Respect and discipline through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Members of HMCS Ottawa practice Brazilian Jujutsu for physical training on board HMCS Ottawa while deployed on Operations Projection and Neon. Photo by Leading Seaman Victoria Ioganov, MARPAC Imaging Services

Members of HMCS Ottawa practice Brazilian Jujutsu for physical training on board HMCS Ottawa while deployed on Operations Projection and Neon. Photo by Leading Seaman Victoria Ioganov, MARPAC Imaging Services

Capt Jenn Jackson, HMCS Ottawa PAO ~

Respect is on the mats and in the flats.
What happens on the mats, stays on the mats.
I am only here to make you better.

Those are the rules that govern the physical training that takes place two to three times a week in HMCS Ottawa’s hangar. The area is transformed and a group of passionate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu athletes practice their sport, working to collectively make each other better.

It is an initiative spear-headed by Marine Technician Master Seaman Matthew Taggart. The group is open to all who want to participate and averages four to10 members of Ottawa’s crew, both male and female.

“As we were preparing for this deployment, I knew there were others from Victoria’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community on board,” says MS Taggart. “I reached out to them to see if they wanted to practice while we are at sea and that is how the group began.”

MS Taggart is a four-and-a-half year veteran of the sport who has been competing for three. He tried Jiu-Jitsu for the first time at the encouragement of a subordinate during Operation Artemis. Once he tried it, he found himself on a different path.

“Looking back, I was not in a good place in my life when I started Jiu-Jitsu,” said MS Taggart. “I was extremely angry for a number of reasons, but once I started training regularly I found that Jiu-Jitsu not only gave me a positive outlet, but it also led to a commitment to better myself. I am still honouring that commitment today.”

That philosophy is reflected in the rules established by the group which highlight the sense of discipline and respect inherent to the sport. Any member of the ship’s crew is welcome to take part in the training, but anyone who does not follow the rules is politely asked to no longer participate.

“On the mat, there is no rank or position,” adds MS Taggart. “It is two people focused on what they are doing, working to make each other better, and testing each other’s limits until one of them ‘taps out’.”

The “tap out” is the most sacred part of the sport. It is respected in all cases and no matter what is happening on the mat, when someone taps, everything stops. This fundamental principle helps reduce injuries across the sport compared to other martial arts.

In fact, this is one of the reasons that led another member of the group on his Jiu-Jitsu journey.

Lieutenant(N) Dusan Brestovansky, Ottawa’s Combat Systems Engineering Officer, has been practicing Jiu-Jitsu for four years. A former boxer, Lt(N) Brestovansky wanted to make a switch to a less violent sport that protected his head and could be continued as he aged. Jiu-Jitsu was a perfect fit.

“Jiu-Jitsu may look aggressive and mean, but it is actually controlled, disciplined and quite gentle,” explains Lt(N) Brestovansky. “Any partner can always tap out, and there is a lot of strategy involved. In the end, Jiu-Jitsu is about discovering your strengths and using them to your advantage against your opponent. You become better and learn from each roll.”

A “roll” is the term used to describe a sparring match between athletes. For the Jiu-Jitsu group in Ottawa, rolling is only the tip of the iceberg.

“We train for about an hour at a time,” said MS Taggart. “We generally begin with prep work, do some focused and collaborative work on technique, and finish with some rolls to try techniques in context.”

The art and skill involved in Jiu-Jitsu is the attraction that led another group participant to discover the sport.

Sub-Lieutenant Matt Mooney began training in Jiu-Jitsu following RIMPAC 2018. Having an on-going interest in combat sports, he was looking to try something that involved using both his head and his body and could also be applied to military training.

“For me, Jiu-Jitsu brings my life into focus as everything else fades away and I am entirely present during every practice,” says SLt Mooney. “After a roll, there is a huge sense of accomplishment and of mental clarity. You know that you get better each and every time you are on the mat and it makes you want to learn more. You learn how to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and I know that will help me as my career progresses, no matter where I go.”

One of the unique things about the group that trains in Ottawa is the collaboration that takes place. Because it is such a small group from different backgrounds in the sport, there is a constant interchange of styles meaning each member is able to explore a full range of techniques based on the strengths of all the other participants.

“Participants in different weight classes have different strategies. A lighter athlete has to use speed and flexibility to overcome a heavier athlete who uses his higher weight and larger size to his advantage,” explains MS Taggart.

“The real beauty of Jiu-Jitsu is that no one style or technique works for every athlete. We are all different and we collaborate to make each other stronger. We are a family and community dedicated to helping each other become a better athlete and person both on and off the mat.”

MS Taggart’s passion and commitment to Jiu-Jitsu is shared among the participants, all of whom emphasize the value of the sport in instilling discipline both during practice and in their professional lives, in addition to being a good workout for physical training while at sea.

Following their deployment on Operations Projection and Neon, all three plan to return to their gyms to continue their training. MS Taggart and SLt Mooney train at Zuma and hope to compete in the new year, and Lt(N) Brestovansky trains at Fierce.

“When you deploy, there are a lot of things you do at home which you can’t do on the ship,” concludes MS Taggart. “I think I speak for the whole group when I say I am grateful there is a Jiu-Jitsu community on the ship that allows me to continue to practice my sport and passion. The training we do together here will make us better and stronger when we return to our gyms in December.”

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