“How I Learned BJJ From a Hobo”. The Best “How I started BJJ” story. Ever.

Everyone has a story about how they got into BJJ or Judo, or whatever.  Most people have a mildly interesting story, “oh you know I wanted to get in shape,” or “I like rolling around with other sweaty men”.  Regardless of how you, or me, or anyone started, I can assure you that it doesn’t matter and their story sucks compared to this one.  Whether this story is real or fictional does not matter.

*Originally found on the sherdog f12 forum, but had to be immortalized here, on ArtOfGrappling.com.  Posted with permission from author “DonkeyKong”.

My father’s hometown is a poverty-stricken village of around 2000, tiny houses clustered together, in the middle of the arid land of northeast Brazil. It’s as much ” nowhere” as nowhere gets in Brazil. I used to spend my summers there growing up. As a kid born in 1985, I grew up with classics such as the King of the Kickboxers, Bloodsport, Bruce Lee films, the Karate Kid, pretty much a notion of martial arts that ascribed superiority to spirituality or secret techniques, taught through montages.

I imagined that to be good at fighting you needed to learn how to do splits, fight blindfolded, but mostly do splits.

In 1992, I was visiting my father’s hometown when someone told me that a karate teacher had arrived in the city. He had moved into a previously empty house that hat only one large room and one tiny room, and was teaching karate to kids. It cost 1 dollar a week, so I went there to check it out with a bunch of other kids. The home was nobody’s, and I don’t think he paid rent either. There wasn’t any electricity as far as I could tell.

The lesson was a bunch of raggedy, filthy kids rolling around on the floor, it was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen. Just rolling around with each other. Towering over that scene, leaning against the wall, as what I could only describe as a hobo. The guy was wearing only the sorriest, most worn out pair of formerly-black-now-gray-and-brown kung fu pants, had a shaggy beard and filthy hair and every time he said something, I saw he had about six teeth in his mouth, total. He looked 50 or more but was in great shape.

I was sorely disappointed, this wasn’t karate and I wasn’t going to be like Van Damme if I trained with that guy.

After a few minutes the rolling ended and they started doing kata and then doing splits. A crowd of around 15 was watching through the door and window of the home. That`s more like it, I thought. After the kata, everyone left, and so did I since the rolling around part was mega lame, and that would have been it for me if it wasn’t for what happened next.

The teacher, whose name I can’t remember, visited a nearby city’s Capoeira gym and challenged the teacher to a fight. The teacher accepted, my guess is he had no reason to be afraid of a hobo, plus why not make some money? The fight was to be organized in a tiny little events center ( a small warehouse really), within a week.

The kids were abuzz with the upcoming fight. It was supposed to be the real deal, no rules, no gloves! Like in the King of Kickboxers. We were excited. When the day came, there were around 40-50 kids over there and some 10 grownups maybe, who’d paid 2 dollars to watch the fight. What followed, I would never forget and only would come to understand many many years later.

The hobo ( still wearing his kung fu pants and nothing else) and the far bigger capoeira master, a strong black guy, squared off and immediately the hobo master slapped that dude in the face harder than I’d ever heard, the slap echoed through the warehouse , drawing a gasp from the crowd, and it had the desired effect: the capoeira teacher was infuriated and completely lost control. He went straight for the hobo, there was a scuffle of sorts and they ended up rolling on the floor. The capoeira teacher was in between the hobo’s legs, who had them crossed, and it seemed like he couldn’t get out. The hobo embraced him and then started slapping the ever loving shit out of his back. Huge slaps, cracking through the air, that guy’s arms were wiry with muscle and every single massive slap landed on the exact same place. After the fifth one, the capoeira guy was struggling desperately to get out, there was another scuffle of sorts, then a scream, then the capoeira master lay on the floor grabbing his arm while the hobo got up.

The grownups were sayings something, like the capoeira teacher had a broken arm. I didn’t know what happened or how that had happened, but the crowd was too loud to even ask, so I just left, disappointed. I hoped I would see some Van Damme action and I just saw some rolling, and slapping, and a weird finish. What a gyp, I wanted my money back.

Soon after, I went to the hobo’s house because I wanted to learn Van Damme’s helicopter kick. Yeah, so sue me, I was 7. I walk in and the hobo was sweeping the floor and eating a banana. I don’t know why I remember the banana but I do. I asked him how much he wanted to teach me Van Damme’s helicopter kick and he laughed, he said that it is silly. I said Van Damme does karate and I saw you teaching kata! His reply was simple: I teach kata because I know karate, and they want to learn karate, but if you want to win a fight you have to learn “jujitz”, I was like, what?

He told me “you win a fight by breaking the person’s arm, you break his arm and he can’t fight anymore”. So he proceeded to teach my, at the age of 7, the straight arm bar. Which by the way looked to me like a completely bullshit and unrealistic technique, like I’m ever gonna end up with a guy’s arm resting on my crotch like that, but I learned it anyway.

He then taught me an escape from the straight armbar, an escape that I would never be taught since, even with years of grappling and jiu jitsu. An escape which I still remember ( and used to use when I trained).

After that I left, 1 dollar poorer, feeling scammed. And that was the last I ever heard of the hobo. The next summer when I returned he was already long gone and the house was empty. It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I, now training in Kung Fu and arguing with my jiu jitsu friends that it was nonsense, that all these memories came back, including the techniques, which I showed them. Then they told me about the UFC, and Royce Gracie, I watched it, and Royce vs Dan Severn was exactly like the hobo’s fight, minus the incessant slapping. Then Royce choked him out.

The hobo had a point, and I started training then.

How did you get started? Probably wasn’t like this was it?

Post in the comments below!

*cover photo credit Lee Jeffries.  He takes unreal portraits that make photos look like something from a movie/dream/nightmare.

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