength or weapons.
Jiu jitsu was popularized by the Gracie family of Brazil, who revolutionized the sport with better technique and niftier moves. By 1925, a naturally frail Carlos Gracie, the father of Brazilian jiu jitsu, fought men twice his size with ease. The rest, as they say, is history. Martial artists and curious minds travelled to Rio de Janeiro to learn about this complicated, but fascinating sport.
One of those students was Colorado resident Amal Easton. In the mid-1990s, Easton travelled to Brazil, mastered the sport and returned to open up an academy in Boulder. Now with four Front Range locations, Easton Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is where I train. The academy has become my home-away-from-home. The four Easton schools are also home to numerous world champion black belts and Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters. More importantly, this academy and sport has changed the lives of hundreds of adults and children.
I’ve been an avid fan of Ultimate Fighting and mixed martial arts since college. As a woman, at first I wasn’t sure about grappling primarily with men. But then one man in particular, Tyrone Glover, who is a black belt "professor" in Brazilian jiu jitsu, became the first of many who made me feel welcome in this male-dominated sport. Glover has a special connection with each member of the legal community — he is a newly admitted attorney working for a local law firm specializing in corporate and business law.
Glover began studying Brazilian jiu jitsu under Ricardo "Franjihna" Miller, of Paragon Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in California. He has won the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Pan American Championships, the So Cal Pro AM tournament and Grapplers Quest West and East.
It might be hard to see a connection between jiu jitsu and law — one fighting with your body and one fighting with the books. But for Glover, the two are very much connected. Without jiu jitsu he might have never completed law school and begun pursuing his career as an attorney.
After one pro fight in Japan, on the flight home, Glover was thinking about the next steps in his life. He had always wanted to pursue a career in law and originally considered going to law school immediately after receiving his bachleor’s degree. Instead, he had pursued other goals and took a hiatus from academics.
"During this time off, I realized I needed to be more than just a fighter and be an example to the community," said Glover. "This gave me a newfound energy and reason to become a lawyer."
Glover is using his law degree to help the sport of mixed martial arts and jiu jitsu.
"Fight promoters take advantage of the hunger and desperation of young fighters," he said. "There were many times as a young fighter that I felt exploited and without recourse. There are few advocates for the fighters, and in the sports industry, having no one on your side is a dangerous position for athletes. As an attorney, I will be able to influence the industry I love, and have a positive effect on the dignity of the sport."
If that isn’t enough, Glover strives to have a positive influence on children in the community. As an African American lawyer and athlete, he constantly mentors and shows children that a healthy body and mind will bring happiness and longevity to their lives.
"Children in the community look up to me as an athlete and martial artist. I want to encourage and be an example to young people of how the discipline of sports can be a means to achieving academic goals. Many disadvantaged youth and youth of color believe the best chance of success is making it to the NBA or NFL. As an African American, I want to discredit that ideology, and help kids to understand the lessons of sports can be a way of preparing their minds and spirits for college and beyond."
For attorneys and their children interested in Brazilian jiu jitsu or another martial art, Glover says "go for it."
"It is an excellent end-of-the-day stress relief and has kept me very healthy and in excellent shape, which in the long run hopefully makes for a more sustainable career," he said.
However, he warns that it will be a challenge and can be a big commitment.
"Lawyers tend to be very competitive and jiu jitsu is easy to obsess over. Be prepared. You may find yourself spending a lot of evenings on the mat, flying to tournaments on your off days and coming into work with the occasional bump and bruise. But it is all worth it," he said.
Learning jiu jitsu is not about learning to be violent. Children and adults learn discipline and self-defense, as a way to build confidence. Jiu jitsu taught me how to compete on the mat, but it has also followed me, like Glover, into my life off the mat. Learning how to fight helps me manage my stress from the day. I’m eating better so I’ll feel good training. I have learned to protect myself from attacks and I’ve never felt better about my fitness and health.
Interested in trying it out? Easton Brazilian Jiu Jitsu offers a free orientation class to see if you like it. Go to www.eastonbjj.com for more information. The school is also on Facebook.
Tyrone Glover is undefeated in mixed martial arts and retired in 2006 to pursue his legal career. Glover is a professor at Easton Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, teaching children and adults.
Tara Miller is the communication specialist at the Denver Bar Associations and assistant editor of The Docket. She started training in Brazilian jiu jitsu in April 2009 and is close to receiving her blue belt. E-mail her at email@example.com.