Whole Body

Taking Charge

Tim Burrill Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu redefines your sense of strength

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My martial arts experience is in Jeet Kune Do and kickboxing, which both entail striking from a distance, not wrestling up-close-and-personal. So it took some courage for me to walk into Tim Burrill Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, just off of Eddy Street, on a Monday night. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling-based martial art; the strategy is to take the opponent to the ground to establish control.

I was invited onto the mat by instructor Carlos, who talked me through basic escapes as he pinned me down. As a woman, I worried it might feel awkward being in a male-dominant environment, but the learning process was refreshingly free of tension. I wasn’t the only female student, either; the studio’s general manager, Alexandra, homeschools her children, runs the dojo, and trains when she has the time. “I go reptilian when I fight,” she told me, laughing. “Every woman has aggression in them; it just needs to be let out.” Her husband Mitch, a student for over 10 years, affirms: “Women don’t have the size and strength advantage, so they think more, and they end up improving much faster than men in Jiu-Jitsu.”

That Monday night on the mat, I understood what he meant. Jiu-Jitsu is like chess – it’s not about explosive power, but about taking a minute to breathe, to collect thoughts, and to act. It’s all about constant movement, even when pinned to the ground; you arch your back, you wiggle, you slide, you tuck in your elbows, you find the angle and the leverage to gain the advantage.

No one in Rhode Island has created as many high-ranking grapplers as Tim Burrill. One of the first Americans to receive a black belt from Carlos Machado, a former world master’s champion, Tim works with over 100 students in Providence. I heard a lot of things about him leading up to that Monday. Tim will put you in your place fast. He won’t coddle you or hold your hand. The myth of Tim Burrill didn’t match the mellow man with a beard and a motorcycle jacket that I met that Monday; in fact, one of the students joked to me that Tim could get shot in the arm and he would just brush it off. And yet, a memorable moment was watching Tim chatting pleasantly to someone with his knee pressed into a students’ ribs on the ground, as the man tried, and failed, to wriggle free.

“This is a growth environment, where we fight to improve, not to win,” Tim made a point to tell me after class. “Not every studio is like this.” And I couldn’t agree more. This dojo will make you sweat, reconsider how strong you think you are, and sweat even more.

Tim Burrill Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu | 55 Porter Street, Providence • 374-5759