J is for Jiu Jitsu: WKU student teaches women’s self defense

Shakia Harris, top, balances her passion with her career. She is a mixed martial arts fighter, holds blue belt in Jiu Jitsu and balances teaching self-defense at the Olympic Gym during the week. Being able to maintain her student life as a junior majoring in special education is what keeps her going.

Lindsay Kriz

Junior Shakia Harris said she has studied the art of “hardcore, you take names” Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo for a year and half now.

The Lorain, Ohio, native said Brazilian Jiu Jitsu stems from Japanese Jiu Jitsu and features less striking and more groundwork than its parent.

She learned about the classes from a coworker, who traveled to Brazil to compete in the sport, and invited her to attend classes at The House of Fitness at 513 State St.

Harris, who considers herself open-minded and down to try just about anything, decided to go for it.

“I went the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and a year and a half later, I’m fighting and competing,” she said. “I really enjoy it.”

Now she and Shannon Montgomery of Bowling Green, teach the women’s night class on Friday nights at 7 p.m.

Harris currently has a blue belt – which is the second belt one can receive – with five belts in total, black being the last.

To gain a blue belt, she said, one needs to have a solid understanding of multiple positions, including sweeps, submissions, escapes, take-downs and position.

“The good thing about Jiu Jitsu is that it forms to your body type, like what you like,” she said. “It’s so grand, and you can just kind of pick and choose what works best for you.”

Besides teaching, Harris also fights in different competitions in the region.

In January, she competed in Cincinnati and received first place.

“You can choke them with their own collar, you can reach inside the sleeve and use that against them. You use the pants to kind of sweep them or tip them over,” she said. “I like that more.”

Bowling Green resident Sara Garms, one of the students of the night class, enrolled when the lessons started about two months ago.

“Because my husband had been taking (Jiu Jitsu) for about two years, I knew to expect a lot of what many women didn’t,” she said. “I really enjoy the intensity of it.”

Garms says right now it’s about getting comfortable with of the new moves for her, and so far she’s gained more strength, endurance and knowledge.

“I think everyone should try it,” she said. “I think it’s really important for women, especially because of the self-defense purposes of it.

“If they could come for a couple classes, I think there’s a lot more women who would really enjoy this.”

WKU alumnus Josh Johnson, head instructor and owner of the House of Fitness, said women can definitely benefit from learning Jiu Jitsu.

“In addition to being a good physical activity, it’s also the best self-defense,” he said. “When an attacker – an aggressor – grabs you, they’re going to try to take you somewhere and manhandle you. And since we’re grappling-based, that’s what they deal with all the time.”

Grappling is a type of maneuver to counter an opponent to gain a physical advantage. These moments can be anything from escaping to taking down an attacker by the positioning of your body.

“In that regard, it’s the best form of self-defense, and it’s great physical activity,” Johnson said.