Humans of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Leah Von Zuben

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Leah Von Zuben with coaches Jason Lancucki (in black) and Paul Zenchuck. (Courtesy Leah Von Zuben)

One of the great things about Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that it’s allowed me to meet all types of amazing people. Humans of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is an opportunity to talk to and about a few of them.

Leah Von Zuben is a yoga teacher and East End Toronto native. She’s also studying to be an RMT. She’s trained BJJ for just under two years and is a white belt at the “small but mighty” Straight Blast Gym Toronto.

On the commonalities between BJJ and yoga

Where to start? There’s the obvious, when you’ve done yoga for a long time you have a pretty good understanding of how your body moves and your proprioception—body awareness basically—is a bit more enhanced. More than flexibility, yoga teaches you to breathe efficiently and to maintain that breathing while you’re figuring out and executing challenging physical/mental/emotional feats. The number one thing my coach emphasizes being calm while rolling. You’ll constantly hear him saying things like ‘Breathe. The more aggressive your training partner becomes, the more chill you should become.’ There are a lot of reasons for that, but the main reason is that you can’t think clearly when you’re just reacting aggressively to someone else’s aggression. If you stay calm you’re going to be more calculated in your delivery. Yoga training is wrapped up in training yourself to be calm. BJJ and yoga training are very complimentary.

On the surprising ways BJJ has made her better at massage

Techniques from BJJ, like putting in frames and using your body’s natural structure in a way that doesn’t take any effort or energy from you, comes in handy with massage. Ideally, you’re using your body mechanics well when you’re massaging professionally. It’s when you misalign your own joints to try and apply pressure that you start to break yourself down, in BJJ or massage. Tied into that is knowing how to use your weight instead of pushing with a lot of muscular force. In BJJ, you should make your opponent carry your weight when you are on top, so they tire out while you regain your energy. When massaging, you should know how to use your weight in the same way to add pressure, you should not be using the muscles of your hand or arms, because the muscle energy will definitely gas out.

On the gym as a community

BJJ is an incredibly close contact art/sport. You’re literally pulling another human in between your legs. Training is not going to go optimally if you have a training partner who is a huge creep or really rude. It’s true whether you are male or female. There needs to be a healthy social atmosphere in the gym in order for everybody to get the most out of their training. My gym has a really good vibe, it’s made possible by virtue of it being a small gym, but also by the fact that it is contained within Coach Lancucki’s home. He considers it a necessity to have healthy, happy vibes. There’s very little machismo going around, no cliques, everybody is welcoming and encouraging to everyone else, whether they are brand new or have been there since the beginning. You end up seeing people progress in their training very quickly. Social politics just get in the way and douchebags make it unpleasant to  drill or roll. The vibe of a gym is integral.

Quotes have been condensed and edited for clarity. Learn more about Leah’s yoga career here.

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