Taking jujitsu to the mat

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Nothing keeps Army Sgt. Scott Sperling down, not even a tour of duty in Iraq.

Sperling is a noncommissioned officer and has been fighting in Brazilian jujitsu since 2005, and now he trains with fellow service-members in the basement of the Multinational Division Center headquarters.

“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 the past three years, Sperling — an intelligence analyst — has competed in various Army fighting tournaments and in-house gym tournaments, was a top-10 finalist in his weight class at the Pan American Championships, earned a bronze medal at the American National Champi-onships and a silver medal at the Jujitsu U.S. Open, and finished in third place at the North Eastern Grappling Championship No-Gi Tournament.

He first got into jujitsu while stationed in Yongsan, South Korea. He advanced his training 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 practicing wrestling, grappling or submissions.

Training in jujitsu can be an intensive and rigorous commitment, especially if training for a tournament, he said. To prepare for a tournament, he trains five to seven times a week, lifting weights in the morning and practicing Jujitsu in the evening. Running to maintain cardiovascular fitness also is important for stamina.

“In jujitsu, there are a lot of different aspects to the game as far as strength and speed [are concerned],” he said.

Jujitsu was 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 practiced both in its original form and in a modified form for sport practice.

Brazilian jujitsu combines elements of Kodokan judo in its fighting style. The moves can be complex, often requiring several steps just to assume control over the opponent. The Army uses Brazilian jujitsu 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, he said. 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, he said.

“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 tournaments who never went before - couldn’t take their eyes off the mat. Screaming. They left there with no voice.”

Sperling said he hopes to one day earn his black belt. For now, though, he continues to train while deployed to Iraq and takes the opportunity to teach others what he knows.

“It’s my life now,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for three years, and I want to continue to progress.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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