Chronicles of a Travelling Grappler – BJJ for Zimbabwe (Part 2)


Written by James Locke

Edited by Josh Sequeira

Today we bring you part two of this three part series on the BJJ for Zimbabwe pilgrimage James Locke embarked on last year. In part one, James traveled to Harare, Zimbabwe and began to acclimate himself to his new surroundings ( . Today, James recounts his experience teaching the first ever BJJ classes in Zimbabwe. Enjoy!

Part 2 – Setting the Hook

I got a ride to the Alexandra Sports Club to teach my first class, the first BJJ class ever in Zimbabwe! After working through some traffic, I arrived and hustled into my gi. I asked Sensei Josh how much time we had to train, everyone agreed that we would train as long as possible before everyone became fatigued and couldn’t absorb anymore information. After introducing myself and my achievements, I explained the history of BJJ, detailing my lineage all the way to my instructor, Professor Steve Burgess. The students seemed to really appreciate the history and respect within jiu jitsu. We did a short calisthenic warm up to loosen up and increase our heart rates and got into some fundamentals and basic positioning for a couple hours. Trying to keep it very basic I worked through some foundational systematic dills. With minimal focus on resistance and maximum focus on repetition and efficiency, it’s amazing how much information is involved when you’re only talking about positions. I tried to cram as much info as I could into the class with respect to posture, structure and base, ideals taught to me originally by my first black belt instructor, Professor Robert Biernacki.

The class was a major success and the students were seemingly incredibly excited about continuing their learning as soon as they could. We set up 2 hour classes Monday-Wednesday, something I was ecstatic about! It felt amazing to not only have such an awesome group of interested students, but it was the first time any of these techniques were being shown in the country. We gathered in the bar attached to the sports Club and had an informal meet and greet talking about training and philosophy. We shared so many of the same opinions I’ve always found while visiting different clubs, as martial artists it’s our duty to pass on the knowledge taught to us. I was given a ride back to the village, where I had to email my Professor back home and tell him about the first class. I was overjoyed to say the least.

The next morning, Saturday, I woke at 5am to enjoy a cup of coffee while the sun rose. The roosters began to Crow at 4am, and it was 28 degrees Celsius so I wasn’t sleeping well anyway. There was also some anticipation for getting started with the kids as well. After my coffee I went to see what the plan was for our makeshift tatame at the gazebo dojo. When I arrived there at 6am, a few boys were carrying carpets out of their homes and bringing them to the dojo. We ended up finding four or five large carpets and stacked them on the concrete gazebo floor. The kids were all starting to gather and they swept the carpet tatame up as best they could. I sat them all in a circle and told them about myself, about jiu jitsu and how it is the most effective form of self defense as well as a rapidly growing sport. I asked what they knew about martial arts, of course they’ve all seen a couple of movies with Jackie Chan or of the like and only really knew about punching and kicking “karate”. Well I was about to blow their minds.


Of course with the kids class I still had to cover the basic positions so they would know what I was talking about, but I couldn’t spend nearly as much time on them. I had to keep their interest, while at the same time trying to instill some of the basic concepts of posture, structure and base as I could. Working for an hour with the kids we covered a number of fun techniques. I really enjoyed sharing an armbar/triangle drill we do at my academy, referred to as “the threes”. When we wrapped up the class all the kids were loving it. I emphasized training safely and taking care of your training partners so nobody got hurt. I knew, like all kids, these guys liked wrestling and messing around so if they had any questions on what to do in different situations, bring the questions to class and I’d show them since options. It was a very successful first class with the youth.

I phoned the airport a couple of times that morning and eventually they found my bags and said they would arrive later in the afternoon. I borrowed a truck from the staff training Centre and tried out driving through the crazy streets of Harare in a right side drive 5 speed. It was intense in some of the busier places, but I caught on pretty quickly. As Joe Rogan once said “once you get good at something as difficult as jiu jitsu, everything in life becomes easier”. I picked up Josh downtown and he showed me around a bit more and introduced me to some of his friends. It felt strange for him to always be introducing me as “Sensei James”, but to the meaning of the word, I couldn’t argue with him, so all his students referred to me that way as well. I headed to the airport and had some major troubles with customs getting my gis that weighed over 59kgs into the country. I ended up working out ‘a deal’ but it definitely costed me a fair bit. I also had to book a flight to Victoria Falls, a trip that I didn’t necessarily want to make but that was a condition for my visa when I picked it up in Ottawa back in Canada. With all the gis loaded in the truck, they had made it and I had a trip booked for Sunday night. Dropping off Nyasha, Josh’s son who had accompanied me for the trip at a wedding, I was invited in and exposed to a Zimbabwe wedding reception. The music, colours and unique culturally related attire was very nice.

Sunday morning I was again awoken by the roosters nice and early around 4 am. I took advantage of being awake to chat with my wife back home and fill her in on my classes so far and the people I’ve met. After my morning coffee, I headed over to the dojo an hour early, and to my surprise found eager students practising what I had previously taught them. One of the children came over to me and excellently demonstrated some techniques I had taught them. I was amazed! After one day of learning, these guys understood the techniques better than some students after a couple weeks of classes. When class finally got underway it was clear word had spread about my first class. We warmed up with a review of our previous lesson and caught all the new students up to speed, emphasizing chain movements to encourage fluidity.

They loved the submissions and picked up what I taught quickly. At the end of the class, I invited whoever felt they knew the techniques to come demonstrate for the class, instilling confidence in the students as well as providing the class with a good review and chance for some last minute details. After letting the students know I would be leaving for Victoria Falls and returning to teach Tuesday, the promised to practise while I was gone. I headed back to my room only to have a surprise visitor at my door. One of the older students visited me and shared his personal story coming to the village, going to school, attending college in the city and working towards his social work diploma so he could help the SOS village and his family. The student told me that, “There are many people around the world who have everything, the world that me and my brothers and sisters here know is very different. We rely on people like you, who have never met us, to help us survive and try and make a life. May God give you many blessings for giving to us. We don’t often get the opportunity to meet the foreigners who send us money, so may God give you many blessings for coming here to meet us and see that we are real people. None of the kids have ever seen real martial arts, may God give you many blessings for showing us your jiu jitsu.” I was speechless, but forced out my own Thanks for his gratitude. What he said to me that day will stay with me forever.12625682_10153281583146975_555478411_n

I packed my things and got a ride to the airport after lunch. During my hour flight to Victoria Falls, I stared out the window at the African landscape below and reflected on how little I had actually done so far yet how appreciative everyone was. I had an incredible time in Vic Falls, met some great people and shared some fun moments with them in my short time there. However, as I headed back towards Harare, jiu jitsu was on my mind.

Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of James’ tale, Part 3, “Barely Scratching the Surface”

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