“No Limits” by Patrick Wiggins

Oh my

White. Blue. Purple. Brown. Black. These are the colors and levels of belts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and inside the warehouse turned academy called No Limit Jiu Jitsu, there are four whites and one purple. Four students. One instructor. Five women. “Start the run.” Jessica Dobbs steps aside as Robin Cuellar, Madeleine Hendrix and two others begin jogging in an oval around a blue mat. At Dobbs’ command, her students switch from jogging to shuffling, first right, then left, then back to jogging, all without missing a step. Breathing is now audible thanks to the increased speed of inhales and exhales. Dobbs calls for jumping jacks and this time, joins in. Over the next few minutes, the instructor and her students go from jumping jacks, to squats, to push-ups. “Alright, go. On your backs.” The group continues through multiple stretches. All is quiet except for the world outside. Cars. Birds. Airplanes. Breathing has slowed and is no longer audible.
—-
Dobbs is both an instructor and a student in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but it is not her first martial art. She is also a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo. Wanting to be a more wellrounded martial artist, she began looking around while attending Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss. “Taekwondo is more stand up based, and so I was like, ground based. If the fight ever went to the ground or something, I wouldn’t be able to do anything. So I found the Jiu Jitsu club.” Cuellar also began her martial arts career in Taekwondo before picking up Jiu Jitsu. “My husband actually told me about Jessica. I actually did it because I wanted to meet her, more or less than anything, and kinda see how she was.” Hendrix is another student learning Jiu Jitsu after first starting another martial art. “I started with kickboxing, and then Jess was like, you should stay for class, and I don’t like to quit, so I did. And I kept coming back.”
—-
Boom. Boom. Boom. The class switches to break falls as their warm up continues. Half rolling, half falling onto their backs with arms spread, it’s a safe way to fall back. Seeing a spider on the mat, Robin pushes it outside rather than killing it, and spider stories quickly begin from all the girls. It is the first bit of conversation that happens within the group. Warm ups are finished. Break for water.
—-
“When I started, there definitely was not a lot of women doing Jiu Jitsu, and if they were, they weren’t as serious about it,” says Dobbs. “Right now though, the ladies’ class I teach, we have about six to eight come pretty consistently, which is really good, considering it use to be four, but it would be a different four each time.” “It’s a choice at the end of the day. You’re either going to come back or you’re not. Most people quit,” says Cuellar. “You can tell by which rank, who’s going to be there the longest.” “Right after Christmas, when we came back, I was like, do I really want to do this,” says Hendrix. “But, like I said, I don’t quit. I don’t like to quit. I was in a slump, like I wasn’t, I felt like, I would get stuck and just lay there and not know anything, but now I feel like I know a little more.”
—-
Dobbs produces two white towels and hands one to both Cuellar and Hendrix, telling the girls to stick them under their belts on their backs. The goal is to get your opponent’s towel without allowing her to get yours. It’s a game that helps teach how to engage for a take down. Cuellar and Hendrix face off, working in a circle, both making attempts at victory. After a few minutes, the girls fall to the mat, neither one able to grab the other’s towel. Through quickened breathing, both are still able to somehow laugh. Over the next ten minutes, the towels change hands as the four members of the class take turns facing each other. One girl jokingly asks how far she can stuff it in. Don’t cheat, yells one of the other girls. Everyone else responds by laughing. Soon, Dobbs begins the day’s lesson, using a lot of jargon and move names. Someone had turned on a loud fan, so she teaches by slow example on Hendrix while speaking. The entire lesson takes place on the floor, reiterating what Dobbs had said about Jiu Jitsu being a ground based martial art. Cuellar swaps out with Hendrix, and Dobbs continues to demonstrate. Step by step, she reiterates everything over and over.
—-
“Starting out in Jiu Jitsu, I never would have thought I would become an instructor,” says Dobbs. “But after I got my blue belt, and I wanted more women in Jiu Jitsu, I had to take on that leadership role.” “She works hard and she does inspire all of us girls to just want to be the best version of ourselves. It’s not so much as her tearing any women down. She’s building them up,” says Cuellar. “She has patience with us. Even when we’re frustrated and we feel like we don’t get it, she’ll break it down and break it down until she can’t break it down no more.”
—-
The class is split into two groups of two, with Cuellar and Hendrix together. A timer begins. Four minutes. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Instruction. atrick Wiggins 5 Three minutes. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Improvement. Two minutes. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Improvement. One minute. Try. Fail. Try. Fail. Improvement. Beep. Beep. Beep. “Ok, switch.” The students swap. The one who was attempting the take down now becomes the one being taken down, and vice versa. The process repeats itself slowly as the girls try to remember all the steps of the complicated maneuver. A student becomes vocal, asking what it is that she keeps forgetting and stating that something isn’t going right. Cuellar’s lips move as she silently goes through each step in her head, moving ahead one by one. She is getting better and faster. Practice. Repetition.
—-
“Everyday, you come to class and you just feel dumb,” says Cuellar. “But if they don’t make you feel dumb, you really aren’t growing, and it’s very important you don’t give up, because you could be right there at your goal, and you quit.”
—-
30 minutes into the class, Dobbs begins teaching a variant on what her class just learned. This time, some students ask questions while others watch closely to pick up the proper technique. Again, the class is split into two groups of two and Dobbs sets the timer for another four minutes. More practice. More repetition.
—-
“You have to drill one move at least 500 times to be able to be fluid at it,” says Cuellar. “You have to practice, practice, practice. You can’t just do it two or three times and expect to retain it. Repetition is key.”
—-
An hour after starting, the class comes to an end. The five women, faces flushed and hair unkept, all bow to one another before leaving.

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3 thoughts on ““No Limits” by Patrick Wiggins

  1. Article is flawless what a beautiful read! I had fun in class that day. I enjoy my bjj family and look forward to our furture together! Grateful to my wonderful coach she always helps me on and off the mat I’m truly blessed to call her a friend, teammate and bjj sister! Thank you also to coach Jae for always pushing us and making us strive to be better!

    Like

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