• Sara F. Hathaway

5 Foot Nothing, 100 & Nothing, Becomes One of Six Women to Pass the Jujitsu Test

I became one of six women to pass Coach Dan Lovas’s Jujitsu test. Coach prides himself on teaching old school Jujitsu. He wants to know that you put every bit of everything you have into the test and earned your rank. In this case, it happened to be one little blue stripe that went onto my white belt.

I could sit here and tell you that I have always had a dream of taking Jujitsu and excelling at the martial art but nothing would be further from the truth. Claustrophobia is something that has plagued me since I was a child. I hate tight places. Additionally, I don’t like other people in my personal space and it makes me very nervous at times. If you don’t already know, Jujitsu is a martial art that involves very close proximity to other people and often times you are squished and smothered by your opponent. Obviously neither of these things were very appealing to me.

My family and I have practiced Taekwondo for many years. There are wrist locks and take downs involved so we purchased three two-inch gymnastics mats for our home, so we had a safe place to practice. Having been a wrestling coach when he was younger, my husband would often wrestle with me on the mats and it drove me crazy. I could stand toe to toe with him in a stand-up fight but on the ground, he would work me like a rag doll. Over the years of play, I began to calm slightly and he taught me how to manipulate the body with someone’s chin. Where the head goes the body goes, he would tell me over and over.

Life went on and after publishing my first book, Day After Disaster, I realized how unprepared the general population is to cope with a disaster scenario. I wanted to teach them how to survive. After attending some conventions with preparedness minded folks, I had a major epiphany. Many people have lots of stuff to survive a disaster but they were horribly overweight and had no idea how to defend themselves. My focus turned to motivating them to stay active and learn self-defense.

I shared my epiphany with coach Lovas and he smiled at me. I was curious what he thought was so funny and he told me, “You have a great stand up game but where’s your ground game?” I thought about it for a minute and realized I didn’t have one. Then he told me, “You know that ninety five percent of attacks on women are from a single assailant and they want to take you to the ground as fast as possible. What are you going to do?” I knew from studying attack statistics that he was correct but I didn’t have an answer for him. Remaining quiet, coach looks at me and says, “Your class is Monday and Wednesday at 7:30pm.”

Hung up on his words, I went home and talked with my husband about what Coachhad told me. My husband, with the wresting background, was excited about learning Jujitsu and agreed to go to classes with me. Reluctantly, I walked into the first class, hand and hand with my husband. Everything went okay. I had my husband to practice with so I didn’t have to get close to any other sweaty people but then tragedy struck. My husband had horrible pains in his hips and after seeing a doctor we found out he has arthritis in his hips that was causing his pain. He needed time to condition his muscles so he could practice jujitsu. He quit the class and started training Taekwondo again, leaving me with the decision: Do I keep training or not?

I decided to stay with it. Every night I would drag my feet towards the door, wondering what sort of torture I would endure. Forced to have strange sweaty people invading my space, I breath rapidly and freaked out during every grappling match. My respect for my instructor kept me going through the door. I learned all kinds of new self-defense tricks and eventually I started learning how to transition on the ground, do takedowns and performs submission holds. When the first opportunity to test came along, I bowed out. I love training and don’t need a belt to prove how good I am, I told myself. I had heard rumors about the grueling test and honestly, I was a little intimidated.

Skipping the test, I continued training and learning. Almost a year passed and the issue of testing came up again. Looking around the studio, I knew I would have to grapple with every man in the room. It was not going to be an easy task. I stand at five feet tall and I weight about one hundred and twenty pounds. The room was full of students ranging in weight from three hundred and twenty pounds on down but no one is as small as I am. Digging deep inside myself, I set my resolve and decided I would test anyway and do the best I could with what God gave me.

Knowing I would be up against heavier, stronger opponents, I trained cardio. In the morning I would do the Max Insanity workout which is all high intensity hit training. It forces you to push when all you want to do is roll over and die. Then at night I attended my regular martial arts classes which usually have me pushing hard for one or two hours each night. My cardio was pumping. I knew my take-downs that I would have to showcase and I developed a roll pattern. The roll pattern is a series of transition movements with a partner to showcase your ability to change positions and perform submission moves in those positions. I also took extra time at every practice to grapple as much as I could so I could get used to it and maybe do something other than curling into a defensive ball of mush.

Finally, testing day arrived. I ate and left early so I would have time to practice before the test began. As I was driving there, Coach calls me and asks, “Where are you?” Quickly checking the clock, I knew I wasn’t late and I told him I was just about there. “Good, we’re starting early,” he told me. My heart started to pound, knowing I would not have as much time to practice as I anticipated. As soon as I walked through the door and had my uniform on, a fellow student, Ashton Mogur, pulls me aside and has me practice all my material with him. It turns out my partner wasn’t there yet. Thank God Ashton took the time to do that because my nerves relaxed and I felt ready to go. I watched the door, waiting for my partner, but he never came. I can handle this, just do the best you can with what you got, I told myself.

Coach Lovas introduced his Jujitsu instructor to us, which only added to the pressure. I didn’t want to screw up in front of coach’s instructor and make coach look bad. Calming my mind, I let my body do what I trained it to do. I performed my take-downs with Ashton and then talked him through the roll pattern that I had practiced. It all went okay and I was feeling pretty good.

Then came the grappling. At testing you get put into “the pit.” Each person stays in front of the instructor and everyone at the test takes a turn grappling with them for one minute. The match is instantly ended if one of the two combatants gets a submission on the other. It is a very strenuous ordeal and if you can’t get at least one submission during the grappling part of testing, you don’t pass. My first match, I was up against a blue belt (which is like a black belt in most other martial arts. In Jujitsu it takes a long time to climb up the rank ladder). Honestly, I can’t remember if I got subbed or if I lasted the minute but I know I was not successful at getting a submission of my own. During the second match, the blue-belt I faced was very tired but he seemed to fire up as I walked across the floor to grapple him. I reached in and he cranked my arm so bad, I didn’t even have time to tap out before I heard a pop in my arm.

The arm that got popped was my strong arm and my mental game began to rapidly deteriorate. I thought there was no way I was going to be able to sub any of these men now. I started thinking about all of the hard work I had put in to get ready for this test and if I couldn’t get a sub, then I would fail and it would all be for nothing. The next few matches my arm was killing me and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t win. I kept getting subbed quick and the rage in my mind began to grow.

At this point, I have to tell you that I have always been a fighter and I have always had a problem with my temper. Once I fly off the handle, it is very difficult for me to regain composure. Normally, a few hours on the punching bag will work but that was not going to work now. As tears from the pain and frustration began to roll down my cheeks, I tried to check myself but I couldn’t. I was losing it. Seeing my composure rapidly slipping, the highest ranked student in our class (who sat at the front next to Dan) took a moment to come and talk to me. He told me that I needed to calm down and play my game. I told him that my arm was hurt and he asked if I wanted to quit and get some ice. Quitting has never been a word in my vocabulary and I shook my head no. Before returning to the table, he told me, let them come to you.

Taking a deep breath, it dawned on me, they need subs just as bad as I do. Somehow, I composed myself (which is a miracle if you know me). I started sitting back and letting them come for me like I was told. Suddenly, I wasn’t getting subbed as fast or at all, but I still wasn’t getting any subs of my own. I was the third to the last person to get put in the pit and still no subs. My arm was throbbing but I was determined to pass this test. Digging down deep, I faced off against my first opponent. During the match, I gained side control and knelt into his abdomen fiercely with my knee. The man exhaled from the force and I grabbed his arm. Wrapping my arms tightly around it, I locked his body up with my legs and leaned back into an arm bar. It worked! I got my first submission and sighed deeply, knowing I would pass the test. During the matches that followed, I was able to sub out two more opponents. One I subbed with a collar choke and one with a guillotine choke.

This jujitsu test made me dig deeper into my soul than I have for a long time. I never mentioned that besides being five foot nothing and one hundred and nothing, I will also be celebrating my fortieth birthday this year. The preparation that I did for my cardio endurance paid off big time but the injury I sustained made me face a side of myself that I have been trying to control for a lifetime. Life does not always go the way we plan and if we give up, we are beaten. Being able to take control of my mind gave me a power over my body that I never knew I had. It allowed me to truly do the best I could with what I have.

A week later my arm was all healed up. I received my little blue stripe on my belt. For the average person, it doesn’t look like much, just a little bit of electrical tape wrapped around a white belt. To me, it means the world. It represents all the aches and pains, all the tears and blood, all of the mental struggles, and all of the achievements that come with training and testing in Jujitsu.

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