Soldier continues Jujitsu training while in Iraq
July 19, 2008
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - He moved from being locked in the guard to base with little effort, wrapped his opponent's neck in the crook of his arm and locked in until his opponent's head turned fuscia.
This was just a demonstration, but his moves were so swift it showed he knew his way around the mat.
Sergeant Scott Sperling has been fighting in Brazilian Jujitsu since 2005, and now, he trains with fellow service members in the basement of the Multi-National Division - Center Headquarters here.
Sperling, a lightweight from Rochester, N.Y., says he keeps training for a simple reason.
"I like competition. It's kind of a release as well when you've been in the office all day, and then, you get to go work out," Sperling said. "When I'm rolling full speed, I try not to think of anything. I just let it happen."
In Iraq, Sperling works as an intelligence analyst for the Analyst Control Element involved with MND-C.
In the past three years of Jujitsu, Sperling competed in different Army fighting tournaments; made the top ten finalist out of 60 in his weight class at the Pan American Championships; competed at in-house tournaments at Claudio Franca's gym, Body Works; won bronze at the American National Championships; won silver medal at the Jujitsu U.S. Open; and finished in 3rd place at the North Eastern Grappling Championship No-Gi Tournament.
Sperling first got into Jujitsu while stationed in Yongsan, Korea. He advanced his training at the Body Works Gym from 2006 to 2007 while studying Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif.
Sperling earned his blue belt in December shortly before moving to Fort Drum, N.Y., and subsequently deploying to Iraq. Sperling fills in as the instructor when his group trains, though he always welcomes everyone to bring new techniques to the mat - whether wrestling, grappling or submissions.
Training in Jujitsu can be a very intensive and rigorous commitment, especially if training for a specific tournament. Sperling would train anywhere between five and seven times a week, lifting weights in the morning and practicing Jujitsu in the evening when preparing for a fight. Running, or cardio-vascular fitness, is also very important in order to maintain stamina through a fight.
"In Jujitsu, there are a lot of different aspects to the game as far as strength and speed," he said.
Jujitsu was first developed by Samurai as early as the 14th century. The word literally means the "art of softness." This fighting style consists of grappling and striking techniques that use an attacker's energy against him, rather than directly opposing it. Today, Jujitsu is still practiced in its original form or modified for sport practice.
Brazilian Jujitsu combines elements of Kodokan Judo in its fighting style. The moves can be very complex, often requiring several steps just to assume control over the opponent. The Army uses BJJ as a standard for teaching Soldiers combative training.
"It's definitely more technical (than other fighting styles) ... You have to train the movements over and over and over," Sperling said. "Everyone can throw a punch, but not everyone knows how to wrap someone up and put him in an arm bar... In Jujitsu, you also have to think at the same time. It's almost like a chess match."
For Sperling, one of the biggest challenges was overcoming his nervousness during big fights. One must be mentally sound to out-think an opponent. The sport is less about explosiveness and more about versatility.
A clear mind also allows him to hear his coaches during competitions. Good training partners who can coach and shout out moves from outside the ring during a fight are very important too.
"You have to be able to listen to their voices when they're coaching you," Sperling said. "A lot of times you get tunnel vision during the fight. So you have to practice (listening to them) in the gym before you go out there."
Sperling said some of his greatest memories in fighting range from body-slamming his opponent to standing inside a ring surrounded by the sheer energy of a crowd.
"You would not believe the intensity. You would not believe," he said. "I've had some friends go to (watch) tournaments who never went before - couldn't take their eyes off the mat. Screaming. They left there with no voice."
One factor Sperling found intimidating was seeing championship-fighting celebrities watching him from the crowd. There would be figures like Ronaldo de Souza, Mike Fowler or Marcello Garcia, all well respected in the world of fighting.
"I learned from them, trying to take things from their instructional (videos) and put it in my game, and then I'll see them in the stands watching me," he added. "You know, it's crazy."
Sperling hopes to one day earn his black belt. For now, though, Sperling continues to train while deployed to Iraq and takes the opportunity to teach others what he knows.
"It's my life now. I've been doing it for three years, and I want to continue to progress."