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By Sally Arsenault

People who train Brazilian jiu jitsu are known to say that it isn’t a sport, it’s a lifestyle. Once you start training, it kind of takes over your life yet it’s hard to explain to your friends and family exactly what it is about BJJ that makes it so special. When I began teaching the women’s only class at my club and tried to come up with advertising ideas. Saying that it was a great way to get in shape and learn a new skill felt so empty. I couldn’t put into words how it felt to train BJJ.

I was pleased to speak with filmmaker Stuart Cooper recently and found it ironic that a man who was so shy he could barely to speak to strangers not that long ago was the person who allowed me to finally show people, through his films, what I could never express for myself about BJJ. Stuart is a Gracie Barra Brown Belt under Lucio "Lagarto" Rodrigues, Lucio Sergio Dos Santos and Paul Hartley at his home town club, Gracie Barra Preston. He says that when he stepped on the mats for the first time over five years ago, it changed him.

“It took a long time but it opened me up and eventually I started to become more confident in myself. When I first started travelling the very first place I went to was Brazil where I trained at Gordo BJJ. For those who know him he's not the warmest character on earth but after time he opens up to you. But the gym itself is even more intimidating! All the Brazilian black belts look at you like they’re about to rip your head off. But I ignored it and didn't let it get to me. At first they did try to smash me but I never gave up and after a month of showing up twice a day every day they started to respect me and say hello to me.

When I first made that step and decision to go to Brazil in the first place it was a very scary experience. I didn't know anybody, and went completely by myself. Dennis Asche, the owner of Connection Rio, really helped me out and made me feel at home. He showed me around every gym and got me in contact with whoever I wanted to make a documentary on. When you first make that decision to go travelling you have to be prepared to open up and be as outgoing as possible and do your best to make conversation with people. So it made me even more confident.

I remember first meeting Braulio Estima back at the Europeans when I was a blue belt and being so excited to get a photo with him, but after time its normal and you just realize these are normal people that are exceptional at what they do. After Brazil I became good friends with Braulio Estima as we worked together a lot. I saw how confident he was with people and how laid back his attitude was towards life. This really rubbed off on me because I used to take things to seriously and be scared of approaching people etc. So travelling to different countries and meeting so many different characters from all walks of life with all different backgrounds has completely changed me as a person. If you met me five years ago I would never have dreamed that I have done the things I have done today and would never have thought I could stand up and teach a class in front of fifty people and interview the best athletes in the world without being nervous. It’s amazing. I recommend travelling to anyone but you have to go at the right time. If I went at nineteen I would have been too young. But twenty three was the right age for me because BJJ already gave me a reason to go travelling and confidence around people.”

Cooper has made documentaries featuring a number of BJJ and MMA athletes but they all have the same feel to them. It’s that feeling you get inside when you see something that speaks directly to your heart. His films have garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and I don’t doubt that he has inspired people who have never heard of BJJ before but saw his documentary on a Facebook share to follow along with a friend to their first class. I asked Stuart whether he creates the films to elicit that feeling or if it’s accidental.

“Sometimes the message comes out from the athlete or subject himself. They answer my questions in such a way that a real deep and inspirational message comes across to the viewers. I try to edit the films personal to them as possible. When I’m filming, I’m always thinking about the editing as I go along. I find that most of these athletes all have a similar mindset, not all of them, but most of them. And I have the same mindset and attitude to life as they do.
I try to get the message across that if you really don't like what you’re doing, don't do it, as Dean Lister said in my recent video. But it’s so true, so many people out there do things they hate and think that’s the only way, and it isn't. Even I was told for the longest time by the people closet to me that a nine-to-five job is what you must do, there’s no other way; that is life. I never accepted it and left every job I ever had and was lucky to find BJJ.

The reason I focus on BJJ so much is because meeting these athletes changed my way of looking at life and what I wanted to do. The people who I have documented are all so positive and ambitious that it changed the way I looked at life. So then I went after what I really wanted. I always said I wanted to make films, but so many people around me were saying, "No, you can’t do that" or "You'll never be good at BJJ, you’re too old now". So what I’m trying to say is, don't listen to these people. They say that just because either they are not happy or didn't make it. So these are the kind of messages and sub tones I try to create in my mini documentaries. And with BJJ it changed my life, it gave me confidence, it gave me goals. I became a film maker through BJJ and now I teach BJJ. Something five years ago I couldn't even imagine.

BJJ changes you in so many way for the better. You make amazing friends, you meet people from all around the world, it gives you constant goals to aim for and confidence. I am a completely different person if you met me five years ago. Five years ago I couldn't even hold up a conversation with people I didn't know, now I teach BJJ classes in front of fifty people at Tiger Muay Thai and it doesn't bother me one bit.

So that’s the message: go out and do what you want to do. Not just BJJ, anything from surfing to soccer. But I find BJJ makes you humble, modest, and gives you a healthy ego. So the message I try to show people is that BJJ is more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle that you can carry on doing until you die."

Hear more from Stuart Cooper on his epic jiu jitsu lifestyle inside the latest issue of JJS, available HERE or subscribe HERE from as little as £24.

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Issue 19 available now on UK newsstands!
September 25, 2014 — Jiu Jitsu Style