I entered my first Brazilian jiu-jitsu (known as BJJ) class at the Mid-City Martial Arts & Fitness Academy (which offers a ton of different styles of fitness and martial arts classes) with absolutely no idea of what it was. My knowledge of martial arts is limited to mainstream movie fight sequences (and that one time I took a kickboxing class in high school), but I wondered if I’d emerge from this class as the next incarnation of Bruce Lee. Instead, the pants of my borrowed uniform, called a gi, fell off (thankfully, I had leggings on underneath), and I was put in a chokehold by an athletic guy twice my size and nearly fainted. But now I know some crucial self-defense moves!

BJJ is one of the newest forms of martial arts, derived from Japanese judo, and it’s intended to both humble and empower its practitioners. And after speaking with instructor and gym owner Shawn Gayton, who has a black belt, I learned that it’s a combat sport that takes primarily on the ground, like wrestling, and is known as a “grappling” sport.

He started the all-levels class with a series of warmups that included: somersaulting across the floor, “shrimp crawling,” cartwheels and other exercises that stretched our muscles and elevated our heart rates.

Throughout the class, Gayton demonstrated specific tactics (one of them called “spider guard”), methodically explaining why and how they work, and then the members of the class — about 25 people of varying ages (about 15 to 60) – partnered up to try them out.

The sport has also become more popular among women (there were about five women in the class I took).

It is an intense sport, but the vibe of the class is playful and nurturing. Even though students are learning to fight, there’s no aggression in the room. People are courteous and friendly, and Gayton delivers expertise in a casual, down-to-earth manner that puts people at ease.

“We are here to make the weak strong, not weed out the weak,” he explained to me after class. “You are putting your ego out there and you have to admit you’re helpless sometimes. You have to bury your ego.”

Information, MidCityMMA.com.