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‘The day I tried Jiu Jitsu’ – Healthista’s Kyley Reed tried the self-defence system and found it ‘enlightening’

Kyley Reed tells of her enlightening experience with jiu jitsu world champion Sam Cook in a hilarious recount of a first-time jiu jitsu session

Let me clarify on that headline: I am a virgin to all forms of physical fighting – to all contact sports in general. I played volleyball.

That makes me athletic, not aggressive. And certainly not equipped to handle a person wanting to beat me in any sort of fight. They will win.

I entered Roger Gracie Academy nervously and obviously – tall, lost, wearing Lulu Lemon, and walking straight across the very smooth, clean mat with my New Balance shoes, which I would learn is not to be walked on by anything except bare feet. Strike one.

Sam Cook Kyley conversation, Jiu Jitsu Virgin by


Roger Gracie, Kyley, Jiu Jitsu Virgin by
Kyley with 10 x jiu jitsu world champion Roger Gracie (left) and GB Basketball captain Drew Sullivan (right) at Roger Gracie Academy in London

Shortly following my arrival came Sam Cook: my four-time British National Champion, three-time European Champion, and 2015 World No Gi Champion coach for the day. Friendly, chatty, pretty, quite strong, wearing a “gi” (traditional jiu jitsu uniform), and wearing a black eye. Sam herself was not nearly as scary as I anticipated her to be, though the black eye was reason for worry.

Sam Cook Jiu Jistu worlds, Jiu Jitsu Virgin by
Cook after winning the 2015 World No Gi Jiu Jitsu Championship

My feelings of embarrassment over my painfully non-tough workout attire were growing exponentially as men started to fill the room.

Leggings and New Balance shoes with cute, coral accents – fab choice, well done.

I surveyed Sam’s gi and hoped I would be getting one.

‘We’ll get you set up with a gi and I’ll show you where the changing room is,’ Sam told me. Hallelujah, praise you Sam.

Sam handed me my very own white gi and led me to the changing room. Though I had no idea how to wear this, I was excited at the chance to put the snazzy thing on.

Many questions arose: do I keep the leggings on or is this more of a let-it-all-hang-out type of thing? How do these ties work? Do I get a belt? Socks or no socks? Is this what everyone looks like or am I especially ridiculous?

These questions were asked and answered by me: The pants are drafty – leggings will stay. I hope double-knots are okay. Socks off – more organic. I’m absurdly tall for this uniform and my ass looks very big, marshmallow-like, even.

I exited the changing room clad in white and re-appeared at the mat, this time not offending it with my New Balance tread.

She immediately got down on the mat, rolled onto her back and spread her legs wide open, looking at me. I stared back.

Sam asked me if I was ready to get started and without even the slightest idea of what to expect besides what I’d looked up on YouTube (which I sincerely hoped wasn’t a preview of how this session was going to go), I told her yes.

She immediately got down on the mat, rolled onto her back and spread her legs wide open, looking at me. I stared back.

She beckoned me forward and I reluctantly walked on my knees over toward to her. While I stayed rigid in my kneeling position, she wrapped her legs around my hips.

Oh my.

Our faces were a romantic six inches apart

Sam then pulled the lapel of my gi so that I had to place my hands on either side of her head and my torso became parallel to hers. Our faces were a romantic six inches apart. She began the lesson.

This lesson was geared less toward jiu jitsu fighting and more toward self-defense, while incorporating jiu jitsu principles and techniques. Without going over the details of the different contortions I entered into soon after this moment, know that they were new to me and previously thought to be impossible.

Sam Cook Kyley Action, Jiu Jitsu Virgin by

But Sam got me into these positions, and showed me how to get out of them. The first try was undoubtedly painful to watch, as I timidly pushed on her hip with my foot and brought my knee up to her collarbone and asked questions of how far across her body to pull her arm and if it was okay that my shin was in her Adam’s apple.

I literally had to peer between my legs to make eye contact with her as she told me what my next move would be. I eventually managed to flip her over onto her back (mainly because she let me) and rolled on top of her, smiling because I was both triumphant and still uncomfortable.

Sam Cook Kyley Action 2, Jiu Jitsu Virgin by

We did this a few more times and each try became a little smoother, each new position a little more fun to try: scissor sweep from closed guard, armbar from closed guard, armbar sweep from closed guard.

Don’t get any ideas – I got the lingo but I was terrible. I was a hesistant, giggly mass of long, unsure limbs that had to be told their every move by a very patient Sam.

Harm you may need to defend yourself against doesn’t come in neat little starter kits with ten seconds of warning so that you can get into a ready position

But there was an aspect of reality that became quite clear during my session.

Harm you may need to defend yourself against doesn’t come in neat little starter kits with ten seconds of warning so that you can get into a ready position. Harm may very well present itself while you’re lying down, while you’re uncomfortable, while you’re unprepared.

And while 30 minutes of rolling around on a mat was more me being puppeteered than learning how to defend myself, I daresay 30 more minutes wouldn’t hurt. Or perhaps another session, or few sessions.

My point is, this sport introduced me to physical positions that could defend against harm, but it also introduced me to a small portion of the chaos and distraction I might experience in real-life danger. I was entangled in a person I’d met an hour earlier, so close together we were practically giving each other butterfly kisses. That’s distracting.

But it’s also very useful. I’m not sure if I’ll ever (intentionally) be in that situation again, but I’m glad I got a taste of what this physical and emotional chaos might be like. And though I’m by no means properly equipped with self-defense, I at least know someone who can help me learn.

Sam Cook Black and White, Jiu Jitsu Virgin by
Photo courtesy of @samcook_bjj

Sam Cook deserves all the credit, support, and gratitude in the world. Credit for being a female representative in a very male-dominated sport and excelling in that sport, support for her admirable intentions to excel further, and gratitude from me, for enduring what was probably the most hopeless jiu jitsu lesson she’s ever been through.


@SamCook_BJJ and Instagram: samcook_bjj

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