Take a tumble on the mat: Paragon Ju Jitsu teaches confidence, self-defense

In the real world, fights almost always end up on the floor, two opponents rolling around trying to get the top position and hold the other down. Ground fighting is awkward and messy, and it doesn’t make for impressively choreographed scenes in ninja flicks, which is part of the reason few kids are interested in learning it and fewer gyms teach the techniques necessary to win a grappling match.
The students and teachers at Paragon Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, with locations in San Luis Obispo and Templeton, are the exception.
“We teach you how to use position and body leverage as opposed to strength to maneuver an opponent,” said black belt instructor and business owner Chris Lovato.
Basically, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is an ideal method of self-defense because it doesn’t rely on powerful strikes. Lovato can teach small fighters (like women and children) to subdue much larger opponents. Equally important, students of BJJ are adept at escaping holds and keeping themselves from being pinned.
A typical session at one of Lovato’s studios begins with fifteen minutes of warm up drills. They’re designed to get the blood moving while teaching fundamentals of the sport. Students perform backward rolls across the mats, always careful to turn their heads sideways, a distinction that takes stress off the neck and helps the body land upright in a natural defense position. Students will also lie on the ground and scoot across the gym in a manner similar to squids. It looks a little odd, but Lovato explained that the technique points a defender’s arms and feet at an imaginary opponent so that the limbs can defend against subsequent attacks. Muscle memory eventually makes the movements second nature. If they’re ever in danger, students will react quickly to keep themselves safe.
“If you have to think about it, it’s too late,” Lovato said.
After warm ups, Lovato and his assistant instructors will demonstrate new choke holds and pins for the students to practice. They pair up and take turns grappling and escaping until everyone is performing properly. The last quarter of class time is spent sparring.
“Since there’s no striking, you can really spar at full speed and strength and not have to worry about getting hurt,” Lovato said.
An hour of BJJ amounts to an incredible workout, utilizing every muscle in the body’s core and building strength in the arms and legs. Still, Lovato said that newcomers don’t need to be in excellent shape to get started.
“Everybody takes it at their own pace,” Lovato said. “Anyone can do it.”
When Lovato was learning the sport, he had to carpool with friends down to a Paragon studio in Santa Maria. By the time Lovato got his brown belt, Mixed Martial Arts fighting was taking off, and he saw BJJ as an opportunity for interested athletes to learn the basics of the sport without getting their faces destroyed. He brought Paragon to SLO about four years ago, and it was successful enough to prompt the opening of another studio in Templeton.
Few of Lovato’s students have ever had to use the skills he taught them against real life attackers, but one was working as a therapist at Atascadero State Hospital when he had to grapple and subdue an unruly patient until security arrived. Lovato also described a younger, hockey-playing student who had struggled with the sport. After a few months of BJJ, he took a big hit in the rink and instead of landing flat on his back, he rolled over and popped upright. 
“It makes people more confident. Kids aren’t afraid to try new things,” Lovato said. “A lot of these skills cross over to other sports.”
Newcomers can get their first class for free at either Paragon location in San Luis Obispo County. For a schedule of classes, visit paragonbjjslo.com or call 305-7512. The SLO studios are located at 235 Tank Farm Road in SLO and 3750 La Cruz Way in Templeton.
“Come in and try our free class,” Lovato said. “Give it a shot. You’ll learn something and there’s nothing to lose.”
-Nick Powell