The Cost of Jumping Into Jujitsu

Photo credit: Rodrigo Olivera (cropped), CC BY 2.0.

I am small and clumsy, with stiff shoulders and bad wrists. Hard workouts leave me sore for days, and I am currently on day ten of this most recent bruise. But twice a week I put on my gi and belt, and grab my notebook and weapons, and head to the dojo for hitting the mats, hitting my classmates, and working on my journey to master this martial art.

“Master” in this case is term that works best for alliteration, not anywhere near a description of me or my practice. Every journey starts with the first step, and I took that step in August of 2017. My small town still has an actual print newspaper in circulation, and I was flipping through the pages and noticed that the recreation department was advertising their available classes, including a martial arts class. “We will cover aspects of throwing, falling, striking, and grappling to mold confident and well rounded martial artists.” That sounds interesting, I thought. “First week free.” In that case, I might as well try it out.

I had done various martial arts before, from non-contact cardio kickboxing to actual karate. However, at the last dojo I didn’t advance beyond a yellow belt before we ended up moving away. The free jujitsu class was held in one of the rooms in the recreation department building, a renovated school building located behind the police station, not far from the abandoned state mental hospital. As I walked in, I could hear the music from the Zumba class in one of the other rooms. There were a handful of people in the jujitsu class, and they ranged in age from teenager to retiree, in height from me to actual tall people, and experience level from yellow belt up to black. The instructor seemed smart and capable, the other students seemed nice, plus I got a good workout, so I signed up for a full session and have been going ever since.

The costs

$600 for classes: The costs are $50/month for two classes a week, with occasional special sessions on Sundays. I had looked at other martial arts studios in my area, and the average cost for those would have been around $100/month. We might have to roll up the mats each class, share storage space with the yoga classes, and deal with occasional glitter from the Easter egg hunt, but there’s a clear benefit from operating through the town recreation department.

$150 for gear: I needed a new gi when I started, which had gone from bright white to a duller shade with only infrequent blood stains. Despite the long pants and long sleeves of the gi, some of the moves can be quite violent, so I’ve invested in a rash guard and extra spandex for additional protection. My belt colors have advanced from white to yellow to blue, and as my skills have gone up, weapons training has been incorporated into my curriculum so I am now the proud owner of a plastic training knife and bamboo fighting sticks. Later on in my practice I will have the opportunity to specialize in a weapon, either one of the ones I have now or the staff, short staff, or sword. A couple of the senior students in another dojo also use bullwhips. They taught me a basic move to crack the whip, and I have to say, it is something I recommend that everyone get to try out at least once!

$60 in annual dues: The overarching organization is a non-profit entity and has annual dues to support the national office work. I get a fancy patch and membership letter, plus quarterly journals that touch on the work of the organization, review of certain moves, and how the teachings of the practice can help with various real-life scenarios from work to social situations. There was even a whole issue dedicated to finance!

$940 for the national seminar: The organization puts on a four-day training and seminar each year, and students from across the country come to train, learn, and socialize. The total cost here includes airfare ($300, not including the $20 Lyft ride at 4:00 a.m. from my brother’s place, but the tickets were cheaper flying out of Boston), food, lodging, and nine hours of training a day, plus social activities each night and the end-of-session banquet. The location rotates each year, but is always in the home city of a different dojo — this year was Minnesota, and someday is a trip to Alaska is in my future.

$150 for team socials: Movie nights, pizza nights, cookouts and more. I am lucky to spend time with these people when we are not trying to throw, choke, or punch each other. My spouse is not a martial artist, but has fully integrated himself into the group thanks to the social events, and he is more than happy to leave the workout aspect to me.

Other costs: Bruises, sore muscles, my pride every time I’m limping around and the 16 year-old next to me is hopping around like the workout was a walk in the park. “Someday you’ll be old too!” I yell/cry at her as I slowly get up from the floor. The ice is free from my freezer, but there is a cost for the extra time spent treating my muscles and joints.

The practice

You will see that there were no costs for competitions, and I never once mentioned the word “rolling.” When most people think “jujitsu” it’s likely they’re picturing the practice of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), which has gained much visibility with the rise in popularity of mixed martial arts competitions. There are seven different BJJ studios in my area. One studio is in a gym has the word “gladiator” in its name; another gym name includes the word “submission.” In my initial efforts to find a new dojo, I knew that I would get a great workout at those gyms. But I was honestly a bit intimidated by the language on their websites, and I was worried about injuries based on my past experience with similar gyms. Did you know that your whole arm swells up when you strain your elbow tendons? That’s the lesson I learned through an overzealous conditioning workout at a gym not to be named.

Shoshin Ryu, which is the type of jujitsu I practice, is a Japanese-based system of martial arts whose core tenant is cooperation, not competition. Students learn the physical self defense techniques of strikes, throws, joint locks, and grappling among others. The practice is always evolving, combing many hundred-year old techniques with new lessons found in Judo, BJJ, and Filipino Martial Arts, all for a practical and efficient practice of self-defense. There is also training on strategy for bringing the lessons outside of the dojo: how do you avoid fights in the first place; what should you do when you find yourself in a dangerous situation; what are your physical limitations and how do you overcome them? Finally, there is a focus on personal development, with lessons on respect, maintaining focus, overcoming obstacles, self care, helping others, and more.

I had never experienced a martial art — or any exercise class — that had these lessons and teachings as part of the practice. That difference was evident in the first class I attended, in the support I’ve received over the past year, and in the way I’ve seen the impact on my own life.  

The gains

I have a handful of physical objects to show for my investment, and that’s usually what we think about when we explore “the cost of” something. For the gains from a physical activity, there is of course better health as an outcome. For martial arts specifically, there is gaining knowledge of self-defense techniques. Those are beneficial, and were what I was looking for when I signed up for the class. What I didn’t expect was the community that I gained.

Locally, that community means friends that you join for drinks or dinner or hanging out. I gained a dog sitter, a source of farm-fresh eggs, an understanding of why the new paving on my sidewalk is cracking, and an endless fount of dad jokes. Two days a week I look forward to a workout and a chance to laugh. It is a joy to spend time with these people, even when that means getting pinned, kicked, and thrown to the ground.

On a national scale, that community means that I am a small part of a larger organization, one that is full of good people doing good things. It’s made up of students, policemen, military personnel, doctors, lawyers, teachers, tech workers, and everything in between. I am proud to hold membership in an organization that values personal growth, character development, diversity, tolerance, and compassion. I felt immediately welcomed and appreciated from this group, which can be a rare thing these days. When I started, I was hoping to make a friend or two in class. I was not prepared to gain a family that extends from Alaska to North Carolina, and I could not be more grateful.

JennyCons likes public service, Polly her forever-puppy, and hanging on her patio. Also, that bruise took an entire three weeks to heal, and her shoulders are still tight.

This story is part of The Billfold’s Experience Series.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.