By Professor James Noto
I can remember it very clearly. It was about 10:30PM on a Thursday night early in October 2005. I came off of the train and as it started to rain, I put my hood on. As a music lover I decided to put my ear plugs in and listen to some tunes on my walk home. What I didn’t realize was that I wasn’t the only one heading in the direction of my house.
For an entire block, a car with four men in it was following me. How did I not notice that right away? The men decided to get my attention by screaming aggressively at me. I glanced at the car and decided to lower my music but pretend I was still listening, but I tuned into what they were saying instead. What they had to say wasn’t very pleasant. I quickly realized that I was in a bad situation as it was late at night, the streets were empty and I was greatly outnumbered.
Things turned from bad to worse when they started to curse at me and attempted to pull their car in front of me to block me a few times. The only thought I had at that moment was to run, but I knew I didn’t want to run home and let them know where I lived. I knew I didn’t know how to defend myself if things got physical. And I knew there were 4 of them. Things were really bad: it was raining, I was holding my school books, they were in a car, I had no plan. At that moment, I glanced back and saw another car coming up the block. I decided to do the only thing I could think of. I ran back up the block, against traffic, in the hopes that they couldn’t follow without going in reverse. Luckily, the idea worked, but it didn’t stop them from continuing the chase. I watched as they tried to speed around the block to catch up to me. I ran as fast as I could.
As I approached my house – which was only 2 blocks away – I was out of breath. I was tired and my heart was pumping out of my chest. I lay down on the floor in my wet clothes for the next 10 minutes and decided I had to do something about this if I ever wanted to live a happy life. A life where I wasn’t nervous all the time or looking over my shoulder
A few weeks later, still in October of 2005, I earned my white belt at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and officially started my journey to black belt. Over the next 8 years of training, many people would ask me questions like “does this stuff work for self defense?”, and “Are you any good at it?” My answers, of course, are yes.
What I discovered through the training gave me clarity about that night all those years ago. Jiu-Jitsu creates a plan for you, and all you have to do is follow it and prove it right. What kind of plan did I have that night – listening to loud music and not being aware of my surroundings, having a too-small book bag that was that forced me to have both hands occupied? How unaware was I that I didn’t notice a car of four guys, their windows open in the rain, following me?
The Jiu-Jitsu my Professors taught showed me something I had missed. It raised my awareness and my focus, and provided me with a plan so that in dangerous situations, I’m not an easy target. It educated me about how to be comfortable in any position I might encounter in self-defense, both on the ground and standing up. Within the first few months of training, I had learned at least one escape from every position possible: someone holding me down, keeping me in a headlock, grabbing me in a bearhug. I can’t even imagine what I would have done in the past, other then scream and beg for them to get off me. I found control, of a dangerous situation and of myself, and the confidence that comes with that.
Friends often ask me if I have had to use Jiu-Jitsu in self-defense since that day back in 2005. My answer to them is yes, but not in the way they might expect. Because I train consistently, I’ve found myself very aware of dangerous situations as they develop, not after they’ve begun; outside of the classroom I’ve found that I’m better than average at being able to sense if I’m in actual danger, which has allowed me to leave an unfriendly circumstance quickly. And because I’ve learned to become more assertive inside the training, I’ve been able to out-talk potential attackers in non-aggressive ways to settle any in differences, all while upholding my integrity as a man.
Sometimes these friends have responded with a well-worn, “how do you know you’re good if you never had to actually use it?”. My response is that I have already had plenty of experience being bullied, attacked, and even mugged at various points in my life. These things are all behind me now – since my first class, I’ve never had a single physical confrontation and, almost like magic, the bullies and victimizers have fallen by the wayside. That in itself tells me what I need to know – that the Jiu-Jitsu my Professors have taught me, and which I now have the privilege to teach others, works. I carry with me the knowledge that I am empowered. And if in the future an event like the one in October of 2005 should somehow replay itself, I know I’ll be more than ready to protect myself and my loved ones this time around.