The “gentle art” of jiu jitsu may not seem as violent as karate but can be just as devastating. It’s brilliant and counterintuitive – using an opponent’s weight and strength against him.  When I tried Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), though, none of my old street-fighting tactics were permitted – except for the trusty chokehold.

Jon Tutaj is the instructor and owner of Tutaj Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, at 7628 Madison St. He and his wife, Nik, enjoy the hubbub of living and working in the business district. The location is also conveniently close to Jon’s day job at a manufacturing facility in Countryside. Running the piston line at work and his degree in mechanical engineering provide the principles he uses in BJJ.

Captaining his high school wrestling team in Cedarburg, Wis. also prepared Jon for BJJ, but he wasn’t introduced to the sport until he graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  After 15 years of mat experience, Jon was ready to open his school. 

Jon has a half-dozen students and a growing number of prospects.  He teaches classes for beginners (Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7-9 p.m.) and supervises open-mat sessions on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. It takes mental toughness as well as physical endurance to get through a session. I have neither, but that didn’t stop me from giving BJJ a tumble.

I put on the smallest gi (uniform) they had. We warmed up with stretching and calisthenics. Jon paired me off with Joey, who twisted me into some joint-locks. Jon told me to tap out before the first twinge. If I had known this earlier, I would have tapped-out during warm-ups.

After Joey reduced me to helplessness a few times, I got to turn the tables on him. He put up only token resistance, while I maneuvered him into potential joint-snapping positions. (Photos give the illusion I was kicking his butt.)

Joey is a caregiver at a local facility for the elderly. He credited his BJJ training with teaching him the proper leverage to lift patients. He said the sport also keeps him out of potential trouble. If someone attacked him, Joey could control the assailant without causing injury.

We took a break and watched Jon grapple with a student.  Jon’s fluid style can be seen in action on his website The video shows him using chess-like moves to subdue opponents. Having captured several national titles, he hopes to someday win the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championship.

The sport has been very good for Jon: it’s a stress-reliever that has increased his confidence and self-discipline, and he no longer worries about his personal safety.

After my training, I wasn’t concerned either. If anyone messed with me, I planned to warn them by holding up Jon’s business card. If that didn’t work – well, you know how painful paper cuts can be.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.