My first experience with grappling didn’t occur in a BJJ academy in the 2000s. It didn’t even occur in my first Judo class in the 1990s. It happened in 1981 in Tallahassee, FL when I was in the fourth grade. But before I jump right into my first fight with a grappler let me set the scene.
I was a student at Oak Ridge Elementary School and this was back in the days when corporal punishment for students was still considered okay.
My fourth grade teacher was Mr. Walker and my parents requested that I be in his class. I was an honor roll student, but I tended to finish my work quickly and then talked or bothered other students, or at least that is what my teachers claimed. Mr. Walker had a reputation for using a one and a half-inch thick paddle that had been carved and designed for maximum speed and efficiency. He didn’t send kids to the principal. The principal sent kids to him. In his class I was one of his main targets and had to come up to the front of the class quite a few times so he could paddle me, —— in front of everybody.
The reason that I bring this up is because we had a new kid come to our school and he quickly joined the ranks of bullies that roamed the playground during recess. So as you can surmise I was in an unsafe environment. I didn’t feel safe with my teacher, many of the students, and as you will see later on, the principal either.
I also didn’t feel safe because I hated bullies and would usually end up in a conflict with them because I was a little loud and didn’t know how to keep my mouth shut. Well, let me amend that, I was really loud. My eighth grade P.E. teacher told me I was the loudest kid he ever taught. (But he was a bastard so I took his criticism with a grain of salt.)
Getting back to the new kid; he was a short guy and stocky for his age. He also had a mean streak. Within a week he had beat two kids up. But he didn’t just beat kids up. He systematically destroyed them. This wasn’t a bully who picked on others because things weren’t right at home type of bully. This was a guy who had been trained to hand out punishment.
When he fought the two kids on the playground the fights started out as any other normal playground fight. They began with the bully bullying and then the other kid deciding not to back down. They squared up and then that’s when the scene deviated from the standard script. The short bully would dive down and grab both of his victim’s legs and lift them up in the air. (I now know that it was a double leg takedown.) As the surprised kid scrambled to get to his feet the bully punched him square in the forehead. Before the fights could continue a teacher broke them up, both times.
Word got around quickly that the four foot tall new kid was not someone to be toyed with. But that didn’t matter because from the looks of things it looked like he was the dog and we were the chew toys. I don’t remember exactly how much time passed between the attack on the second kid and our altercation, but I remember how our scrap went.
I was playing basketball with my friends Willis and Jason and he sauntered onto the court and demanded to play. He didn’t ask, he demanded. No one said anything so I told him he couldn’t play and to, essentially, ‘kick rocks.’
He came right at me. I threw the basketball down and I don’t know how I did it but I put him in a headlock and ended up with a sleeper hold that I had seen slapped on by wrestlers like Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair and the Road Warriors. We collapsed to the ground and I held on tight. I had the bully in full control.
I am going to be honest with you, knowing what I know now, I would have put that fellow 8 or 9 year old to sleep. But since I learned the sleeper hold, which is basically the Rear Naked Choke, from watching television and having my brother slap it on me endlessly on Saturday afternoons, I had one arm loosely around his neck with my hand gripping my other arm’s bicep and the other arm and hand holding onto his head at the top. I didn’t know that I could have slid my hand down the back of his head for the choke.
As I held on the kids around the playground began running in our direction.
I began eyeing everyone rushing up and soon there was a substantial crowd gathered around us. I was holding my own against the new schoolyard bully. As I did not know what else to do after getting that hold I just held on for dear life. He couldn’t escape. If only I knew about hooks. As some of the kids began to recognize that he couldn’t get out of my TV inspired death clutch they began to get bored. They didn’t care about my wellbeing so some began to say let him go and start over.
“No,” I shouted!
“Let him go!” “Start over!”
What was wrong with them. This wasn’t a f***g video game, even though they weren’t popular at this point.
But the pressure began to mount. I guess I felt like the refs do in an MMA match or better yet like Cecil “stand-em-up” Peoples because I caved and let him up.
Why did I do that? He jumped up and we circled each other.
Remember what happened to those other kids.
In a millisecond, he grabbed both my legs and lifted me up into the air and I fell on my butt. I scrambled to my feet just like the other kids and he punched me solidly in the forehead.
Oddly, it didn’t hurt but I still wish I knew BJJ technique then. Don’t jump right back up into the punch.
After he socked me in the forehead, out of nowhere there was the teacher who grabbed him by both arms from behind. Where in the hell was she two minutes ago when I had him in my weak, but saving me from danger sleeper hold? Further, who taught him that double-leg? —- I bet he had a good run until the eighth grade.
Anyway, there was no way any of us kids knew how to deal with that. I didn’t even have sense enough to remember his technique to make it my own. It did, however, teach me my first lesson about grappling.
*Oh yeah, by the way, we were dragged to the principal’s office and were both paddled for fighting. The cycle was complete.
Check out my grappling books on Amazon: Grappling 101: How to Avoid being Bullied on the Mat, Psychology of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Grappling Games: BJJ & Submission Wrestlers, Tapmonster: Ideas about Grappling for BJJ and Submission Wrestlers, Grappling for Newbies, 20 Ways to Increase Grappling Skills off the Mat, The Lazy Man’s Guide to Grappling and much more.