Not pulling any punches: Self-defense can be important

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It is an unfortunate, yet unavoidable fact that Seattle contains unsavory characters who have chosen to make ends meet by taking advantage of unsuspecting people. Over 4,000 violent crimes are estimated to occur in Seattle annually. Some people are fortunate enough to go through their lives without ever having to confront antagonistic people with malicious or even violent intentions. But breezing through life while counting your lucky stars is ill-advised. It behooves the average layperson to know some self-defense. 

“Knowing self-defense is important because it imparts a realistic sense of self-confidence,” Drew Vogel, founder of Framework Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Self Defense (Framework BJJ) in Seattle, said. “When you’re young, your ego can sometimes get in the way. Self-defense reminds you that you’re not  invincible, but also not indefensible.” 

Building self-confidence is integral to every martial art. 

“Besides the self-confidence and problem solving skills that self-defense teaches, you always need to be prepared to know how to defend yourself or others,” Max Broburg, who has been training and working with Framework since 2017, said. “I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to have the necessary self-defense skills so that they can help people if the need arises.” 

There are other, more subtle benefits to learning self-defense as well. “Martial arts increase your mobility, allowing you to be capable of more than just self defense.” said Kamau Curnal, a Brazilian jiujitsu instructor who currently teaches lessons at the Garfield Community Center.

An introductory workshop or seminar that provides a fire hose run-through of basic self-defense techniques is a good place to start your self-defense journey. On a warm Saturday in June I took part in a workshop at Framework BJJ. The seminar was insightful, practical, and informative. Framework BJJ provides an excellent space for those interested in a practical martial art that builds character and increases well-being, provides strength training, and most importantly, delivers effective self-defense. 

Located at 604 19th Ave E., Framework was opened by Drew and Christine Vogel in November 2016. The Vogels took a leap of faith and moved from Philadelphia, where Drew Vogel was an instructor and competitor, to Seattle with dreams of opening a jiujitsu school. 

Drew Vogel had received a black belt in karate when he was 18 and has been involved in numerous martial arts, but ultimately fell in love with Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) because of its simplicity and effectiveness. After spending nearly a decade training in BJJ, he received his black belt in 2012. 

Before moving any further, you might be thinking, “What in the world is Brazilian jiujitsu?” 

Jiujitsu has a fascinating history. It was formed in Japan centuries ago as the method of hand-to-hand combat employed by samurais in the event that they had no weapons at their disposal. At the most basic level, all forms of jiujitsu focus on grappling, using chokes, locks, and holds to overcome an opponent. Throughout the years jiujitsu has been separated into numerous different schools and styles, called “ryu,”  with many of them still practiced today, such as judo. In the early 20th century, a jiujitsu master named Mitsuyo Maeda immigrated to Brazil from Japan and began teaching his martial art.

Among his first students were members of the Gracie family. Brothers Helio and Carlos Gracie studied the art form intensively, and modified it in such a way that the techniques didn’t favor larger competitors. People of smaller stature had an equally good chance of taking down an opponent. 

“BJJ is specifically designed to allow a smaller, weaker person to overpower a bigger, stronger opponent,” Broburg said. 

Therein lies the key appeal of BJJ. Unlike in boxing and many other martial arts, a smaller opponent can remain confident in their ability to overcome an opponent or neutralize a threat through their skill alone, provided that they are properly trained. 

“Helio Gracie, the founder, weighed 135 pounds and couldn’t use traditional techniques,” Drew Vogel said. “Instead, he invented a system that used patience and leverage.”

Though I have some slight background knowledge of BJJ and self defense, I had no idea what to expect at the workshop. The interior of the studio is a comfortably lit, air-conditioned space shared with a kung fu studio, Seven Star Kung Fu. There were roughly 20 students in attendance, many of whom were wearing a gi, the traditional jiujitsu uniform. 

Drew Vogel jumped right in by walking talking through several scenarios. He discussed how to defend against an assailant grabbing your arm in several ways and what to do when someone grabs you by the shirt or neck. After each demonstration, he would ask if the students understood the movements and felt safe and comfortable practicing them. The class would then pair off into groups of two, and safely, slowly reenact the movements. The techniques were very simple and clearly effective, if not necessarily pure jiujitsu. 

Foot and hand placement, balance and leverage were all emphasized by Drew Vogel as key aspects of the techniques. I first paired off with Paul Steyn, who was originally from South Africa and had been instructed by Drew Vogel in Philadelphia. 

“Drew is a wonderful instructor, and immensely knowledgeable,” Steyn said. 

While many potential self-defense scenarios were not covered, like what to do when someone has a weapon or when someone starts throwing punches, I feel that the time was used productively and efficiently. The entire one-hour workshop was filled with a sense of respect and attentiveness to all of the attendees. 

“It was a bit awkward at first, partly because martial arts tend to be very male dominated,” Betz Mayer, a UW student who attended the workshop, said. “But once we got into the moves, it was really fun! The instructors were helpful in breaking down the moves and giving pointers. Overall I really enjoyed it, and it made me interested in learning more BJJ.” 

BJJ instructor Curnal left students with this parting advice: “Find the style of martial art that fits you, and that’s fun and also practical.”

Reach writer Tony Scigliano at wellness@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @earthtotones

This article was updated at 9:01 p.m. on July 12 to correct a mispelling of Christine Vogel's name and provide an address for Framework BJJ.

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