Finding confidence on a mat with Auburn Jiu Jitsu

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Stepping barefoot onto a plastic mat to face someone twice your size isn't as daring once you've leveled the playing field and joined your feet on the cold mat. 

Those at Auburn Jiu Jitsu say ground battle is almost inevitable in real-life altercations. Knowing how to end them and protect oneself is taught through the Brazilian art. 

Professor Phillips, as he is referred to while working with those training, welcomes newcomers to an artform that doubles as a weapon of protection when they come into his studio on Glenn Avenue. 

"There are two reasons that bring people through our door," said Randall Phillips, co-owner of Auburn Jiu Jitsu. "Reason one is self-defense."

Phillips said kids come in for lessons looking for confidence and self-discipline after being bullied at school or experiencing other hardships. 

"Reason two is fitness," Phillips said." "They usually want something a little more challenging than running the treadmill." 

Phillips was taught when he lived in Brazil as a young man. At just 14 years old, he fell in love with the art and has since dedicated his life to Jiu Jitsu, which translates to "the gentle way" or "the gentle art." 

"It's not about just learning something to beat somebody up, it's not that," Phillips said. "If it were, we would be creating a bunch of thugs and that's not what we are about. The art has been around for 3,000 years so there is beauty in it."

Phillips said it is the combat that's meant for a stronger person, using technique and leverage, to defeat a larger opponent. Spawning from a Japanese version of the art, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was altered to give way for technical defeat by smaller opponents. 

"With our stand-up exercises, we don't punch, we defend against punches," Phillips said. "Then we take it to the ground."

Tucker Stokes, police officer with Opelika Police Division, appreciates the training he has received and said the ground combat training keeps him safe, as well as those he is attempting to arrest. 

"Police officers aren't supposed to be bullies," Stokes said. "We aren't going out there to just crack skulls. We want to make an arrest as quickly and safely as possible."

Jiu Jitsu has taught Stokes how to remain calm in stressful situations. Those teaching Jiu Jitsu, like Stokes and Phillips, believe the best way to defend oneself is from the ground. This is especially useful for women, as the ground provides a base and leverage point. 


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Elizabeth Allen, instructor, has made martial arts, particularly Jiu Jitsu, her day job. Many of the men in the studio pointed to her, describing their losses at her hand, as they explained how Jiu Jitsu trains smaller people to defeat much larger people with technique and focus. 

She "rolled" with a man twice her side with an injured arm tucked inside her gi, uniform. She began martial arts for self-defense and with reason.

"I was assaulted three different times in my life as a youngster, and I decided I didn't want to be a victim anymore," Allen said. "I wanted to help others not be victims."

Allen and her husband are both training, and the trust needed to train with the men and women at the studio is crucial she said. She instructs the younger classes and focuses on showing the children their strength. 

"I want them to know they don't have to be the best in the world, but if they want to be, all it takes is practice, determination and sticking with it," Allen said. "Giving them that level of confidence makes them believe they will be okay in life no matter what."

Practicing Jiu Jitsu is a time commitment and requires a lot of focus, Phillips said. A black belt is received after 10-12 years, in comparison to Karate belts being awarded after 3-4 years. 

Phillips brought his love and time commitments to Auburn when he was a senior in high school. After 22 years in Auburn and a degree in international trade, he found a home and a purpose -- teaching. 

The studio has been open for two years and focuses on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, whereas Phillips' other location provides lessons in multiple martial arts. 

When people push through the glass door of Auburn Jiu Jitsu, look around at the mats covered in men and women alike rolling around with arms and legs contorted, they see focus and an element of complete control, Phillips said. 

"We aren't a bunch of knuckleheads and we aren't going to hurt anyone," Phillips said. 

The most common reservation, Phillips said, is the fear of being injured. To ensure that safety and understanding is established, the team holds introductory lessons that are private, slow-paced and centered around developing trust.

The lessons are for anyone. Phillips discourages the idea that someone has to be a certain age, gender or ability to participate. The business' oldest member will be 70 years old in August 2017. 

"There's no age limit," Phillips said. "We want everyone to know that whatever level they are — age or fitness — they can do Jiu Jitsu." 

The most common struggle with training is frustration with time and consistency. Phillips said it's something that comes with time and dedication, often what many struggle to deliver. 

Wesley Clendinen, third-year veterinary student, has not strayed from the sport after two years. He came in wanting everything Jiu Jitsu had to offer and found a family of those that could teach him. 

Sitting in the lab all day at school wears on a person, Clendinen said. Jiu Jitsu is a physical outlet he found and stuck with. He said he's learned connected life lessons to the lessons in the sport. 

"[When you're] working through tough times you just never know, so you have to keep pushing forward to the light at the end of the tunnel," Clendinen said. "It's similar to being choked out, you just keep fighting and don't give up."

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